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'We stand unified': Tigers join racial-justice movement, postpone series opener vs. Twins

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Cameron Maybin spoke, as did a few others. And, more importantly, everyone listened.

And when the emotional, half-hour team meeting was over, the Tigers overwhelmingly concluded that it just didn't feel right to play baseball Thursday night.

In a team vote, the Tigers decided to postpone their series opener against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. Around the same time, down the hall from the Tigers' clubhouse, the Twins had done the same — both clubs joining the growing movement against racial injustice in the United States, following the caught-on-camera shooting of another Black man by police.

Ron Gardenhire

It was one of at least six MLB games postponed Thursday night, after three were postponed Wednesday, a movement spurred by the Milwaukee Brewers. The latest police shooting happened in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

"When you start thinking about what's going on in this country ... everyone was able to get it out, instead of holding it in," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It was so emotional in there.

"This is the right thing to do, stand up and make this message be clear.

"We want things to change in this country."

Let's get the baseball business out of the way here: A traditional doubleheader will take place Friday. The first game is at 1:10 p.m., and the second game will start 30 minutes after the first game ends. The games, per 2021 rules, will be seven innings.

The Tigers will start Matthew Boyd in Game 1 and Tarik Skubal in Game 2; the Twins will go with Randy Dobnak, a United Shore Professional Baseball League alum, in Game 1 and TBA in Game 2.

The Tigers and Chicago Cubs discussed whether to play Wednesday, and ultimately decided to do so. Before Wednesday night's game, the Tigers put "Equality Now" on the scoreboard at Comerica Park, and blasted the image out on their social-media channels, to the appreciation of many fans, but hardly all of them.

Gardenhire said playing Wednesday was the right decision, too, as several players said it allowed them to get their mind off the racial unrest in the United States.

But when the game was over, and players and coaches went home, there were long phone conversations and text threads between players.

The conversations continued when the players arrived at Comerica Park on Thursday.

As of 2:30 p.m., Thursday's game was still a go, with the Tigers having already released a starting lineup and general manager Al Avila saying he had heard nothing to the contrary — while also saying that he would back his players' decisions on the matter.

"We would support that," Avila said. "Everyone has to make their decision on how to combat racism or any injustice, to tell you the truth.

Tigers general manager Al Avila says he would "support" a boycott as a result of Jacob Blake's shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, if that's what the players decided.

"For me, the world needs a lot more love and I would say any kind of protest — for me, anything that you take away violence is a key for me, and obviously it is a nonviolent way to make a statement."

Six MLB teams decided to boycott three games Wednesday: the Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres. A growing list of other games, besides Tigers-Tiwns, were being postponed Thursday.

The NBA also boycotted its playoff games Wednesday, and threatened to boycott the rest of the postseason, though recent reports suggest that now won't happen. The NBA decided to take Thursday off, and the NHL and WNBA also announced they wouldn't play Thursday.

The NFL has had several teams cancel practices this week, with the Lions being the first to do so Tuesday.

The latest sports movement comes after the recent shooting of Jacob Blake, seven times in the back. Subsequent protests in Kenosha have turned extremely violent, with two people killed. There have been protests against racial injustice held all across the country, including several in Detroit, since late May, when George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, died in an incident with a Minneapolis police officer.

"The Minnesota Twins remain committed to using our platform to push for racial justice and equality," the Twins said in a statement. "We fully respect our players for their decision.

"Real change is necessary and far overdue in our country, and it is our responsibility to continue playing a role in efforts to affect meaningful reform."

The Tigers also issued a statement late Thursday.

It read: "The Detroit Tigers fully respect the decision of our players and coaches to not take the field. We stand behind them and appreciate the sincerity of the process and their conversations. This decision comes as we think of all those who are victims of injustice and inequality. We join others from across sports to reflect, unify and channel our energy towards a cause that should be vital to all: equality.”

Friday's doubleheader will come as Major League Baseball plans to honor Jackie Robinson, who broke the game's color barrier in 1947. All players will wear No. 42.

Jackie Robinson Day is held every April 15, the anniversary of his MLB debut, but because of COVID-19, the 2020 season didn't start until July. Multiple players Thursday announced they would donate their Friday salary to causes promoting racial justice.

There were about 80 Black players on Opening Day rosters this year including three with the Tigers: Maybin, Niko Goodrum and Christian Stewart.

The Tigers also have many other minority players, from a variety of backgrounds.

Some spoke out Thursday. Most listened.

"They were concerned and hurt, and we knew it was gonna be a really tough time to try to get out on a baseball field," said Gardenhire, whose Tigers have consistently supported racial-justice causes this year — kneeling before the national anthem on Opening Day, as MLB honored the Black Lives Matter movement and paid tribute to Floyd. "It was one of things that meant a lot to all of us, and we wanted to reaffirm how much we have our players' backs, and we try to understand what they go through on a day-to-day basis.

"It was really nice to have them talk and let us know what they go through. It's a good bunch of guys that really care for each other.

"This country really needs to step up and take care of our people, all of our people.

"We stand unified as a group."

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984