The date arrived with little fanfare, as for the first time in many, many, years, virtually the entire pitching staff is already set.
Troy Percival led the way among the group, as the new addition to the bullpen arrived ready to take on the opposition and get ready for Opening Day. Unlike others, Percival relishes the pressure of late game situations, as well as the opportunity to play a mentor role to a number of the Tigers youngsters in the ‘pen.
As mentioned before, it's been many years since the Tigers had so many positions locked up even before the first pitches of spring training were thrown. But as it stands, all five rotation spots are locked up, and five more bullpen spots appeared locked up as well. That leaves just one middle relief job up in the air (possibly two, should the Tigers decide to carry seven relievers, however unlikely that may be at the moment).
One notable pitcher missing from that ‘locked' group is reliever Ugueth Urbina, who is expected to move into the setup role after the Tigers signed Percival. The front office however isn't worried, and expects Urbina to show up sometime early next week.
Obviously pitchers weren't the only ones showing up on Thursday.
Shortstop Carlos Guillen and outfielder Bobby Higginson have been working out in Lakeland for well over a month now, getting back into game shape and preparing for the 2005 season. The two however have different goals on their mind. While Guillen is just rehabbing his injured knee so that he's ready to go come Opening Day, Higginson has a bit of a different agenda, being put in the position to fight for a job.
The team's catchers also arrived to get ready to catch the pitching staff, whose first workouts start on Friday. Besides incumbent and perennial All Star Ivan Rodriguez, another new face arrived in Lakeland, as newly acquired backup Vance Wilson reported for duty. Manager Alan Trammell is hopeful that Wilson can relieve Rodriguez on a more regular basis in 2005, hopefully keeping Rodriguez and his bat healthier and stronger as the season wears on.
As for the rest of the group, they're slated to arrive next Monday the 21st, with the first full squad workout scheduled for the 22nd. From that point, the team will have just a little over one week to get ready for spring training to get under way, as the team's first game takes place Wednesday, March 2nd against the Florida Southern squad.
Unfortunately for Tiger fans remaining in the metro area, they won't get a chance to see the club until Fox Sports Detroit's annual St. Patrick's Day showing, which will be the first chance for Tiger fans to get a look at the new squad, including the team's newest slugger, Magglio Ordonez.