Detroit Tigers first baseman Spencer Torkelson emerged from the on-deck circle Friday, wedged his bat between his arm and chest, adjusted his batting gloves and dug his feet into the batter’s box.
The 22-year-old picked Lupe Fiasco’s 2011 hit – “The Show Goes On” – as his walk-up song. His father, Rick, began tearing up in his seat behind home plate. When Torkelson stepped to the plate for his first major league at-bat, the 43,480 fans at Comerica Park showed their support.
They cheered for Torkelson earlier in the day, too, when the lineups were announced and players took the field. Among the 28-man roster, Miguel Cabrera, Javier Baez and Torkelson received the loudest acclamations.
“I wasn’t expecting the roar like that,” Torkelson said Saturday morning.
MORE ON TORK: Spencer Torkelson’s life-changing day with Tigers: ‘All three of us were crying’
SHAWN WINDSOR: Tigers’ Opening Day rally shows they could be headed for a summer of fun
Though Torkelson finished 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his MLB debut, the Tigers earned a thrilling 5-4 win on Opening Day over the Chicago White Sox.
“It’s a good start,” Torkelson said. “We know it is just the start, too. You got to keep it going. Just find a way.”
All the attention surrounded Cabrera’s two-run single in the eighth inning, Eric Haase’s tying home run in the ninth, Austin Meadows’ two-out triple in the ninth and Baez’s walk-off single in the ninth.
“That’s why we play,” Torkelson said. “We play to win. We play to have a great team like we think we have. It’s special, and it’s cool to have the support from the fans because it’s for them.”
JEFF SEIDEL: Tigers’ Opening Day was perfect: An amazing comeback following a touching tribute
The excitement level for Torkelson’s first MLB plate appearance in the second inning mirrored what fans displayed on social media platforms when the Tigers drafted the Arizona State slugger with the No. 1 overall pick in 2020.
“That was really, really special to me,” he said of the ovation. “I wasn’t really expecting it, but that fired me up. To have everyone behind this whole team was awesome.”
Torkelson is now the Tigers’ starting first baseman. His job has him driving to Detroit – not High-A West Michigan, Double-A Erie or Triple-A Toledo – and sharing the infield with established veterans Jonathan Schoop, Baez and Jeimer Candelario.
Opening Day was the start of Torkelson’s graduation, from premier prospect to MLB player. He hit .267 with 30 home runs, 91 RBIs, 77 walks and 114 strikeouts in 121 games across three levels in the minors last season.
Torkelson’s above-average defense shined in his first game, with a few scoops on throws in the dirt, including one on a web gem from Baez. He also chipped in a diving catch.
“He’s a good player all the way around,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Friday. “He didn’t get that first hit yet, but he contributed. We don’t win the game without Tork’s defense.”
“I’m just waiting for him to get that hit,” outfielder Robbie Grossman said Saturday. “He doesn’t need to put more pressure on himself, but it will come. Once he gets it, he’ll be running. I mean, there’s a reason why he went No. 1 overall. It’s special.”
In his four at-bats, Torkelson faced three White Sox pitchers, all right-handers: Lucas Giolito, Kendall Graveman and Liam Hendriks.
He popped out and flied out in his two at-bats against Giolito, struck out looking on Graveman’s slider in the seventh inning and struck out swinging on Hendriks’ 97.1 mph four-seam fastball in the ninth.
“I felt very comfortable,” Torkelson said. “I had a lot of fun. Some days, you’re going to help the team with your glove, some days you’re going to help the team with your bat or with baserunning. You never know what day is going to be what , but that’s the beautiful part about this game. Didn’t help the team out with the bat, but I made a couple plays to help with the glove. “
Haase over Barnhart? ‘It’s planned’
In Friday’s ninth inning, Haase crushed his first home run this seasono in dramatic fashion to give the Tigers a chance to win. Hinch started Haase in Saturday’s game – not two-time Gold Glove winner Tucker Barnhart – as the catcher for right-hander Casey Mize.
Hinch’s decision wasn’t a reward.
“It’s planned,” Hinch said. “I mapped out the first weekend, even into the Boston series (Monday-Wednesday). I got to get these guys in the game. … I’ve targeted dates for these guys. Coming into this series, Haase knew he was going to catch. “
[ Why 3 letters from Tucker Barnhart could give Tigers pitchers an epic boost ]
Utility player Harold Castro will start at first base in the “next couple of days,” meaning Torkelson will sit the bench.
“I’m just warning you guys, like this all is pre-made,” Hinch said. “Whether Tork gets two hits or four hits or no hits today, he may have tomorrow off because I got to get these guys into the game.
“Otherwise, I’ve wasted a three-week spring where we played Harold two out of every three days, and then to give him an at-bat in the eighth game of the year, that’s entirely unfair.”
Left fielder Meadows, like Torkelson, will get a day off during the six-game homestand as he gets settled into the season. He missed the last week of spring training with a quad injuries.
When Meadows sits, Akil Baddoo will play left field and Victor Reyes, the team’s fourth outfielder, will play center.
Dustin Garneau, the Tigers’ third catcher, will work behind the plate Tuesday with left-hander Tyler Alexander. There’s a chance both Barnhart and Haase will be on the bench; Haase could play left field.
Cabrera, 12 hits from 3,000, is likely to get a break Wednesday in the series finale against the Red Sox, though the designated hitter is expected to play the entire four-game series in Kansas City, from April 14-17, against the Royals
“Right now, I don’t really have a targeted first base day for him,” Hinch said. “That’s going to dictate a few of his off days as well, and the day after that. We’ll let (the weather) warm up a little bit and let the kid (Torkelson) play.”
Contact Evan Petzold at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.