LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) — Brad Ausmus stood near the cage during batting practice, playing catch with a Detroit coach while chatting amiably with former Tigers manager Jim Leyland.
Their friendly interplay was emblematic of this unusual spring training for the defending AL Central champions, who are now managed by Ausmus after Leyland stepped down during the offseason. Leyland remains part of the Detroit organization, but this is very much Ausmus' team now, and with opening day about a month away, the new leader in the Tigers' dugout is striking a delicate balance between new ideas and steady continuity.
"He's confident. I think he knows he's going to do things a little differently, but he's not worried about that," said bench coach Gene Lamont, a holdover from Leyland's staff. "But I also think he's not just going to change just to change."
There are plenty of obvious contrasts between the 44-year-old Ausmus and his predecessor. Leyland has been involved in baseball for over a half-century. Ausmus hasn't even been alive that long — and he's only four years removed from his final season as a player.
Ausmus meets with reporters in the same office Leyland did, but he's less likely to veer off topic, answering questions with a calm, polished demeanor that belies any inexperience. He's thorough but tries not to let those interview sessions drag on too long.
Leyland was always praised for his ability to relate to his players, even when many of them were less than half his age. Ausmus may have an even easier time — he was recently a peer to some of the athletes he'll manage.
"Brad is a guy who's got 18 years in the big leagues and played the game," outfielder Torii Hunter said. "He understands chemistry. He understands how guys think now."
One addition Ausmus made to the team's daily routine is a morning meeting in the clubhouse during spring training.
"It can be anything," Ausmus said. "A lot of time, part of it has to do with what happened the day before, or what's going to happen today."
It may sound like a more formal start to the day than the Tigers were used to, but Hunter says the atmosphere is loose. Ausmus is apparently quite capable of matching Leyland's sense of humor.
"He has us laughing — our energy going already, before we even get out there on the field," Hunter said.