TigsTown: First, a little history . . . how long have the Tigers been coming to Lakeland?
Todd Pund: The first year the Tigers came to Lakeland was 1919, as far as the Lakeland Tigers, this is going to be their 53rd season
TT: Was there any specific connection or reason the Tigers chose Lakeland?
TP: It all started back in the day, there has always been a great relationship with the Tigers and the city of Lakeland has always had a very good, a very positive relationship, always helping each other out with things. As far as why the Tigers originally chose the city back in 1919, couldn't really tell you.
TT: What about Joker Marchant? Who was he? Has that always been the home?
TP: Joker Marchant was the head of the parks and recreation department for the city of Lakeland, he spearheaded getting the Tigers here for spring training, and he was the main liaison between the two parties. The stadium was originally built in the 60's, prior to that the team played at Henley Field, which is still there and is just about a half mile down the street.
TT: Also, the renovations look great . . . when were they completed and what all was involved?
TP: The renovations were started at the completion of the 2002 spring training, and were finished just before the start of 2003. For that season, my first year with the organization, we actually bussed the players from Tigertown back to Henley Field, and we held all of our home games there for that season.
TT: We see lots about the big league club, but what about the minor leaguers . . . where do they practice and how does their camp work?
TP: Basically, we have 166 players approximately in minor league cap right now, the player development department, they pretty much run it as the big league guys. They organize guys into groups, and then they'll work from there, sometimes moving guys up, sometimes moving them down. So they may project Kyle Sleeth to be in the AA group, and then they may move him up or down, depending on how they show. Pretty much like minor league spring training, if they keep progressing, they'll move up.
As for facilities, we have five other fields and two more half fields besides the main stadium. So all of those guys we'll be working back out back there in our quad – there's also a tower in between them so the player development guys can get a look at everyone from up top.
TT: We just found out that pitcher Josh Rainwater will be sidelined with a knee injury, have there been any other injuries on the minor league side?
TP: I personally have not heard of any, only because right now I haven't been on the baseball operations part of it. I did see Josh in the cafeteria and he told me about the knee, but as far as I know, the team has been relatively healthy thusfar.
TT: Where do the players stay?
TP: Well, right now we have a dorm with 72 rooms, a lot of the lower level minor league players are required to stay there. Once camp breaks, the guys that are staying in Lakeland, either for extended spring or to play for the Lakeland Tigers, they can either stay in the dorms, or they can move off campus. A lot of the players will get an apartment, 2 or 3 of them will share a place, and most of the Latin players are the ones that stay in the dorms. The guys in the dorms are also provided with three meals a day.
TT: Why is it that the Latin players stay in the dorms?
TP: I'd say it's probably a lack of familiarity with the country. Most of them don't speak English, or if they do, it's very broken, and they don't trust speaking it to others. Plus most of the other guys have cars, the Latin players don't really have any mode of transportation to get around, so it's just easier for them to stay right on the campus.
TT: Both the Lakeland Tigers and the Rookie GCL Tigers had rough years in '04, are you optimistic the teams will be able to turn it around?
TP: I think at least for the Lakeland team if everything holds steady we'll be getting a lot of guys that won the championship in West Michigan. We're still a couple weeks away from finding out who exactly will go where. Even at this time a lot of the coaches and player development people keep it hush-hush, so we'll just have to wait and see.
TT: Who has been the most impressive minor leaguer so far this spring?
TP: Just being out today, we've had a lot of rain, but the games start tomorrow, so once those start you'll start to hear more names. But until that happens and until these guys can get out there everyday, it's really kind of hard to say. Plus, like I said, the player development guys really like to keep it hush-hush.
TT: What about the most impressive minor leaguer you've seen in all of your years in baseball?
TP: I'd have to say Jeremy Bonderman has been the most impressive; we had him when he was traded from the A's to the Tigers. He pitched that final month, and he just had electric stuff, and especially at that age, just 19 years old. Probably the best fielder I'd have to go with Donny Kelly, he wasn't spectacular, but just did everything well.
TT: Speaking of Donny Kelly, how is his health? Will he be ready to go this season?
TP: Donny Kelly is healthy, and not reporting any problems.
TT: More on the operational side, most know what a big league general manager does, but not necessarily what a minor league GM does. What are some of your responsibilities with the club?
TP: In the offseason, it's your typical sales and marketing efforts, during the season it's more day-to-day management, and working with player development on roster moves and such. Also planning the team travel and hotels, dealing with meal money for when they go on the road trips, most of the Florida State League teams have a fairly small staff, so I'm pretty much involved in all of the facets. We're the spring training guys as well, so we're really busy and at a disadvantage this time of year, because we're already short-staffed, and then this is when we're bringing in most of our revenue for the year.
TT: So in season there aren't many following the team?
TP: Over 70 games we averaged about 600 fans, we've been able to bring it up a little bit the past couple years. In Florida there's just so many more options, people are just outdoors all the time so they don't feel the need to get out to the park and watch a baseball game, like they do up north as soon as the weather turns for the better.
TT: Who else do you work with and what are some of their responsibilities?
TP: Director of Florida Operations, he does all the spring training work, all the cafeteria work, dorm work, I have an assistant GM, she does a lot of marketing as well as coordinating all of the part-time people. Then we also have an office manager, and a concessions manager. And we have five interns, they pretty much do all the odds and ends that we need taken care of, whatever they may be.
TT: Finally, have any words for Tiger fans as we move in on the start of the '05 season?
TP: Overall, the major league level the team is really going to surprise a lot of people, the everyday lineup is gonna be real strong, gonna kill a lot of pitchers. On the minor league side, Curtis Granderson, you have Sleeth and Zumaya and Sanchez, who all have great upside and should be able to contribute and fill some of those positions that they may need help with in the future – so, go see them play now and see who is headed to Detroit.