I’ve been wearing my Detroit Tigers gear everywhere I go on this Grapefruit League tour.
Most of my conversations with fans from other teams have been complimentary. Most of it is amazement with Justin Verlander, respect for the Tigers pitching rotation as a whole and the “Wow” factor with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder back-to-back in the lineup.
That all changed during a doubleheader Tuesday.
I left my beautiful confines of Fort Myers Beach and traveled north to Sarasota to see the host Baltimore Orioles lose 4-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies. Then I made the traffic-filled, two-hour ride to Tampa for my first night game here — a 10-3 New York Yankees win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
At both places, my Tigers were disrespected.
The first came from a Texas Rangers fan at Baltimore’s Ed Smith Stadium. He said the Rangers had no worries about the Tigers this year because of their fielding. He boldly stated Cabrera will have 50 errors.
While, yes, the Tigers are subpar in the field, I told him pitching and hitting goes a long ways. He said Detroit’s lineup is weaker than the Rangers’, and I shoot back that if not for Nelson Cruz, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.
He kept needling on Cabrera, mentioning how bad he looked at the hot corner when he first got to Detroit. Anyone who witnessed the start to that season knows Carlos Guillen was the most unnatural first baseman in the game. His footwork was horrible and all infielders struggled with him, not just Cabrera.
Both of us finished the conversation in joking fashion. Our hopes are Josh Hamilton and Cabrera never meet up for a drink.
When I arrived at George Steinbrenner Park, the outside looked like a miniature Yankee Stadium. Inside the park were authentic fans. It’s the first game down here I’ve heard fans jeer the opposition and constantly hound the umpires. There is no such thing as exhibition games to the Yankees fans.
With the Tigers ending the Yankees season in game five of the American League Division Series in the Bronx, I knew I was subject to some trash talk. It came before I even found my seat.
The “Nice shirt, jerk” made me laugh a little.
A couple more fans politely said last year was a fluke, and there was no way Detroit would beat them again this year. I laugh and tell them signing a 40-year-old Andy Pettitte is a sure sign of self-doubt from the Bronx Bombers.
Then I let the big Pirates fan behind me take over. While Yankee great Reggie Jackson and Alex Rodriguez stood talking to each other, the Pirates fan chides: “Look, Mr. October is giving lessons to Mr. April.”
Before A-Rod had a two-run single and added another RBI, the Pirates fan says: “Here comes another $30 million strikeout. As the Yankees lead continues to grow the Pirates fan turns to the Yankees loudmouth behind him and says: “Don’t worry, A-Rod’s season will end just like last season … with his bat on his shoulders.”
Knowing A-Rod struck out to end their season, I turned to both fans, pointed at the Olde English D on my hat and smiled.
Idle thoughts (from Sarasota)
- Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota is very plain, but has a lot of charm. It’s very bright and clean and has great sight lines from wherever you sit. I landed a ticket six rows from the screen between the Orioles dugout and home plate and had a great view for a day-in-the-life of Orioles manager Buck Showalter. The man doesn’t smile much.
- Saw three fans get tagged with fouls balls. One had to be carried away by a paramedic. A lady in her mid-to-late 70s sitting 10 seats away took a foul ball off the back of her head after the foul tip ricocheted off the press box behind us and hit her square on the noggin. She returned two innings later. What a trooper.
- Finally ran into some rain starting in the sixth inning. It lasted just 15 minutes and was well-deserved after 88-degree heat under a hot sun. More than half the crowd — which was filled with Phillies fans — raced for the concourse. The older fella behind me states: “Why would I get up? My seat will get wet and then I have a wet rear-end for the rest of the game.” (By the way, great time for the rain to hit for Baltimore’s brass. Half the crowd came back with refreshments.)
- Got a real treat by watching Roy Halladay work for six innings. Even saw him him get a base hit in a game the Phillies outhit Baltimore 14-4. But the game was even at 1-1 through five innings as the Orioles turned double plays in each of the first three innings.
- I forgot and was surprised during the National Anthem when it gets to the last part of “O’ say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave …” that all the Orioles fans yell “Ooohhh.” That’s good fun.
- Finished off a bottle of sunscreen today. The heat really got to me as I took a tiny snooze behind my sunglasses in the fourth inning.
- Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones is a beast, and I’m not just saying that because he’s on my fantasy baseball team. He laced a double in this game and is all hustle on flyballs, even if he did miss both bloop singles from the Phillies.
- Vendors are interesting folks. One guy in Sarasota had his whole head dyed orange. Another fella up in Tampa had a great call for selling beer: “Just say NOOOOO … to rehydration.”
- Good to see Juan Samuel coaching third base for the Phillies. Man I miss his curly perm from the ’80s.
- I made a stop in Bradenton on the way to Tampa and saw the spring training stadium for the Pirates. There were some minor-leaguers in there taking batting practice as I snapped a few photos. Looks like a nice park from the outside and from what I could see inside. I’m not likely to make it back there as a I head east from Tampa.
Idle thoughts (from Tampa)
- The Yankees love that original design of Yankee Stadium, right on down to the Little League-sized porch in right field. I really do like the design on the roof, where they show off flags for each year they won a world title.
- There’s some pretty neat stuff on the outside of the park. Aside from the statue of George Steinbrenner (Where is Costanza with my calzone?), there’s steel cutout numbers of all the Yankees greats and an old calliope machine that plays olde-time music outside. There’s also a small replica of the Twin Towers, including a real piece of steel from the World Trade Center, donated by the New York Fire Department.
- I really miss Curtis Granderson in the Tigers lineup and patrolling center field, but I’m not sure I’d get rid of Max Scherzer, Phil Coke and Austin Jackson for him.
- Andrew McCutchen destroyed an offering from Michael Pineda for a two-run homer in the first inning, prompting the Yankees fan behind me to say: “Sit down, clown.”
- Yankees closer and MLB all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera has hinted at retirement this year, and he’s getting the love here in Tampa. He came in for a fourth-inning appearance to a standing ovation and quickly worked a 1-2-3 inning. His customary slow walk to the dugout drew huge applause, even from this guy.