Opening Day always special for Tigers' Brown
Longtime employee was traveling secretary from 1979-2010
The task of deciding who heads north with the Tigers out of Spring Training has fallen on seven different managers, seven general managers, numerous coaches and countless hotshot rookies over the past 32 years.
Getting everybody north has fallen on just two people since 1979. Bill Brown did it for 32 years as the team's traveling secretary. Now, he's an advisor for team travel, working with new travel director Tyson Steele.
It has been an amazing journey for Brown.
Somewhere in his files, he has an itinerary of every road trip the Tigers have taken since 1992, including their trips out of their longtime spring home in Lakeland, Fla. Some of the season-opening trips are hard to forget. In '93, they played an exhibition game in Vancouver, British Columbia, just before then-President Bill Clinton and Russian president Boris Yeltsin arrived for a summit meeting, and the club left just as Air Force One was arriving. In '96, the Tigers traveled from Minnesota to Las Vegas for four games against A's while Oakland Coliseum underwent renovations to welcome back the National Football League's Raiders.
Friday, the Tigers will have their third Opening Day ceremonies in nine days when they return to Detroit, having opened the home slates for the Yankees and Orioles. They left Spring Training just a couple days before tornados hit their Spring Training hometown of Lakeland. And they went from 85-degree temperatures for their final Spring Training game in Tampa, Fla., to 42 degrees on Opening Day in New York, to 76 degrees for Monday's home opener in Baltimore, to who knows what temperature Friday at Comerica Park.
All the trips are unique. But there's one thing in common on the flight up north: Optimism.
"There's always something about it -- the start. Hopes are high. There's optimism. You never know. Who would've thought in 2006, we'd be in the World Series? Or the Giants last year -- they won it -- or the Rangers? You never know, but it's special."
It was the first opening in more than three decades without Brown, the changing of the guard in some respects. Steele has made plenty of Tigers trips as the longtime assistant clubhouse manager, but this is his first season on the road full-time. As he stood in the visiting clubhouse at Camden Yards on Thursday, working two different cell phones as he tried to coordinate Max Scherzer's flight home for his starting assignment Friday, the difference between his old job and new one was evident.
"So far, so good," Steele said as the trip neared a close.
When the club is on the road, the travel director is very much the choreographer. Everything from the team flight to the buses between the ballpark and the team hotel are organized by him. When the flight is behind schedule, it's Steele's job to get the message to the buses. If a game goes to extra innings, things have to be adjusted, whether it's the flight out on getaway day or the bus to the hotel on other days.
The job takes on extra importance in Baltimore, where, because of a scheduling conflict, the Tigers had to play night game on Thursday ahead of their home opener Friday afternoon. The Tigers hoped to have a day game Thursday, but couldn't get the start time moved. They adjusted on their end by moving back the first pitch for the home opener two hours to 3:05 p.m. ET, giving players a little extra sleep once they touch down in Detroit early Friday morning.
When Scherzer flew back ahead of the team to get a good night's rest, Steele helped coordinate his ride to the airport in Baltimore, and getting to his ride back in Detroit, where his own car was waiting.
In many years, the travel director also gets the task of helping new players get situated in their home city. Sometimes, players stay in a hotel in the city when the first homestand starts, giving them time to find a place to rent for the season. Other times, players can get help getting themselves and their families situated into a place, which Steele has done for a handful of players this year.
"Ideally, it's set up so that when they walk through the door at three in the morning, it's all there," Steele said.
One bright side for this season-opening trip, Brown said, is that they'll have two cities out of the way on the schedule. Still, it'll be good to be home.
"You can open in New York, or you can open in Kansas City like last year, but it's still special," Brown said. "You'd have to be jaded for it not to be exciting."