03/30/08 6:19 PM ET
Leyland recognizes pomp of opener
Tigers manager knows excited fans are armed with questions
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
Before the Tigers worked out Sunday afternoon, Leyland was in street clothes organizing things in his office. It's a space with which he has become comfortable after two years. At some point Monday morning, Leyland will take much the same trip to Comerica Park that he did last season during the big games and during the long stretches.
But while he doesn't get into the pomp and circumstance, he understands why most of Detroit does. It's a big enough deal that, in terms of the scope of it, he compared it to the start of deer-hunting season in Pennsylvania, where schools and businesses close for that day.
"I love Opening Day," Leyland said. "I've always said Opening Day, I think, is a happening more than a game -- not to me, but to people in general. I think people look forward to this day.
"Somebody told me last night they're shutting down some offices downtown. I mean, that's wonderful. But for me, it's business as usual. You've got introductions and all that time-consuming stuff, and you're glad to be a part of it, don't get me wrong. But I don't really see what's going on outside, people partying and all that."
Opening Day is an event in Detroit every year, a harbinger that spring isn't far away. And indeed, compared to the winter weather that Michigan has seen for most of March, Monday is expected to be a warm afternoon with highs in the mid-50s. The downside is that it'll also likely be a wet day, with showers and scattered thunderstorms in the forecast.
The weather stayed away long enough for both the Tigers and Royals to work out and take batting practice on the field Sunday, allowing players to get used to the cooler temperatures compared to what they enjoyed in Spring Training.
Leyland would love to see a better day on Monday, but moreso for the fans than his players.
"People are going to come tomorrow," Leyland said. "They're probably going to be cold, maybe even wet. That's irritable for them. It doesn't bother me; I'm here to work. But if you had a beautiful spring day, if you could ask for the best, that would be the best for everybody else."
For the Tigers, though, it's also about getting into a routine, getting ready for the other 161 games that follow as much as enjoying the first one. Many players just started to get settled in when they arrived in Detroit on Saturday night. Assuming Monday's game is played, the Tigers will have an off-day Tuesday to finish up that process before playing the rest of the week.
"I emphasize to just use common sense," Leyland said about his message to players. "Don't get yourself all stressed out and burned out on it."
He wants his players focused on the task at hand once they get to the park. Leyland doesn't expect that to be a problem. As he said all spring, one thing he doesn't have to worry about with this team is its professionalism.
"This is the best group of players for cooperation, work ethic, [being] congenial, going about their business professionally, that I've ever had," Leyland reiterated. "I've never seen a group of veteran players like this that goes about their business."
Part of that, he believes, comes from respect for the owner that put the team together and approved the deals and signings that the Tigers made. With that respect, though, comes a sense of responsibility Leyland has tried to convey to his players.
"There's no excuses," he said. "This man [owner Mike Ilitch] has gone above and beyond. It's all on us now, because this man has done everything asked."
There might not be excuses, but Leyland expects there will be questions. They won't come from in the clubhouse, but from the fans.
"I think, from my perspective, this will be a tremendous year for fans from a second-guessing standpoint," Leyland said. "From that perspective, it's going to be very interesting. I think there's going to be a lot of decisions to second-guess from a pitching standpoint because of [not having Joel] Zumaya and [Fernando] Rodney."
Leyland is ready for it, and he says he welcomes it. Come Monday, he and the Tigers will try to get into the routine of what could be anything but a routine season.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.