Spring Training season opened in Florida at the end of February — the best time to watch your favorite baseball teams in beautiful weather and smaller stadiums reminiscent of baseball past.
Giving Back with Zack is catching up with several of the players working out in the Tampa Bay area. On Thursday, we visited Lakeland’s Tiger Stadium, where Detroit Tigers get to enjoy a reprieve from the cold. We arrived in time to watch batting practice before their game against the New York Yankees.
It was a gorgeous spring morning, 80 degrees and sunny with a bright blue sky overhead. We meandered by the concession stands and souvenir shops showcasing Spring Training gear and made our way down to the field.
Jennifer Rogers with the Detroit Tigers met us and said Cameron Maybin would be over shortly after his batting practice. We stood beside the first base line, watching the Tigers players and taking in the sights and sounds of the ballpark as we waited.
Ben Feldman, director of communications with the Tigers, came over to introduce himself in person, as he had been my main point of contact. He shared that pitcher Michael Fulmer would be available for an interview right before the game started.
A few minutes after Ben left, one of the men who had been standing close by with their own camera walked over to ask who we were and what interviews we were doing. I explained our program and introduced him to Zack and Doug, our cameraman.
John Thiede introduced himself and his partner, explaining that they were from Sports Talk 60 in Detroit to cover the Spring Training games and players. We chatted for a while until Cameron arrived, and John asked if he could interview Zack and me for his show.
We agreed, and a few minutes later Zack was answering questions about his experience interviewing these players, which interview was his favorite and what he has learned.
Shortly after that, tall (6’3″) outfielder Cameron Maybin walked toward us wearing a Detroit Tigers long-sleeved shirt, white baseball pants and a big smile. He greeted us warmly and appeared happy to talk to Zack about his career and the Maybin Mission Foundation.
A caring guy who has been in the league for 11 years and gained experience from several different teams, he had started with the Detroit Tigers and returned this year to offer his leadership and experience to a young Tigers team. He was part of the 2017 World Champion Astros and made an impact with the Yankees last year.
One way he’s made an impact? Hugs. Instead of high fives, he likes to hug his teammates after they make home runs. When we asked him about that, he smiled and said he grew up in a small town where people hug. Even hug-averse teammates grew to love Maybin’s embraces and knew they would get a hug from him after hitting a home run. His hugs created such a positive atmosphere on the team that a charitable effort was launched known as Hugs for Homers to recognize Cameron’s hugs and help his charity as well.
Just as we finished our interview, several New York Yankees players came up to Cameron and met him with — of course — hugs.
We decided to sit in the stands and watch the Yankees batting practice until it was time to interview Michael Fulmer. He had been rehabbing after being out for 11 months due to Tommy John elbow surgery and the trainers were making sure he was ready to start playing once the season starts.
We met him right outside the tunnel leading onto the field. As a starting pitcher for the Tigers, he was named the American League Rookie of the Year in 2016. That year he became the second pitcher in Major League history to pitch four consecutive scoreless outings of six innings or more. This year, after getting back in shape after surgery, he wants to be healthy and have his best year yet.
Zack asked him about his charitable work, being nominated for the 2018 Roberto Clemente Award and being an Ambassador for Wings. Wings is an organization out of Oklahoma that assists adults with developmental disabilities, a charity that Michael his been involved with since high school. As he talked about the organization, I could see his face light up and his passion shine through. The work this charity does is obviously very important to him.
We thanked him for his time and wished him good luck this season. Then Zack and I went to satisfy our craving for a ballpark hamburger and fries before sitting in the stands to watch the Tigers play the Yankees.
Our hamburgers were the perfect addition to a day at the ball park. As we sat at a park bench near the concession stands located underneath the bleachers, we could hear the beginning of the game over the loudspeaker, and slam, slam, slam, the Detroit Tigers hit three home runs against the Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole. We had to eat fast so we could go inside and see what was going on.
In the second inning Miguel Cabrera and Travis Demeritte hit back-to-back home runs, bringing the score to Detroit 6, Yankees 0 going into the third inning. In the third, the Yankees started putting runs on the board. But in the fourth inning, a new pitcher for the Tigers came in with the bases loaded to strike out a batter and end the inning with only two runs given up. It was a back-and-forth game until the end, but the Tigers won 15-11.