Alligators and 5,000-foot bombs: Inside the bromance of Detroit Tigers’ Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson

Detroit Free Press

Jeff Seidel
 
| Detroit Free Press

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LAKELAND, Fla. — When the Detroit Tigers took Spencer Torkelson with the first pick in the 2020 MLB draft, Riley Greene watched intently on television.

“My first reaction was, ‘I gotta meet this guy,’ ” Greene said. 

So Greene followed Torkelson on social media. Only there was a problem. “I don’t think he ever followed me back,” Greene said. “And I think I brought it up and then he followed me back — something like that — I don’t know.”

[ Riley Greene is the alpha male of the Tigers’ rebuild. Here’s how I know ]

Wait a second. Torkelson dissed him? He didn’t follow Greene, the Tigers’ No.1 draft pick in 2019?

“When you get drafted,” Torkelson tried to explain, “your social media blows up.”

Greene laughed. “Yes, yes,” Greene said, smiling. “I’m just throwing that out there.”

They joke and tease back and forth. Torkelson and Greene, the foundation of the Tigers’ rebuild for position players, have become best friends. They have been together almost constantly this summer, starting out training together in Comerica Park during the second spring training, going to Toledo together at the alternate training site and then moving to Lakeland for instructional ball.

But it is so much more than baseball. Greene and Torkelson hang out together just about every night, ride to Joker Marchant stadium together every morning and even go fishing together after practice. They went to Dick’s Sporting Goods and bought a couple of fishing poles.

“We have some ponds behind our hotel that we fish,” Greene said.

“We haven’t caught anything yet.” Torkelson said. “Nothing.”

“Not even a bite,” Greene said.

“He has all this talk about being an angler,” Torkelson said. “He’s got a boat and I’ve yet to catch a fish in Florida.”

“So wait,” Greene said. “So Tork is from California and he’s never seen an alligator before.”

Torkelson started laughing.

“So we were walking up and we’re talking about alligators and he’s asking me questions,” Greene said.  “We’re walking up and there’s like a bridge and there was — what? Like an 8- or 9-foot gator sitting under a bridge.”

“Insane,” Torkelson said.

“And it goes into the water and Tork was like a little kid,” Greene said. “I’ve never seen someone so excited, and I thought I thought it was cool.”

Torkelson was laughing and Greene was smiling, and it was like listening to best friends tell old stories.

Mutual respect

When Torkelson and Greene arrived in Detroit for Spring Training 2.0, they went into a brief quarantine at a hotel.

“One of our scouts gave me Tork’s number,” Greene said. “I was like, all right, cool. I’ll text him and see what’s up.”

They decided to go play catch.

“That’s right,” Greene said, suddenly remembering it. 

Yes, two of the Tigers top prospects started playing catch in a parking lot like little kids before a Little League game.

“Riley, Dillon Dingler and I,” Torkelson said.

They walked to a gas station and picked up some snacks. “It was really fun,” Torkelson said.

Torkelson is 21 and Greene is 20, but at times, Torkelson talks about him as a “kid.”

“Riley’s really down to earth for being you know an 18-year-old kid,” Torkelson said and stopped himself. “Ah, he’s 20 now. But drafted as an 18-year-old out of high school. You know, that’s not easy. I remember my freshman fall at ASU, and it was definitely a change of scenery and it was hard for me. And I can only imagine Riley jumping from high school to the real world. College is not really the real world yet. But Riley went straight from living with his parents to living in Lakeland and West Michigan, and I have a lot of respect for that.”

Greene has the same kind of admiration for Torkelson.

“He’s a good guy, really good baseball player,” Greene said. “But I mean, to be honest, I think he’s a better person off the field than he is a baseball player. But don’t get me wrong. He’s really really good at baseball, but he’s a better person.”

Torkelson laughed.

“He comes off shy,” Torkelson said of Greene. “Then he opens up and then he’s goofy and he’s just a stud in everything he does. Maybe not fishing. But he’s good at everything. A great friend. And yeah, just overall stud.”

Dingers and zingers

“Who has hit the longer home run?” I asked.

