Detroit — It was one of the last days of spring training, after the final Grapefruit League game in Lakeland, when catcher Bobby Wilson walked into manager Ron Gardenhire’s office. Wilson, 36, had been cut the day before and the Tigers were waiting to see if he was going to sign with another team or accept a minor-league deal and stay with them.
Wilson told Gardenhire that he had offers from other teams, but he wanted to stay in the Tigers’ organization. Gardenhire let out a sigh of relief and told Wilson that was what he was hoping to hear.
“We need you here,” Gardenhire told Wilson. “I think you are going to help us at some point this year. I really believe that.”
Wilson thanked him, the two shook hands and less than three months later, the Tigers purchased his contract from Triple-A Toledo.
“I felt like in that meeting with Gardy that day he kind of told me straight-up how it was and I liked what I heard,” Wilson said. “Obviously, you want to break with the team, but that wasn’t the scenario there. I’m just happy to be back in the big leagues and happy to be able to help this organization.”
Wilson replaces Grayson Greiner, who has been put on the injured list with back soreness. It’s his second stint with the Tigers.
He was acquired from Texas in a trade for Bryan Holaday March 29, 2016. He started that season in Toledo but was called up on April 14. Among the five games he played with the Tigers, he caught Michael Fulmer’s first career win.
But on May 3 the Tigers traded him back to Texas for left-handed pitcher Chad Bell. Three days later, with his equipment bag still in the Tigers’ clubhouse, he was back at Comerica Park with the Rangers, going 5-for-8 with a home run in two games against the Tigers.
“It feels like a long time since then,” said Wilson, who spent time with the Dodgers and Twins the last two seasons. “I was a little upset at that point (when the Tigers traded him), but I got the D back on now.”
The Tigers broke camp with two inexperienced catchers, Greiner and John Hicks. Gardenhire had lobbied for a way to keep Wilson on the roster, too, because he felt his veteran presence was vital, especially for a young pitching staff.
“Greiner has a sore back and also he’s struggling offensively right now,” Gardenhire said. “This is a good break for him. He probably needs a mental break, as much as a physical one. Wilson’s not going to catch four or five times a week, probably two a week, but he’ll be a positive influence.”
Greiner and Hicks, as you would expect with their limited game experience, have been very faithful to the scouting reports in devising game plans for the pitching staff this season. Wilson’s caught over 1,300 games in 17 professional seasons. That wisdom will allow him to offer a different tact.
“I’d like to think I can be a calming influence; I’ve been through just about every scenario,” he said. “But really, it’s just about going with their strengths. I feel like sometimes they can get away from what they are good at.
“I’ve got all the scouting reports, but it’s really about what can he do? I’m going to guide him that way instead of trying to pitch to a report or try to pitch to what somebody thinks. Just stick with his strengths.”
He is expected to start and catch rookie Spencer Turnbull on Sunday. Hopefully his catcher’s glove will arrive in time. His luggage was misdirected from Norfolk, Va.
“My bag was shipped to New York,” he said. “I said, ‘Well, I’m not going to New York, I’m going to Detroit. I just need my glove. I don’t care. You can have somebody take it out of the bag and bring it to me. I just need my glove.’”
There is a back-up plan. Wilson gave a couple of his gloves to the Tigers bullpen catchers before he left for Toledo. He’s covered.