March 2007

Dog days of spring

These days can sometimes be the dog days of spring training. Skip brought that up to the guys yesterday. I think it’s very relevant to this team just because, as we talked about before, there aren’t a lot of positions open, so guys are kind of getting a little antsy. The importance is to focus on getting our work done, and that’s probably the toughest thing. That’s a mental thing. We’re challenged even in spring training with that, the mental aspect of the game, because this is the beginning of a major grind. We’ve got less than three weeks left now. You pretty much know who’s on the club, and so you kind of want to get the season started. A lot of guys are getting really excited about Opening Day and getting rolling, but we have to finish our work here. And there’s work to be done. I think if you went down the line, each and every one of the guys would say that.

Right now, I don’t think anybody’s going to say that they’d feel good about leaving camp right now, and that includes me — although Kenny yesterday looked in midseason form. We talk as pitchers about being efficient, and he’s about as efficient as they come. He’s a contact pitcher and he makes his defense work, and his defense plays behind him. When the ball’s in play, guys are loose and ready to roll. That’s what Kenny tries to work on. He establishes his fastball first, works in his curveball later on. Each guy has a different work ethic. Each guy has a different part of his game that he’s working on down here, and that’s what it’s for.

But we get little teasers down here hearing that the weather up in Detroit was above 70 degrees. I think that adds to the anticipation of getting up there, although we know that it can change in two days. Or a day. That’s your typical Michigan day. I guess if there’s any kind of preparation that we need down here, we need some kind of cold spell to run through here, because it’s going to be a little bit cool.

Other than that, we still don’t have any reason to bring out the rally gum yet. I think most people’s interests are in that anyway. It’s funny to hear people talk about that. I still see people running up with their Gum Time t-shirts on. That was just part of the whole storyline last year, what this team had done in gaining back the people and the fans and the city. There’s probably going to be more excitement on Opening Day this year than there has been in over a decade. There’s always excitement on Opening Day. I’ve been part of three of them now. This year’s going to be different. It’ll be nice to see that pennant, that flag raised up, and the ring ceremony obviously. And that’ll put to rest 2006. That’ll be time to turn the page. It’s going to be fun, but we do have to finish up down here. We’ll see where it takes us.

A lot of folks probably ask what we do in the meantime. Between American Idol and the NCAA Tournament and NASCAR, there’s always something going on. Although NASCAR is popular in our clubhouse, it doesn’t quite match the NCAA Tournament. Some guys, these are their alma maters playing, and there’s bragging rights going on. And guys are, of course, picking teams, but we also did that with American Idol — some of us. I’m not going to say who, but there are some American Idol buffs in that clubhouse. A lot of guys are pretty down on this voting system with American Idol here lately. There’s a guy that keeps on getting through that a lot of guys are disappointed on. You’d be surprised how disappointed some of these guys get, man. It’s a topic of discussion.

But yeah, Major League Baseball players, we don’t just talk baseball all the time. We have fun with it. We try to have fun with everything, and Leyland preaches that. We need to have fun on the field, obviously, but a break from the action is always nice as well. It’s always nice to have it during spring training. St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, and last year we suited up one of our clubhouse kids. One of our bat boys, he had his leprechaun suit on. We’ll see if there’s anything in the making this year, though we’re on the road that day this year.

Welcome back

Welcome back to a new season, a new beginning. The last entry we had was the World Series and kind of a closure on the reflection on the 2006 season, what we did as a team, and obviously not finishing up what we were there to do and being very encouraged and happy with what we did do. Now, here we are.

This is a great time of year for all fans in baseball, not just Tiger fans. This starts the season of hope. I think the separation factor with our fan base and our team right now is the fact that we know what we’re capable of doing now, and that hope isn’t in, "We hope we have a good team." That hope is playoff hope, world championship hope. That’s a little bit better hope to have, as opposed to just hoping we contend in the division, or hopefully we’re in it in September, that kind of deal. It is one game at a series and one series at a time, but this is where it all begins. It’s certainly, being a Detroit native now, nice to come down here and let it begin down here. This weather might be a little cool for down here, but it triples the temperature in Detroit, so we’ll take it.