“Ah, I’d have to give that to Greeny,” Torkelson said.

“Really?” Greene said.

“He has some big bombs,” Torkelson said.

“I don’t know man,” Greene said.

“Maybe that one I hit in Toledo,” Torkelson said.

“OK, yeah, yeah, OK,” Greene said. “I was playing left field. I don’t think I moved one step because I knew it was gonna be 5,000 feet.”

“I just remember, we had like, weekly leaders and monthly leaders in different categories of hitting and Greeny always had the best, the farthest distance, like 450 feet of a home run,” Torkelson said. “It was a batting practice off a machine. But it was pretty impressive. It was like hitting the buildings on the other side of the street in Toledo. Which is really far.”

“Who is the better athlete?” I asked.

“Greeny is faster,” Torkelson said. “But when it comes to little things, like Ping-Pong, I might get him, but Greeny is faster.”

“Bro,” Greene said. “Play me on the court man.”

“OK,” Torkelson said.

“One on one,” Greene said

“Golf, I’ve definitely got him there,” Torkelson said.

Torkelson, Greene and seven other Tigers prospects played in a nine-man scramble during instructional ball. That is, until they got kicked off the course.

“OK, I’m horrible at golf,” Greene said. “He is definitely way better than golf than me.”

“Who is the better fisherman?” I asked.

“Right now, it’s definitely me,” Torkelson said.

They both cracked up laughing.

Buddies ‘damn near every day’

Greene drives Torkelson to practice in his Ford F-250.

“He’s a good driver,” Torkelson said. “When he needs to put the pedal to the medal, he does it.”

Greene laughed.

“Greene is the first one to text me in the morning: ‘Let’s roll,’ ” Torkelson said.

Then, Torkelson will text back: “Give me a second, I’m still brushing my teeth.”

“He’s says, ‘Give me 3 minutes?’ ” Greene said, laughing. “Why 3? Why not say 5 or 10?”

“It turns out to be 5, but if you say 3, it sounds like it’s shorter,” Torkelson said.

They hang out together off the field “damn near every day” Torkelson said. “We either get food or go to Bryant Packard and (Andre) Lipcius’ house.  And hang out with them for a bit.”

“What’s your go-to restaurant?” I asked.

“Would you say Longhorn, Greeny?” Torkelson said.

“Ahhh!” Green said. “I’d say so.”

“Starbucks!” Torkelson added.

“Oh my gosh, we go to Starbucks — geez, five times a week,” Greene said.

“It’s quick and easy on the way to the field,” Torkelson said.

And it has already made a big impact on Greene’s musical tastes.

“So funny story,” Greene said. “So Tork and I started like driving together. He was playing these songs and it was like, it’s called EDM or house music. And just from that, I have literally made a full playlist of songs, of just that. He’s definitely like rubbed off on me on those songs. That’s for sure.”

Sweat equity

After Torkelson was drafted, the Tigers announced that he was being drafted as a third baseman.

“I was pretty excited to see how that transition was gonna happen,” Greene said. “So we were in Toledo and he would be out there probably, like an hour before us, with Alan Trammell. Just taking ground ball after ground ball after ground ball. And he’d come in to the locker room and I’m just sitting there, you know, just listening to music, and he’s dripping in sweat. I’m like, ‘Bro, like, what did you just do?’ He’s like, ‘I just took ground balls.’ And it was like that probably five or six times a week. So I thought that was pretty impressive. That showed a lot to me as him as a person. He’s a pretty good third baseman from what I’ve seen.”

Bros in a buddy flick

“What’s your go-to Netflix?” I asked.

“I like ‘The Other Guys,’ ” Torkelson said.

A buddy-cop action film. Figures.

Greene laughed. “That’s a good one.”

Torkelson’s humor is based on movie lines.

“Oh my gosh,” Greene said. “We will be at practice and Tork will throw out a movie quote and we will all start dying just because that’s how his brain works. It’s just movie quotes.”

They both started laughing and smiling.

Like old friends, playing themselves, in a buddy flick.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.

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