Fantastic weather set the tone for the afternoon with temperatures in the low-90s, a slight breeze, and even a few clouds to provide a reprieve from time to time. That was topped by the atmosphere between players, coaches, and instructors, and the way in which the team played today.
Sitting directly between the home dugout and the long time Tiger Glenn Ezell, the dialogue that took place throughout the entire game was not only enlightening, but purely fascinating. The instruction in this environment never stops, not for a second. Even if a player is not in the game, they are frequently called over to discuss what a teammate may have done right, wrong, or both during the game.
The instruction doesn't stop at players, coaches, managers, and anyone around – even me – received some words of wisdom throughout the game. Critiques of the technique in how a third base coach sends his runners toward a close play, sharing of ideas on how to help a player learn a new skill, and even some kind words and thoughts on my writing at TigsTown.com, are all just examples of the thoughts that flowed freely throughout the afternoon.
It is truly a great environment here in Lakeland at this time of year; a baseball fan's dream.
Aside from the general environment, the game itself was a pleasure to watch. Good players were abundant. Sound baseball was the norm. Resilient baseball and comebacks were fun to watch.
The highlight of the day was the game saving and game ending catch made by center fielder Luis Castillo in the top of the ninth as the Tigers protected a slim one-run lead. As the Braves Cody Johnson unleashed a mammoth fly ball to dead center field (nearly 420-feet away), Castillo got on his horse, gave himself a chance, and made an incredible diving catch on the warning track. Lakeland Manager and Instructional League instructor Andy Barkett could be heard yelling the following as the play finished, "He caught that ball! Unreal! He caught that ball! Great catch!"
As Glenn Ezell walked by to give his post-game chat to the players, I smiled and said "Helluva way to finish, huh?" His only response was a wry smile and a wink that was barely visible behind his dark sunglasses. Even without words, you can tell that despite being a baseball veteran, even Mr. Ezell appreciated that ending.
The Tigers were down much of the game until they scored four runs in the seventh inning to take a one-run lead into the final two frames. The four-run outburst was keyed by good hitting and superb base running.
First baseman Elvin Soto led off the inning with a walk, and moved to second as catcher Edgar Corcino drew a walk of his own. Wade Gaynor singled to drive Soto home, and he was followed by a run-scoring single from outfielder Michael Rockett. Julio Rodriguez followed with yet another single, this one a blooper over the shortstop's head, scoring the game's tying run. The Tigers then took the lead on a ground ball double-play from Danny Worth, scoring Luis Castillo from third.
Unfortunately, the Braves came back to tie the game in the eighth off of Venezuelan left-hander Wilfredo Ramirez, who yielded a single and a double after striking out the leadoff hitter in the inning.
The Tigers showed their resiliency in the bottom half of the inning by seizing the lead yet again, on the back of an opposite field single by Steven Moya to lead off the frame, Gustavo Nunez reaching on a fielder's choice, and a solid single up the middle by left fielder Michael Rockett.
Aside from the run scoring highlights, Audy Ciriaco turned in a nice day at the plate with a walk, a double, a stolen base, and a hard groundout to short, prior to a strikeout in the seventh. Ciriaco looks like a different hitter at the plate, with a refined approach, and a true plan at the plate.
When asked about Ciriaco's development this year, his manager Andy Barkett said, "He really did develop in his ability to work counts. His hitting mechanics became more consistent this summer, and that really helped him in his approach. He's a guy the organization has to make a decision on this year. I can see a team taking a chance on him in the Rule 5 draft."
Non-drafted free agent outfielder Jordan Cruz also turned in a solid day by going 2-for-2 with a double in the second and a single in the third. Third baseman Francisco Martinez also showed well in his two at-bats, flying out to left on a ball he ‘just missed' according to Ezell, and a single in his second trip.
Starter Brayan Villarreal pitched solidly, though he struggled to throw first-pitch strikes and walked the first hitter in all three innings of work. Left-hander Adam Wilk followed and he struggled to keep the ball down in the zone, giving the Braves a chance to get their offense going and take the lead heading to the late innings.
The day was capped by meeting with Sharon Lockwood, the Tigers Coordinator of International Player Programs.
Sharon was kind enough to share details of their international player programs, and also provided a tour of all the minor league facilities here in TigerTown. She was also kind enough to extend an invitation to participate in the organization's ‘Conversation Class' on Friday night, where international prospects are given the opportunity to develop their English-speaking skills in conversation with local community members.
We'll be back again tomorrow with notes from the morning workouts and the afternoon road game against Washington. Don't forget to follow live, in-game updates via Twitter.com/TigsTownMark or @TigsTownMark.