Harbaugh savors 'big thrill' coaching 1st for Tigers

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh congratulates Tigers' Jose Iglesias after his single in the first inning.

Bradenton, Fla. — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh beamed as he emerged from the Tigers clubhouse on Wednesday, wearing a full baseball uniform with his football jersey number 4 and a batting helmet for protection.

After all, Harbaugh coached first base during the first three innings for the Tigers on Wednesday against the Pirates at McKechnie Field near the IMG Academy where the Wolverines are holed up this week for spring practice.

“What a big thrill just being in a big league park, being in the locker room, being in the skip’s office,” Harbaugh told reporters before the game. “That’s all very, very exciting.”

Harbaugh threw out the first pitch before a Tigers game last July at Comerica and said at a news conference that when he was younger he wanted to be a major league baseball player. Last March he coached first for the Oakland Athletics during spring training.

Michigan is practicing four times at IMG this week during the school’s spring break, a move that has been met with controversy from rival conferences, but the Wolverines were off on Wednesday. About 75 Michigan players and staff members attended the game.

Harbaugh was asked if there’s more pressure because the players were in attendance.

“Yeah, you don’t want to screw up,” Harbaugh said. “Don’t want to screw up for (Tigers manager) Brad (Ausmus). Really appreciative really. Most of our guys are here for here. Appreciate (Pirates manager) Clint Hurdle and the Pirates organization helping us get tickets.”

Pirates� Hurdle, a UM fan, heaps praise on Harbaugh

Harbaugh is friends with Hurdle, who grew up in Big Rapids and is a longtime Michigan fan. Hurdle spoke to the Michigan players while they’ve been here for spring practice.

As far as bucket-list had-to-do experiences, Harbaugh said it wasn’t like that exactly.

“Nah, if somebody asks you to do it, you do it,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you do it? Who wouldn’t do it if they were asked?”

Ausmus before the game called Harbaugh “charismatic” and said he has a “big personality”. He laughed as he shared how Harbaugh warmed up in the Tigers’ dugout while wearing his signature khakis last year before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.

“Not something you see very often,” Ausmus said, laughing.

He was asked if Harbaugh would be allowed to argue a call. Harbaugh frequently was demonstrative on the sideline last fall while arguing with officials during his first season.

“If he wants to, he can argue and get thrown out,” Ausmus said. “I’m not paying his fine.”

Harbaugh walked onto the field and was in the first base coach box but before the game signed autographs for fans. He said he has specific goals for his work as coach.

“Hope to get a chance to send a runner and be right,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t want anybody picked off at first base, that’s my main concern is having nobody picked off at first base and secondly, don’t get hit by a line drive, personally.”

As for his team’s stay at IMG Academy and practice, Harbaugh was upbeat.

“Morale has been exceptionally high,” he said.