BY MIKE DUNN
Special to the Record-Eagle
CADILLAC — One question thrown at Detroit Tigers' slugging outfielder Andy Dirks in Cadillac on Thursday was what he would be doing if he wasn't playing baseball.
Dirks, in town with teammates Quentin Berry and Drew Smyly and front-office executive Jordan Field as part of the annual Tigers' Winter Caravan, told the questioner — tongue planted firmly in cheek — he would probably be digging ditches somewhere.
One surprising discovery that came out of the caravan stop here is that Dirks definitely has another marketable skill if he ever chooses to pursue it.
Janeen Russell, the owner and operator of The Sweet Shop in downtown Cadillac the past 10 years, believes Dirks would make the grade as a candy maker. Janeen's father Paul Beardsley Jr., who owned the store for 40 years with wife Helen before their daughter took it over, made the same assessment.
"He has an open invitation to come back here anytime," Janeen said with a laugh after Dirks, Berry and Smyly made a 45-minute appearance to help The Sweet Shop celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. "He can have a career after baseball if he wants it."
Beardsley, a Traverse City native and son of the late Dr. Paul Beardsley Sr., a longtime foot doctor in Traverse City, was equally effusive in praising Dirks after watching the young man from Kansas twirl several of the popular white-chocolate confections known as "Snow Birds" and also create an aesthetically pleasing caramel apple.
"Andy's doing a super job; there's a future for him when he retires," Beardsley said as he watched Dirks go at it.
Berry, a speedy outfielder known for his defense and base stealing, and Smyly, a left-handed pitcher and part of the Tigers' starting rotation, were game enough but didn't have quite the same confectionery skill level as Dirks. Beardsley said the pair would likely be "relegated to the bench for a while."
The Tigers' winter caravan includes a visit to northern Michigan every January in addition to caravan stops at various locations downstate. A few years ago the Tigers came to Traverse City. This year Cadillac was on the north bus caravan itinerary for the first time.
"This is a great time of the year for us," said Field, who serves as the director of the Detroit Tigers Foundation, among other titles. "The players get to go around to different parts of the state and meet the fans. This is a fun time for everyone involved and it's a reminder that Tigers' baseball is just around the corner.
"We're thrilled to be in Cadillac this year and thrilled to help The Sweet Shop celebrate 50 years," he added.
The first stop for Field and the players Thursday was the Northern Michigan Regional Chamber Alliance luncheon at The Cadillac Grill sponsored by the Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce. An auction was held to benefit the Detroit Tigers Foundation during the two-hour luncheon followed by a lively question-and-answer session with the players.
Then it was off to The Sweet Shop for the anniversary celebration. The players greeted fans who were there waiting for them in the store and signed several autographs before chatting with Russell and her staff and then taking their turn at creating confections.
The store was jammed with onlookers during the players' visit and the players good-naturedly interacted with the fans while doing their confection making. A highlight of the visit came when Berry and Smyly got everyone to sing "Happy Birthday" to Dirks.
Tabitha Romig of Leroy made the short trip north to Cadillac with her 3-month-old daughter Promise to see the Tigers in person and be part of the pleasant atmosphere.
"I wanted to bring our daughter here today because her dad (David Romig) loves the Tigers," said Tabitha, who found out about the Tigers' local visit on Facebook.
"I felt like it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she said. "It's something we can tell our daughter about when she gets older. It's very exciting."
Cadillac Mayor Bill Barnett was also among the onlookers in the store.
"The Tigers have a lot of fans in Cadillac who are very loyal to the Detroit club and to the team's long tradition," Barnett said. "It's a true honor to have them visit with us today."
Russell's son J.P. and daughter Jasmine were at the store Thursday along with Russell's parents and the staff. Russell received a Detroit baseball cap from Field as well as a Tigers' shirt with the famous old-English D on the front and "Sweet Shop" emblazoned on the back with the number 50.
For her part, Russell made sure each of the players took a package of candy with them, including some of the candy the players themselves had made.
"That was a fabulously fun 45 minutes," she said after they left. "It went way too fast."
The Tigers' north caravan continued with stops at Flint and Saginaw after departing from Cadillac. It concludes today with stops at Midland and Frankenmuth.