They joked. They laughed. They enjoyed lunch.
And for about one hour, they didn’t have to think about baseball struggles.
Well, not too much.
The Detroit Economic Club hosted the Detroit Tigers for their annual luncheon on Wednesday, as more than 500 members got a chance to see the players, managers and broadcasters up close and ask a few questions.
The voices of the team, Dan Dickerson (WXYT-FM) and Matt Shepherd (Bally Sports Detroit), moderated panels with manager A.J. Hinch, Al Avila, and some of the newer players on the team like Austin Meadows, Tucker Barnhart, Eduardo Rodriguez and Andrew Chafin.
Off the bat, slight pun intended, Hinch discussed the elephant in the room.
“We don’t have to have time to dwell on what’s happened, because the first 30 days doesn’t have to define us, it defines what we’ve done through 30 days,” he said. “They don’t need any more pressure than is already applied at this level.
“This group believes, this group is going to be better and it’s going to be started with the attitude our staff brings.”
There were a number of bright moments, highlighting the Tigers best moments in 2022, none got a bigger applause than the standing ovation for Miguel Cabrera after a reminder that he became just the third player (joining Hank Aaron and Albert Pujols) to have at least 3,000 hits, 500 home runs and 600 doubles in a career.
“Crazy,” Cabrera said of the the chase for that illustrious title over the first month of the season. “There’s a lot of pressure because I wanted 3,000 here in Detroit because last year I was unable to do 500 in Detroit, so I wanted to do it in front of Detroit fans and my family.
“After I hit 3,000, I thought that took off a lot of pressure on my body. Now our No. 1 focus is winning, hopefully we can win more games, compete more.”
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The lunch gave fans a chance to hear behind the scenes moments of the team, like Spencer Torkleson acknowledging he may have stayed in the batters box a beat longer than he should have when admiring his first career home run against the Boston Red Sox.
He gave a shoutout to fans “Timmy and Jeremy” who returned the ball. Meadows talked about how he pressured his wife into getting a second golden retriever “we had a girl, but selfishly I wanted a boy” and now he’s still trying to get the young pup in line.
Chafin, one of the biggest personalities on the team, discussed his “do-it-yourself” attitude.
From the time he took an engine out of a jet ski and threw it on a 14-foot Jon boat, to tearing apart cars and putting them back together as well as 4-wheelers.
Don’t forget about his latest project.
“It’s just your standard chicken coop on wheels,” he said with his dry sense of humor. “It’s 18 feet long, 8-feet tall, 8-feet wide … holds about 60 chickens.
“Oh, and it’s insulated.”
The day provided insight to the players on the field, too. Barnhart discussed breathing exercises he has learned after studying MMA fighters as a way to help him block balls in the dirt.
Michael Fulmer quipped about his transition from starter where he would have “four days of vacation, I mean rest,” to having to be ready to go just about every day at a moment’s notice.
Rodriguez explained why he signed with the Tigers in the offseason when the former one-time World Series champion had a number of suitors.
“This is a team that’s building and I wanted to be a part of the organization to win a championship,” he said. “I know that’s what they wanted. There’s a lot of young pitchers here I can help … that’s why I’m here.”
Avila spoke of his approach in building the team. He knows nobody is happy with the 9-21 start — Tigers brass, players, managers and certainly not the fans. Still, he did his best to look at the glass half full.
“We discussed how blessed we are for our pitching,” he said. “There are so many clubs out there that would die right now for thee pitching we have … knock on wood, but we feel we have a really good foundation for now and the future for pitching.
“Obviously, our hitting has not been the best right now … but at the same time, at the major league level, we have guys in the prime of his career.”
He mentioned Jeimer Candelario, Javier Baez, Jonathan Schoop and Meadows all as a part of that foundation. He said he believes it’s only a matter of time before it clicks.
Those words ring hollow with fans these days, who’ve endured a rebuild since 2017 on the heels of a team that was constantly in go-for-it mode, but never got the World Series title to show for it.
But as hard as it is to remember, it’s May 11 and 80% off the season has yet to be played. Perhaps Hinch said it best.
“It’s easy to sit in my chair and say ‘why did we make that play or not make that play.’ The observation part of baseball is all super simple,” he said. “But when you’re the player and you’re in the trenches and you’ve got 98 neck high, then next pitch is a breaking ball, I mean it’s a hard sport and I’ll never take that for granted.
“Look at these guys up here, look at the back of their baseball card, we have some incredible players. On a day-to-day basis we don’t have time to dwell on the past … we have to bring energy every day, be positive and figure out how today can be the day things start going in the right directions.”
Contact Tony Garcia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter at @realtonygarcia.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: What we learned about Detroit Tigers at exclusive luncheon