LAKELAND, Fla. — Manager Ron Gardenhire guessed Jonathan Schoop would maybe be a day or so behind once his work visa was stamped and he got into camp.
Schoop, the Tigers new second baseman, showed up for work Thursday and announced he was ready to go – like, right now.
“Yeah, he said he’s ready to go,” Gardenhire said. “He looks great.”
Schoop, whom the Tigers signed this offseason on twin $6.1 million contracts along with first baseman C.J. Cron to form a rebuilt right side of the infield, will be in the starting lineup on Saturday when the Tigers open their Grapefruit League season against the Phillies at Joker Marchant Stadium.
“I’ve been swinging since like early December and working out hard,” said Schoop, still just 28. “I’m ready. I like baseball. You can wake me up in mid-November and I’m ready. All my life I play baseball. I’m always ready to go.”
Schoop, who had been working out with former Tiger Randall Simon, admitted to feeling some anxiety, reading about his new team and seeing some of the video of the early drills while he was stuck in Curacao waiting for his paperwork to clear.
“You want to be there with them,” he said. “You want to be here to meet them, work out with them and start to build the relationships. Being with a new team, relationships are key for me.”
Schoop, an All-Star with the Orioles in 2017 when he hit 32 home runs, is a big believer in the value of positive team chemistry.
“When you fight for each other, that’s how you are going to win a lot of ballgames,” he said. “We have pretty good talent here. I played against them last year. I see them. They have good talent, they just have to put it together.
“Play for each other. Fight for each other. The key is relationships you build with each other. If you are going to fight for me, I will fight for you.”
Schoop and Cron – as well as catcher Austin Romine, outfielder Cameron Maybin and a reinvigorated Miguel Cabrera – have significantly altered the landscape of this camp.
“It’s calmer out there,” Gardenhire said.
You also see a group of young outfielders following Maybin from field to field, watching how he works. You see Cron taking charge of infield drills and Romine quietly shepherding the catchers through their exhausting and long days.
Now add Schoop to that dynamic. He came up with the Orioles and remembers being similarly shepherded in his rookie season by the likes of Nelson Cruz, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis. He’s ready to pay that forward.
“It helps a lot,” he said. “I was young my first year in the big leagues (21) and I had veterans to guide me and take the pressure away so I could play free. I think I learned from it and now I can pass it to the young guys here.
“I can take the pressure from them and put it on me and make them feel comfortable.”
He’s also not done learning himself. While some young infielders will be picking his brain, Schoop will be sidling up to Cabrera.
“Every year since I go to the big leagues I watch him closely,” Schoop said. “Just because he’s one of the best hitters I’ve ever seen. Having him on my side, picking his brain, maybe he can teach me something. I’m going to try to keep up with him. That’s going to be tough but I got to try.”
Jonathan Rufino Jezus Schoop has already crammed a lot of life into his 28 years.
He speaks four languages. He’s played in two Little League World Series, leading Curacao to the title in 2004. He’s played in the MLB Futures Game, was the Orioles minor league player of the year, played in four world tournaments representing the Netherlands and in the last five seasons has played in the division and championship series in both leagues (with the Orioles, Twins and Brewers).
You might recall Schoop was one of the villains when the Orioles stunned the Tigers by sweeping their trio of Cy Young Award winners (Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and David Price) in 2014 division series. He hit .300 and knocked in a pair of runs.
“But I will do that this year for Detroit,” he said, laughing. “It was crazy, beating three Cy Young pitchers. But we had a really good team, too.”
This will be Schoop’s sixth full season in the big leagues and even though the Tigers are his fourth team in three years, he’s still just at the mid-point of his career. He’s hit 21 and 23 home runs the last two seasons and his 102 OPS-plus last season with the Twins was his highest since his all-star year.
As he said, there’s still a lot of good baseball left in him.
“I just try to be healthy and play 162 games,” he said. “If you play all 162, your numbers are going to be there. I am going to try to be there for my teammates and try to win a lot of ballgames.”
© 2020 The Detroit News