Lakeland, Fla. — Taped to the door of the Tigers spring training clubhouse is a huge poster of the Commissioner’s Trophy, which is the prize 30 baseball teams fight for every season.
“I believe this belongs to us,” is written across the top. Then, at the bottom, “Don’t come in here unless you do, too.”
The poster and the call to arms are believed to be the handiwork of Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd.
“I think we all know how close we were to clicking as a team last year,” Boyd said during Tigerfest last month. “We got a taste of it those first few months. We were on that threshold. We believe that. At the same time, we know individually how we can all get better and we will all put in the work and individually take that next step.
“I am really excited to reap the rewards of that.”
You see, as manager Ron Gardenhire said Wednesday, rebuilding is a front-office concept. Not a players concept.
“Inside a clubhouse and for a coaching staff, we believe we are going to win,” he said. “We don’t do anything other than say we’re coming to the ballpark to put together a team that’s going to win baseball games.”
It’s not about being naïve or delusional. It’s about being in the business of athletic competition where the ruling mind-set is kill or be killed. Gardenhire has been through this plenty in his time managing the Twins, a team that consistently played beyond outside expectations.
“That’s the attitude we’re going to take here,” he said. “That’s the attitude we’re going to play with. These guys are all professional baseball players. They’ve all won their whole careers. Yes, it’s a rebuild. Yes, we have some young people.
“But we have some veterans, too, who know how to play. You never know what can happen in a baseball season.”
The Tigers first official workout for pitchers and catchers was forced indoors Wednesday by a persistent rain shower. The four indoor bullpen mounds were put to good use, but the fielding practice and other drill work had to be pushed back a day.
“It’s a long spring and a long season,” Gardenhire said. “Our goal right now is just to calm everything down and just try to keep an even pace.”
Gardenhire was happy to see the large turnout for the optional workouts — among pitchers and position players both. And he regretted losing a work day with the first spring game looming in nine days. But all the same, he wants to pull the reins back just a bit out of the gate.
“Slow down,” he said. “Everybody is amped up early, and if you try to do too much, you get a little too goosey, and that’s when you get hurt. Slow down. Let’s work our way through this. It’s a long spring. There’s going to be a lot of games.
“We are going about our business, have some fun doing it and just keep them healthy.”