When I arrived at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport early Sunday morning, it was frigidly cold – five degrees to be exact.
Even worse, though, was the forecast for the rest of the day and week. I was more than happy to board a plane bound for Florida.
A short two hours later, I landed in Tampa Bay and made the short drive to Lakeland. There wasn’t a snowflake to be found, a cloud in the sky, the sun was shining, and most importantly, baseball was in the air.
Next year, this could be you.
Every year, Tigers fans migrate to Lakeland in February to escape the cold weather and remind themselves that spring, and therefore baseball, are just around the corner.
Midland residents Lowell and Dee Smith are no exception.
The couple made their first trip to spring training in 1993, and has been back many times since to cheer on their favorite players.
“I’ve been a Tiger fan for as long as I can remember,” Lowell said. “Going back to (Al) Kaline, especially. When I was in high school he was just starting out with the Tigers and once I got hooked up with him I’ve been following the Tigers ever since.”
And if that means leaving Michigan for Florida mid-winter, all the better.
“It’s still nicer here, I mean we were having sub-zero wind chill, 20-below, 27-below, it’s a definite plus (being here),” Dee said.
Tigers fans fill Lakeland’s Joker Marchant Stadium every year to welcome their favorite players back to the sport they all love and cherish. There are no sweeter words than, “Pitchers and catchers report for duty.”
Past, present, and future Tigers gather to prepare for a grueling regular-season schedule, and the fans in attendance experience a unique opportunity to watch the workouts, take pictures and later receive autographs.
But if you think it’s just the fans that find enjoyment through this spring camp visit, you’re terribly mistaken.
“It’s nice because it lets us know that there’s a lot of support and it’s not just us down here getting our work in,” said closer Joe Nathan. “We got a lot of support and a lot of people willing to come out here and put their time in standing out there to cheer us on during sometimes what is very boring drills to watch. So for them to come out here and show us that support that really means the world to us.”
Closer Joba Chamberlain, who was signed to a one-year contract with the Tigers on Tuesday, couldn’t agree more. He received a massive cheer when he walked by the fans ahead of the team’s first full-squad workout, and couldn’t contain his ear-to-ear smile.
“I think it gives them an opportunity first of all to get out of the cold, which is always nice, and I think it’s just to see everybody in the offseason and they feel like they’re part of us,” Chamberlain said. “They watch us day in and day out and spend their hard-earned money and take time to come out and watch us and it means the world to us and there’s times when they probably don’t think we appreciate it but we can’t tell it enough that they do what they do for us and it’s always cool to see.”
So if you’re like most baseball fans and feel sad to see the season come to an end, you don’t have to wait until Opening Day to get your baseball fix. Scratch your baseball itch months beforehand by making a trip to spring training. Not only will you escape the cold weather, but you’ll get to welcome the sport back with your favorite team and players.
There’s no better way to welcome baseball back than with a mid-February “Go Tigers!” cheer.