An unofficial Tigers mascot is killed in a hit-and-run

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If you’ve been to a Tigers game at Comerica Park over the past few seasons you’ve almost certainly seen James Van Horn. You probably don’t know his name, but you’d recognize him as the “Eat ’em up Tigers” guy. He was a street busker/panhandler who stood outside of the park with a change cup, usually held in an Incredible Hulk hand, chanting “Eat ’em up Tigers” creating an infectious beat by jangling his change.

Sad news about him:

Witnesses are telling 7 Action News that two men well known to Tigers fans have been killed in a hit and run. The men were James Van Horn, who was known for his distinctive shouting of ‘Eat ’em up Tigers’ , and another man known as Dreadlock Mike … Witnesses tell 7 Action News they heard a crash at around 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning in the area of Gratiot and Russell, about a mile from Comerica Park. They say it appears Van Horn was pushing Dreadlock Mike down the street when they were hit by a vehicle that left the scene.

Just awful.

It makes me think about other unofficial team mascots, superfans, promotors and otherwise self-motivated ballpark fixtures. I’m guessing most parks have guys like these. Maybe motivated by enthusiasm for the game. Maybe they’re merely guys who hang outside the park because they’ve realized it’s not a bad place to collect some spare change. Maybe they’re embraced by the team, maybe the team wishes they’d pick a different corner. There are probably as many stories as there are guys like this.

But they definitely form part of the ballpark experience. And, sadly, many of us probably don’t appreciate them for what they add until they’re gone.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