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In final Tigers visit, Sparky was in his element

In final Tigers visit, Sparky was in his element

Sparky Anderson's last visit with the Tigers, his final visit to a Major League ballpark, was also his first visit with Austin Jackson. It was memorable for all of them.

It was a Saturday afternoon at Dodger Stadium last May, with the Tigers in town for Interleague Play, and Anderson made the trip over from his home in nearby Thousand Oaks, Calif. It was clear Anderson wasn't in good health, and it wasn't easy for him to move around. But there were still moments when he seemed to turn back the clock, and the old manager was back in his familiar surroundings of a big league dugout.

Anderson was talking with reporters and a few onlookers about Angels manager Mike Scioscia when he stepped up from his seat in the dugout to make a point.

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"What made Mike Scoscia so good was," Anderson said, then paused and got up.

Anderson climbed the steps to the top the dugout, leaned onto the railing, and stared out to the field, where early batting practice was going. After a few seconds, he continued his point.

"He never took his eyes off," Anderson said. "Don't you ever take your eyes off that pitcher. Don't you ever take your eyes off your own pitcher."

Anderson wanted to head out to the ballpark and visit with two of his favorite managers, Jim Leyland and Joe Torre. He went into the cramped visiting clubhouse at the old ballpark, settled into the manager's office and talked with Leyland, who had watched him from afar when Anderson was managing the Tigers and Leyland was managing in the farm system.

"Joe and I had a great conversation with him," Leyland recalled. "You could tell things weren't quite right, but it was what it was. It was a great conversation. He still seemed to have energy and everything. You could tell he was emotional, you know."

Sparky Include

Whether or not the mind was as sharp, the presence was still there. He had a long talk with his former infielder turned Tigers coach, Tom Brookens. But he also gave a big hug to Tigers infielder Ramon Santiago, whom he first met on the 2003 Tigers when he visited with then-manager Alan Trammell. He shook hands with Jeremy Bonderman and Brandon Inge, also from that team.

But the lasting memory of that visit was his encounter with Jackson, the rookie center fielder who was eight months old when Anderson took Detroit to the playoffs in 1987.

Anderson was in the dugout making a point about his former Hall of Fame second baseman, Joe Morgan, when he spotted Jackson near the bat rack and called him over. Jackson joined the group around Anderson and leaned in to hear.

"You know what Joe Morgan once told me as he walked by," Anderson asked the group. "He walked by, tapped me on the leg and said, 'Skip, they don't understand a word you're saying.'"

Anderson paused. Morgan, he said, understood what he was talking about as a manager. As he talked about it, he noticed Jackson's attention.

"This young man is bright," he said, looking at Jackson. He then asked Jackson to take off his sunglasses.

Jackson smiled and obliged. He leaned in a little more, and looked eye-to-eye with the Hall of Fame manager, more than a half-century his elder.

"There's something about him that makes him bright," Anderson said, this time about Jackson.

"You'll make it all," Anderson continued. "Look at that face. Can he play? Oh, he can play."

It's possible Jackson didn't know of Anderson, and it's entirely possible Anderson didn't know Jackson. But in that moment, there was that flash of the old manager who loved being around the game. For one last afternoon, he was back in his element.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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