DETROIT -- Al Kaline was as surprised as anybody when the Tigers asked him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day to celebrate his 60th year with the team.
"I didn't realize [it had been that long]," Kaline said Thursday morning as he joked about warming up his arm Thursday morning. "I tried to tell them when they asked, 'Are you sure?'"
The Tigers signed Kaline in the summer of 1953. Because of the size of Kaline's contract, the Tigers had to carry him on the Major League roster for at least two seasons once he signed. He was good enough that he never saw the Minors.
Kaline got into broadcasting after he retired in 1974, and he then became a special assistant to team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski a decade ago. He has been active in team dealings ever since.
"I really enjoy watching the game," Kaline said. "I think if I wasn't working, I probably would be down here watching the game anyway."
Kaline is 77, but he said being around the players during Spring Training and the regular season makes him feel younger.
"I enjoy being around them, listening to the new slang," he said. "I try to stay out of the way. I try to encourage them, and if they ask for my help, I try to give it to them. But I always go to the coach. I'm not one of those guys who says, 'You have to do it this way.'"
Newcomers relish their first Opening Day
DETROIT -- For Andy Dirks, Collin Balester, Danny Worth and Duane Below, Thursday's game marked the first time they would get to experience Opening Day in the big leagues and the festivities that coincide with it.
All four earned a roster spot with the Tigers out of Spring Training -- albeit in different ways -- and all four wore smiles as they prepared to take the field for the team's first batting practice in the confines of Comerica Park.
"Obviously this is everyone's dream to be on the Opening Day roster," Balester said, "and to be on a team like this, in a city like this, it's a dream come true. It's going to be an awesome experience."
Of the four, Worth knew the "most" about what to expect. As a child, he attended an Opening Day at Dodger Stadium, recalling the game was between the Dodgers and Reds in Ken Griffey Jr.'s first season as center fielder.
It was fun, of course, but obviously won't compare to being on a Major League club's Opening Day roster, he said.
He'll allow himself to enjoy the moment -- the atmosphere, hearing his name announced for the first time and former Tiger Al Kaline delivering the ceremonial first pitch -- but once the game starts, "it's all business" as the team tries to live up to expectations.
"It's going to be a special team," Worth said. "I think everyone knows that. ... Some very special players on this team and the fans are going to be able to watch every day now."
Alburquerque cleared to start throwing program
DETROIT -- The Tigers opened their 2012 season without Al Alburquerque, the high-strikeout reliever whose rookie season gave Detroit's bullpen an injection of power pitching. Yet he cleared a major hurdle Wednesday that puts him on the road to a return.
Renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews examined Alburquerque's surgically repaired elbow Wednesday and cleared him to begin a throwing program. It'll be a slow progression; Alburquerque will play catch from 60 feet away every other day for the next two weeks before he's examined for the next step. But less than four months out from surgery that inserted a screw near the tip of Alburquerque's elbow, he's throwing, which is something he wasn't doing during Spring Training.
Alburquerque remains in Lakeland, Fla., where he'll do all his throwing. He spent Spring Training doing strength and conditioning work to get in shape for when he could start throwing. He's still on a timetable to return around the All-Star break.
Andrews, who operated on Alburquerque in December, performed a similar procedure on Joel Zumaya last year after the former Tigers reliever had problems with the initial surgery.
Martinez scheduled for second knee surgery
DETROIT -- While the city was welcoming Prince Fielder back home Thursday for Opening Day, the man whose injury led to Fielder's return was waiting for the next step in his road back.
The Tigers were awaiting an update Thursday from doctors on Victor Martinez, who was scheduled to have his second and final surgery this week to repair his left knee.
Nearly three months have passed since Martinez blew out his anterior cruciate ligament during agility workouts at home in Orlando, Fla., but the injury was bad enough that he needed two surgeries nearly two months apart. He had microfracture surgery in February to repair damage to his meniscus, but he needed six or seven weeks of recovery before doctors could repair his ACL.
Martinez is expected to miss the entire season. With his bat out, the Tigers are planning on a rotation at designated hitter. Ryan Raburn started there on Thursday, with Andy Dirks expected to DH on Saturday.
Leyland happy for Marlins' new ballpark
DETROIT -- Jim Leyland spent two seasons managing the Florida Marlins. The ultimate reason they hired him in 1997 was to win a World Series that would help fuel public support for a new stadium.
Fifteen years after their world championship, Leyland watched the opening of their new ballpark Wednesday night on television from his in-season home in Michigan. For him, it was better late than never.
"I think it's beautiful," he said, "but I think it's too big [in the outfield]. If you have one 416 feet and the guy's camped under it like an infield fly, that's not good. But it's beautiful, and I'm glad they got it. I was part of that situation, so I'm thrilled for them."
Not only was Leyland part of it, he rode the ups and downs of it, from the massive roster buildup to the World Series in 1997 to the tear-down and the resulting last-place finish a year later.
"My time there was really Jekyll and Hyde," he said. "It was as good as it could be, but it was probably as bad as it could be, although a lot of those young kids [in 1998] ended up pretty good big league players. It was kind of fun. We just couldn't beat anybody."
After spending last season in St. Louis, Gerald Laird returned to the home clubhouse at Comerica Park on Thursday with better surroundings than when he left. His new corner locker at Comerica Park, previously occupied by longtime Tiger Carlos Guillen, includes a bat rack. "Lot of hits in them," he said.
Tigers owner Mike Ilitch told Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom that the nine-year, $214 million contract he authorized for Prince Fielder was at least partly a move out of urgency to win now. "Time is running out," Ilitch told the paper. "No use kidding myself."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.