TOLEDO, Ohio -- It's officially time for the Tigers to get down to business.
During spring training at Tigertown in Lakeland, the mood is pretty lighthearted. Even though everyone is getting their work in, it's not all that serious.
That changed as soon as the Tigers finished their exhibition season with an 8-3 victory over their Triple-A affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens, on a sunny, 62-degree day at Toledo's Fifth Third Field Wednesday afternoon.
After the game, Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski and assistant general manager Al Avila watched as the members of the media filed by en route to manager Jim Leyland's office.
"Wow," said Dombrowski, surprised by the crowd. Not only were Toledo reporters there, but quite a few Detroit reporters made the hour trip south, including columnists from the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press and reporters from the Detroit TV stations.
You would not have seen that many Detroit reporters in Toledo back in 2000, the last time the Tigers played the Mud Hens. Back then the Tigers were still crawling out of the mess that was Tigers baseball in the mid to late-1990s.
The large media contingent is representative of the expectations that the Tigers face this season, which all starts Thursday afternoon at Comerica Park in Detroit.
Very few people are picking a team other than the Tigers to win the Central Division, and many are picking them to at least reach the World Series, if not win it all. That is only natural for a team that won the division last year, has the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young winner in Justin Verlander, the AL batting champ in Miguel Cabrera and one of the top two free-agent prizes from the offseason, Prince Fielder.
A crowd of 12,000 got to see most of the big leaguers for at least a little while. Rick Porcello pitched 4 23 innings, Miguel Cabrera and Fielder each had two at-bats.
"I really enjoyed it because we played our big guys three innings," manager Jim Leyland said. "We got all our West Michigan kids one at-bat for sure. They all got to play a little bit. It really couldn't have been nicer."
The hitting stars were Ryan Raburn, who had a two-RBI triple, Delmon Young, who was 2-2 with an RBI single and Aaron Westlake, who had a two-RBI double. Cabrera, Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta each drove in a run.
It was the first time since June 1, 2000, that the Tigers had played the Mud Hens. It used to be a regular occurrence. From 1987-99, they played every season. They are now 11-9-2 in 22 games.
But you could tell by Leyland's words after the game that he's already in regular season mode.
"The ideal situation was not today," Leyland said of the game with the Mud Hens. "The ideal situation would have been to play yesterday so we could work out at Comerica and get ready for the next day. But that's OK.
"We had a major league scheduled game with Toronto, we played it. This is the way this worked out. When guys look back, they'll be glad they didn't have to come down on their off day. It worked out great for everybody. I appreciate the turnout today. It was just a nice day."
The Boston Red Sox, the Tigers' opening series opponent, did hold a workout at Comerica Park while the Tigers were in Toledo.
But the "big guys," as Leyland called them, didn't stick around long. Once they were out of the game, they got themselves dressed and on the road back to Detroit.
It's time for them to focus on the task at hand, having a successful enough regular season that they reach the postseason once again.
As for what Leyland is looking for on Opening Day, he summed it up succinctly,"A win, that's about it."
Which is exactly what Tigers fans are hoping to see a lot of when the games count, starting Thursday