DETROIT — This year, the start of spring training was meaningful in a different way for AJ Hinch.
After winning a World Series and two pennants as Houston’s manager, Hinch spent last season serving a suspension in the aftermath of the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Now he has resurfaced with Detroit, and although it would be a surprise if the Tigers make the postseason, Hinch just appreciates the opportunity to be back in a big league dugout.
“I hated being out of the game last year,” said Hinch, who was hired as Detroit’s manager in October. “I understand why, and I’m not going to take it for granted that I get to put on a major league uniform again and lead a group of guys throughout the season.”
The Tigers had their first workout for pitchers and catchers Wednesday in Lakeland, Florida.
“It rained before and after our workout, but we got in the full day one,” Hinch said. “Pretty fun day.”
Hinch and the Astros won the World Series in 2017, but an investigation found the Astros used a video feed from a center field camera to decode the opposing catcher’s signs, and players banged on a trash can to signal to hitters what was coming. Houston fired Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, and Major League Baseball suspended them for last season.
Now Hinch has to begin rebuilding his reputation to some extent — and fittingly, he’s with a Detroit franchise that is also trying to become relevant again after four straight seasons around the bottom of the AL Central.
“This matters to me. This position matters to me, this organization that’s given me another opportunity — it matters to me. And I’m going to take the time and the opportunity to let everybody know it. I did in our coaches meeting. I’m going today in the pitcher-catcher meeting,” Hinch said before Wednesday’s workout. “I’ll let everybody know how important it is to stand in front of a team and be the manager, be the voice, and also be the leader that I feel like I can be.”
His message is resonating with left-hander Matthew Boyd.
“I’m so excited to be in the trenches with him and be playing for him this year,” Boyd said. “It’s not easy — everything that happened. I’m excited for what’s to come. You could hear it in his voice how excited he is and how much he believes in this group and believes in what’s to come.”
Hinch said pitchers Jose Urena, Gregory Soto and Gerson Moreno were working through travel issues and would get a late start to spring training, and right-hander Franklin Perez was also delayed but is expected at camp Thursday. Right-hander Rony Garcia did not participate Wednesday after going through an appendectomy in recent weeks.
Those kinds of health- and travel-related issues are fairly common at spring training, but coronavirus precautions have made this year a lot different in Lakeland. It’s certainly a big change from a year ago, when camp began in routine fashion before the pandemic brought sports in the U.S. to a halt in March.
“I don’t think anybody saw this coming,” catcher Grayson Greiner said. “It’s an unfortunate situation, but there’s millions and millions of people throughout the world that are having it a lot worse, if all we have to do is do some protocols and socially distance to be able to play a game for our job.”
Hinch is grateful for the chance to manage again, regardless of the circumstances.
“I have a lot of respect for this position. There’s 30 of us,” Hinch said. “Hard jobs to get, they are big responsibilities, but it comes with a great bit of excitement. Every first day, whether it’s your first year or your 40th year, whatever it is for some guys, it’s a special time.”
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