April 06, 2009
Spring training is finally over.
Everyone on the team is ready to get this season rolling, and after hearing that there might be 5-8 inches of snow coming to Detroit this week, we are even more excited to be starting the season in Toronto in the Rogers Centre instead of at an open stadium.
There's always such a build up for Opening Day. We've been at spring training for two long months, getting ourselves ready and trying to improve from the previous year. We are at a point that we are ready to see if we did enough in the offseason and if we have actually improved.
No matter what city you are in or what team you play for, the media is out in full force on Opening Day. The main focus of the media, whether you are the defending World Series champions or a last-place team, is if your team is better than last year — or at least just as good. Every team is in first place today, and the fans, media and players all feel that their team will be in the World Series.
Expectations are high with this team. They may not necessarily be high in the media, but they definitely are with ourselves. The reason I arrived so early in to Lakeland this year was to move on to this season as quick as possible. There is no doubt that last year was a disappointment.
As players, of course we want to win. But it hurt even more to see the fans hurt. They had so much hope for us last year, and now with the economy and unemployment situation in Detroit, it makes us want to win that much more. Our fans in Detroit are as good as they come. They support us no matter what. They haven't had much to cheer about in the past year outside of the Red Wings winning the Stanley Cup last year and Michigan State's Final Four run this year.
I know it sounds cliché, but we as players don't spend much time listening to the "experts" or looking at pre-season projections for how the standings will shape up. We don't discuss it either. There's no need. We know what happened last year. We don't feel good about it.
But just looking over the past few seasons, how many predicted us to play in the 2006 World Series? Or the Rockies to play for a title in 2007? Or even the Rays in the World Series last year? A lot of those people gave up on the Phillies at a point last year, too. Many of those "experts" are picking us to finish last in our division this year. It may certainly be fair based on our results last year, but I have a lot of faith in our management and this team.
We have to move forward and put 2008 behind us. If our goal is to play better than last year, then that will drag us down. Our goal is to play as well as we know we are capable of playing. If we do that, we'll win games. We have the players to contend for a world championship. More importantly, we have the hunger. Our team has an approach that I haven't seen before. This includes me. There is no doubt that the main focus for every player and coach in this clubhouse is winning games.
It's so funny that with 162 games in our season, and the season starting in April, that people are already talking about playing in October. We as the players try our best to keep in our minds that we really have to play one game at time, and no matter what happens on Opening Day, we still have six months of baseball left to play. Teams are going to win games and lose games, teams are going to go on long winning and losing streaks, and the first game of the season doesn't mean a whole lot when you look at the big picture.
But even with that, it will be important for us to get off to a good start simply so we don't begin to mirror last year's 0-7 start.
After our past two seasons, people have begun to call our 2006 season a fluke. I don't think that is the case. 2006 was still a learning season for us. We had a lot of new players and a new coaching staff. We didn't feel any pressure and just played day-to-day. The next year, many favored us to return to the postseason. We fell short, but not by much. Last year was just a mix of everything. We had key players getting injured at different times. Both defensively and at the plate, we didn't help out our pitchers. There are no excuses. We didn't win games, and that's what it all comes down to. But I think last year was more of a fluke than either 2006 or 2007.
This is the first time we have to go out there with more people laughing at what we did last year than people expecting us to be good. I sort of like that. I like be in the shadow of everything else that is going on. The Yankees have a revamped pitching staff and a new stadium and Manny is going back to the Dodgers. We aren't the big talk and I think that will help us throughout this season. Even if we start to play well, there will be people who will say, "the Tigers can't hold this up," "they will fall off," "other teams just aren't playing good," and many other things, but that's the point of a season. They said that about the Rays up until September last year, too.
Curtis Granderson plays center field for the Detroit Tigers and his blog will appear regularly on Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew during the 2009 season. Make sure to check out and support his Grand Kids Foundation.