GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The Tigers schedule a trip to this part of the state every year on their Winter Caravan to support the West Michigan Whitecaps, their affiliate in their Class A Midwest League, and their charitable efforts. This time, however, the support has a new significance.
Thursday's visit was the first by the Tigers since a fire ravaged parts of the Whitecaps' stadium, Fifth Third Ballpark, earlier this month. Minor League operations director Dan Lunetta and player development director Dave Owen arrived ahead of the Tigers' bus Thursday morning to tour the park with Whitecaps officials and survey the damage.
"It makes me sad, to begin with, just because of our relationship with [CEO] Lew [Chamberlin] and [vice president] Jim [Jarecki] and the whole group," Owen said. "It's just like something's happened to the family. I'm just thankful that everything's going to be OK and we'll get it back and up and running."
Owen and Lunetta reported what they saw to Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, who arrived later on the caravan bus. Dombrowski had seen the news reports over the holidays and has kept in touch with Whitecaps officials.
"If there's ever a community, a group of owners, that will handle something like this as well as it possibly can, it's this group," Dombrowski said. "They're very resilient. They have positive attitudes. They have great community support. And they have our support, whatever we can do to help them."
The cleanup is already underway, Owen said. The goal is to have the ballpark ready to host games when the Midwest League season opens. The Whitecaps' home opener is April 8.
"Everything they've told us is that they're going to do everything they can," Owen said. "Obviously, you can't predict anything because you never know what the weather's going to do, but we will have baseball, and we're looking forward to it."
There's added significance to their schedule this season. The Whitecaps are slated to host this year's Midwest League All-Star Game on June 17.
Avila confident contract will be settled soon
DETROIT -- The sight of Tigers catcher Alex Avila sitting in an arbitration hearing opposite his father, Tigers vice president/assistant GM Al Avila, sounds like an episode plot for a TV series. Don't count on it happening in real life, though.
The younger Avila sounded like he expects a settlement on a new contract for 2014 very soon.
"I don't think it'll go on too much longer," Alex Avila said Thursday at the Tigers' Winter Caravan media session at Comerica Park. "I don't expect [a hearing] to happen."
It was a surprise that the process has gotten this far. Avila was the only arbitration-eligible Tiger to exchange contract figures with the team, unable to reach an agreement by last week's deadline.
Avila's arbitration filing came in at $5.35 million. The Tigers filed for a $3.75 million contract. He said he knows how it looks but that it isn't anything to fret.
"As a player, when you go into it, you just prepare for every scenario," he said. "With the process that's in place, filing numbers just basically gives you more time to negotiate. To reach an agreement by that deadline would be nice, but sometimes it just doesn't happen. Luckily, we can still continue [to talk]."
He believes something could happen this week or next. That's basically their window, because a hearing would be scheduled sometime between Feb. 1-21.
Hunter captures Jackson's slam dunk on video
DETROIT -- The video of Austin Jackson dunking a basketball, which made its way across the Internet and highlights shows this week, was a one-shot take, Torii Hunter said. And it was a dare.
The teammates both live in the Dallas area, so they've been working out together in the offseason. They had just finished a workout when they walked across the court.
"We were tired," Hunter said. "We trained that morning, trained for two hours. We did legs that day. Our trainer killed us -- lunges, all this stuff. Then we drove 20 minutes to my house, went to the cage and hit for an hour and a half. So after we finished, he saw the basketball.
"We were walking through the workout area. He saw the basketball and said, 'Hey, T, how much do you want to bet I can dunk this?' I'm like, 'You can't dunk. I can't even feel my legs. What are you talking about?'"
Jackson grabbed the ball, ran in and threw it down. Hunter shot the video with his cellphone, uploaded and tweeted it. The video went viral within hours.
It's Austin Jackson the Tigers Centerfielder. I did this when I was younger but there was no video or… http://t.co/Ez9en3dxgd- Torii Hunter (@toriihunter48) January 21, 2014
"I could not believe he did that," he said. "And then I got up there, and I looked like I was going to dunk and did a layup. I had no legs."
Jackson, who turns 27 on Feb. 1, was a standout high school basketball player in his hometown of Denton, Texas. He turned down a scholarship offer to play point guard at Georgia Tech nine years ago, opting to sign with the Yankees, who selected him in the eighth round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.
That was a long time ago. The dunk, Hunter believes, speaks volumes about Jackson's potential, even after four Major League seasons.
"This dude is a tremendous athlete," said Hunter, still shaking his head. "If he gets going, he's going to be unbelievable. He's going to be one of the best players in baseball, if he does what he's capable of doing. Sick athleticism."