BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. -- Tigers general manager Al Avila made the trip from Tigertown in Lakeland to this southwest Florida resort village outside Fort Myers in about 2 1/2 hours, carpooling with assistant GM David Chadd and vice president of player development David Littlefield to be part of Major League Baseball's Grapefruit League Media Day event Friday. It was about the same drive as the Tigers' longest trip of Spring Training, their overnight trip to Jupiter in mid-March.
It's the type of trip the Tigers could be making more often next spring once the Astros and Nationals leave Kissimmee and Viera, respectively, for their new complex in West Palm Beach. That will leave the Braves, who train at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex, and the Tigers as the only teams training in central Florida.
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The Tigers and Lakeland have the longest-running relationship between a team and a Spring Training city, and are committed to continuing that. Renovations are underway at Joker Marchant Stadium, including team offices, new clubhouses and fan amenities. The finished product next spring should be on level with newer facilities in Florida and Arizona -- if not more impressive, considering the Tigers don't share their place with another club. For home games, no team might have it better.
For road games, Avila said, it'll be different with another long bus trip, but they don't expect a major impact.
"We go to Jupiter, and we have an overnight trip," Avila said. "We play Miami one day, stay that night, and then we play St. Louis. The same thing can be accomplished for us going down to Palm Beach. So in essence, I don't see it as a big problem at all. As a matter of fact, it's not that bad to break up the monotony of Spring Training in the middle of camp with a trip like that."
The Tigers have an advantage in having several players who live in south Florida during the offseason.
"Now, in saying that, it could be hard to take your star players on two overnight trips," Avila continued. "That might be a challenge, but things like that can be worked out. It's just a matter of making sure we have enough players."
The Tigers could also make more trips to the Tampa Bay area. The Yankees are about a half-hour away in Tampa, with the Phillies and Blue Jays about an hour away.
Major League Baseball recommends teams bring at least five players from the big league roster, including four players who saw significant starts last year. The Tigers have been good at doing that, a strategy that Avila has no desire to change.
"I think if you look at the record, we've been one of the better teams in Spring Training over the years," Avila said. "Here in Florida, we see a lot of Michiganders all over the state everywhere we play. In some cases, half the fans might be Detroit Tiger fans, even on the road. We're very conscious to make sure we take a representative club on the road for that reason, not to mention the opposing team. And of course, you want the opposing team to reciprocate."
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was asked about the concentration of Spring Training teams on each Florida coast during his Media Day news conference.
"Just like I would never want to abandon Florida or Arizona, I think it's a great thing to have Spring Training baseball on both coasts of Florida," he said. "And I think we just need to make sure that we have a sufficient body of teams close enough together that they have games to play without too much of a travel burden."