February 13, 2014 at 7:55 pm

Tom Gage

Tigers great Willie Horton glad to be alive and in Lakeland

Willie Horton walks outside Joker Marchant Stadium on Thursday in Lakeland. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)

Gage’s 140 from Lakeland (words, not characters)

Reporting days aren’t much any more at spring training.

Most of the Tigers players have been here for days, anyway.

But there was a former Tiger who sat at his locker all the same with a smile of immense appreciation on his face.

“It’s great to be here,” Willie Horton said Thursday.

More than that, he added, it’s great to be alive.

Horton underwent a 17-hour procedure on his spinal cord last year — and the infection that followed, he said, made his very survival “touch and go.”

“There were times I didn’t really know for sure,” he said about making it through.

But on Thursday, the 71-year-old former outfielder walked in with no assistance whatsoever — and was able to say with visible pride “I left my cane in the car.”

Good to see you, Willie.

Very good, indeed.

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