As mentioned several times in the last week, I was in attendance this weekend in Royal Oak to watch several current and former football players participate in a charity softball tournament. The event was hosted by current Lions wideout Derrick Williams. Although Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson failed to appear as originally planned, I was able to speak with a few of the participants, and even got a couple of them to make win-loss predictions for the upcoming season.
The players all warmed up on a nearby practice field and as they walked from their warm-up location to the main field, safety Louis Delmas was already in rare form. As he did his best to mimic an MLB stance, he instructed me to pitch my camera to him like a softball so he could instantly destroy it. Of all the players in attendance, it was clear from the very beginning that Delmas was the teams comedic relief.
More pics and good stuff after the jump
Once we all made it to the diamond, players took batting practice, spoke with all of us media hounds and took time to sign a few autographs for the crowd. The air was humid, the players were all in a relaxed mood and it was clear that it was shaping up to be a great afternoon.
First up to the mic (which was actually a free app downloaded to my phone on the drive down), was the event's host. Williams said he would be looking to hold similar events in the future, and cited Detroit's failing economy and diehard fans as the main reasons for his desire to give back to the community. He went on to briefly address the current state of the Lions' special teams unit, saying he felt they were improving at a steady pace. He expects the special teams unit to increase their production from last season.
Next up for questioning, would be Delmas, who was more than happy to offer a prediction for the 2010 season. He said they're aiming for an 8-8 finish, and would be disappointed if a .500 season didn't land the Lions in the playoffs. Hard to tell if he was being serious here, but with stacked teams like Green Bay and Minnesota also in their division, I can't imagine an 8-8 season would garner a Wild Card spot. I appreciate his honesty though in regards to their expectations. Many times you'll hear teams say their goal is to win every game, and while this mentality is true to a certain extent, it's just not realistic to think it'll be done by any team. I would be more than stoked with an eight win season this year.
After speaking with both Williams and Delmas, the mini group of reporters huddled around rookie running back Jahvid Best. Before the first question was out of any of our mouths, Best informed us that he wasn't allowed to answer any questions. When asked who told him he wasn't allowed to talk, he simply stated "I'm not allowed to say". He was far from rude about it, and actually came across as a shy, humble young player. Although he wasn't talking, he did allow us to snap a photo of him with yours truly, decked out in D4L gear.
Following the short discussion and photo-op with Jahvid, I moved on to his former University of California teammate, Zack Follett. Follett (aka The Pain Train) voiced an identical season prediction to that of Louis Delmas, saying he thought 8-8 was a realistic goal. I hope Lions fans don't take these goals out of context, thinking that the team is only striving to win eight games, but rather are excited that the players are all striving to quadruple the amount of wins the team has compiled over the previous two seasons combined. Zack went on to inform me that on gamedays, the new Eminem cd will definitely be getting plenty of playing time on his Ipod. He's especially keen on the tracks "Not Afraid" and "So Bad". When asked who he's looking most forward to hitting this season, Tony Romo was the first name out of his mouth. Follett also agreed that he'll be looking to crack former USC Trojan quarterback Mark Sanchez, when the Jets visit Ford Field in November. I suggested that he start ripping faux train tickets over players after he has crushed them, and he seemed to like that idea. I smell a Zack Follett conductor hat giveway promotion in the making.
Moving on from Zack, I was able to catch up with former Lions offensive tackle Lomas Brown. Brown was named to six straight Pro Bowls in the mid-90's, and is buying into the hype surrounding this years team. He specifically referenced the additions to the defensive line as being the most important improvement Detroit has made in the off-season. Brown stated that when you can take one of the weakest points of your defense, completely rebuild it and turn it into one of the strongest points, good things will happen. Lomas was the softball team's coach for the day, and took more time than almost any other player to sign for each fan eagerly awaiting him.
Brown wasn't the only former Lion in attendance Saturday. I spoke briefly with ex-Lions wideout Herman Moore, and was able to congratulate him on the recent announcement that he will be inducted in September to the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. For tickets to this event, click here.
After conducting interviews with the players willing to talk, it was about time for the home run derby to begin. It was around this time that my heart skipped a beat, when I realized I was standing merely a few feet from Detroit's first overall pick in this years draft, Ndamukong Suh. He had casually arrived in a gray t-shirt and Detroit Tigers cap, and was having quite a hard time just blending into the sea of his new teammates. Unfortunately, Ndamukong wasn't really in the talking mood, so I avoided firing questions his way, but was able to get a picture with him, which I all but ruined by blinking during. After mingling for a short while, Suh sat in the dugout. He didn't appear to be enjoying my constant camera work, and was looking away in all but a couple shots. Once I had usable material, I decided to leave him be. His presence at the game was short lived, as he decided to leave before it even began. A throng of fans herded together, and followed him to the parking lot, only to be turned away by security.
Follett ended up winning the home run competition, and I left the field as the game was about to start. Never one for gender discrimination, I made sure to also document a few of the ladies at the event. You know, strictly for
my your benefit only. The Palace & Channel 7's Erin Nicole played on the Lions' team, and a few referees were in attendance.
Once the actual softball game started, I had to get myself out of the sun for awhile. While I caught some additional action shots which I will share now, I didn't keep track of the score of the game, as it was more for show than score anyway.
Although there were a few empty seats there Saturday (likely due to rain in the forecast), there were still a good showing of support for the team. This guy wins my "fan of the day" award, for even thinking to own a custom Lions fire helmet, let alone wear it in public.
Rookie Jahvid Best and Mr. Irrelevant Al Toone
LaVar Arrington, Suh & Best
DT Sammie Hill swings for the fences
Host Derrick Williams addresses the crowd at the start of the game.
Roll call before the game