By Noah Trister, AP Baseball Writer
DETROIT (AP) – Jim Leyland has already managed the Detroit Tigers longer than he expected.
That doesn’t mean he is losing any of his passion for the job.
With the Tigers closing in on a third straight AL Central title, Leyland reflected a bit Friday while awaiting the start of Detroit’s three-game series against the Chicago White Sox. The 68-year-old Leyland is finishing up his eighth season with the Tigers.
“I thought I’d probably be here five years, but I’m enjoying it,” Leyland said. “I love the atmosphere, I love the competition and I love the team we’ve got.”
One thing Leyland wouldn’t discuss was his future with the Tigers. After leading Detroit to the American League pennant last season, he returned on a one-year extension for 2013. That’s an arrangement the manager seems comfortable with — working year to year and waiting until after the season for any firm announcements.
“We don’t talk about my situation until the day after the season, whenever that is,” Leyland said. “We’re not going to start talking about that. We’ll keep that on the back burner. We don’t need any attention drawn to that. We need attention on hopefully getting to the playoffs.”
Detroit led the AL Central by six games entering Friday night’s game against Chicago. The Tigers could clinch the division this weekend at home, which would be a welcome celebration for a city that has filed for bankruptcy protection.
The Tigers were expecting to surpass 3 million in home attendance during this series.
“I’m amazed at the number of fans,” Leyland said. “I can’t believe, with the economy and everything, the way it’s been here, and things of that nature — I mean, it’s mind boggling to see this place packed every single night.”
Leyland took over the Tigers in 2006 and led them to an AL pennant that year. It was his first managing job since 1999, when he went 72-90 with Colorado, and it was fair to wonder if his managing career was over.
“The dumbest thing I ever did was go to Colorado. I shouldn’t have gone there — too far away from home, the ballpark wasn’t my kind of game,” Leyland said. “They treated me like gold. They made it as nice as they could for me to stay there, but I just didn’t like managing 12-11 games. That was all my fault. That was nobody’s fault but my own.”
When he was hired by Detroit, the Tigers hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1987. They are now on the verge of a fourth trip under Leyland.
He and general manager Dave Dombrowski have helped turn the Tigers into a glamorous franchise, with stars like Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander in their primes.
Leyland isn’t surprised at the team’s change in fortune, he just wasn’t sure how long his run would be.
“I didn’t know what Dave’s plan was, to be honest with you,” Leyland said. “I just figured, maybe come in and try to be a part of turning it around, and then probably at some point he would look for somebody else. Fortunately, he hasn’t so far, so it’s worked out pretty good.”
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