Detroit – After seeing the Tigers take three out of four games from his current team, Nick Castellanos almost sounded wistful talking about his former teammates.
“Their camaraderie is second-to-none,” he said. “That’s extremely important on a team that wins. ... All of those guys have been in the trenches now for a couple of years. When you’re in the trenches together and you’ve got to lean on one another, that builds character on a team.
“Eventually, I think, that is a good recipe for battling each and every night.”
The Tigers are just eight games into a 60-game season that may or may not reach its conclusion because of the looming, persistent threat of the coronavirus. But there is a feeling within the organization that a corner has been turned – and maybe just for the simple fact of surviving the 114-loss nightmare last season.
“It was a tough year,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “You lose 114 games, you try to find silver linings in the middle of that. Guys gained experience. They learned to trust each other. When you are going through a season like that, you have to find ways to stick together and I thought our guys did a really nice job of playing hard all year and having each other’s back.
“That’s a growing experience in itself.”
Several players, from the second-longest tenured Tigers player Buck Farmer, to younger players like Gregory Soto, Niko Goodrum and Bryan Garcia, have spoken on the bond that’s been formed since last season, as well as the stabilizing presence of newly-added veterans like Austin Romine, C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Cameron Maybin and Ivan Nova.
“Things can turn ugly in a year like that and it’s not fun for anybody involved,” Gardenhire said. “But honestly, I didn’t feel that bad about it because I know they gave us everything they had. And now we’ve added some people and you start to see something special on the horizon.
“We have a lot of talented people on the way here and the veterans are helping. There’s good things that are going to happen to this organization. There’s no guarantees, but that’s my feeling.”
Gardenhire is in the last year of his contract, of course. He’d love the chance to reap the full benefits of what’s on the horizon. That, he said, is a conversation he and general manager Al Avila will have after the season. In the meantime, he’s going to continue to help this team blossom.
“You’ve got to understand one thing about managing and coaching, you’re a fan of these players,” he said. “Not only do they play for you, they’re your friend and you care for them. I’m an older guy and they are kind of like my kids. I want them to do well and I’m rooting for them as hard as I can.
“Sometimes you’ve got to hard-love them, make them understand that that’s part of it, and those are the delicate things when you have a losing season like that.”
Coming into spring training in Lakeland back in February, though, Gardenhire could tell there was a different vibe.
“There was a lot of confidence,” he said. “We added some people who’d been on winning teams. Look, it’s early in the season and there’s no telling what can happen, but you can sense a better feeling. We’re playing hard and we’re staying in it.
“If we keep doing that, it’s going to be fun around here.”