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 Tigers doing their best for struggling city

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PostSubject: Tigers doing their best for struggling city   Mon Jun 22, 2009 11:19 pm

Tigers doing their best for struggling city; 'It’s the least we can do'

By BOB NIGHTENGALE • USA TODAY • June 22, 2009

It is midday, and the streets in downtown Detroit are nearly desolate.

Buildings are vacant. Restaurants are closed.

The Borders Books, Music & Cafe on Woodward Avenue, which opened with so much hope nearly six years ago, drawing such celebrities as rapper G
randmaster Flash and actor Hill Harper, is having a huge clearance sale.

It, too, is closing its doors in July.


“Once you get away from the casino, there’s no people out,” Detroit Tigers centerfielder Curtis Granderson says. ”I had a buddy come to town, saw all of the buildings and houses boarded up, and said, “If I really want to make a killing in this city, I’d invest in plywood.’ ”

Granderson tried to manage a weak grin, but not in these times, in a city crippled by the auto industry’s demise, erasing a way of life.

With even powerful General Motors filing for bankruptcy protection, Detroit has become the epicenter of the country’s recession.

Members of its baseball team can’t help but notice the despair and wonder what they can do to alleviate it.

”It’s so sad to see what’s going on,” Tigers rightfielder Magglio Ordonez says. “They are such hardworking people. They save their money to see us play.

”If nothing else, we have to work hard, play the game right and put a smile on their face. It’s the least we can do.”

Not great in ’08

The Tigers were perhaps baseball’s biggest underachievers last year. They had the third-highest payroll, trading for high-priced infielder Miguel Cabrera, former All-Star shortstop Edgar Renteria and former 20-game winner Dontrelle Willis. The Tigers had the city and its fans, with the 2006 World Series appearance still fresh in their minds, thinking it would be a magical year. They instead finished last in the AL Central Division, 74-88.

”We were embarrassed,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

This year, they might be baseball’s biggest surprise. The Tigers are in first place in the AL Central with a 38-31 record, four games ahead of the Minnesota Twins.

The Tigers might be flawed, benching their most accomplished star (Ordonez) last week, but they are providing hope for a city seeking escape.

“What the Tigers are doing means so much to us,” says geologist Paul McDonnell, 43, unemployed since November, attending a game at Comerica Park against the Boston Red Sox. ”People who have troubles come here and forget their problems.

“Somewhere along the way, everyone is tied to the auto industry. But just like the economy, you’ve got to look forward to better and brighter days. That’s why people really want to believe in the Tigers.”

The Tigers weren’t a big player in the off-season free-agent market, picking up former closer Brandon Lyon ($4.25 million) and light-hitting shortstop Adam Everett ($1 million), who replaced departed Renteria. They traded for catcher Gerald Laird from the Texas Rangers and pitcher Edwin Jackson, a spare starter with the Tampa Bay Rays.

The moves were so uninspiring that, coupled with the economy, the season ticket base plummeted from 28,500 to 15,000. The Tigers are averaging 28,000 fans a game -- fourth in the AL and 12th in the major leagues -- but their 10,000 drop-off is the second largest in baseball.

GM bailed out on its marquee advertising spot above the batter’s eye at the centerfield fountains. And many of the corporations that had suites gave them up or share them.

Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, who had a corporation willing to pay $1.5 million for GM’s spot, decided to let GM advertise free, while also flanking the area with logos from Chrysler and Ford.

Underneath is a sign that reads, ”The Detroit Tigers support our automakers.”

“No part of the country has been hit like us,” says Ron Colangelo, Tigers vice president. ”But there’s a real emotional bond here. You can feel it. People are very resilient.”

At the start of the season, Leyland told his team that everyone would be running out ground balls and pop-ups this year.

“It won’t be tolerated by this community if they don’t give that,” says Dave Dombrowski, Tigers president and general manager. ”The economy has taken a toll on everyone, but particularly here. You can’t control the outcome of games, but the one thing you can control is effort.”

Jackson is staff surprise

The Tigers, with only two players who live full time in Michigan, realize they can’t be saviors. They can’t reduce the city’s 15% unemployment rate or stop the free fall in housing prices, dipping to an average of $18,500.

Capturing their first World Series title since 1984 would be a storybook finish, but this is reality, not Hollywood.

“I don’t think anybody is thinking, 'Hey, we’ve got to win for the city,’ ” Granderson says. “But we definitely know we’ve got to make that effort. ... especially when people are spending their last bit of money to watch us. And I think we’re showing that.”

The Tigers, who are 10th in the league in offense but second in pitching, are conscious of their role. Few complaints are voiced publicly. Even when Ordonez, 35, and his $18 million salary was ”indefinitely benched” last week, he remained quiet, saying simply that he is confident he can work through his struggles. It was his agent, Scott Boras, and Leyland who exchanged barbs.

Ordonez, a six-time All-Star, is hitting .273 but has only two homers and 11 extra-base hits.

“When you get older and struggle,” Ordonez says, ”people say crazy stuff. I’ll be fine. I think our whole team will start hitting.

“But as long as you play good defense and have good pitching, you have a chance to win. Look at the last two years. We hit like crazy. Where did it get us? Nowhere. It’s different this year.”

The Tigers' starting rotation, which had two pitchers win at least 10 games in 2008, again has been erratic. The top three starters -- ace Justin Verlander, rookie Rick Porcello and Jackson -- are 22-11 with a 3.05 ERA. But the back end is 3-6 with a 6.20 ERA. Verlander, who went 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA last season, is 8-3 with a 3.31 ERA, leading the league with 118 strikeouts. Porcello, 20, who had not pitched above Class A Lakeland until this year, has an 8-4 record and 3.54 ERA.

And then there is Jackson, cast off when the Rays no longer thought he fit in their plans. He is 6-4 with a 2.39 ERA, second-lowest among AL starters.

”He’s the biggest surprise on our team,” Ordonez says. “Everybody knew he was good, but he’s been unbelievable.”

Jackson has been relying on a 94- to 98-m.p.h. fastball that he’s been able to locate for strikes. He recorded strikes in 64 of his 99 pitches in his last start, against the St. Louis Cardinals. He has yielded three or fewer earned runs in all but two games this season, including eight consecutive starts. He is becoming an overnight hero in Detroit.

”It’s been great here,” Jackson says. “It’s such a great sports city. I still can’t believe when people come up to me and say, 'Edwin Jackson?’ I just sit back and laugh.

“Now if I can be pitching in October in the playoffs, that would be great. Detroit would be going off, and after everything it’s gone though, it’d be nice to cheer them up and give them some excitement.”

Says Granderson, who leads the team with 17 homers, ”This city has a never-say-die attitude, and it’s the same with us. We can be down but not out. I think together we can make something special happen.”


“It takes pitching, hitting and defense. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable.”    
–Joe Garagiola
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PostSubject: Re: Tigers doing their best for struggling city   Tue Jun 23, 2009 4:50 pm

Maggs needs to play
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