Monday, February 20, 2012
Prince Fielder arrives at Tigers' camp
ESPN.com news services
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Miguel Cabrera began smacking line drives all over a practice diamond at the Detroit Tigers' spring training complex. Then Prince Fielder stepped up and cracked a soaring shot toward right field.
Forget those pitchers and catchers. To these Motown mashers, this was the sound of a powerful new partnership.
Fielder arrived at camp Monday, entering a clubhouse that is becoming increasingly crowded even though the first full squad workout isn't until Friday. Fielder and Cabrera both came to camp early, along with a handful of other position players.
"Does it mean you're going to win more games? No," manager Jim Leyland said. "But it makes you happy that guys want to be down here with the guys. It tells you basically that winter's over, and they want to get down here and get to work."
Monday was the first workout for pitchers and catchers, but Fielder and Cabrera put on the best show with their brief batting practice display. They made their way onto a back field after the pitchers were done using it for their drills.
Fielder and Cabrera started by throwing a bit with each other, then the two sluggers went to the plate with shortstop Jhonny Peralta and took some swings.
"Hitting with a group with Miggy and Prince Fielder -- it was really fun," Peralta said. "It's good to see that a couple of guys reported early, and they're ready to go."
Fielder agreed to a $214 million, nine-year contract with the AL Central champions in the offseason. The Tigers will put him and Cabrera in the middle of their lineup, and with ace Justin Verlander also in the fold, Detroit has an imposing trio of MVP-caliber players in their primes.
But for Verlander, 2011 is in the past. It's time to look forward.
"You guys know me. You know how competitive I am," the talented right-hander said. "Having one great year isn't going to change anything. If anything, it makes me want to be better."
Verlander celebrated his 29th birthday Monday, and even after winning the AL Cy Young Award and MVP last year, he still hopes the best is yet to come.
"Last year we expected greatness -- fell a little bit short," said Verlander, who went 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA in 2011. "I think everybody's excited with the Prince signing, but I don't think we expect any more or less out of ourselves. I think every year we come here expecting a World Series title, at least since I've been here."
Cabrera is expected to move to third base to make room for Fielder at first, but the two aren't in the lineup for their defense. They combined to hit 68 home runs last year.
"I'm very excited, but we've still got work to do," Fielder said shortly after arriving in the clubhouse. "I can't say it's going to be guaranteed to have a perfect year just because we have a good team. ... You have to do what people expect of you, first."
Cabrera tried to do his part to make Fielder feel welcome.
"I was excited to see him today, man," Cabrera said. "It's all family here. We've got to do a lot of things to get him comfortable. ... He's going to feel like he's played for a lot of years here."
Fielder was introduced at a news conference in Detroit after agreeing to his contract. But there, he was accompanied by team management. Now he's with a big group of new teammates.
"I'm very respectful of all my players, but when a guy like that shows up, guys obviously take notice," Leyland said. "When star players show up, people take a look."
Verlander threw 3,941 pitches -- the most in baseball -- in 34 starts in 2011. And that doesn't even count the postseason.
"I want to go deep into the postseason again," he said. "There's stuff to be said about guys going deep into the postseason, throwing a lot of innings and getting tired. But there's also the other end of the spectrum -- the great ones that don't have that affect them. You can talk about that all you want, but you can also bring up ... the Roger Clemenses, Nolan Ryans -- the guys that got better with age and got better after long seasons."
Meanwhile, Leyland said he expects injured designated hitter Victor Martinez to show up at camp at some point. Martinez's left knee injury -- which could cause him to miss the entire season -- precipitated the Fielder signing. Martinez has already had knee surgery and still needs another operation.
Leyland also expects longtime friend and former St. Louis manager Tony La Russa to visit the Tigers in camp Tuesday.
"We're going to talk some baseball," Leyland said. "That's what baseball people do. But he's not working for the Tigers. He's not in uniform."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.