Detroit Tigers’ Christopher Ilitch reveals major upgrades, like new team plane, to players

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — On Tuesday morning, before the second official full-squad practice of spring training, Detroit Tigers CEO and chairman Christopher Ilitch spoke to the team and revealed his plans for changing the player experience:

A new team plane.

Revamping the clubhouse at Comerica Park.

And trying to improve every aspect of being a Tiger.

“I’m trying to find the words to describe what it felt like to hear that from him,” Spencer Torkelson said. “It’s just special. It’s personal. He wants this to be a family. He wants to make it so you want to be a Tiger; and when you’re a Tiger, you stay a Tiger; and you win.”

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Ilitch was in Lakeland for the day to watch his team and popped into a regularly scheduled team meeting. He spoke for about 20 minutes to a packed clubhouse, talking to about 60 players, members of the front office, coaches and staff.

It is not clear when the team plane will be finished. The clubhouse renovations will be completed when the Tigers return to Detroit for the April 6 home opener at Comerica Park, as well as the adjustments to the outfield walls and installation of the 472 LED light fixtures.

The sentiment behind the changes left the players impressed.

“The improvements that are going to happen are all focused around helping us, winning the margins, just like how Scott (Harris) has talked about,” Matthew Boyd said. “One thing in and of itself may not help in the win total, but little things here and little things there, all focused on getting to the place that we want to be, is exciting.

“Having him come in here and say that was really, really cool. Really, really exciting. And it spoke volumes. And there are more changes coming. To see the personal touch of it, too, I think that goes a really, really long way.”

These changes are indications of what Harris is trying to implement.

He wants to build a first-class organization, and Ilitch told the players he’s supporting it.

Some of it can be seen: The Tigers have hired new coaches.

Other things are being kept under wraps.

“He is showing us that he wants to win,” Alex Lange said. “Doing what it takes. You have to develop from the bottom up. You have to take care of the guys, and they’re doing that. You’ve seen changes. We’ve seen stuff moving in the positive direction, so we’re super excited. It’s not every day the owner comes in and is expressing changes and listens to concerns and stuff like that. It’s pretty cool.”

Several young players were blown away, just to have an owner show up in the clubhouse.

“I don’t know if that happens at other places,” Reese Olson said. “It seems like it’s going to be awesome changes for the players. He’s just essentially making everything better, making players more comfortable pretty much in all aspects.”

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After the meeting, Ilitch stood on one of four fields with Harris and watched the Tigers go through infield drills and batting practice.

Manager A.J. Hinch was hitting ground balls to the left side of the infield.

As the players finished their drills, Ilitch spoke with several of them.

“It’s pretty obviously that it’s time to win, and it lights a fuse a little bit more,” Lange said. “It’s exciting.”

Ilitch did not talk to reporters.

After practice, he left with Harris. The two of them walked across the field together.

“Did he mention his desire to win?” Boyd was asked.

“Without a doubt, you could hear it in his voice,” Boyd said.

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Live BPs begin

The Tigers started live batting practices Tuesday, which meant the introduction of the pitch clock in simulated situations. Starting pitchers, like Eduardo Rodriguez and Matt Manning, tossed an equivalent of two innings.

Every pitcher had a 15-second clock.

“It’s just more familiarity,” Hinch said. “The major league guys, everything is going to feel really new and fast, so we might as well start practicing that way and work our way toward mastering it by Opening Day.”

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This season, pitchers will have to begin their deliveries within 15 seconds with the bases empty and within 20 seconds with at least one runner on base. Time violations will result in an automatic ball.

“In a lot of ways, I hope there’s some failure early in camp for everybody to understand what a violation is and what isn’t,” Hinch said. “I don’t want spring training (games) to be not normal. We want to feel like we’re in season as much as possible.”

Lange, in particular, broke out all his weapons and looked ready to pitch in the big leagues.

He seemed in mid-summer form.

“Alex doesn’t get on the mound without a certain amount of intensity,” Hinch said. “You can tell him to work on something, and he doesn’t really know how to ease his way into it, and I wouldn’t expect him to.”

Lange agreed.

“Yeah, I’m ready,” he said.

Tram’s birthday

On his 65th birthday, Hall of Famer Alan Trammell tossed on his glove and walked to the backfields for workouts.

He continues to give back to the organization.

“He’s selfless,” Hinch said. “We were out at second base after the workout dissecting the shift rules. His baseball mind is as sharp as ever, and his energy is high. He garners a lot of respect, not only because of what he did in his career, but how he’s willing to impact the players.”

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Midway through practice, Trammell gave a lesson about slow-rolling ground balls to Justyn-Henry Malloy, Colt Keith and Ryan Kreidler. The 1984 World Series champion taught the youngsters how to charge the ball, position their shoulders and follow through on their throws to make a clean transfer to first base.

“He may not work 365 days a year, but it’s not many less than that,” Hinch said. “He comes to instructional league. He comes to the (development) camps they have down here. He roves through the minor league system.”

Miggy’s health

After Tuesday’s workout, Tigers veteran Miguel Cabrera — looking healthy — flew by on a golf cart, driven by a team staff member, instead of walking across the field and into the clubhouse.

That’s one way to keep him healthy.

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Injury update

The Tigers provided their latest injury report Tuesday.

Three players were listed: right-hander Casey Mize (right elbow sprain, lumbar strain), left-hander Tarik Skubal (left elbow strain) and infielder Wenceel Perez (low back inflammation).

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Mize has started the initial stage of his throwing progress, while Skubal is completing his throwing progression and playing catch four times per week. Perez, a prospect who has already initiated a rehabilitation program, is completing treatments and a core stabilization program.

Contact Evan Petzold at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Contact Jeff Seidel at or follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

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