Detroit Tigers brothers Austin, Parker Meadows arrive for epic spring training they won’t forget

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Austin Meadows had a couple steps on his little brother.

Parker Meadows, a little less than 4½ years younger, lagged behind.

The brothers each carried their own bags — sort of — with black sunglasses covering their eyes as they approached the Detroit Tigers‘ spring training facility. Austin had a lightweight backpack hanging off his shoulder, but Parker took responsibility for the massive duffle bag filled with baseball gear. The elder Meadows looked confident gripping his stainless-steel tumbler, whereas the younger Meadows seemed to be holding on for dear life to a cardboard box of bats. The image found its way to social media.

“The Tigers did me dirty with that photo,” Parker said.

“We have laughed all day about that,” their mother, Staci Meadows, said.

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Minutes later, the brothers emerged in the Tigers’ spring training clubhouse, sunglasses resting on their fresh haircuts. Parker embraced his longtime friends from the minor leagues; Austin greeted Miguel Cabrera and other veterans. They’ve never shared a locker room. They’ve never played on the same team. They’ve never patrolled the outfield grass in a game at the same time.

This spring, everything changes for the Meadows brothers.

“It’s just wild to know we’re in the same locker room now, and how far we’ve come,” said Austin, whom the Tigers acquired in a trade from the Tampa Bay Rays in April 2022. “This is our first opportunity to get things going together. It’s pretty crazy.”

After settling into their lockers, Austin and Parker took the field and warmed up by playing catch on the TigerTown backfields.

They worked out with the same trainer this offseason — Dr. Joel Seedman — and looked different compared to last season: Austin, who trained virtually, lost 15-20 pounds of fat and tacked on muscle; Parker, who trained in person, has strengthened his muscles in his upper body and legs, along with adopting a buzz cut.

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A long-toss session ended in a fist bump, then they walked alongside each other for batting practice on different fields.

Around 3 p.m. Saturday, Austin and Parker pulled their vehicle into the driveway, with their proud parents sitting outside, following their first day of work as official teammates. The entire Meadows family is staying at Austin’s home in Apollo Beach, about 45 minutes — an hour with traffic — from Lakeland.

For both, this is going to be an unforgettable spring training.

“It’s so weird,” said Parker, whom the Tigers selected No. 44 overall in the 2018 draft. “It hasn’t really even hit me yet. We’ve never shared the same locker room. When I was in eighth grade, he was a senior, so we never got to share high school together or anything. The fact that we’re able to do that now is surreal.”

‘It’s always a competition’

Parker lives in his hometown in Georgia during the offseason, and Austin resides in Florida with his wife, Alexis, and newborn daughter. Parker and his parents, Staci and Kenny, traveled from Georgia to Florida on Wednesday for a five-day visit and epic spring training sendoff.

On Friday, Austin and Parker lifted weights together in the garage and took batting practice at a nearby high school.

His parents shagged fly balls in the outfield. It has been a long time since the four were on the same field. The moment brought back emotional memories for both parents. It feels like just yesterday Kenny was coaching them as Little League players.

“And then listening to them heckle each other,” Staci said.

“Yeah, the wind was blowing in at about 30 miles an hour,” Kenny chimed in. “They were seeing who could hit the first home run.”

“It’s always a competition,” Staci added.

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For another example, look no further than the trampoline — or trampolines, since so many of them broke over the years — when they were kids. Austin and Parker would treat the trampoline like a wrestling mat. Neighbors knew their names because of Staci’s booming voice coming from the back porch, usually when one or both needed to be put in timeout.

At the time, Austin was significantly taller and heavier than his little brother. Parker, who has always viewed Austin as a role model, grew taller than his older by his senior year of high school.

“He would make Parker cry a few times,” Kenny said.

“We told Austin, ‘He’s going to be bigger than you one day, and he’s going to get you back for all that,'” Staci said.

“I think Austin realized little brother grew up pretty fast,” Kenny said. “He’s a couple inches taller and almost 220 (pounds) now.”

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They compete in golf, too.

Austin, Parker and Kenny play as much as they can during the offseason and like to test their skills at different courses. It’s a time for the boys to talk shop. They rag on each other for poor shots and congratulate each other for pretty swings.

So, which Meadows brother is a better golfer?

“If I had to say …” Kenny said.

“You better watch it,” Staci interrupted.

“Parker just picked it up a couple years ago,” Kenny continued. “He absolutely loves it. He has shot in the 70s before. I would say Parker’s got him on golf. Austin has that daggum slice he can’t get rid of. That’s every golfer’s nightmare. But they enjoy getting out there, and they know I like to play.”

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The latest competition took place Friday, when the Meadows family was hanging out in the pool. Ever since childhood, Austin has always been able to jump from the shallow end of the inground pool onto the pool deck without using his hands to support his weight.

Can Parker do that, too?

“He backed away from the wall, took one step and then jumped,” Staci said. “So, he cheated a little bit.”

Later on Friday, Parker was holding his newborn niece and walking around the pool. They’re competitive, but they love each other deeply. In November, he glowed when talking about becoming an uncle.

On Dec. 26, Austin’s wife gave birth to Adelynne.

Her life has given Austin a new perspective on his life.

“She’s almost two months old now,” Austin said. “She’s starting to realize who’s around her and being able to see and hear and all that kind of stuff. It’s pretty special. Everything’s happening so quickly, so we’re just trying to enjoy every moment.”

‘He’s always been my role model’

Staci woke up Saturday morning, hugged and kissed her children and sent them on their way. They enjoyed a family dinner in Tampa on Friday night before Austin and Parker reported to spring training in the morning.

Austin climbed in the driver’s seat.

Parker rode shotgun.

“He’s always been my role model,” Parker said. “At a young age, watching him on the field, whether I was playing with Power Rangers on the side or riding a scooter, I’ve been watching him my whole life.”

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For Austin, the 2023 season signifies a fresh start and a chance to reboot his career. The former All-Star played 36 games last season and missed time with injuries while struggling with his mental health, which he described as an “anxiety monster.”

“There was a lot of tears shed with worry, a lot of sleepless nights with worry,” Staci said. “We have told the boys since the beginning of this that there’s so much more than a baseball player. You’re a brother, you’re a son, Austin’s now a father. It’s a huge business, but we are now really understanding this is a game.”

In September, Austin stepped away from baseball and released a statement on social media. The 27-year-old, who first realized his mental health struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic, now has a team of therapists in Detroit to help him navigate the upcoming season.

“It’s proving to myself that I can get back to my original form and back to being me,” Austin said. “Obviously, I had a lot of success over in Tampa Bay, so it’s just bringing that here to the Tigers and showing them what I’m about. I wasn’t really able to do that last year with the injuries and everything else going on.”

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As for Parker, the 23-year-old hit .270 with 20 home runs, 56 walks and 108 strikeouts in 127 games with High-A West Michigan (14 games) and Double-A Erie (113 games) last season. He also hit .224 with three homers in 24 games in the Arizona Fall League.

The Tigers added Parker to the 40-man roster in mid-November.

He seems likely to start the season in Triple-A Toledo, but at some point this summer, the Meadows brothers could share the outfield in the big leagues. Until then, they’re looking forward to doing so in spring training games.

It all started Saturday.

A spring they’ll never forget.

“We’re looking forward to whatever happens,” Staci said. “You can only take it day by day, but whatever happens for both of them, we pray every day that they stay healthy and enjoy this time together.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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