February 23rd, 2013

Saturday: Thinking positive thoughts for Belliard

I pulled into Joker Marchant Stadium this morning planning on writing about Bruce Rondon’s first outing of the spring. I spent most of the afternoon thinking about how coach Rafael Belliard traveling on the Tigers winter caravan last month just days after being diagnosed with prostate cancer, and days before he was scheduled for surgery to remove two tumors.

You won’t find a nicer guy on the team than Rafael Belliard. You won’t find anything but a smile on his face when he goes out to the field. And you won’t find a harder worker. You just won’t find him talked about very often because infield coaches don’t get much attention.

When Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder were fielding ground balls early in the morning last spring, Belliard was the one feeding the ground balls to them every day. When Brandon Inge and Ryan Raburn were trying to move to second base last year, that was Belliard’s task. When Jhonny Peralta needed work at shortstop, Belliard was the man.

When Peralta was getting extra work at shortstop in workouts last week, Belliard was the one working with him. Never mind that he couldn’t hit fungoes because he had just had surgery a couple weeks earlier.

When Belliard was diagnosed with prostate cancer in mid-January, he was thinking about his job when he tried to schedule surgery as soon as possible (he had it 13 days later). He also wanted to get it over with. When doctors realized from the tumors how aggressive the cancer was, it might have been a life-saving decision.

Baseball is a sport with good guys, and they don’t come better than Belliard. When spring training turns to midseason and you see the message time and again about prostate cancer awareness, about early detection being vital and about the importance of a routine physical exam, think about Rafael Belliard, whose season-ending exam as part of the team led to detection.

Here’s hoping the 95 percent chance of survival he cited becomes 100 percent, and that we see him congratulating Cabrera and Fielder as they round first base on home runs this summer. He’s in the dugout for now, but hopefully not for long.

Saturday: Tigers vs. Blue Jays

Unless the Twins start a left-hander like Scott Diamond, this is the Tigers’ Opening Day lineup. As promised, Jim Leyland will trot out his starters so that fans who made the trip to Florida this early to see Spring Training games can say they saw all the regulars. Normally, he’d do it in the Florida Southern exhibition, but with that exhibition moved back to March 16, he’ll do it against the Jays.

Another bonus: Fans will get to see Bruce Rondon in his first outing in his bid for the closer’s job. Leyland said Rondon will most likely pitch the fifth inning.

Remember, while this game will be on radio live at 97.1 FM in Detroit and MLB Gameday Audio online, the telecast will be on tape delay (unless you live in Canada, where you can watch on Sportsnet). MLB Network will have the re-broadcast at midnight ET.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Andy Dirks, LF
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Omar Infante, 2B

P: Anibal Sanchez, Shawn Hill, Trevor Bell, Bruce Rondon, Ryan Robowski, Melvin Mercedes

BLUE JAYS

  1. Emilio Bonifacio, SS
  2. Maicer Izturis, 2B
  3. Brett Lawrie, 3B
  4. Adam Lind, 1B
  5. J.P. Arencibia, DH
  6. Josh Thole, C
  7. Moises Sierra, RF
  8. Anthony Gose, CF
  9. Ricardo Nanita, LF

P: Brandon Morrow, Brad Lincoln, Steve Delabar, Esmil Rogers, David Bush, Ramon Ortiz, Neil Wagner

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