Ilitch shows commitment to 'developing a winning culture'

Plus: Tigers have some fun on the back fields in live batting practice

February 20th, 2024

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers chairman and CEO Christopher Ilitch has been an annual visitor to Spring Training since well before he became the team’s controlling officer. In recent years, it has been a way to make himself visible and approachable for players and coaches and to stay updated on the club.

The last couple years, it has also become a way for Ilitch to update players about the club and new developments. On Tuesday, he talked to players before their morning workout and discussed upgrades and renovations the club is making to improve their experience. He later joined the squad on the back fields for workouts and watched live batting practice with president of baseball operations Scott Harris.

“He’s spearheading the improvements behind the scenes, obviously around the ballpark,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “It’s fun and very impactful to have an owner so invested in these players and us as coaches to give us the best in class.”

Among the improvements this season are a new team plane, more upgrades to the clubhouse on top of last year’s makeover, further renovations around Comerica Park and additions to the support staff.

“He’s giving us the resources that we need to be comfortable, recover better, really just the things we need to win,” said. “They’re small details, but they mean everything for us. Recovery-wise and comfort-wise, the things you don’t really see, he really wants us to have all the stuff to be ready to go for the next game.”

Like Greene, has seen a series of upgrades since his debut with the Tigers in 2022. The difference, Torkelson said, sets a tone for the organization.

“It’s developing a winning culture. I think it starts with that,” Torkelson said. “It starts with these guys instilling this identity to us of who we are as a team: We’re not a sub-.500 team. We’re division winners. We’re World Series champions. They’re instilling that now, and we’re going to work towards that every single day. That’s a big thing, and I think the facilities, the locker room, the cage, the weight room, it’s all first class.”

For Greene, Torkelson and many others on this young roster, the Tigers are the only Major League team they’ve known. However, they’ve seen enough other facilities on the road, and talked with enough players on other clubs, to get an idea of how the situation compares around the league.

Several of the upgrades stemmed from feedback from a survey the Tigers took with players at the end of the 2022 season, shortly after Harris took over the organization.

“It was a changeup … wasn’t it?”
Live batting practice is an exercise for pitchers to get used to throwing with a batter in the box and for hitters to recapture their timing. It can be a mundane task during Spring Training, with hitters relaying what they saw on pitches. Or it can be fun. made it the latter.

“He’s a funny dude,” catcher Dillon Dingler said. “Great person to be around.”

After one nasty pitch from Chafin on Tuesday, outfielder called out from behind the plate: “What did you throw there?”

“It was a changeup,” Chafin replied, before pausing. “Wasn’t it?”

Hinch emphasized to pitchers that they need to focus on pounding the strike zone. So when Kerry Carpenter sent a Chafin pitch on a long drive down the right-field line, but foul, Chafin smirked.

“That was a strike,” he deadpanned.

Chafin had particular fun with Canha, his teammate last year with the Brewers. After Canha declined to offer at a pitch, Chafin yelled, “How the heck did you pick that up?”

As Chafin was getting ready to throw another pitch with Canha digging into the box, Chafin yelled again: “Did you just look down there [at the catcher signals]?”

Give him the heater
On another back field, Tarik Skubal threw his usual nasty arsenal in his first live session. But Torkelson got a laugh when he jumped Skubal’s first-pitch fastball and drove it.

“That is the most automatic heater you could possibly get, the first pitch of the first live BP of the year,” said Torkelson, who did not see live pitching over the offseason. “That’s as auto as it gets. But he’s got legit stuff.”