Detroit Tigers: Akil Baddoo is a Fidrych phenomenon

Detroit Tigers center fielder Akil Baddoo runs towards third base.
Detroit Tigers center fielder Akil Baddoo runs towards third base. /

Detroit Tigers outfielder Akil Baddoo is capturing the imagination of Tigers fans like a certain right-handed pitcher did in 1976.

The Summer of the Bird will always be my main introduction to Detroit Tigers baseball as we lived with each thrilling start by young Mark Fidrych. Here we are 45 years later and for the first time, I can recall another young player has burst out of nowhere to capture the hearts and imaginations of the Tigers faithful. Akil Baddoo has the mojo the Bird provided once upon a time. Perhaps Baddoo is Bird-lite right now…but it’s growing daily. More on this later.

“I am going to keep having fun every day I have left because there is no other way of life. You just have to decide whether you are a Tigger or an Eeyore.” – Randy Pausch

Are you enjoying this? Is winning fun? Or are you waiting for the bottom to fall out like an Eeyore?

The Detroit Tigers…YOUR Detroit Tigers…have come flying out of the gate to start the post-All Star Game portion of the season with four straight victories and it’s been a weekend-plus marked by good pitching, young players having great moments, veterans doing timely things, unlikely journeyman heroes, and a bloop hit from a living legend.

Perhaps more important has been watching the crowd shots. Suddenly there are a few more folks in the stands. There is a palpable sense of joy in those seats right now. It’s the joy a winning baseball team can inflict on a crowd. It’s fun to be at Comerica Park these days. For the first time in ages you can see the delirious joy of two dudes jumping around together when Baddoo socks a two-run dinger.

The Tigers are good watch on TV or the screen of your choice as well for the first time in years.

Heck…Tigers Twitter is even fun right now and that hellscape site is usually the insufferable bastion of doom and gloom.

“Winning is only half of it. Having fun is the other half.”-  Bum Phillip

Yes, the Tigers are still below .500 by a fair amount at 44-51. “You are what your record says you are” and Detroit has work to be done.

However, the Tigers 4-0 burst also makes them a sporty 35-27 since they bottomed out in early May when they earned a 9-24 start to the season with one of the more dreadful months of baseball in memory.

Perhaps the hopelessness of the early days of the season is what is spurring the intense enjoyment fans to seem to be having right now. Surprises are fun. Nobody saw a sustained stretch of winning baseball coming. Spencer Turnbull even gave you a late-night no-hitter in Seattle to relish watching late into the night or have you spit out your coffee in surprise the next morning hearing about it.

Certainly, the hunger for a winner has been there since the day JD Martinez was dealt in 2017 and the rebuild was officially underway. Losing has been a fact of life in Detroit for a while. These 62 games with 35 wins have been a welcome respite and the fans have embraced it.

Is it real? Sure. These wins are happening. They aren’t fake. Will it continue? I don’t know…but it doesn’t matter. Enjoy the moments because they could dry up.

Nobody I know is talking about the World Series. Only the most optimistic are taking a look at the wildcard standings. Fewer still are fantasizing about being sudden buyers at the trade deadline.

Fans instead seem to be savoring the hope each Tarik Skubal strikeout provides. The steady cool of Casey Mize. The hints of competence from Jake Rogers.

Jonathan Schoop has been having an electric summer with timely base hits and some stunning power displays. It’s his best season since his Baltimore days and fans are clamoring for an extension and not a deadline deal for young prospects. The merits of a Schoop extension or a trade will be hotly debated for the rest of July.

Mostly….folks are just damned jazzed to see Akil Baddoo keep on keepin’ on. The power and speed combo-pack he delivers has thrilled fans of all ages. Delivering big bases-loaded hits has been a specialty thus far as well. “Baddoo 60” jerseys are sighted everywhere.

Baddoo at-bats are anticipated events now because nobody knows what he’ll do next but everyone wants to see him running helter-skelter around the bags with his helmet flying off.

Baseball can be the cruelest of games. Baddoo could fall apart in the dog days of August. But he might not. Even if he does he’s provided a season’s worth of excitement already as the main cog of this run. He’s given the Tigers a lift from the Rule 5 Draft that was never remotely expected and his legions of fans are appreciative already.

Baddoo-mania can withstand a slump. Baddoo is a part of this rebuild moving forward. His patient approach, improving defense, power/speed package, and athleticism will give him several years of chances in Detroit now.

Moving Forward

The Tigers’ schedule gave them 18 straight games with 12 at home versus sub-.500 teams coming out of the All-Star Break. This was their chance to take the pleasant bonfire they had been building after the 9-24 start grow it into a raging brushfire at least for a while. They’ve won the first four of the 18. How long can they go?

Before the break, they nearly lost all their momentum by being swept in a 4-game series by the Twins in Minneapolis. The games were mostly hard-fought losses where the Detroit Tigers had some leads late only to see the bullpen…looking tired…implode a few times. The break seems to have helped for now. Will the bullpen tire again soon?

It’s possible. Many observers are worried about the Tigers’ pitching depth. Mize and Skubal are on innings restrictions. Matthew Boyd and Turnbull are hurt and not likely back soon. Wily Peralta has been wondrous in his results for 33 innings but his lack of strikeouts and fairly hard contact allowed at times makes one wonder. Bullpen games will be common. Tyler Alexander is going to take a run at starting. The weight of the season will rest heavily on the bullpen guys.

For all the hype about hitters Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, the Tigers have little to call up in terms of pitching in Toledo or Erie.

It’s going to be up to manager AJ Hinch to juggle the arms he has to keep it working. The dam could break. Will GM Al Avila be able to augment the pitching staff down the stretch to keep this afloat? It’s kind of his job after all to do that.

However, that’s negative talk. This is a time of optimism. It’s a time of enjoying an unlikely cast of characters coming together to play fun baseball and game-be fans aching to cheer a reason to do so.

The rest of the season is about Miguel Cabrera chasing milestones of 3000 hits and 500 homers. Don’t worry about his contract. It’s also about watching Mize and Skubal establish themselves. It’s about Derek Hill making great catches. It’s about wondering how Vic Reyes hits the ball so softly but gets hits. It’s about Soto-Time. It’s about appreciating a professional at-bat from Robbie Grossman.

Questions will be answered. Can Joe Jimenez really be fixed by Chris Fetter? Will Jeimer Candelario establish himself completely as a piece to build with? Is Isaac Paredes a legit big leaguer at age 22? Can Schoop smack 30 homers if he stays? Will Torkelson and Greene get looks in September?

Mostly…it’s going to be about watching #60. If the interest in Tigers baseball is on the upswing plenty of it can be attributed to Mr. Baddoo…he’s come out of nowhere to imbue this team with hope once again. Keep enjoying it.