DETROIT — The weather’s cold, but baseball fever was hot at Comerica Park on Saturday.
The Tigers arrived to see 10,000-plus ardent fans waiting in line around the block to get into TigerFest, the team’s annual winter baseball carnival.
“It makes it all worth it when you see them packed around the corner out there,” center fielder Austin Jackson said. “They’re really pumped up to get in here and get an autograph or take a picture. It makes it all worth it.”
The event caps off four days of touring around the state and metro area, from Tigers serving fans at Red Robin or Dunkin Donuts to thanking local police officers, firefighters and military members for their service to visiting the DMC Children’s Hospital or the North American International Auto Show.
“It’s good to see the fans, but this is an educational tour for us,” manager Jim Leyland said. “We go to different places, sometimes companies. Yesterday we went to Customs Patrol, it’s so interesting what goes on.
“It’s a neat thing for us. Went to the Holocaust (Memorial Center). We went to the mayor’s house yesterday. So it’s not just shaking hands and signing autographs.”
Reliever Phil Coke has often been on the bus headed outstate, so this was his first time seeing people and places around metro Detroit during the winter caravan.
“It’s been absolutely awesome,” Coke said. “I’ve gotten to see a lot of things I didn’t even know were here, places that I absolutely want to go back to, like the Heritage Museum and the Army Garrison.
“I went to DTE yesterday. I went to Dunkin Donuts yesterday, I went to the GM Building. The cars they have in the center there are all cool. I got to walk around them all. I got to walk where you’re not supposed to walk, so it was pretty awesome.”
Fans were particularly excited to see Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, who was also happy to see them.
“Great, awesome to be in touch with fans,” Cabrera said. “They were excited. We were excited to be in touch, excited for this year. We look forward to Opening Day.”
Catcher Alex Avila enjoys interacting with the fans, something the players often don’t have time to do during a busy season.
“I’ve been coming here the last three, four years,” Avila said. “I always enjoy coming because it’s probably the most personal thing you get to do with the fans. I have a good time with it.
“Sometimes it can make for some long days, but when you see all the kids smiling and having a good time, it’s kind of like going out and getting ready to play when you see the fans out there. It just gets you going.”
It doesn’t take much to get new Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter going. He’s seen Tigers fans from the other side when he was on the visiting team, but this was his first time getting to meet them as part of the team.
Hunter also was able to see more of Michigan, places that some people don’t realize are there.
“It’s just a beautiful place, and I never knew that,” Hunter said. “Just coming to the hotel and going straight to the stadium as a visitor, you don’t see much.
“This caravan has allowed me to open up my eyes, and I get a chance to see a little more of the fans and the city.”
Hunter also got to know some of his teammates a little better during the winter caravan.
“I learned that Phil Coke was crazy,” Hunter said, laughing. “I guess a bullpen lefty, you have to have a little craziness and a little amnesia. You gotta forget about that last pitch or forget about whatever.
“Phil Coke is awesome, man.”
Just then, new teammate Prince Fielder photo bombed Hunter’s interview with the media.
“He’s awesome,” Hunter said. “He’s a lot of fun. He’s always cracking jokes on Austin Jackson. When those two are together, it’s a cracking-joke session. I love it.
“He’s an awesome guy, smiles all the time, and I’m glad to be here with him.”
The fans were glad to be able to be with most of the Tigers, except Victor Martinez, whose wife is expecting a baby any day now. Like the players, fans can’t wait for the season to start.
“There’s been excitement in the air every time I’ve been able to come to the caravan,” Coke said.