LAKELAND, Fla. -- The sun wasn't up yet on Tuesday morning when Miguel Cabrera pulled into Joker Marchant Stadium, arriving around 6:30 a.m. for the Tigers' first full-squad workout of this Spring Training. It was barely light when he went to work on following up his back-to-back American League MVP awards.
He even beat his new manager to work, after beating Brad Ausmus to camp last week, too. As he took throws at first base in infield drills, took his swings in batting practice and joked around with his teammates, he looked more at home than ever.
He wasn't literally home, though. He's worried about his home. With student protests, security response, censorship accusations and fatalities reported, Venezuela is in unrest.
And like so many other Venezuelans in Major League Baseball, Cabrera is concerned for his family, his friends and his countrymen.
"It's hard to be here and do your work and not think about your country," Cabrera said quietly in his corner of the Tigers clubhouse. "It's hard to be here and not be able to do anything."
He isn't the only one feeling that way.
"Man, it takes everything away from you inside," new Tigers first-base coach Omar Vizquel said. "It's hard to do something and not think about how your family is and how things are going to progress in our country. I'm just hoping for the best right now, hoping that they get together and resolve the situation. All that we want is just the integrity, the respect, the opinion, the expression of people. We don't want to see anybody dead."
Vizquel has several family members still in Venezuela. He spent a good portion of the offseason there as a coach in winter ball. Likewise, though Cabrera spends much of his offseason in south Florida, he has family and friends in his hometown of Maracay.
The Tigers have one of the largest Venezuelan contingents of any Major League team, including starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez, relievers Bruce Rondon and Jose Ortega, young infielder Hernan Perez, and numerous prospects. All of them have family and friends in Venezuela. Some were just there before heading to Spring Training.
Imagine watching protests at home from another country, even if it's an adopted home, and it's not hard to sympathize.
"Everybody's involved right now," Vizquel said. "It's a country thing. It's not only one part of a city or anything like that. Everybody in the country is involved, because it's not only happening in Caracas or Maracay. It's happening in the whole country."
As difficult as it is to watch events unfold from thousands of miles away without being able to do anything, it's similarly difficult wondering what to say that could ever help the situation. This is where the gravity of Cabrera's status as one of his country's most recognizable figures, and the way anything he says could be construed, becomes clear.
That's why he pauses to consider his words.
"I see it this way: When we play here, they give us a lot of support. Right now, a lot of players give a lot of support to the people of Venezuela," Cabrera said. "It's kind of hard right now. It's tough. It's a lot of people. You have to be careful with what you say."
Vizquel has made reference to the situation on his Twitter account, which has more than 277,000 followers, expressing pain for the suffering of his people. But he, too, has had limited tweets in recent days.
"They have to be careful what they say. We all have to be careful what we say," Vizquel said, "because we have to remember that whatever you say right now, if it is taken in the wrong way, they're going to think that we're leaning to one people. We have to be real careful with the words that we choose when we speak about this.
"But one thing is for sure: We worry about what's going on. Everybody does. We just want the best for the country, for our people. We don't want to see people dead on the streets. That's the worst thing you can see."
Verlander throws 54 pitches in bullpen session
LAKELAND, Fla. -- While more than a half-dozen Tigers pitchers, all of them relievers, prepared to throw to hitters for the first time this spring on the back fields at Tigertown, Justin Verlander was throwing to a catcher's mitt in the home bullpen behind the right-field fence at Joker Marchant Stadium.
Verlander reportedly came through the bullpen session feeling fine. He felt well enough to top his pitch count again, throwing 54 pitches after being scheduled for 45-50.
"He felt good," manager Brad Ausmus said. "[Pitching coach] Jeff Jones said he looked good."
Verlander was a limited participant in fielding drills later Tuesday morning.
"He has [been] for a couple days," Ausmus said. "I kind of forced him out of it yesterday just because of an abundance of caution."
His chance to face hitters will have to wait until later in the week. Not surprisingly, his first appearance in a Spring Training game will also likely be delayed. The initial schedule for starting pitchers next week does not include Verlander in the first turn through the rotation.
"We do have it mapped out, just because he's been on schedule," Ausmus said. "The question is, does he remain on schedule? So there's obviously some flexibility."
Ausmus addresses full squad for first time
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Brad Ausmus' first address to his full squad as Tigers manager went much like his other firsts this Spring Training. There wasn't a lot of fanfare, even less tension, and apparently no nervousness.
"A lot of these guys have been here," said Ausmus, noting the number of position players that reported early. "They've been kind of sitting in on our meetings in the morning anyway, so it wasn't daunting at all. I've been around collections of talented baseball players before and spoken, even as a player.
"Again, I don't know why, but I wasn't really nervous. Not really any nerves involved."
It doesn't seem much different, he noted, from the past three Spring Trainings he spent with the Padres as a special assistant. He worked with catchers there, but also sat in on meetings.
"It just feels like Spring Training," he said.
Ausmus did not get into what he said, but noted that the tone was far from fiery.
"It wasn't like an explosive speech," Ausmus said. "Baseball's a long season. You may make a couple points about what you want to do in Spring Training here, maybe some general thoughts on the way the game should be played. But this isn't football, where you rally the troops for a three-hour battle. Baseball's a long season. Stay the course. Don't let emotions get the best of you."
For those same reasons, Ausmus doesn't anticipate having a lot of meetings during the season.
"I've been on teams where the managers have too many meetings," Ausmus said. "They lose their significance, and they don't bode well if you have too many. You really have to pick your spots. Generally, you want to pick your spot for a meeting when your No. 1 starter is pitching."