LAKELAND, Fla. — Ron Gardenhire put on a glove and took some grounders at first base, tossing the ball to pitchers covering the bag and barking out words of encouragement.
The manager certainly seemed to be enjoying himself Wednesday, when the Detroit Tigers had their first workout for pitchers and catchers at spring training. Gardenhire won over 1,000 games with the Minnesota Twins, but this opportunity with the Tigers is his first chance to manage since 2014, and he had a hop in his step and even some jitters.
"I just caught myself speaking really fast to the team," Gardenhire said. "I could tell I was really talking fast, and I normally try to keep myself calm, and it was hard, because I was really excited to be in front of a group again."
Gardenhire's new team isn't facing much pressure as the season approaches. The Tigers finished tied for the worst record in baseball a year ago, and not much is expected in 2018 from what is now a rebuilding franchise . When spring training starts, however, every team can find some reasons for optimism.
Detroit right-hander Michael Fulmer, perhaps the team's best remaining asset, said after throwing a bullpen session that he felt "fantastic" — he's coming off elbow surgery that ended last season early for him.
"My surgery wasn't anything major," Fulmer said. "Just a little compression with a nerve there. ... They moved it and everything feels great now, so no complaints."
Catcher James McCann has a weight off his shoulders for a different reason. McCann and his wife Jessica had twin boys Dec. 6 in Tennessee, but they were born over two months before the due date and weren't able to go home until late January.
"It was draining on a lot of different counts," McCann said. "You don't ever really think about something like that, going through it. Then going through it, seeing your babies attached to machines, it's not easy to look at. It's tough to see your child going through it, knowing that there's nothing you can do to help."
Now McCann has his sons Christian and Kane with him in Florida — he found out only recently that they'd be able to make the trip.
"Basically didn't know until Thursday of last week. It was, hurry up and get packed to leave — but they're doing great," McCann said. "It makes it a lot better to be able to go home and see my family, where I'm not doing it through FaceTime."
Notes: C Derek Norris, signed by the Tigers to a minor league deal in the off-season, spoke to reporters Wednesday. In September, Norris was suspended the rest of the season by Major League Baseball for violating the sport's domestic violence policy nearly two years earlier. "The process has been completed," Norris said. "I'm just looking forward to the new year, turning the page and focus on having a good spring and trying to break camp with this upcoming ballclub and head north to Detroit."
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