Fans' enthusiasm shines at annual TigerFest

January 24th, 2016

DETROIT -- Tickets for TigerFest had sold out long before Justin Upton became a real possibility to wear a Detroit uniform. His arrival didn't put extra people through the turnstiles, but it didn't hurt the mood of the 7,000 or so who attended.

Three days after Upton's news conference at Comerica Park, he finished what might have been the longest introduction for a Tigers player. He stuck around for the Winter Caravan earlier this week, then became one of the highlights of TigerFest, where fans welcomed him with open arms.

"I've enjoyed myself," he told fans during his on-stage interview. "This week's been awesome."

The sentiment seemed fairly common. From veterans who have attended TigerFest for years to other recent arrivals experiencing the event for the first time, the fan reaction was hard to miss.

"The enthusiasm of the fans and the excitement is pretty cool to see," new Tigers starter Mike Pelfrey said. "I'm looking forward to getting down to Spring Training."

Cameron Maybin has seen it before. He had the chance to play in Detroit down the stretch in 2007, with the feel of winning still shining new around the ballpark. He calls that team, the final one before Miguel Cabrera arrived, the best he has ever played on. This one, he believes, is up there.

"I'm excited," Maybin said. "I'm excited to be back, older, more mature, and ready to go. It's nice being 28 and being part of a team that's rebuilding for this year, not so much for the future. They're trying to win right now, and that's fun to be a part of.

"I'm excited to give the Tigers fans what I think is a better Cam Maybin."

This year, the fans got better weather, too. As Winter Storm Jonas dumped more than a foot of snow on much of the East Coast, Detroit stayed dry. While temperatures topped 30 degrees for the first time in almost a week, clear skies and afternoon sunshine left just pockets of leftover snow as reminders of winter. Inside the park, meanwhile, baseball season felt just days away. Fans, still chilly, lined up early.

Al Avila talked with fans about the feeling of being the general manager after years as the assistant, now with the weight of the final decision on his shoulders. He discussed the buildout of the analytics department and its role going forward, from player moves to player development to amateur scouting to the current roster. He discussed the still-ongoing talks with outfielder J.D. Martinez on a contract extension.

"[Assistant GM] John Westhoff is over in the corner working on it as we speak," Avila said, looking to his right. "It's just a process, nothing personal obviously. It has to take its course, and I'm sure we'll get something done."

TigerFest wasn't entirely about baseball. Infielder Andrew Romine and pitcher Blaine Hardy paired up with fans in a "Family Feud"-style game show, after catcher James McCann and outfielder Tyler Collins tried answering questions about teammates in a "Newlywed Game" format. Teammates became opponents with a mini-shuffleboard. And Martinez performed Justin Bieber songs in a lip-sync battle as part of the Kids Zone stage.

But clearly, everyone was thinking ahead to warmer days on the field. Fittingly, then, that a baseball diamond that was covered in snow for Upton's introductory news conference Wednesday had a section of green grass cleared in the outfield on Saturday.