Detroit — The faces weren’t as familiar as past years, as this Tigers’ roster is much different from the last decade.
But the passion — and for this team, specifically, optimism — that surrounds the organization was quite evident Friday at the 13th annual Detroit Economic Club luncheon, featuring the Tigers, at the Motor City Casino.
Never mind the standings, or the win-loss record.
A sold-out audience of over 1,000 cheered their favorite players and showed their appreciation of what has been a spirited start of the season for the young roster.
“A lot of people had some pretty bad expectations,” pitcher Shane Greene said during a panel discussion. “We have proven some people wrong, but we still have some more we have to prove wrong.”
That panel discussion, incidentally, was moderated by right fielder Nick Castellanos, who quizzed teammates Michael Fulmer, Leonys Martin, JaCoby Jones and Greene about various topics in one of the highlights of the luncheon.
“I’m shocked they let me do this,” Castellanos said to the laughter of the crowd. “I’m just going to wing it.”
Castellanos questioned his teammates about their feelings to this season’s start, who their biggest influences in baseball have been, and the most important ingredients to a rebuild (manager Ron Gardenhire, Greene said).
Castellanos felt the team has progressed nicely through the season, as did his teammates.
“We are very hungry,” Martin said.
General manager Al Avila, during a question and answer session with the audience via social media, expressed optimism with where the organization is currently and going forward.
“We’re all very happy and proud we’ve transformed the organization in areas where the average fans doesn’t see,” Avila said.
The Tigers traded away fan favorites such as Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez, Ian Kinsler and Justin Upton in the last year, all in the effort to accumulate young assets going forward.
“Sometimes you have to do things that are not popular,” Avila said. “You will get attacked, but they are necessary to take the right steps. We have a lot of work to do, but we’re on the right track.”
Gardenhire, making his debut at the annual luncheon, was greeted with one of the loudest ovations of the afternoon.
Gardenhire talked about Detroit’s love and passion for its baseball team, and how he and his wife have embraced the city.
“It’s been nothing but a pleasure,” Gardenhire said of being part of the Tigers’ organization. “My wife and I are having a ball. It’s a pleasure and honor to be on the field with these guys.”
Gardenhire feels this roster is playing hard every night, and learning how to play the correct way at the major league level.
“My job is just to make sure they understand there’s nine innings, there’s 27 outs,” Gardenhire said. “Let’s play them all.”
Players pointed to Gardenhire’s honesty, his passion, and his work ethic — all characteristics of the new manager — with molding this roster.
The enthusiasm and passion of Tigers’ fans did not go unnoticed or recognized by players.
Catcher James McCann noted how he and his wife have gotten support from fans after the birth of their twins, who arrived two months premature.
“It makes Detroit even more of a special place for us,” McCann said. “It make it feel like home. The outpouring our family received from the fan base here has been incredible.”