Phil Coke started and pitched two scoreless innings of a 4-0 victory over the Blue Jays on Saturday. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
Dunedin, Fla. -- Phil Coke is going to love this column.
Because I have no idea how to describe a three-inning conversation with him after his two-inning start on Saturday.
Just the way he likes it, though.
Leave the writers guessing; leave them speechless. Leave them wondering, what the heck was THAT?
Let's get the specifics of Coke's appearance out of the way first. He started and pitched two scoreless innings of a 4-0 victory over the Blue Jays.
It was the Tigers' first exhibition game against major-league competition, and while the Jays proved to be more competitive than Florida Southern College, they failed to score against Coke and the six pitchers who followed.
Spring training, as you probably know, is different because the media are allowed to enter the clubhouse and speak with players no longer in the game.
And as we picked our way through a mix of Blue Jays and Tigers fans -- a lot of Tigers fans -- I'm pretty sure we had no idea what kind of discussion awaited us at the starting pitcher's locker.
I'm now sure we have no idea what kind of discussion will ever await us at this pitcher's locker.
At various points, with six writers around him, Coke returned serve -- interviewing us more than being interviewed.
"Want to wrestle?" he asked at one point.
"No thanks," I said.
"I could body slam you." Think I'll pass on that one, too, Phil.
"You are inconsiderate," he said.
"Now what?" I asked.
"When you were pulling out of your apartment complex last night, and I was pulling in, you didn't even wave when I let you turn." "Sorry. I didn't know it was you, Phil." Vintage Coke -- messing with us. Turning the tables. Talking about pitching, and sounding like the knowledgeable pitcher he is.
Followed by some of the most unusual exchanges I've ever had with a player.
Make no mistake, it wasn't anything angry, threatening or seriously confrontational. Even the body slam sounded like it was going to be a friendly body slam.
No first-game jitters
But if this is the way Coke is going to be after two innings of a start, there's no telling how he'll be after seven innings.
Actually, there is. If the seven go well, and he feels he's done his job, there could be many eclectic sessions -- especially if the Tigers win.
If he's upset with himself, and has what he calls "that I'm going to bite your head off look", it could be best not to approach.
Speaking of approaches, Coke likes his space.
"Back up, man, you are too close," he said. "And by the way, if I ever pull into the apartment complex and you don't wave at me for letting you go through the stop sign, I'm going to get out and kick your door." Please don't. It's a rental car. They'll notice the dent.
The subject changed back to baseball.
"I'm surprised I didn't have the first-game jitters, which I almost always get," he said about his start. "I was pretty relaxed -- so maybe I did it right in the offseason, man.
"Everybody's asking me: 'How are you going to handle it, how are you going to handle it? You don't get to sprint in from the bullpen anymore. You won't get that adrenaline rush.' "My job is to adjust from being that fiery, crazy dude out of the bullpen. I still have to have that fire, but it can't be turned up full blast because I'll run out of fuel." Describing Coke's start on Saturday, manager Jim Leyland said, "he was relatively calm. He did fine."
Though unique, Coke was relatively calm in the clubhouse, too -- I think. So has he said goodbye to the fiery, crazy bullpen dude?
"You never know," he said. "I might need to find him again. Want to wrestle?" There it was: The wrestling question.
"Look, they have nice, soft, cushy couches, I can body-slam you on." "That might happen anyway," I said, "but I'd prefer you didn't." So he didn't. No slam -- for now.
"I'm going to have to put it in neutral now, aren't I?" Coke said, in response of us wondering how easy or difficult it will be for him to wait for his starting assignments.
Perhaps it'll be easier than we envision.
"There's no use revving my engine if it's not engaged," Coke said. "Seriously, right?" Right.
Then it got back to the fact that I hadn't yielded as he turned in.
"Why did it have it to be you turning in?" I asked him.
"Why did it have it to be you being disrespectful?" he replied. "I'm not saying you weren't raised right. I'm not saying your parents were bad parents.
"I don't want your dad knocking on my door." That would be difficult for him to do, Phil. If he were still alive, he would be 104.
"I don't want him visiting me in some misty spirit sense, either," Coke said.
I'll ask him not to.
Because we really do want to see you do well, Phil Coke.
Interviewing you is different. Interviewing you is an entertaining challenge. Interviewing you is like interviewing no other player I've known.
But it's all good, right?
You don't body slam me. I don't summon the dearly departed to knock on your door.