Tigers walk in fans' shoes on Caravan
By Jason Beck / MLB.com | 01/20/12 6:30 PM EST
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Before Jose Valverde was baseball's perfect closer, he was a bagger.
After Doug Fister is done being one baseball's underrated starters, he might end up becoming a crime-stopper.
Even if he doesn't, at least we all know where his "One Shot, One Kill" philosophy of throwing strikes and inducing quick outs came from.
Jose Valverde bagged groceries as the Tigers took on the jobs of some fans on the Winter Caravan. (Detroit Tigers)
The second day is the fun day on the Tigers' Winter Caravan, because it gives some of the players a chance to take on the jobs of some of their fans. Instead of fans seeing players at their workplace, the tables get turned.
For Valverde and Fister, it was a lot more familiar than that. It was evident Friday afternoon in the way Valverde didn't mess around in getting bags together and sending Meijer customers on their way.
"I did it for a couple months," Valverde said, referring to his days as a child in his native Dominican Republic before pro ball. "When you don't have too much money, you have to do the most you can. It was easy today."
It was evident Friday morning in the way Fister took apart a would-be bank robber's plan during a police training exercise at the Combined Regional Emergency Services Training center at Oakland Community College.
The Tigers scheduled that trip as both a way to recognize men and women in law enforcement and a fun exercise for their players. They didn't know they had a training candidate on their roster.
"He's squatting like he's done this before," somebody said from the other side of the glass as Fister shielded himself behind a piece of cork board to prepare for the break-in.
"He has," teammate Justin Verlander said.
Seconds later, in came the would-be bank robber. Off went three rounds of what training officers called "paintball for adults," taking down the well-padded criminal.
"Yup," Fister said later. "I hit forehead, neck and center mass."
When Fister was asked if he had done this before, he paused.
"Um, a little bit," he said.
"We actually talked about this last night at dinner," Verlander said.
Fister, the former Mariners pitcher who helped deliver the Tigers' first division title in 24 years, comes from a law-enforcement family.
"My father was a police officer before [becoming] a firefighter," Fister said. "My uncle just retired [as a] detective. My great-grandfather was a Nevada highway patrolman. So it's a long line of law enforcement for me. This is right at home."
A lanky frame and gifted right arm allowed Fister to pursue a different line of work out of school. But he hasn't completely given up on the field.
"It's still a viable option," he said. "Someday, everybody has to take the cleats off, and for me, it's possible to still do the fire or police department."
When Fister talks about being an officer, it doesn't sound like one of the crazy job ideas that quirky former Tigers reliever Matt Anderson used to have, like when he wanted to be a sheriff. Fister is at least semi-serious, though he has a lot of years left before he has to decide on that.
As it is, his roots give him a profound level of respect for what people endure in the line of duty. When he talks about them, talks about the experience of the training exercise. He sounds like a fan.
"I still have goose bumps," he said. "These guys are my heroes. They watch us, but these guys are my heroes. They do this every day, and do it in real-life situations. Yeah, we're having fun right now, but they do this in real-life situations. More than I can say, my hat's off to them."
The salute, and the visit, was well-appreciated. It was a very rare stop for non-officers at the facility, according to instructor Justin DeLong, a commander with the Farmington Police Department. For the most part, he said, the visitors consist of recruits as well as officers that return for advanced training.
This was a one-way exercise. Though the would-be criminals had guns, they were firing blanks. Add in a heavy amount of protective gear, and no Tigers player was in danger, officers said. It was enough, though, to give players an appreciation of the quick reflexes and quicker judgments required of officers in that type of situation.
"Obviously I respect these men and women that serve, but that was a little nerve-wracking for me," Verlander said. "That was actually my first time shooting a gun like that.
"I mean, this is an opportunity that a lot of people don't get. We meet some fine men and women, and get invited back, which is an opportunity I might have to take them up on, because this was a pretty unique experience. "
In just over an hour, Fister went from the front lines of law enforcement to the bakery counter at Meijer. He joked that he was hoping to get a chance to autograph some cakes in icing, but he spent most of his time there handing out cookies and signing autographs in pen. Austin Jackson was at another counter handing out popcorn before autographing some gear.
The real heavy lifting came from Valverde, who bagged groceries and put them into customers' carts. When he made his way in through the produce department, he jokingly took a bag of potatoes and offered to put them in a surprised customer's cart.
Valverde said he worked for a couple months at a supermarket. He didn't have the same antics back them.
"I was supposed to dance [today]," Valverde said, "but I forgot. I'll do something for next year."