Detroit Tigers fans catch home run balls at spring training

LAKELAND, Florida – Approximately a dozen Detroit Tigers fans spread across the grass behind the outfield fence waiting for a home run ball.

“Here comes one!” Someone said when a baseball came through the air screaming as the tigers were doing punching practice.

“I got it!”

“Take care of the tree!”

Michela Deschene, 43, from Lakeland, caught the ball.

“It’s just having fun and enjoying the Florida sunshine,” said Deschene.

Her dog Kimba, a 9½ year old poodle basset, also chases the balls.

Tiger fan Michela Deschene sorts out some of the balls she and her dog Kimba caught in their Lakeland home on Thursday, February 25, 2021.  Michela and Kimba drive from home and collect Homer before she goes to work in the afternoon.  She's had days when she only caught one ball and days when she caught 20.  She passes most of them on to children in the neighborhood.

“Just watch baseball, have fun, talk to people out here and meet new friends,” said Deschene.

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It’s one of the lovable quirks of Tiger Spring Training. A group of fans shows up every day and catches home run balls behind the fields during punch training.

“I get 30 to 40 balls in an average year,” said Bill Webster, 64, who lived in Three Rivers but retired from American Axle and lives in Lakeland. “Some days you may not get any. And some days you might get three or four. “

It’s part competition, part social activity, part hobby.

The fans try to hit each other, but also try to get the balls in front of Mike Nichols, who works for the Tigers. Nichols positions himself behind the fence and tries to save as many balls as possible for the team. Then he throws them back onto the field.

“He’s pretty cool,” said Deschene. “I talk to him almost every day.”

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There is an etiquette. Everyone divides the balls until everyone gets one and they often pass the balls on to children.

Mark Morris, Michela Deschene and John Merklein examine a home run ball on the Tiger Town practice fields in Lakeland, Florida on Monday, February 22, 2021.

“Usually we will name it, but there are a few people we call ball pigs who meet you,” said Deschene.

She’s got about 30 balls this year, but she has no idea who hit her.

“I don’t even know,” she said. “I can’t tell where I am.”

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Contact Jeff Seidel: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his final columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.

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