Mario Impemba has become a familiar voice for Tigers fans through the years as the play-by-play broadcaster for games on FOX Sports Detroit and select FOX Network games. When he joined the broadcast team in 2002, it was a homecoming for the Michigan native. Now, he's a voice of home for many current and former Michiganders. He recently put some of his favorite baseball memories and stories from his career on paper for a book titled, "If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Detroit Tigers Dugout, Locker Room and Press Box." With Opening Day coming up, he sat down with MLB.com to talk about the upcoming Tigers season.
W: Nathan L: Davis
MLB.com: You've been around for most of camp. How have you seen this team come together and how have you seen the tone under new manager Brad Ausmus?
Impemba: Well, I like the tone. Obviously you can't do anything about the injuries. The one thing I think we've seen from Brad Ausmus is that he's really kind of handled everything in stride. I mean, these are pretty serious injuries here. You lose (Bruce) Rondon, (Jose) Iglesias and one of your left fielders in Andy Dirks. That can disrupt a camp, and I think there can be some carryover effect. But I think the way that Brad Ausmus has gone about running this camp, it's been an even-keeled camp. He's got guys, and he's keeping them loose by doing some wacky stuff -- you know the basketball competition, the alligator coming into the clubhouse. Those are things you didn't see under Jim Leyland, not that one way is better than another, but I really think that kind of helped to loosen things up. It shortens camp in terms of being tedious, and I haven't seen a lot of that in camp. I think guys are going to be ready to go. So besides the injuries, I like the way things are coming together for this ballclub.
MLB.com: Is the offense the biggest difference you see on the field for these guys?
Impemba: Yeah, I don't think there's any question. I think the starting pitching obviously, even without Doug Fister, is going to be very good. You have the five guys that the Tigers have, and especially the top three. But the offense and the complexion about how this team's going to go about scoring runs and playing tight games is much different now. I mean, a 3-2 ballgame in the ninth inning, you're not waiting for Miggy (Miguel Cabrera) to hit a two-run homer or a solo homer to tie it up. You've got a lot of speed now. You've got (Rajai) Davis, who can steal some bases. You've got (Ian) Kinsler, who can run. So I think the dynamic is different, but for the better. You still have enough power in my opinion in this lineup with (Victor) Martinez in the middle, with Cabrera. Torii (Hunter) can still hit the ball out of the ballpark, a few others. I think it's going to be a more exciting team, and I'm looking forward to watching them play.
MLB.com: Is there one face among the new guys who you've been most interested to watch go about his business and then play on the field?
Impemba: I think when you look at some of the new guys that the Tigers have brought in, for me, the one guy that kind of stands out is Rajai Davis. I think this guy is someone who nobody has paid a whole lot of attention to throughout his career. I mean, he was a low Draft choice when he came up with the Pirates. You start to look at some of the numbers more deeply with Davis and you see the guy's stolen 40 bases a few times. I really think that he can be a sparkplug for this team. I think that every now and then, you might even see him lead off in ballgames. So I'm excited to see him play day in and day out, and I think that he adds an element to this team that we really haven't had, and that's a pure basestealer. We have a lot of guys on this team that can run but not pure basestealers, so I'm kind of looking forward to seeing Rajai play on a daily basis.
MLB.com: You've watched Justin Verlander since Day 1 here. As you've watched him go about his work this spring and get past the injuries, have you noticed any difference?
Impemba: Not really. That's the way JV's been his entire career. When the surgery was first announced, I think people started to freak out, and I think a little piece of me in the back of my mind thought, "This guy works so hard, he's going to find a way to be ready for Opening Day." I'm not sure I believed it, but I thought there was a chance that he would be ready for Opening Day, and then when I saw him make his first start, I thought, "Yeah, this guy worked so hard, I think he'll be good to go."
Nothing's changed for him. I think he's going to play off the September that he had and the playoffs that he had, and I think he's going to hit the ground running this year. I think the struggles he went through last year, in a weird way, was good for him, and especially after the years he had recently. I think the top three in that rotation, arguably now you can say headed by Verlander, is going to be really good.
MLB.com: When you look at the injuries the Tigers have had, which one is going to be the biggest to try to overcome?
Impemba: You know, (analyst) Rod Allen and I were talking about that recently. For me, it's probably going to be the Bruce Rondon injury. I think the Tigers can make do with what they're going to do in left field. I think they've got some pieces now to kind of smooth things over at shortstop. They've got some guys that can catch the ball, which is what Iglesias did. But when you take that power arm out of the eighth inning that was going to set up Joe Nathan, that's going to be tough to overcome. I think they've got some pieces in Joba Chamberlain and (Al) Alburquerque, and Evan Reed has had a good camp. These guys, I think, are going to do well, but man, when you've got a shutdown guy like Rondon who was headed in my opinion for a big year, I think that's probably the biggest piece that's going to be tough to overcome.
MLB.com: Lastly, I don't know how many people know about this, but you took a foray into writing this offseason and put together a book on your favorite stories over the years. What was it like for you going through that process and becoming an author?
Impemba: Well, foray is a good word, because that's actually what I took. I'm certainly not a writer, but I put together a lot of stories over the years that I wanted to share. This is my 20th season broadcasting in the big leagues now. There's some stuff in the Minor Leagues to my Angels days to the Tigers days that I kind of put together and put into a book. It's called "If These Walls Could Talk: Detroit Tigers." Triumph is the publisher.