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Published: Thursday, 4/5/2012

Below excited about last-second call-up

Duane Below delivers to the Baltimore Orioles during the first inning of a spring training baseball game in Sarasota, Fla., March 30. Duane Below delivers to the Baltimore Orioles during the first inning of a spring training baseball game in Sarasota, Fla., March 30.

On Tuesday, Duane Below was in the Mud Hens clubhouse, getting ready for the start of the Triple-A team's season.

Less than 24 hours later Below found himself in the visitors' clubhouse at Fifth Third Field -- with a grin on his face.

An injury to Luis Marte Tuesday prompted the Tigers to promote Below to Detroit, and he will spend opening day Thursday at Comerica Park rather than Friday at Fifth Third Field.

"I unpacked my bags and started to get comfortable in Toledo," said Below, a Britton, Mich., native. "Then I got called up, so I had to pack my bags up and come over to this clubhouse.

"I'm excited to be back over here. Now I'm going to continue to work to make sure I get to where I want to be."

Below said he hasn't been able to find out what plans Detroit manager Jim Leyland has for him at the start of this season.

"I said good morning to him when I got in, but we haven't had a chance to talk," Below said. "I'm sure over the next couple of days we'll have a chance to talk and figure out what's going on."

During spring training Below was a candidate for the fifth starter's job in Detroit, but he was edged out by fellow left-hander Drew Smyly. Below said he knew he needed to bring a position attitude to Toledo in case there was an opening on the Tigers' staff.

"It happens in baseball -- people get hurt, and things change quickly," he said. "I planned to work hard when I was in Toledo, and I plan to keep working hard now."

FAMILIAR FACES: Among the members of the Tigers' front office who made the trip with the team to Toledo were president and general manager Dave Dombrowski along with assistant general manager Al Avila.

The Tigers' roster was bolstered by the West Michigan Whitecaps, Detroit's Lo-A team in the Midwest League. The Whitecaps, who met at their Grand Rapids, Mich., home Tuesday, bussed after the game to open the season Thursday at Dayton.

Among the familiar faces on that squad were a pair of former Mud Hens, manager Ernie Young and pitching coach Mark Johnson, as well as Colin Kaline (Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline's grandson), Patrick Leyland (Jim Leyland's son), and Nick Avila (Al Avila's nephew and Detroit catcher Alex Avila's cousin).

SAD NOTE: Before the contest the Mud Hens had a moment of silence for Walter Johnson, a former member of the team's board of directors who died.

Mud Hens general manager Joe Napoli said he learned of Johnson's death the morning of the game.

"We were saddened to hear about his passing because he was a beloved person," Napoli said of Johnson. "He just adored the Mud Hens, and he was adored by the people who work here. He had many friendships here, and his passing has caused many tears."

ROSTER SHUFFLE: The Mud Hens added LHP Austin Wood to the roster to replace Below. Wood spent last season with Double-A Erie, where he was 5-5 with six saves and a 3.16 ERA in 50 relief appearances.

LET'S EAT: Mud Hens clubhouse head Joe Sarkisian ended up having to feed roughly 75 players and 20 coaches of three teams after the game. Before the game he served a breakfast catered by 151 On the Water, while the post-game spread includes nontypical items such as steaks and cheesecake courtesy of Outback Steakhouse and P.F. Chang's.

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