Yesterday, I had the privilege of spending the entire day at Comerica Park. I watched batting practice on the field, talked with several Tigers, had Prince Fielder refer to me as his “Buddy,” ate press box food with all of the professional reporters and writers, hung out with Fox 2 celebrities all day in Ryan Ermanni and Charlie Langton (My dad), helped shoot “Let it Rip” on the stadium concourse, had $1 hot dogs in the secret empoyee’s lounge, then I watched the game live from the press box, watched the post game fireworks on the field, headed inside to the Tigers Clubhouse after the game, listened to Miguel Cabrera’s post game interview, and even asked Justin Verlander a question in his post game interview after he threw a complete game. Pretty complete day huh? Well actually, I left out the best part.
My day all started at 3:35 in the office of Detroit Tigers manager, Jim Leyland. About 15 of us huddled in the skipper’s office as he lit up a cigarette, watched the Tampa Bay Rays vs. New York Yankees game, and opened the floor up for questions. I sat in the office as five or six questions went by, and after Quintin Berry got brought up, I decided what the heck. I had a question in mind, and I figured I’d ask the man the question. It didn’t cross my mind at the time that an 18 year-old job shadow (In the company of grown men, with ages ranging from approximately 25-60+) with a Tigers hat on, sitting in the back of a room of a World Series manager might come off as a little bit strange to Leyland. Looking back on it, I don’t know what I was thinking. My mentor even told me to just sit back and watch the press conference, and later on in the day, a man who has been covering the Tigers for years, told me that it took him three years to ask the old school manager a question.
Anyway, I went for it, “Jim. I know that Berry isn’t in the lineup tonight with a lefty on the mound. Moving forward, as you face five lefties in a row, how will you use Quintin in these upcoming games?” He picked up his head, looked me directly in the eye, and answered my question. He explained that you have to “Pick your spots” with him in the upcoming games and that he would probably start against a slower lefty, like Kansas City’s Bruce Chen. He also mentioned that he was going to have to “Watch him too.” Berry plays a very fast paced game, and Leyland doesn’t want him to wear down.
It was actually a very genuine and thorough answer. Another reporter even ended up asking a follow up question. Leyland then went on to crack a few jokes. A reporter asked him if he was going to have to watch Verlander extra carefully do to the intense heat, Leyland responded with, “You have to watch me extra carefully, I’m old.” He then went on to say that the stadium would “Probably sell a lot of beer tonight.”
As I left the office, I began to realize how awesome the experience actually was. I was probably about ten years younger than everyone in that office, but Leyland still took me serious and answered my question the best that he could. He told me his plans for Quintin Berry in the future and told me what type of pitchers he thought Berry could be successful against.
It turns out that Leyland did exactly what he told me he would. He told me that he was going to have to pick his spots when choosing to play Berry. Well, in the 8th inning of today’s game against the Minnesota Twins, Leyland did just that. Berry didn’t start the game, but Leyland thought that with a runner on 3rd base and Ryan Raburn due up, that it would be a perfect time to pinch hit. Berry ended up walking, and scoring a run in the inning that saw Detroit strike for five runs and take a 7-3 lead, that score ended up being the final.
View Leyland any way you want. Criticize him for making “wrong” decisions at times, complain that you want him to be fired, or laugh at him because he sometimes eats his dinner during post game interviews. The fact is, Jim Leyland is a legend, I am honored that he was the biggest part of my first day as a big league reporter.
I will continue to be a huge supporter and I will always respect him for the way that he treated me for the brief moments that I was in his office.