LAKELAND, Fla. -- Ever since he was the Tigers' top prospect, Tony Clark has been coming to the club's Spring Training complex for most of the last quarter-century. Monday was the first time he got lost.
That's how big of a difference the renovation of Tigertown and Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium made. Clark, the former slugging first baseman who is now the director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, made his annual visit with Tigers players as part of his Spring Training tour, but he had to figure out where the clubhouse was first.
"This is the first Spring Training I came in and I did not know where to go," Clark said. "I had heard about all the adjustments and the growth and the development, but I couldn't believe it when I got here. The one great thing about our game is all of the cathedrals that house our fields, when you get between the lines, that doesn't change. When I walked out on the field, I felt comfortable.
"It is fantastic what they've done here. It appears to me from the outside walking in that the focal point of a lot of what goes on here has got to be this place. It's fantastic."
Clark spent more than two hours talking with Tigers players Monday morning. Though his regular briefing wasn't longer than usual, he said his individual discussions to answer questions lasted longer as players asked about the new collective bargaining agreement and other issues.
"Usually it's a State of the Union, and oftentimes there's dialogue about what may be going on in the game that guys want to talk about. This group is set up to be one of the last teams standing [in postseason contention]. A lot of guys in the clubhouse have kind of been there and done that, so a lot of times the dialogue has the backdrop of a historic perspective and a career perspective, both on the field and off the field."
Clark also took time to remember Mike Ilitch, who bought the Tigers shortly before he made it to the Majors. Clark never enjoyed the golden years of contention, but he knew what Ilitch meant to the city and sport.
"They were challenging years when I was here, and you can appreciate moving from Tiger Stadium to the new ballpark and obviously the success that the Red Wings had," Clark said. "I saw my first hockey game in Detroit. But Mr. I and his family were mainstays to the organization, and you respected and appreciated the contributions that he made, not only to the club but to Detroit. It was shocking news to get, but we trust and hope that the family appreciates being in the prayers of a lot of folks that they touched."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.