Lakeland, Fla. — Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire was in a storytelling mood Friday after the third pitchers and catchers workout.
He talked about a weekend ice fishing trip with coach Joe Vavra and their friend Walleye. Old Walleye fell on the ice, cut his face pretty good and then later that night accidentally knocked his Bose sound system down the hole they’d cut into the water.
“It was a helluva trip,” Gardenhire said.
He also got on the subject of the infamous 1987 Portland Beavers, whom Gardenhire affectionately calls, “The worst team I ever played on.”
It was Gardenhire’s last season as a player and the first year the Beavers’ were the Twins Triple-A affiliate. Charlie Manuel was the manager. Former Tiger Joe Niekro was one of the pitching coaches. The team featured Billy Beane (A’s general manager), Gene Larkin (World Series hero), Edwin Rodriguez (former Marlins manager), Tigers new bench coach Steve Liddle, scouts Chris Pittaro (former Tiger), Roy Smith and Sal Butera, and Gardenhire.
The team finished 45-96 and was outscored by 230 runs.
“It was the worst team I ever played on; and it was the funnest team I ever played on,” Gardenhire said. “There were front office guys, GMs, part-owners. We may have sucked as players, but we were smart at sucking. I can’t believe we didn’t lose 100 games.”
Gardenhire does a spot-on imitation of Manuel’s Virginia drawl.
“Charlie waved runners home that were already out — I saw him do that more than once,” Gardenhire said, laughing. “He’d stand down there (in the third base coach's box), and you’d walk to the plate, three balls-no strike count and he’d go like this (move his hands to form an imaginary telescope) and say, ‘Line ‘em up, Gardy. Line ‘em up.’
“OK, Charlie, I’ll hit my fourth homer of the year and we’re in September. He was the best.”
Because the roster was always in flux, players being signed and released constantly, there were times the Beavers would be out of arms. Gardenhire actually had to pitch four or five innings. The Bad News Beavers.
“’Gardy, how do you expect me to win? I got five shortstops in my starting lineup,’” Gardenhire said, imitating Manuel. “But that’s the way it was. This was Triple-A baseball. The Twins won the World Series that year and we were their Triple-A team. You don’t know how impressive that was.”
Left-handed pitcher Travis Wood, a non-roster invitee, left the clubhouse Friday with the pin still in his broken right index finger and the splint still on. He broke the finger in two places in a crossbow malfunction four weeks ago.
He had hoped the pin and splint would be removed by Friday.
“I don’t think it’s anything that’s going to happen real quick,” Gardenhire said. “Talking with Boz (pitching coach Chris Bosio), it has to be totally healed before he’ll be able to catch a baseball. We’ve got to have a little bit of patience here and just see how it goes.”
Wood continues to throw. He has somebody catch the ball for him. The finger was nearly split in two by the bowstring. Initially, Wood contemplated having the finger amputated to expedite the recovery process, which bemused Gardenhire.
“Oh God,” he said. “Let’s be a little more patient here. Let’s go ahead and keep the finger. Baseball will come along pretty quick. I appreciate his valor. I guess that’s the way we’ll put it — valor. In Oklahoma we call that stu-pidity.”
The Tigers analytics department tested one of its new toys on Friday.
The Rapsodo pitching unit, which was set up behind catcher James McCann for Michael Fulmer’s bullpen session, collects data in real time, covering eight different metrics — including velocity, spin rate, strike zone analysis, spin efficiency and vertical and horizontal break.
The device sells for $5,000.
“I haven’t looked at the data yet,” said Fulmer, who threw 30 pitches. “I am curious to see the spin rate on my release point and finish. I’ve never been big on spin rate. They are trying to encourage it. I hope I can get behind it.”
Fulmer said he is more interested in the spin rate of his slider than his fastball.
“It could tell you something is different in your delivery,” he said. “I’ve read a lot of articles on it. Some guys' spin rates fall as the season goes on. Could be fatigue. Could be getting around the ball a little bit.
“I’m more interested in seeing the spin rate on the slider, just because I rely on that to get guys to hit the ball on the ground. The more spin you have, the more depth you can get on the slider.”
Around the horn
The music has yet to play during the workouts, but Gardenhire said that will change Saturday.
“We might just have to roll out a big boom box,” he said. “But we will have music.”
The operations staff at TigerTown is working to put up a sound system on the back fields.
…Center fielder Leonys Martin and right fielder Nick Castellanos reported for duty on Friday. Position players aren’t required to be here until Monday.
…General manager Al Avila said Friday he is expecting designated hitter Victor Martinez to be in camp on Monday.