Tigers Caravan hits road on Wednesday

Tigers Caravan hits road on Wednesday

DETROIT -- Before the Tigers pack up their bats and gloves and head to Spring Training, they'll get an appreciation for how a lot of other folks in metro Detroit make their living.

A walk into the control tower and a Delta airliner cockpit at Metro Airport, a visit to the assembly line of a Ford truck plant and tours of Michigan local fire houses are among the scheduled stops the Tigers will be making next week during their annual Winter Caravan across Michigan and northwest Ohio.

The caravan begins Wednesday night, Jan. 20, at the West Michigan Whitecaps Winter Banquet and the Toledo Mud Hens Fandemonium dinner, then continues through Jan. 22. The two bus tours lead back to Detroit for TigerFest on Saturday, Jan. 23 at Comerica Park. A full itinerary and list of stops is expected to be released later this week.

Many Tigers players and coaches will be sticking close to town on the Metro tour, which will travel around Detroit and the surrounding area. Others will be on the West tour, which heads out to Lansing, Marshall, Grand Rapids and other cities in the central and western part of the state.

The treks will be different, but the theme will be common: The Tigers are focusing their caravan on more personal visits and better interaction with fans who supported them through their 2009 season and continue to pull for them.

"It's a lot more intimate," said Elaine Lewis, the Tigers' vice president of community and public affairs. "We're up and touching hands with our fans. These are hard-working people that the players get a chance to reach out and thank."

As in past years, they're also taking part of their caravan to give back to those less fortunate. Among their scheduled stops are the Salvation Army's Bed and Bread truck program, which provides food and comfort to approximately 5,000 people in metro Detroit each day. The Tigers will not only be making a donation, but will also help serve.

The visit to Metro Airport next Thursday will allow players to meet local employees from Delta Airlines, which uses the airport as one of its international hubs. The Tigers will visit the airport tower, where they'll meet local air traffic controllers, and tour the cockpit of a jet. They'll even greet a few travelers as they visit gates and realize the inner workings of an airline.

The visit to Ford's Dearborn Truck Plant will give Tigers players an up-front look at Detroit's auto industry and the people at the heart of it. They'll also get a look at the assembly line and the process before they visit the North American International Auto Show the next day at Detroit's Cobo Hall Convention Center.

The Tigers will also head to Lansing, where they'll receive a tour of the state capitol and a visit to the state senate. They'll also visit the Michigan State Police and do some simulation techniques.

Part of the inspiration for this caravan theme came from Major League Baseball's Beyond Baseball program. Part of it also came from last year's caravan, when a visit to the Detroit Fire Department's training facility was a hit among firefighters and players, who had a chance to don fire gear and try some training drills to get an appreciation of the job.

"It just resonated so well," Lewis said.

Tigers players will also be making hospital visits, including DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, to try to boost spirits and thank health-care workers.

More than 85 percent of the Tigers roster is expected to take part in the Caravan.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.