KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Daniel Fields ran and ran.
Then he ran some more.
As the ball stayed in the air, there was time to think about Fields' story: Big prospect out of U-D Jesuit in '09. Named Mr. Baseball in Michigan. Headed to University of Michigan . Drafted by the Tigers and signed with them instead of going to college.
Then came a long struggle to get out of Class A.
Finally at this decisive moment Friday, Fields stopped running and dove. Somehow, the centerfielder snagged Jordan Schafer's long drive to left-center, ending the seventh and stranding the Atlanta runner who would have scored the game's first run if the ball had landed.
Then the Tigers, hitless through seven innings, began the eighth with consecutive triples from Tyler Collins and Jeff Kobernus. That produced the two-run rally that gave the Tigers a 2-1 victory over the host Atlanta Braves in the exhibition opener.
"I thought my chances were pretty good to catch the ball," Fields said. Baseball America named him the best defensive outfielder in the Tigers' farm system last year, when in August he got the promotion to Double-A. He's in major league camp for the first time, which means he can keep in mind the ultimate ambition:
"It would be a dream to make the big league team and play in front of my family and friends," said Fields, 22, whose father is former Tigers outfielder Bruce Fields.
As a Detroiter, Bruce Fields knows the meaning of the exhibition opener. Baseball is back. There's a countdown to Opening Day. Winter eventually might leave. "Everybody at home is so excited about us starting," Fields said.
There were reasons to be excited before Fields stole that hit and before the Tigers finally got one.
Rick Porcello, fighting Drew Smyly for a rotation spot, reached the mid-90s as he retired all six hitters he faced.
Designated hitter Victor Martinez, in his first game in 16 months, hit the ball hard: a fly to center and a sharp comebacker that deflected off the pitcher. On his other plate appearance, his first time up in 16 months, he got hit by a pitch on the right leg (it was the left leg in which he tore up the knee, costing him last season).
As for how much Martinez will play in spring training, Leyland said, "I'm going to go by how Victor is feeling."
Shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who first played with Martinez when they were Cleveland minor leaguers, said, "It's good to see Victor here. He looked pretty good with the swings he got."
On the day he arrived in spring training, Leyland had talked about the need for the Tigers to do a better job against opposing base stealers. They nabbed both Braves who tried to steal Friday. New catcher Brayan Pena got the first, Triple-A catcher Bryan Holaday the second.
It was scoreless when the Tigers' starters left after 5 1/2 innings. The new rightfielder was Collins, who played in the minors with Fields last season. Collins ended the Atlanta sixth with a diving catch along the rightfield line with nobody on base.
"I told him 'good job,'" Fields said. "He was a little upset I had to one-up him on mine. It's all fun, and we all pull for each other."
Leyland said: "Defense saved the day."
Once upon a time, you would have said the Tigers' defense Friday was as sound as a dollar. Friday was the birthday of George Washington, the president on the dollar. The Tigers used their gloves to make the Braves to come up a buck short.
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