LAKELAND, Fla. - Players continued filing into Tiger Town on the second day of camp Wednesday. Prince Fielder, a slimmed down Jhonny Peralta, and Brennan Boesch were all new faces hitting the field for the first time this year.
Over a dozen of the team's position players are in Lakeland, but none are more thrilled than Victor Martinez to be playing baseball again.
"It feels like I'm making it to the big leagues all over again," he said.
"It's really exciting."
Martinez's absence from the game dates back to January of last year, months after one of the best years of his career had ended. He tore his left ACL in conditioning workouts, and missed the entire 2012 season.
"Seeing him for the first time was awesome. He's already pumped up," centerfielder Austin Jackson said.
That sense of excitement was hard to come by last year. Martinez was expected to be a key part of the Tigers lineup after a stellar first year with the team. The injury left him sidelined, and he could only watch from a distance.
Sometimes, that was even too much to handle.
"It was tough. It was really tough to watch them on TV, and even worse, watching it live," Martinez explained.
He only visited Detroit twice during the season. He said management and his teammates understood the trips weren't doing him any good.
"I was doing the stupid things, grabbing a bat and hiding from somebody, taking swings when I was supposed to do that. So I realized, this isn't any good for me."
Martinez said he went home and rehabbed his knee. After months of work, he was proud to say there were no setbacks and he is 100% healthy, ready for the season to begin.
"I know we did well last year, but to have Victor come back, it's like a free agent pickup," Prince Fielder said.
Austin Jackson noticed extra enthusiasm in the returning Martinez.
"Him not playing with us last year definitely fired him up. He's a big part of this team."
Manager Jim Leyland said when the first full team session begins on Friday, he'll be putting "the big guys" together in the same hitting group. Martinez will hit with Miguel Cabrera and Fielder. That will be the first look at what will be a potent 3-4-5 part of the lineup.
Brad Galli is a Sports Reporter for WXYZ Detroit. Follow Brad on Twitter @BradGalli .
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