On the same day Tata made his return to Texas and Major League debut, the Tigers honored Tim Grieve as their Scout of the Year for 2005. Coincidentally, Grieve recommended and signed Tata back in 2003 off the fields of Sam Houston State. The timing wasn't intentional, but it was a reminder of how far Tata has come since the days he was here as a fan.
Tata grew up a Red Sox enthusiast, thanks to his father, and his family didn't move to Texas until he was near his teenage years. But once he became a Dallas resident, he took to Rangers games. He was in the stands for the 1994 All-Star Game, and he was one of the kids hanging around the dugouts before games looking for autographs.
"I got a ton of them," Tata said. "I was an annoying kid begging for baseballs and autographs. I try to be patient with [autograph seekers] nowadays."
Among the autographs he earned was one from Ivan Rodriguez. That made for what he called a "surreal" moment when Tata took to the mound during Spring Training for his first pitch in a Major League uniform, with Pudge behind the plate.
Rodriguez caught Tata's first big league pitch in the regular season, too -- a 94 mph fastball for a strike to Kevin Mench with one out in the sixth inning on Thursday.
"I haven't told him yet," Tata said. "Too embarrassed."
When he finally had a chance to pitch on this field as a high schooler, the big leagues still seemed worlds away, and for good reason. The showcase tournament was for players who had been overlooked by scouts and colleges. Tata had dreamed of playing at Baylor, but even walking on there was out of his reach. He thought about quitting the game altogether, but his parents talked him into keeping with it, even though it meant a startup baseball program at tiny Bartlesville Wesleyan College.
He slept in places with four students to a room. He squeezed into vans on long road trips. And he pitched well enough to get back into Texas at Sam Houston State, where he pitched well enough to get noticed by Grieve.
He pitched well enough from there to get back to Texas. This time, he got into the big league clubhouse.
Tata was expecting well-wishers in the park all weekend. Fortunately for him, Tata bought about 20 tickets for family members, college buddies and ex-teammates on Thursday, and 10 more bought tickets on their own. He had no idea what day, if any, he would pitch.
Inge leads off: Manager Jim Leyland expected some kind of reaction on Thursday for changing an unbeaten batting order. But as he reminded reporters, he said he was going to play everybody.
It started at the top, where Curtis Granderson had start of the day off in favor of Craig Monroe in center field and Marcus Thames in left. Brandon Inge took over atop the order.
"I like Brandon Inge," Leyland said. "From what I've seen so far, I like him wherever I put him. He can hit in any spot. I can put him anywhere, and if he stays in the strike zone, he's going to hit. He doesn't look like it, but he's strong as an ox."
A few hours later, he looked like it, connecting on the second pitch of the game from R.A. Dickey for a leadoff homer.
Scout's honor: Now is when the Tigers will see how good a scout Troy Percival is. The former closer joined the team here after giving his report to the staff earlier. He had spent the weekend watching the Rangers' final exhibition games and then their season-opening series against the Red Sox.
"He was pretty impressive," Leyland said. "I think he was impressively conscientious about what he was trying to do."
That still doesn't mean Percival wants to make a career out of it. His eagerness didn't improve after the six hours or so he spent writing up his report.
"I've got a lot of respect for those guys," Percival said. "That's a lot of writing and lot of watching games. It's baseball, and I love watching it, but I love being in uniform more."
Colon to DL: Right-hander Roman Colon was placed on the disabled list by Triple-A Toledo with tenderness in his right biceps. The injury was an issue over the weekend when the Tigers were looking for a pitcher to replace injured Todd Jones.
Radio rotation: Due to Red Wings broadcasts, the Tigers' next two games will be broadcast in Detroit on WWJ-AM 970 instead of flagship station WXYT-AM 1270.