By David Driver
For the Lake Michigan College website
Used with permission
March 13, 2013
Former Lake Michigan pitcher spent most of last season with the Tigers
By David Driver, Special Correspondent
Lakeland, Fla. –Former Lake Michigan College baseball standout Duane Below made short work of Atlanta on the night of March 7, retiring all three batters he faced in the ninth inning of a Tigers’ 9-2 victory at the home of the Braves at the nearby Disney World complex in central Florida.
He then had a short night, as he had dinner with friends and then walked into the Detroit clubhouse at their spring training home at 8:30 a.m. here the next day to get ready for another day of work as he tries to make the Opening Day roster of the Tigers.
Below dresses a few cubicles from Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander, a Cy Young Award winner, while Tiger Hall of Famer Al Kaline strolled through the clubhouse a few hours before the team hosted the New York Mets in Lakeland.
Such is life for Below, 27, who grew up in Britton and made his Major League debut with the Tigers in 2011. Last season he pitched in 27 games for the Tigers, with one start, and had a record of 2-1 with an ERA of 3.88.
“Last year was great. The team was awesome,” Below said of the Tigers. “It was fun. We knew as a team we could get it done. It was a good group of guys. Just to be a part of it, just to have that experience was a blessing, especially as a Tigers’ fan grouping up. It was kind of surreal.”
A year ago this time Below was challenging for a spot in the starting rotation of Detroit, the team he grew up watching.
But now, after 26 appearances out of the bullpen last season, Below is trying to make the Opening Day roster of the Tigers as a left-handed reliever.
He made the Opening Day roster last year and picked up his first Major League win April 7 against the Red Sox. Below did not allow a run in eight games in a row, over 14 innings, from April 7 to May 9. Below was sent to Toledo in August and spent the rest of the season with the Mud Hens, where he was 1-2, 6.23 in four starts.
A baseball axiom is that it is one thing to make the big leagues and another thing to stay there. Below agrees with that.
“It is tough. You have so many guys and you have so many young guys with great arms,” he said, sitting on a metal bench as the grounds crew prepared for the game with the Mets. “Staying is tough. There is always someone trying to take your job. The organization wants to win. You just have to work hard.”
Below made his big league debut with Detroit in 2011 and began last season as the No. 21 prospect in the Tigers’ system, according to industry leader Baseball America. He was drafted in the 19th round in 2006 out of LMC by the Tigers.
Did he make any major changes last year as a reliever and being a starter for much of his time in the minors?
“For the most part no,” he said. “I would go out and try to get outs. I was the long reliever so I wanted to go far and save innings. When I got in the games things sped up.”
Below was sent back to Toledo, the top farm club, and after the season was over in the International League and he watched Detroit in the playoffs on television from his apartment in the Detroit area.
“It was fun to watch. But obviously I wanted to be there,” said Below, who watched as the Tigers lost to the Giants in the World Series.
In November he headed to Lakeland so he could work out on a regular basis at the Detroit complex, located just west of Lake Parker and less than one hour west of Orlando. He was joined by his fiancee, Amanda Ireland, who studied business at Lake Michigan College.
Below said if he does earn a spot in the Detroit bullpen to start the season he most likely will be used as a starter in Toledo in order to build up his innings count.
While spring training stats can be misleading, Below allowed 11 hits and had an ERA of 12.00 in his first five outings, which covered six innings, this spring for the Tigers.
“Baseball is a crazy thing. Things can change real quick,” he said. “Last year was a great year. There were so many positives. The positives outweigh the negatives. I am trying to stay positive.”
Editor's note: David Driver is a free-lance writer and former college baseball player who has contributed to Baseball America, MLB.com and major daily newspapers. He has covered pro baseball for 20 years and can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com