Ilitch checks on team, pleased with what he sees

Ilitch checks on team, pleased with what he sees

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Prince Fielder has been known for hitting timely home runs over the years. As Spring Training homers go, his shot on Wednesday was pretty important.

Why? It came with the owner in town.

"I'd seen it go out," Mike Ilitch said talking with reporters on Thursday morning, "and I thought, 'Oh geez, that's worth $214 million.'"

The regular-season homers might be a bigger return on investment, but you get the point.

Ilitch usually makes at least one trip to Spring Training every year to watch the Tigers, but this visit had a different feel, mainly because of the team he has helped put together. A few at a time, players filed into manager Jim Leyland's office at Joker Marchant Stadium to meet with their boss, shaking hands with him as he checked in on his investment.

Ilitch wanted to see the product put together, and it probably wasn't a coincidence that the Tigers put together what could be their Opening Day lineup for him to watch. But he also wanted to talk with his players and get an idea how they fit as a team.

"I'm very happy," Ilitch said. "We don't have a hot dog on the team. Everybody gets along so good. We have great chemistry, and that's a nice feeling."

For a team with this much star power, it's a pretty big statement. Many of these players joined the organization with the commitment of Ilitch. Justin Verlander is a homegrown star, which Ilitch appreciates.

However these players develop, having them is something Ilitch values as much as wins.

"What I think I'm most thrilled about is, number one, to win, you've got to have stars," he said. "And [two], for public appeal, you've got to have stars. And number three, people don't realize -- and I didn't realize -- how important it is to get a total organization put together, starting with the business end right on through and getting a quality team built to where you can be competitive and not be a so-so team. And it takes a lot of work. There's a lot of pieces to baseball.

"I feel comfortable we finally got to a level [where we] can be competitive every single year. That's always been my goal. I feel good about that. It would be hard to screw that up once you get there. You tell yourself you want to stay there now."