I must admit, I am really becoming a big Jason Grilli fan. The son of the former Tiger received a September call up from AAA Toledo and since joining the club has established himself as one of the truly good guys in the game. In a season of disappointment for the Tigers, Jason and his father Steve (Tigers, 1975-77) gave us a great story on September 24th. Jason made his first start as a Tiger that night with his dad in the stands looking on. Jason didn’t disappoint. He gave the Tigers seven innings of one run ball for the win. That night on the telecast we showed just how tough it is to watch your son on the field. Steve showed the emotional ups and downs of watching a child perform, squirming in his seat in tight situations and high fiving the people around him when Jason would record a strikeout or induce a big double play.
"I watched a tape of the game with my dad the next night, Jason said. It was really emotional for both of us. My dad told me how surreal it was to sit in the stands and watch his son pitch in the big leagues in the same city he did, thirty years later." That, I am quite sure, is a tape that father and son will watch often in the future.
Steve pitched for the Tigers briefly in the mid seventies and had a 4-3 lifetime record. "I had some time in the big leagues, he said. I fell just 296 wins short of 300." While dad’s career only lasted 70 games, Jason was on the fast track. A first round pick of the Giants out of Seton Hall in 1997, Jason was picked fourth overall behind Troy Glaus and ahead of names like Vernon Wells, Tim Hudson and Lance Berkman. Unfortunately arm injuries slowed his career early as a professional. Now, eight years after being selected in the first round, Jason finds himself in Detroit. Is he a part of the Tigers 2006 plans? Hard to tell, but his September performance can only help.
These are the days when you can tell a lot about a rookie’s personality. On the flight to Minneapolis for the Tigers final road trip of the year, Grilli and the rest of the rookies were hazed. All were made to wear clothing that would make even Cher blush. There was Jason Grilli on the team flight wearing a very short skirt and revealing halter top. Much more information than we needed.
He was also wearing a huge grin, just happy to be back in the big leagues.
A couple of days ago I was in the clubhouse gathering opinions on why so may bats are broken these days in big league games. I stopped by Carlos Guillen’s locker and asked him his thoughts. "There used to be only a few companies that made bats," Guillen said. "Now, everyone is making bats. Naturally the quality is not as good with so may companies supplying them." Guillen estimates that he will go through 15 or 16 bats a month. It wasn’t always that way. Tigers hitting coach Kirk Gibson doesn’t recall using nearly that may bats a month. "The only bats I broke were the ones I snapped myself after a bad at bat," Gibson said.
Hmmmmm…now there’s a shocker.
Bench Coach Bruce Fields agrees that there is too much product out there. "There are a lot more bat companies today. The supply of good wood has been thinned out," he said. Guillen also added that the game’s best players receive the best quality wood for their bats. "Players like Pudge and ARod don’t break as many bats because companies want them to use their bats so they send them the best wood, " he said. At that point Magglio Ordonez joined the conversation and I asked him how many bats he has gone through this season. He paused as said, "I’ve used the same bat since spring training."
"Really?," I said.
Guillen looked at me like I was an idiot. They both started laughing. I actually bought it.
Apparently there is a difference in the type of wood players are using these days. Up until the 1990’s all bats were made of ash. That began to change when some players started using maple bats, which are heavier. Ash is considered the more flexible and stronger wood. USA Today recently published a great article on the subject. Check it out.
By the way, in Guillen’s first at bat the night of our conversation, he broke his bat. I just hit my cough button and laughed.
Living the life of a big league player is about as good as it gets. Most guys in the big leagues realize how fortunate they are to be playing in a major league uniform. The Tigers have a couple of back ups that truly appreciate coming to the park every day, even if they know they probably won’t be in the lineup. It takes a special mentality to stay ready when you know you won’t start. For the Tigers, Vance Wilson and John McDonald succeed at their roles as well as anyone in the league.
