Gage: Spilled milk cleaned up, now spring-ing back into action

Better late than never, Hall of Fame baseball writer Tom Gage returns to Lakeland, Fla., for the 37th year.


Reinhold Matay/Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

DETROIT — Hello, Lakeland. It’s good to see you.

Or will be soon.

A new day, a new gig — and after a few stones in the road, I’m returning to spring training for the 37th year.

Thank you for that, This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

As for what happened in a previous work life, never mind. It was what it was — and is what it is: Spilled milk.

But I’m ready to jump back in. In fact, I’m doing so as we speak.

Then again, maybe it officially begins when Tigers trainer Kevin Rand strides through the clubhouse with his engine-revving words that "the scribes are in the house."

I can only honestly tell you that this scribe is elated to be back in the house.

Baseball writing has a gravitational pull to it, you know — a tractor beam. The longer you do it, the stronger the beam gets.

I believe I know why.

Gage joins our team

I won’t get all gooey about it, though — because I’m sure there will be the usual immediate reminders why baseball coverage is not all fun and games.

There will be the player who doesn’t have time to talk.

And a hesitant one who does have time, but says he doesn’t.

I’ve never faulted a player for being bland or reluctant to speak. They are young men, remember, many of them with their jobs on the line. And suddenly their thoughts matter?

It would be easier to extract a molar from some players, which I never attempted, than it would be to come away with a usable comment.

Mickey Tettleton, for instance, was one of the friendliest Tigers I’ve known. He was approachable. Funny. Intelligent. But as soon as you laughed at something he said, and began to write it down, he would say, "You’re not going to use that, are you?"

Not only didn’t he think his own words mattered, their potential impact made him nervous.

So Tettleton was sadly underquoted his entire career.

But the real draw of baseball writing isn’t that it brings you back to players who — with honored exceptions — basically come and go, but to a game that readers depend upon.

A game that is part of our fabric.

Suppose you write a general-assignment feature of which you are proud, and it gets widely read. There’s a lot to be said for that. Indeed, there is.

If you are a writer worth your salt, you are gratified that you’ve given your readers a story that evokes a reaction — whether it’s joy, anger, surprise or even a tear while reminiscing.

But features have a limited shelf life. Baseball does not.

Baseball is a continuum — one development leading to another. And it has a readership that stays acutely tuned in for whatever happens next.

In past years, tuning in would require a spread-out sports section in order to read all the Tigers news — finding out who’s hurt, who’s recovering who’s playing well, who’s not.

A daily ritual.

Today, it is the routine of checking a website.

That is the continuum we spoke of, though.

Baseball coverage is writing that is relied upon by readers "to be there" through thick and thin. Because so many games are played, it’s the most direct link between writer and reader that exists in sports.

In any case, the tractor beam wouldn’t let me go.

I had to return.

And now, as I get close to walking back into the Tigers’ clubhouse following a brief interruption, it’s with great anticipation.

Chances are that except for a few hugs, hello’s and how-are-ya’s, it won’t be substantially different than the last time I was in the clubhouse.

We’ll stand around, waiting for the manager to talk. Then we’ll get waved into his office and the informational day will begin.

That’s baseball coverage for you, though, whether it’s the nuts and bolts of beat writing or columns: Day after day, high tide and low, a cycle of news about a game that matters.

But also about a game that is cherished.