Chatting outside Comerica Park Saturday before TigerFest was “Gardy,” playing a game called “Oh, Hell!” with a trio of Tiger fans. That, along with selling tickets, brought an intimate, one-on-one connection to fans.
But what fans would be more fond of — as opposed to how well he plays cards — is how he does in his first season as the Tigers’ foreman.
And so far, the approach of Gardenhire has been surprisingly refreshing. There appears to be a dark cloud over Comerica Park — one that will likely stay there for the next three or so seasons — after the Detroit baseball bosses waved the white flag in July. Dating back to the summer, the Tigers have been open for business on pretty much anyone wearing a Tigers uniform.
The inaugural season of the rebuild will be of a 25-man roster carousel, but that doesn’t seem to phase the skipper.
“I’m excited about this group. They’re game-on, they’re ready to go. They’re excited to get to spring training and there’s a really positive attitude here,” Gardenhire told Evan Woodbery of MLive.com.
A positive attitude, huh? At 60-years-old and a professional baseball team that might be lucky to win 60 games this season, the glass certainly is half-full.
Listening to the answers Gardenhire spews during a press conference makes him sound like he’s inheriting a World Series-caliber team. (Someone has told him that is not the case, right?)
Sure, an aging and oft-banged up Miguel Cabrera is still Miguel Cabrera. Michael Fulmer will be the ace of the staff at just 25. Nicholas Castellanos, Jeimer Candelario and Jose Iglesias serve as a nice supporting cast. But still, that doesn’t change the fact that they’ll likely move into the basement of the American League Central for the next handful of summers.
Gardenhire, taking a manager’s role for the first time since 2014, wouldn’t let you think along those lines.
On his approach: “No manager or no baseball team is ever going to go in saying, ‘We’re just going to try to play through the season.’ We’re going to try to win. We’re going to get these players ready to win baseball games. That’s the only way I know how to do these things..”
He’s right. While managing the Minnesota Twins from 2002-14, he seemed to have an unhealthy obsession with winning with small-market club, low-payroll clubs. A $112,737,000 Opening Day payroll in 2011 — the ninth-highest across baseball that year — was the highest mark of any Minnesota team Gardernhire managed.
The Twins exceeded the 90-win plateau in four of his first five seasons, winning the division six times over that 13-year stretch. In that regard, there are a lot of similarities between his Twins teams and this next phase of Tigers baseball.
It doesn’t take a dummy to sniff out the potential of the 2018 Tigers, more so the fact that there really isn’t any. But it’s hard to ignore how Gardenhire’s feeling.
It’s a nice change, isn’t it? The overly-optimistic approach is infectious, from the playing field to the clubhouse to the front office. While Detroit will be dubbed as baseball’s next bunch of lovable losers, it’s nice to have a manager talk as if his roster is compiled of the 25 best guys in the game.
“We’ve made a lot of moves. I know there’s some uneasiness here, but also there’s some hope. That’s what baseball brings. That’s what spring brings, is hope. You never know what’s going to happen. We’ve seen all kinds of crazy things in this game.”