LAKELAND, Fla. -- Andy Dirks insists he was not a celebrity in the Dominican Republic, despite his hit to win the Dominican Winter League championship and his subsequent success in the Caribbean Series.
"Andy Dirks is not a celebrity," he said. "I'm not Kim Kardashian. I'm a baseball player, man."
Those in the Dominican who were around for winter ball insist otherwise.
"He got the winning hit for the championship. That's like Edgar Renteria," Ramon Santiago said, comparing Dirks to the 1997 World Series hero. "He doesn't want to say it, but he was a celebrity. They call him 'The King Andy.'"
Dirks calls it a worthwhile endeavor. A year ago, he used the Dominican stint to put himself in game-ready shape going into Spring Training, and made an impression in camp that earned him a callup by summer. With one position spot up for grabs on the Opening Day roster, he hopes he can use his success down there to help him break through up here.
"I think it helps, because I've been seeing live pitching," Dirks said. "That always helps coming into spring."
Dirks went 6-for-24 in the Caribbean Series, but those half-dozen hits were good for four RBIs. He went 17-for-65 with four doubles, two triples and four RBIs during the Dominican League playoffs.
"The playoff baseball down there is fun. It's really exciting," Dirks said. "It's not like it's a grind or nothing. It's not too bad. The intensity, it's nuts down there. They love baseball."
'The Gambler' at Tigers camp as instructor
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The last time Kenny Rogers was in Tigers camp, Justin Verlander wasn't even arbitration-eligible, let alone making $20 million a year. Rick Porcello was a teenager fresh out of the Draft, not in the middle of the rotation.
That was 2008, Rogers' last year in the big leagues. He stayed away for four years, preferring to spend time with his family. This was the right time to come back.
"I think the timing was right for me," Rogers said. "Every morning [the last few springs] I was like, 'Thank goodness I don't have to go through this, because I don't think I could take it.' It's really a different time for me right now.
"I'm kind of enjoying it, to be honest with you. I enjoy where I'm at and being able to do certain things, but it's kind of nice to come out and be here for a week or so and see if there's a benefit to be gained for someone."
He isn't ready to coach yet, not with two teenage kids back home in Texas, but he's ready to give instruction a try in camp and see how it feels. For the first day at least, it felt pretty good.
The lessons were right to his strengths. Manager Jim Leyland brought him in to work with Detroit's left-handed pitchers on holding baserunners. Rogers retired as the all-time Major League leader in pickoffs, topping a relatively recent leaderboard since the stat began being tracked in 1974.
When Rogers moved into first place on the list in 2008, he said getting pickoffs was secondary for him, that he'd rather hold them close and set up a ground-ball double play. His pickoff reputation helped him greatly in that regard.
He spent Wednesday trying to pass along some of that wisdom to Detroit's young group of lefties, just a few of whom were even in pro ball when Rogers was still playing.
Drew Smyly was a junior in high school when Rogers led the Tigers to the World Series in 2006, and a redshirt freshman at the University of Arkansas when Rogers retired. He tweeted it was "sweet" to learn from Rogers.
That's why Tigers special assistant Dick Egan had kept bugging Rogers to give it a try.
"Like I said, any way I can help at all, I'd be more than happy to try," Rogers said. "I've still got to learn coaching in general. It's not being a player. Just because you could play the game and understand how to do it doesn't mean you're going to be a good coach. There's a lot of ways to impart something to someone but they may not get it for the first thousand times. Saying it different ways and explaining it sometimes takes a talent."
Verlander's Fastball Flakes hit grocery stores
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Justin Verlander's face popped up on Conan and hit the cover of a video this offseason. The next logical step was a cereal box.
Thus, it was fitting that as Spring Training opened, Justin Verlander's Fastball Flakes hit grocery store shelves in Michigan.
The frosted corn flake cereal, a fat-free food, is packaged in a limited edition collector's box, with a photo of Verlander pitching on the front. It's available at Meijer stores in the Detroit, Lansing, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids areas, or online at plbsports.com.
Verlander will donate his proceeds from the sales to the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit and the VA Healthcare System in Ann Arbor. The two facilities are part of his Verlander's Victory for Veterans program, which honors veterans wounded serving in Iraq and Afghanistan by allowing them to watch a game he pitches from his suite at Comerica Park.
Verlander was already preparing to hear the ribbing from teammates.
"That was all pre-MVP/Cy Young, though," he said Monday. "That was done in the middle of last season, early on, that photo shoot. That wasn't like, 'Look at me, I'm MVP, I'm going to put my face on a cereal box.'"
Tigers sign five players to one-year deals
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers came closer to getting their 40-man roster under contract Wednesday, announcing one-year agreements with outfielder Andy Dirks, infielder Hernan Perez and left-handers Adam Wilk, Andy Oliver and Matt Hoffman.
All of them have less than three years in the Majors, leaving them ineligible for arbitration. Teams can negotiate contracts with those players, or unilaterally renew the contracts of their unsigned players March 11.
Wednesday's signings whittle the Tigers' 40-man roster to 11 unsigned players.
Leyland's presentation encourages amateur scouts
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland spoke to Tigers amateur scouts Wednesday morning at the request of vice president of amateur scouting David Chadd.
The message of his 15-minute presentation was two-fold: He appreciates the work they're doing, and that he and them are both spokes in the wheel of a Major League organization.
"I couldn't do what they do. I'll admit it," Leyland said. "I'm dead serious. They're special, and that's where it all starts. They do a heck of a job, and they're really under the radar. They never get any credit."
The one bit of advice he had for them: Go see a Major League game, if only to see the speed of that level compared with high school or college ball.