When he was a high school freshman, Bubba Trammell stood 5-foot-5 and faked his weight, telling folks he was 150 pounds.
“To say I was small would be an understatement,” Trammell says. “You know how, in basketball, teams take the floor for warmups with the smallest guy always leading the pack? I was that guy through the 11th grade.
“I started to spurt a little. But I was still growing when I went to college.”
Once he started growing, there was no stopping him. Trammell, the hottest rookie in the Tigers’ spring camp, is now 6-2 and 220 pounds - big enough to carry such a famous name in Detroit.
His given name is Thomas Bubba Trammell. His father, Buddy, named him after a Tennessee quarterback. He is no relation to Alan Trammell, the shortstop who retired at the end of last season after 20 years in a Detroit uniform.
“I get questioned at least three or four times a day about that,” says the 25-year-old Trammell. “People bring up his card for me to sign. Or, they’ll ask, ‘How’s your dad?’ But, now that I’ve met him, I think it’s a great honor to be mentioned with Alan Trammell.”
When Bubba was young, his mother would ask him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He would always answer that he wanted to be a baseball player. Mom didn’t know how serious he was.
His father did.
“I had a batting cage in my back yard,” Trammell says. “My father gave me every opportunity. I got it when I was 13. I spent countless hours out there. It was fun. Me and daddy just loved to do it. It seemed like I was always just destined to be a baseball player.”
Trammell has stayed close to home. He went to Tennessee, in his native Knoxville, and lives there still, with his wife and daughter.
He was all-SEC in 1993 and might have come out that year, but a broken ankle seemed to keep the scouts away.
“I was crushed,” Trammell says. “I wanted to come out and play professional baseball at once. That summer was so tough on me. That was the first summer I hadn’t played baseball since I was 5.”
Still, things worked out fine. He went back to Tennessee and saw another round of SEC pitching, much of which is better than Class A pitching at the pro level.
He was All-American in 1994 and the Tigers took him in the 11th round of the draft. Since then, he has rocketed through their farm system.
Trammell started 1996, only his second full season in the minors, at Class AA Jacksonville, hitting .328 with 27 homers in 83 games. That earned him a promotion to Triple-A Toledo, where he hit .294 and six more homers in 51 games.
He followed with a stint in the Arizona Fall League, where he was MVP after hitting .328 with seven homers in 47 games. That landed him a spot on the Tigers’ 40-man winter roster.
“Every time I put this uniform on, it brings a smile to my face,” Trammell says.
Steve Boros, the one-time infielder who now supervises minor-league instruction for the Tigers, says Trammell might have the best work ethic he has ever seen. Boros has been in pro baseball for 40 years.
“I can’t think of anybody who’s worked any harder,” Boros says. “Also, he’s a great student. He’s always asking the staff for extra work. Now, in addition to that, he’s got some skills. He hits with power to all fields.”
This is Trammell’s first spring training with the major league team. Yet if he is nervous, he doesn’t show it. He had two doubles and three RBIs in his first exhibition game, then homered in each of his next two.
The Tigers had planned on starting Trammell at Toledo this season. But there is a chance that he will force his way onto the 25-man roster that heads north to start the 1997 season.
“A lot depends on how we put our club together,” manager Buddy Bell says. “If he stays, he’ll get between 400 and 500 at-bats. He has to show he can handle most pitching.”
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