Chris Ilitch: Family committed to Tigers

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — The Tigers had a very special clubhouse guest this morning, prior to the grand opening ceremonies at the new Joker Marchant Stadium and prior to the game against the Orioles.

Owner Christopher Ilitch spoke to the team and certainly allayed whatever fears they (and fans) may have had about the immediate future of the franchise in the wake of the death of his father, Mike Ilitch.

“I told the players this morning they’re going to find the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” he said. “My father loved baseball, he loved the Tigers and he loved this actual Tigers team. And I share my father’s passion for baseball.

“I still coach my children’s teams, even though I have an incredibly hectic schedule. I do it because of my love for the game. I love this franchise and I love this team.”

The $48 million renovation to the old spring training facility here in Lakeland, he said, is evidence of the Ilitch family’s commitment to the franchise.

Tigers owner Chris Ilitch speaks with the media before the game.

Tigers to wear patch honoring late owner Mike Ilitch

“Physical environment is a big part of creating a culture,” Ilitch said. “We’re a world-class organization and we want to remain one. This is a big part of it.”

Ilitch said he has represented his father and the Tigers at Major League Baseball owners’ meetings the last two years and he’s won the fast respect of commissioner Rob Manfred.

“The Tigers organization is in very good hands with Christopher Ilitch,” Manfred said at the Governor’s Dinner here last week.

Ilitch said he plans to continue his heavy involvement with Manfred and the MLB owner’s group.

“I’ve had a front row seat for 25 years to watch my how my father operated,” Ilitch said. “And I would arguably say he was one of the best owners in all of professional sports in my lifetime. To see how he operated and went about running a world class organization like the Tigers was an incredible experience.”

Ilitch reiterated what general manager Al Avila has often said, that ownership has not made any mandate on the club’s payroll.

“I support Al’s approach wholeheartedly,” he said. “Al’s got a great plan and the first part of that plan is to beef up our sabermetrics, player development and analytics departments. Al’s goal is to identify the best players in the world and then we really need to develop them.”

Toward that end, the Tigers have added personnel to the analytics, scouting and player development staffs in the last year and a half.

“We’ve seen the importance of identifying talent, drafting well and developing well; we’ve seen how that can work for the Tigers,” Ilitch said. “It was a large part of our success in 2006 and 2012, and we’ve seen it with the Red Wings, as well.

“I support Al’s approach. I think we are on the right track.”

And as for this season, Ilitch seems on board with making another strong run at a world championship.

“I think we have a team that can win a World Series,” he said. “If our team comes together and plays the way they can play, we have the personnel for a very good season.”

The Tigers unveiled the commemorative Mr. I patches on their uniforms, a move that touched Ilitch.

“It’s been amazing,” he said of the love the organization, players and fans have shown his father. “Talking to the players this morning, the remembrances they had about my father, the condolences, it’s been remarkable.

“The outpouring from the fans and the general public has been amazing. What has been a very difficult period for me, my brothers and sisters and certainly for my mother, it’s heartwarming to see the type of support and that outpouring of love.”

Twitter @cmccosky

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