Warren — There’s only one “King of the Caravan,” and that’s Torii Hunter.
Put him into any situation on the Tigers winter tour, and he leaves the venue even more popular than before.
Just as he did Friday while serving customers at the National Coney Island on Van Dyke.
It is Hunter’s smile — and easy-going way, friendliness, and the ease with which he makes friends — that does the trick.
But, Jose Iglesias is taking a cue from the master. He’s learning and trying hard to win over the fans.
You can call it the Hunter-fication of Iglesias.
As a new member of the Tigers last summer, the slick-fielding shortstop went from one pennant race (with the Red Sox) to another. He was friendly, said nice things about Tigers fans and sounded sincere. But it was the middle of the season.
There was a World Series to get to — or not.
Now along comes the coldest winter many can remember, and the Tigers are trying to warm it up by interacting with their fans.
At the Coney Island, families lined up outside in 3 degree weather to get in and get a look at the celebrity servers — Hunter and Iglesias.
And neither just went through the motions.
Hunter served a heaping plate of cheese and chili and went back to get another.
Iglesias displayed his range as a server as well as a shortstop.
He brought a Coney dog to a customer, then returned to the kitchen and waited for his next order.
“We just started handing them things, saying this is what you’re going to do,” said Martyna Nowak, National Coney Island’s marketing director. “They did everything a regular server does.”
Iglesias took it seriously, but also had fun.
“People are hungry, they’re waiting,” he said.
Detroit’s going to be his baseball home for a long time, one would think.
Iglesias senses that, too. But from the moment he first put on a Tigers uniform, he was appreciative of the fans.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I enjoy keeping the fans happy.”
It’s a two-way street, you know.
Iglesias believes he’s been welcomed by the fans — “That’s been a particular pleasure for myself,” he said — and wants to return that appreciation.
So he’s not hung back on the Caravan. He’s been a willing and active participant.
“We didn’t know what or how much Jose would want to do because this is his first time (on the caravan),” said Elaine Lewis, Tigers vice president of community and public affairs.
“But he’s been great.”
He’s also been sincere.
“This is a special time and a special moment for me,” Iglesias said after serving his last lunch. “I’m really enjoying it.”
Did he get any tips?
“No, just smiles,” he said. “That’s the biggest tip.”
Looking but not eating
Hunter liked the look of everything he put down on the table while being a celebrity server.
But he wasn’t tempted to try any of it.
“I can’t eat much on the menu, maybe the Greek salad, ” he said. “I want them so bad but all I can do anymore is dream about cheese fries.
“They were my weakness. But when I hit 30 years old, I completely changed what I eat. I love red meat, but eat it only 3-4 times a year and haven’t had a soda in years. Wine is good for you, though.”
As for how Iglesias did as a server, Hunter said: “He did a great job. But he’s just a rookie. He doesn’t know how to carry the food yet.”
Plenty of time to learn, though.
“There’s no other shortstop coming here for a long time,” Hunter said.
Around the horn
Victor Martinez isn’t missing the entire weekend, after all. He’ll be at TigerFest today.
... Andy Dirks turned 28 on Friday. When asked how his winter went, he said, “Good, did a lot of hunting.”
“Yeah,” he said, “I just look at an animal and it dies.”