BRADENTON -- Armed with a helmet and a gray uniform with the No. 4 on the back, Jim Harbaugh was sporting an entirely different look than the customary khaki pants and sweatshirt combination Michigan fans see on Saturdays during the college football season.
Nonetheless, it was a look Harbaugh was excited about prior to Wednesday's Grapefruit League home opener at McKechnie Field that 6,952 fans attended.
Harbaugh was there to coach first base for the Detroit Tigers, who visited Bradenton for a spring training battle with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Some of the Wolverines football team also attended the game, their arrival greeted to the tune of "Hail to the Victors" blaring from the sound system at McKechnie. It's an off day for the program during its spring practice trip to Manatee County. And Wednesday's game was optional: Michigan can't dic
tate what players do during their free time this week.
The ones that did attend, though, received a chat from Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle, a longtime Wolverines fan, and witnessed Harbaugh in a new element. For the first three innings, Harbaugh coached first base and was in action during the opening frame.
The Tigers scored four runs, with Harbaugh using a circular motion with his arm to send players past first base on two doubles.
"I hope to get a chance to send a runner and be right," Harbaugh said before the game started. "I don't want anybody picked off first base. That's my main concern is having nobody getting picked off first base, and then, secondly, don't get hit by a line drive."
Detroit's Tyler Collins did get caught on Pittsburgh starting pitcher Jeff Locke's pickoff move, but advanced safely when John Jaso's throw found the outfield.
No harm, no foul.
"You don't want to screw up for (Detroit Tigers manager) Brad (Ausmus), so clearly appreciative, really," Harbaugh said. "Just an attitude to gratitude to be able to do this personally and for our whole team to be, most of our guys are here, for the game. And I appreciate Clint Hurdle and the Pirates organization for helping us out and getting tickets."
Hurdle offered some different advise for Harbaugh's temporary role with the Tigers.
"I told him just to keep sending the guys to second, and let our outfielders try and throw them out," Hurdle said. "Because at the end of the play, somebody would be happy. Either Ausmus would be happy or I'd be happy. It was a good day to have them all out here."
This wasn't the first time Harbaugh has experienced Major League life. Last year, he threw out the first pitch at a Tigers game at Detroit's Comerica Park.
To prepare, Ausmus said Harbaugh was throwing in the dugout.
"In the dugout with khakis isn't usually something you see very often," Ausmus said.
Harbaugh's penchant for creating headlines, like this week's trip to IMG Academy in the heart of Southeastern Conference territory, wasn't lost on Ausmus ahead of Wednesday's game.
"If he wants to, he can argue and get thrown out. I'm not paying his fine," joked Ausmus.
In between innings, Harbaugh sat in the Tigers' coaching area and he signed autographs prior to getting his uniform.
Sitting in the coaches area meant getting reunited with Tigers great Alan Trammell, who serves as a special assistant general manager Al Avila.
Trammell played in Detroit, while Harbaugh was Michigan's quarterback in 1984-86. He said their first interactions were at head coach Bo Schembechler's golf outing. Only a few years ago, their paths crossed once more when Harbaugh had a sit-down with Trammell and then-Arizona Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson, another former Tigers player, that D-Backs chief baseball officer Tony La Russa arranged.
"Everybody's different, but I'm a lifer. Jim's a lifer. Just a word to describe us and others," Trammell said. " That's just something he loves as I do and a lot of other people, it's the same thing. It's just what we know, what we enjoy, it's what we feel we're good at."
While Harbaugh's arrival at McKechnie drew considerable buzz, it was the second straight spring that saw such fanfare after actor/comedian Will Ferrell, who played several positions for various teams in the Cactus League last spring.
Jason Dill, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7017 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jason__Dill and like his Facebook page at Jason Dill Bradenton Herald.