Detroit Tigers’ normal spring glee stuck in limbo, making this the strangest camp ever

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. – Birds were chirping, the grass was green, the sun was out and the sky was the most wonderful blue I have ever seen — that part felt like a normal spring training.

And so did this. Here came a familiar face, the guy who makes you feel all warm inside on a winter day. Alan Trammell, the Detroit Tigers‘ Hall of Famer, walked across the field Wednesday morning behind Joker Marchant Stadium, holding a bat and a glove.

Trammell was smiling and shaking hands, looking like he could go out and play right now — that part felt normal, too.

But everything else?

It was surreal.

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On the day the Tigers were supposed to start spring training, there were no big leaguers in sight. The owners have locked the players out because of a labor dispute that has reached 77 days. So spring training is delayed, with the Tigers opting to hold a minicamp for 62 players not on their 40-man roster. Which was like “Stranger Things” come to life: baseball’s version of “The Upside Down.”

Tigers manager AJ Hinch stood between four fields, watching the action but he did no instructing. He did no coaching. He did no directing. And he couldn’t talk to the media. Normally, Hinch is a man in constant motion, his brain moving as fast as his body. But he just stood still on Wednesday, looking like he wasn’t quite sure what to do.

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It was the same with general manager Al Avila. He drove up in a golf cart, which he parked between the four fields, but he cannot do GM things, such as finish the roster. The Tigers could use another starting pitcher, and they can always use another bullpen arm, but Avila cannot strike any deals.

Baseball is in a strange limbo, waiting for labor peace while stuck in a holding pattern.

Waiting for the buzz

Everything about this felt strange.

There were no fans waiting for autographs.

There was no buzz.

There was no sense that Opening Day is right around the corner. Because nobody knows when this mess will get sorted out.

Still, this minicamp is a tremendous opportunity for several Tigers prospects. And for several years now, this organization has revolved around those prospects.

There are some pitchers in this minicamp who have a shot to pitch in Detroit — assuming, of course, there is a season.

And the rest of the prospects are trying to make a mark for the future.

“You still get the butterflies,” catcher Dillon Dingler said. “I don’t think that will ever change.”

Dingler is the organization’s top catching prospect; this is his second camp, even though it’s not technically spring training.

“I’m more comfortable around these guys,” Dingler said. “We’ve played together all last year, I got to know a lot of the guys really well. I’m just looking forward to playing with this group.”

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A step up from last year

Workers sprayed down the fields and put in new bases.  The fields were all dressed up, but there were no big leaguers to be found.

It was like watching somebody put the finishing touches on a wedding dress while the bride was locked out of the church.

And I thought last year was as strange as it could get.

A year ago, the media was not allowed to get anywhere near the players because of COVID-19 concerns. I watched spring training with binoculars through a fence. All interviews were done through Zoom calls. And everything felt distant.

But those restrictions have lessened.

Media members were allowed to attend the minicamp, which is progress, at least through my eyes.

So what did we see?

I was most interested to see Jackson Jobe, the Tigers’ top draft pick in 2021 (and No. 3 overall). He walked quickly down the patch between two fields. He carried his glove and a couple of water bottles. But he was in the wrong place. No big deal. This is a time of learning for everybody.

He was directed to the other side of the field, where he went through warmups.

Pitching coach Chris Fetter stood silently by the fence, watching Jobe, but did no coaching.

All he did was watch from afar — an instructor who could do no instructing.

Yes, “Stranger Things” indeed.

On Thursday, these pitchers are expected to start their bullpens. And the rest of the players will report on Monday.

Guys like Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson.

The fact that these two highly rated prospects are not on the 40-man roster is a huge benefit to them — as well as the organization — because they will get extra time to prepare for the season. Both have a shot to make the Opening Day roster — whenever the season begins.

Yes, we are hoping the season begins.

For goodness sakes MLB, get this figured out.

Contact Jeff Seidel: Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to

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