Lake Buena Vista, Fla. -- Like online dating, be careful about Grapefruit League baseball.
Go easy on the ardor. Take time to know your partner. Beneath the smoothness and the seduction there can be surprises that will make you rue the day you ever fell for this creep.
Ah, but the Tigers camp could afford to dream Friday at Champion Stadium, where Detroit beat Atlanta, 2-1, in an amazingly neat and revealing spring-camp opener.
Everything clicked: Rick Porcello pitched brilliantly and has rarely had a better trio of pitches than he featured Friday with his fastball combination, slider, and change-up. Luke Putkonen, who bears watching as the Tigers hunt for a long reliever and rotation depth, had a potent two-inning stint.
And then there were the kids. The outfielders. The guys a team from Detroit seems always to draft and develop, even if it can't quite say the same about infielders it tends to acquire only by way of trades, free-agent deals, and Salvation Army bins.
Jim Leyland was already in nice spirits as the Tigers manager surveyed his outfield ahead of today's spring debut.
He has Austin Jackson in center field and right field in the trusty custody of Torii Hunter. Andy Dirks is set for left, unless, of course, Brennan Boesch has a torrid camp, or one of his kid outfielders — Avisail Garcia or Nick Castellanos — pulls off a major coup and crashes the 25-man roster ahead of Opening Day.
A supporting cast is flush with contenders: Quintin Berry and Don Kelly, not to mention the sprinter the Tigers got in December's Rule 5 draft, Jeff Kobernus, who had a triple and scored the winning run, in part due to his cheetah-grade speed.
Even their hot-shot local prospect, Daniel Fields (U-D Jesuit High), made a game-saving catch when he replaced Berry later in the game in center field.
And, of course, there is Tyler Collins, a young Texan whose saddlebags are stuffed with raw baseball prowess.
"A baseball player" is how the Tigers insiders always have described Collins. It's the same way they have always talked about Dirks. "Baseball player" is how grizzled scouts describe a player with an infantryman's makeup and a passel of all-around baseball skills.
Collins is 22. He was a sixth-round pick two years ago from Howard College, a junior college to which Collins retreated after he suffered an, uh, academic crisis at Baylor.
Details are sketchy, but Collins has a sharp mind and a pleasing personality. An easy theory suggests books might have lost in a fierce battle with social pleasantries, a bit of speculation Collins can, in time, support or refute. He looks as if he'll be with this team a while.
He had a triple and a double Friday, and scored the Tigers' first run after getting their first hit of the new season. He tossed in a diving catch along the right-field chalk for kickers.
Collins adds spice
And while there's virtually no chance Collins will play anywhere but at Double A Erie when the regular season begins, a 5-foot-11, 215-pound, left-handed batter with a uniform painted in grass and dirt stains is helping to create a lovely logjam for the Tigers.
They are all but destined to trade an outfielder or two at some point in 2013. And don't be surprised if one of those outfielders is paired with Rick Porcello or with a different starter in a whopper of a deal as the Tigers figure out how to reconcile six starting pitchers for a five-man rotation.
What suggests an outfielder or two is about to head elsewhere is that the Tigers not only have a starting trio in place but a second wave (Castellanos, Garcia, Collins) at the doorstep. These phalanxes are separate from the Boesch, Berry, Kelly, Kobernus gang and from that group hatching at Single A: Steven Moya, Danry Vasquez, and Austin Schotts.
Spring camp is only a few days old, but the Tigers' outfield crowd is already spicing up Tigertown, not to mention the Grapefruit League season. Tigers fans are ready for a romance. Let their hearts beat or break in ways only kid baseball players can dictate.
The future is looking bright for Prince Fielder, third base coach Tom Brookens and the rest of the Tigers. But the season hasn't started yet. / Robin Buckson/Detroit News
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