AKRON, Ohio — You can see the core coming together.
The future of the Detroit Tigers. All in one place.
They are the “Big Three,” the Tigers’ top three positional prospects. And they are playing together on the Erie SeaWolves, Detroit’s Double-A affiliate.
“What are these guys like?” I asked Greg Gania, the SeaWolves radio broadcaster.
Gania spends countless hours with these players on buses, in the clubhouse and at the hotel.
“They are legit human beings and legit ballplayers,” Gania said.
Fun to be around. Gracious with their time. Good teammates. Just good dudes.
“This team, man, is like something else,” Greene said. “The team chemistry we have as a team is really, really good. We all golf together. We all hang out together. We’re really close. And some of us have only known each other for what? A month and a half, two months.”
The more Greene talked, the more I started thinking about the 1984 Tigers.
Relax. I’m not predicting this group is going to win a World Series.
But it’s interesting how it seems so similar — a core group of prospects coming together in the minor leagues, presumably about to move up together.
In 1976, Alan Trammell was promoted to the Double-A Montgomery Rebels, a team that featured catcher Lance Parrish, third baseman Tommy Brookens, pitcher Jack Morris and pitcher Dave Rozema, the core of the 1984 World Series champions.
They hung out together. And they grew up together.
“We became a band of brothers in a baseball sense,” Parrish told me in 2018. “We pushed one another. We kidded one another. We teased one another. We held each other accountable. I think that transformed us into a championship team in ’84.”
A band of brothers.
That’s what this group of Tigers prospects already feels like.
“I like this team a lot,” Dingler said. “We have a lot of cool personalities that kind of mesh well together.”
It’s not just the Big Three. John Valente, a 21st-round pick in 2018 out of St. John’s University, says this whole group feels like a “college team.”
“The chemistry in the locker room is just unbelievable,” Valente said.
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Young stars playing for each other
Greene and Torkelson lived together during spring training, along with Jake Rogers.
Now, Torkelson and Dingler, who moved up together from West Michigan, are rooming together on the road and in Erie.
“Both of them are good guys,” Greene said of Torkelson and Dingler. “They definitely bring the vibes up in the clubhouse.”
This building camaraderie has helped everybody feel more comfortable.
“I perform my best when I’m with a close group of guys,” Torkelson said. “We’re playing for each other. It takes all the stress off your shoulders and you start playing for your team. It just helps you play so freely and you’re not worried if you go 0-4, or whatever. Because you try to pick each other up.”
There is another added benefit to having a close clubhouse and friendships that develop over years: It will allow them to hold each other accountable. Not just now but in the future, something that Parish said was so important to the ’84 Tigers.
“I feel like when you’re comfortable around your friends and your teammates, you can tell someone, ‘Hey, pick it up, you’re not doing this hard enough,’” Greene said. “It’s just like, ‘hey, I’m your teammate, I’m your friend, and I’m noticing this.'”
That’s so important in the long-term big picture.
The trio’s effect in town
When Torkelson and Dingler arrived in Erie, Gania sensed that it might be historic. Like when Trammell went to Double-A and joined Parrish and Morris.
So Gania asked Dingler and Torkelson to pose for pictures with Greene.
They obliged without hesitation.
Just like they like have been willing to do countless interviews. “Every podcast in America wants these guys on,” Gania said.
But they keep doing it. They sign baseballs for fan giveaways, and do just about anything else they’ve been asked.
“I’ve heard plenty of horror stories of minor league PR guys dealing with high-maintenance first-rounders,” Gania said. “And these guys are completely the polar opposite of the high-maintenance, high-round draft picks.”
They are accessible and genuine. Each has a wonderful sense with the media, sharing stories, unafraid to open up.
Torkelson, Dingler and Greene have already bumped fan interest in Erie.
“The Sunday game on Father’s Day was the best we’ve had in 10 years,” Gania said. “So they’re definitely making an impact on ticket sales.”
And they are also bumping merchandise sales for Erie, selling T-shirts that haven’t even arrived yet on preorders.
‘Hey, here’s what expected’ in MLB
Erie manager Arnie Beyeler has more than 20 years of experience as a scout, coach and manager.
And it is obvious he is the perfect manager for this group, guiding them through this transition.
He has experience coaching hot prospects (Mookie Betts when he first broke with the Boston Red Sox, and more recently, Sandy Alcantara when he was with the Triple-A New Orleans Baby Cakes) and he spent the 2019 season as the first base coach for the Baltimore Orioles.
So he has credentials to tell them: I’ve been to the Big Leagues. And this is how a Big Leaguer acts, this is how a Big Leaguer prepares.
“It kind of makes it a little bit easier as far as handling them and telling them, ‘Hey, here’s what’s expected and here’s what you’re going to need to do up there,'” Beyeler said.
Torkelson, Greene and Dingler are three of the top four Tigers prospects. But there are several more players on this roster that have a chance to make it.
Ryan Kreidler, 23, is a fantastic shortstop.
“He could play shortstop in the big leagues tomorrow, his defense is that good,” Beyeler said.
And Valente, whose nickname is “Johnny .300,” is hitting .323.
“Everyone gets along,” Valente said. “And everyone really enjoys the company that we all share with each other. And you know that carries on to the field.”
One final thought
There is one major difference between this group and the core of the ’84 Tigers.
“We didn’t make very much money,” Rozema told me back in 2018. “We had dinner together. We played cards. We talked baseball. We talked strategies. Different things, all the time.”
The money part is decidedly different. Greene, Torkelson and Dingler all received million-dollar signing bonuses.
But everything else feels the same.
Will they become as successful as the ’84 Tigers? Will two of them become Hall of Famers? We won’t know for another 20 years.
But for right now, they are having a lot of fun together.
And it is fun as heck for Tigers fans to dream about it happening again, right?
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.