03/30/2003 7:45 PM ET
Tigers notes: New left-field porch
Shorter, closer fence could entice right-handed hitters
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
DETROIT -- It wasn't the heat (or lack of it) many Tigers were checking out during their chilly Sunday afternoon workout at Comerica Park. It was the proximity.
For everyone, this was the first chance to check out the new, shorter left-field fence, meant to turn what has been a pitcher's paradise into a more even playing field for right-handed hitters. The fence wasn't around when most players were last in town for minicamp and Tigerfest last January. It was installed earlier this month while everyone was in Florida for Spring Training.
The difference in distance varies. It remains a 345-foot poke down the left-field line, but comes in 25 feet to 370 in left-center. There's no distance posted in front of the flagpole, which used to be the deepest part of the park at over 435 feet. By appearances, the difference there seems greater than 25 feet.
"When I looked out there and saw the difference of 25 feet, that's a long ways," manager Alan Trammell said. "Time will tell how much difference it'll make with our team and our opponents."
The Tigers haven't decided what to do with the extra space because they want to see how the new distance plays before committing to it. For now, the 25-foot gap is the equivalent of cleared land, filled with dirt. As one player put it, "It's a sandpit."
The other difference is the height. Keeping an unobstructed view for fans in the left-field bleachers, the club made the new fence shorter. It's 6 feet, 10 inches tall, compared to the previous eight-foot height. Since it's a chain-link fence with padding only on the lower half and the very top, fans can see through the fence.
Hitters universally applauded the move, though not every right-handed batter looked to clear it.
"I'm not a power-hitter," catcher Brandon Inge said. "I'll be looking for the gaps."
The real test would be how left-handed pitchers welcomed it, but there aren't many to judge. Last year's rotation had two prominent lefties and another September callup. With Mark Redman traded to Florida and Andy Van Hekken sent to Triple-A, only Mike Maroth is left.
Maroth was one of the few last year hoping the fences wouldn't move. On Sunday, he was diplomatic.
"I'm going to miss it," he said. "But it's fair for the game. I'd rather have it where it is now than move it in even further."
Watching batting practice, Maroth said, hitters "had to get a hold of it. And most guys, if they really did get a hold of it, they were going to hit it out."
For left-handed reliever Jamie Walker, likewise, the deep fence will be missed.
"In Boston, they have the Green Monster," reliever Jamie Walker said. "Here you had the big monster."
Opening Day details: Comerica Park gates will open at 11:30 a.m. for the 1:05 p.m.
ET start. Festivities will begin at 12:30 p.m., with Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm throwing out the first pitch. Detroit native Aretha Franklin will sing the National Anthem, and a group from Mount Clemens' Selfridge Air National Guard Base will conduct a military flyover.
Starting new: It'll be a cold afternoon Monday, but at least the first-ever March home opener beats the onset of the Tigers' cruelest month. Last year, April netted an 0-11 start. Under former manager Phil Garner, the Tigers became famous for slow starts that forced them to play catchup with torrid summers.
One of Trammell's key points upon his hiring was that his club would be ready to play. With nine of their first 12 games at home ahead of a two-week road trip covering the second half of the month, it'll be a long April if the Tigers start slow.
"I don't think anybody likes it," Trammell said. "I think you try to get by and keep your head above water. I don't have the answer. I know if we don't, we'll keep grinding."
Considering how many slow starts the Tigers have suffered, their inexperience might be to their benefit. Only eight players on the Tigers' 25-man roster were around for last year's start.
"We can't have memories," Carlos Peña said. "Good athletes have short memories. If you have negative memories, you approach today with fear."
The opinions do not necessarily reflect: Trammell didn't pick up many preseason publications, but he heard many of the same predictions. Most point the Tigers toward another 100 losses. Some, such as Sports Illustrated called them the second-worst team in baseball.
It's not that Trammell believes his team can shock the world. He knew what kind of team he had when he took the job. But he thinks -- and certainly hopes -- his team could be better than the doomsday scenarios predict.
"People who write those magazines have to make their predictions," Trammell said. "And a lot of times, they've been wrong. I hope we take that attitude, that we're going to prove people wrong. But I hope no player reads those and take those too seriously."
Injury report: Danny Patterson will begin the season in extended Spring Training but still made the trip back to Detroit. He's not just here to take in Opening Day; he'll have tests conducted on his right elbow after suffering what Trammell called "a setback."
Palmer not a third wheel: Dean Palmer won't be starting at third base on Opening Day as hoped, but he conceded that Eric Munson had won the job.
"The way Eric played this spring, he played well," Palmer said. "It was a good choice. I think he looked better than what I expected. He'll be a good one over there."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.