By Christy Strawser
DETROIT (CBS Detroit) More than 1,000 people turned out at the Detroit Economic Club Wednesday to hear Detroit Tigers leadership discuss the upcoming season — and the excitement building around the team.
“You can tell by the crowd here, everywhere you go, people are talking Tiger baseball,” General Manager Dave Dombrowski said, later adding, “Our goal is to win a world championship in 2012 … There’s so much involved in that and I think sometimes people don’t realize how hard it is to win 95 games … There are a lot of good players in the league.”
Dombrowski was joined by Tigers’ coach Jim Leyland and Christopher Ilitch, son of team owner Mike Ilitch, at the event that was attended by many local luminaries. Players including Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander, Alex Avila and Miguel Cabrera were there.
And the audience was kept in stitches, mostly by Leyland, who picked lettuce out of his teeth at one point and said he graduated when he was “too big for the seats.” He said Fielder’s nine-year deal didn’t bother him because he just hopes to be upright in nine years.
Staying in the theme during the question and answer session, Verlander said he’s competitive about “pretty much everything” — adding, “please don’t try to race me on the highway, I will beat you” — while Fielder said his only other athletic talent involves “dunking a volleyball.”
On a serious note, Dombrowski said it was tough when Victor Martinez went down with a knee injury and he discussed how the team decided to open their wallets to give slugger Fielder his $214 million deal.
“It didn’t take but a day (after the idea was floated) for Mike Ilitch to step up and say ‘Why don’t we sign Prince Fielder?'” Dombrowski said.
And it seems to be paying off. Last year the team sold 15,000 season tickets — they’re now over 21,500.
Those visitors will be treated to the new multimedia scoreboard that looms over Comerica Park. “Comerica Park, to me, when you travel around is as beautiful a ballpark as anywhere in the country, it’s beautiful,” Dombrowski said. “But this year, with the addition of a new scoreboard, it brings a whole new form of entertainment and energy.”
Leyland said the “2012 version of the Tigers is a very good version,” adding that everyone on the team is a star.
“We’re a team of 25 guys and nobody talks about stars in the clubhouse,” he said, adding the team has a bullseye on their back and “that’s a good thing.”
He explained away the Tigers recent losing streak, saying it just means the team isn’t going to be the first in history to go undefeated.
Leyland discussed the days a few years ago when agents didn’t call back because players didn’t want to come to Detroit — and now Dombrowski’s phone is rigning off the hook.
“That’s a credit to you people … It’s a credit to Tiger fans,” Leyland said about the team’s success.
Christopher Ilitch summed it up this way: “I encourage everyone to enjoy this team, I can tell you teams like this don’t come around often,” Ilitch said. “There are certain to be some unforgettable moments at the ballpark this season.”
“Who’s your tiger is getting a little more difficult to answer,” he added.