LAKELAND, Fla. — It was a funny scene in Tigers manager Jim Leyland’s office Wednesday after batting practice.
Leyland had announced that barring some last-minute trade, Don Kelly had made the team. But because he’d been so busy in the morning, he hadn’t had a chance to tell him.
Not wanting to usurp the manager’s role, a reporter asked if he needed to talk to Kelly before reporters did. So Leyland had Kelly come into his office while reporters and media relations people were there.
Kelly had a big smile on his face as he came in. “What’s up, Skipper?” Kelly said.
Leyland ribbed Kelly about his home run Tuesday being off a pitcher who is on the disabled list, then gave him the news that Kelly had already guessed.
“As we speak, don’t hold me to this 100 percent, but as we speak, you’re on the team,” Leyland said.
Kelly thanked him. But Leyland wasn’t done with the ribbing.
“Listen. I’m going to do you a favor,” Leyland said. “I’m not going to play you the next three days because I don’t want Dave (Dombrowski) to change his mind.”
Everyone laughed, including Kelly.
“I didn’t know that everybody was going to be in there but obviously when I saw everybody, I knew it was going to be more of a joke,” Kelly said afterward in the clubhouse.
Considering that Kelly had seriously considered other teams when the Tigers made him a free agent last season, it’s a nice story that he came back on a minor league deal with an invite to camp and made the team.
“It would have been easy to say, OK, it’s a fresh start, go sign somewhere else and leave this in the past,” Kelly said. “But this is home. This is where you want to be. Sometimes it’s not easy to face the disappointments of the prior year whenever you have a chance to get out. But just to work hard and come back and be ready to play this year is big.”
Kelly is batting .304 with four doubles, four home runs and seven RBIs.
Kelly admitted that knowing the Tigers are expected to contend for a title influenced his decision.
“There’s no doubt,” Kelly said. “You play with these guys for so long and to come back and be a part of it the last couple years, and the team this year is even better. It’ll be an exciting year.”
On the opposite side of the emotional coin was Quintin Berry.
Leyland said the meeting this morning with Berry to tell him he was being sent down to Toledo was a difficult one.
“I let him do most of the talking, and he was very professional. I want to make sure that’s quoted, very professional,” Leyland said. “Rightfully so, very upset. I think he did such a good job for us from time to time last year, he just had a tough time understanding it. And I don’t blame him.”
Leyland said he gets no joy out of breaking a player’s heart.
He said he hopes that Berry will get over his disappointment and realize that he could easily be back with the Tigers at some point this season.
“He’s not on it right now but he’s a big part of this team and this organization,” Leyland said. “I hope he understands that. “I think it’s been a real good situation with Quintin Berry and the Tigers. He was a guy that came here as a six-year free agent, he’d been with three organizations or so. He came here and showed us something. At one point he was brought up to the big league club, did a very good job for us. He sparked us without question from time to time. These are tough decisions that they break your heart.”
Kelly can feel for Berry, having been in that situation before.
“Quintin was unbelievable,” Kelly said. “He sent me a text this morning when he got sent down, which was awesome. Got to text with him a little bit. But he’ll be back up. There’ll be something that happens, hopefully not a huge injury, but he’ll be back, that’s for sure.”