Wilson is no stranger to sitting behind a star. In New York, he backed up Mike Piazza and here in Detroit, it’s Pudge Rodriguez. The secret to performing well as a backup is coming to the park everyday expecting to play. Even if you are not in the starting lineup, you have to expect that at one point you will get in the game. "Especially at the catching position," WIlson told me earlier this year. "Injuries happen and you have to be ready to play at any moment," he said. So do suspensions. Earlier this year, Wilson was pressed into duty when Pudge Rodriquez was out of commission. Wilson started in eight of the Tigers nine games in a stretch in August as Pudge sat out with a suspension. "Al Leiter taught me a lot about preparation and staying ready," Wilson said. Vance is often seen in the dugout chatting with the starting pitcher even on night’s when he is not playing. There is no question that Vance wants to start in the big leagues, but he also realizes that if he doesn’t have success as a backup, he may never get a chance to start.
John McDonald is a baseball player. There is no better way to describe him. When the Tigers acquired him in a trade with Toronto in July, the move was met with little fanfare. Yet, with Carlos Guillen’s inability to remain in the lineup with knee problems, McDonald’s acquisition gave the Tigers some depth. A fan favorite in Cleveland, it’s not hard to see why. Johnny Mac is not afraid to get the uni dirty. With the ability to play all infield positions, his value is often unappreciated. In the second game of a doubleheader in Kansas City on Tuesday, McDonald made an unbelievable catch. On a short pop up to right field, McDonald sprinted to short right, and with his back to the infield, made a diving over the shoulder grab that may have been one of the top three catches of the year for the Tigers. It was also a play that epitomized McDonald’s value to the club.
With just a couple of weeks left in the season, the Tigers will utilize the coming days to evaluate what they have and what they need for 2006.
The club continues to take a long look at what Curtis Granderson has to offer in centerfield. Curtis has gotten the majority of the playing time in CF over Nook Logan the last three weeks. Logan remains an exciting option because of his breathtaking speed, but he has failed to develop into a consistent offensive threat. Speed means little offensively if you’re not on base. Granderson meanwhile has very little to prove in the minor leagues. He runs well, is a solid defender and hits for more power than Logan. If you could combine the two, you’d have a stud. Last time I checked though, morphing players is frowned upon.
First base offers and interesting dilemma. Chris Shelton has weathered the mini slump he was in and continues to show offensive skills beyond his major league experience. Carlos Pena has returned from a minor league stint and has put up some impressive numbers in a short period of time. To me though, the fact that Shelton continues to play first base when he is the lineup with Pena indicates that the Tigers have made their choice for next year. I think we’ll see Chris hold that position for years to come. He has played well defensively and I would venture to say much better that most envisioned. I believe he is a much better athlete that people give him credit for.
Is Brandon Inge next year’s thirdbaseman? Well, his power numbers don’t match up with the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Hank Blaylock or Eric Chavez, but only Blaylock has more at bats at the position this year than Inge. Brandon has been incredibly durable. His error total is high, but also somewhat misleading. Inge has made some incredibly athletic plays this year and keep in mind he had to learn the position at the highest level. Not an easy thing to do.
The staff may get an infusion of young talent next year. Unfortunately we won’t be able to see Joel Zumaya or Justin Verlander pitch with the big club in September. Tigers fans got a taste of Verlander earlier this year, but both have been shut down with Tired arms. The stats are dazzling! Zumaya: 199 strikeouts in 151.1 innings at AA and AAA. Verlander: 136 strikeouts in 118.2 minor league innings. It will be fun to watch them pitch next spring.
The Green Monster remains the most famous landmark in baseball.
The grounds crew prepares the field for action.
View over the right field wall.
The strip of light green grass in the outfield is where sod was replaced after the field was torn up during the Rolling Stones concert.
View from the Pen in right.
I always enter the park from the right field corner next to the bullpen. It’s an awesome view to take in when you first get to the park.