By: Will Burchfield
For Tigers fans worried about a change of course in the wake of former owner Mike Ilitch’s death, new owner Christopher Ilitch offered a comforting assurance on Friday.
“There is no mandate on payroll,” Ilitch told reporters at the Tigers spring training facility in Lakeland, Fla.
“I know Al has addressed payroll with you guys. I support Al’s approach wholeheartedly. Al has a great plan,” Ilitch said. “The first part of his plan is to beef up our personnel in sabermetrics and player development. His goal is to identify and draft the very best players in the world, and then we need to develop them. And he is beefing up our player-development area, as well as our scouting ranks. I support his approach wholeheartedly.
“We’ve seen the importance of identifying talent, drafting well, developing well. It worked for the Detroit Tigers. That was a large part of our success in 2006 and 2012, and we have seen it with the Detroit Red Wings, as well. I’m very, very supportive of Al’s approach. I think he has a great approach and we are on the right track.”
Avila met with the players earlier in the day to share a similar sentiment, stressing how much the Tigers – and this year’s team in particular – mean to him.
“I told the players this morning: They are going to find the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree,” he said. “My father loved baseball. He loved this Tigers team. He loved this actual team. And I would say to you: I share my father’s passion for baseball.
“I love this franchise. Quite frankly, I love this team. I think we have a team that could win a World Series. If our team comes together and everybody plays the way they can play, we have the personnel to have a very good season. I’m very excited about that.”
Just as Avila assured the players, so did the players empathize with him.
“The kind remarks they had for my father, the condolences, it’s been remarkable. The outpouring from the fans and the general public, amazing,” Avila said. “What is a very, very difficult period for me and for my brothers and sisters and, certainly, my mother — it’s heartwarming to see that type of support, the outpouring of love.”
Ilitch, who has been running the day-to-day operations of Ilitch Holdings for more than a decade, should have no problem sliding into his new role as Tigers owner. His predecessor showed him the way.
“I’ve had a front row seat for 25 years to watch my how my father operated,” Ilitch said. “And I would arguably say he was one of the best owners in all of professional sports in my lifetime. To see how he operated and went about running a world class organization like the Tigers was an incredible experience.”