LAKELAND, Fla. — Welcome back to the second week of Big League Stew's Spring Swing V. As you may have noticed, I've vaulted myself over the tour's top rope and into the ring after Dave Brown spent last week clotheslining various teams up and down Florida's Gulf Coast.
It's no coincidence that I'm leading off with a wrestling analogy, either. My first spring drop-in came with the Detroit Tigers on Saturday at Lakeland's Joker Marchant complex and the Prince Fielder-Miguel Cabrera tag team looks as fearsome as advertised. The two titans spent part of their morning doing a do-si-do in and out of the batting cage as they took cuts and aimed to get their swings into shape. The pitches came from a machine, so the prospect of facing both men back-to-back has yet to become a reality for poor pitchers on the other end of the deal.
But it will soon, which is why Tigers fans are eagerly anticipating the team making a run at its second straight AL Central title. Detroit won the flag going away in 2011, besting the second-place Cleveland Indians by 15 games. Could the result be the same this year? With a stellar pitching rotation that's being overshadowed by the hype of Fielder's contract and the added offensive firepower, it certainly seems like another runaway could be in the cards.
Click through for more photos from my time in Lakeland ...
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As you might expect, Fielder's arrival after signing that $214 million contract last month has generated a decent amount of excitement among Tigers fans. From my unofficial survey, Fielder's name was on the back of more jerseys and shirts than any other Tigers player.
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Some fans, though, are sticking with honoring those who have longer ties to Motown.
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One of the biggest spring storylines in baseball —not just Detroit — is how Miguel Cabrera will fare on his move to third after Fielder pushed him off of first. The big slugger spent a few minutes hanging out in his new territory on Saturday, but never received the opportunity to field any batted balls in the time that I was watching him.
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As I mentioned before, the pitching machine didn't show any outward signs of being intimidated by the Fielder-Cabrera duo. But it did provide one of the funniest moments of the day when it was initially set up improperly and nearly nailed an unsuspecting Alex Avila, who was standing on the outside of the cage, with its first offering. After making sure Avila was nothing more than rattled, everyone had a good laugh as the machine's calibration settings were brought in tune. It's clearly spring training for everyone.
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Is he off in search of Fastball Flakes? With all the hype over Fielder, it can somehow be easy to forget about Justin Verlander, his shiny new Cy Young Award and his 24 victories in 2011. But the AL's ace was never far from sight on Saturday as he shuttled between diamonds to watch a few fellow pitchers, including Doug Fister, as they threw live BP sessions.
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One final note: After watching the Tigers, I drove two hours east in hopes of fulfilling my lifelong dream of seeing my first Daytona 500 and becoming a guest blogger for From The Marbles. What I got instead was a soggy afternoon spent napping in the front seat of my rental car as the race was delayed until Monday for the first time in its 54-year existence.
The lesson seems clear: Never stray far from baseball.
And so I won't. More to come from Florida this week.
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