Coming back to camp, getting things going, seeing everybody again, even with the shortened offseason, I think everybody getting around each other was refreshing. If you were to ask everybody about their offseason, if they would’ve had a choice of having maybe a couple more weeks or another month maybe, I’m sure they would’ve taken it. Once you get down here and put the uni on and just kind of kick it around the clubhouse with all the guys and rag on each other and tell stories, it’s good to be back.

We know obviously the expectations — not on ourselves, but expectations in the world of baseball — have changed with this team. We’ve turned heads and we’ve gotten the respect that we wanted. We just have to uphold the respect that we’ve gotten. We need to understand that it’s not going to just happen. Everything we did last year, we fought for, every single bit of that. It’s just going to be just as hard this year, if not tougher.

Coming down here to camp also, just to be around not only the guys at the big-league level but to see the kind of talent that we have coming up, this organization has flipped so much since I got over here in ’03. We’re deep now, and it’s exciting to know that even if, going through a 162-game schedule, there’s a possibility that things happen, but we have the kind of guys that can come up and help out. That showed last year, eve. Clevlen came in and Miner came in and made a huge impact during a big-time stretch for this team. That’s always kind of been something that the Twins have been big on. They’ve always had some guy come up and be good, and that’s nice. That’s just the way it happens with the Twins, because they’re so big on their farm system. We have a farm system now, too, to take seriously, and that’s nice to have. And you get a chance to see these guys when they come in and play in some big-league games, and you see the kind of talent that they have, it’s nice to see we’ve established a foundation now. Attitudes are great. Guys are healthy. Hope it stays that way. And here we go.

We don’t do the rally chew right now, although there’s been plenty of fans wondering if it’s coming back out. And by demand, really, this blog is resurfacing, because there is interest in having it. And it’s good to have that interaction between fans and players so they understand a little more of what we’re trying to do and human aspect of it. But we probably won’t bring out any of the rally stuff here, although if we would’ve had another inning in Tampa Monday, it may have brought some out. That was kind of a stinger. It’s funny, because you go home and this is our team and it’s just a different perspective to watch it at home on TV. We don’t get a chance to do a whole lot of that. You’re still competitive. You still want to win those ballgames. I sat there and watched nine innings of baseball. And typically thoughout the year, when I go home I focus on family. But during Spring Training you’re just kind of seeing what’s out there, seeing how guys are doing. You’re just excited to get going again. That was fun to watch, especially since the last time a lot of those guys were on the field together was during the Division Series. It is about getting your team prepared, but it’s also fun to see guys come in that might be in the big leagues pretty soon go out and so something special. A lot of times in Spring Training games like that, late in the games, if anything dramatic does happen, it typically isn’t a regular doing it. So it’s fun for guys that come in there and have a shot at doing something like that.

The thing about Spring Training is it has so much more of a laid-back atmosphere. Not that you can’t relax and enjoy it throughout the year, and I guess it’s easy for me to say from a starting pitcher’s perspective. But there’s nothing better than being a starting pitcher in Spring Training. There’s no doubt about it. I’m not going to lie. We pitch every fifth day. The days we don’t pitch, we are not with the team on road trips. And so we have the opportunity to be done by anywhere between noon and 2 o’clock. You go home and you just sit back and you’ve got the rest of the day. You can go have a nice dinner. You can do some golf, spend a little time with the family, and then you can call your buddy up that was just on the trip and ask them how they did. I’ve seen guys after ballgames have been over with, maybe out to dinner or something, and they just got back in at 6:30 from the trip depending on where it’s at. And here you are, you’ve had the whole afternoon. You went and had some golf, went home to get cleaned up, took a shower, got a nap in, stretched out, and then went and had a nice dinner. And they had a long day in the sun. You play in the middle of the day down here, as much sun as Florida gets, it wipes you out. You get up early in the morning, get your workouts in. It takes it out of you. Afternoon naps are great.