Lakeland, Fla. — When he showed up at Comerica Park last season to toss out a first pitch, Jim Harbaugh brought his own glove, and his own spikes.
He warmed up before the game with Tigers back-up catcher Bryan Holaday. He threw so seriously, and with such surprising zip on his pitches, even Miguel Cabrera grinned and playfully gestured — using a hand extension pitchers warming up show their catcher as a sign of what’s coming.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone like him,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said Sunday, explaining why Michigan’s head football coach will be working an inning as Tigers first base coach during Wednesday’s game against the Pirates at Bradenton.
The Commissioner’s office in New York must yet approve Wednesday’s novelty, which will also see Harbaugh also coach an inning for the Pirates and for Harbaugh friend, Clint Hurdle, who manages the Pirates.
But the essence of Wednesday’s invitation, which comes as the Wolverines hold spring practices in Bradenton, was born of Harbaugh’s dual passions for baseball, and for the Tigers.
Spartans basketball coach Tom Izzo hasn’t coached in a Tigers game, in part because he and his team have other business in March, but Izzo has made his share of appearances at Comerica Park and to the Tigers manager’s office dating to Jim Leyland’s time as Tigers manager.
Knowing sensitivities in the state of Michigan and to an audience heavily and emotionally invested in two Big Ten schools, the Tigers have quietly made it known they aren’t attaching themselves to a team in Ann Arbor.
Ausmus said as much Sunday when he let it be known, with supreme diplomacy, “I’m a fence-sitter” when it comes to any ties to Michigan or Michigan State.
The Harbaugh appearance, Ausmus emphasized, was a natural case of a coach, and two teams, being in town on the same day.
“He’s a big Tigers and baseball fan,” Ausmus said. “A connection was made.”
The Tigers begin their Grapefruit League season Tuesday against the Pirates at Marchant Stadium. They play Florida Southern in a traditional pre-season opener Monday, also at Marchant.