DETROIT -- The reporters congregate on the other side of the room now, in front of the locker that reads "No. 45 Fielder."
Before, in the days of pennant races and World Series rings, the long wall across the back of the clubhouse was the walk of fame. There one could find Lance Parrish and Darrell Evans, Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris. And, tucked in the corner by the showers, the World Series MVP himself: Alan Trammell.
Now, like Parrish, Evans and Gibson, the Tigers organization has moved on. Near Fielder is a locker reserved for Travis Fryman, a fresh-faced kid up from Toledo who is supposed to make Detroit forget Trammell someday. And so it seems almost easy to cast hope in that new direction, where the present and the future of the Detroit Baseball Club sit, almost side by side.
Indeed, if these two new faces had happened into the clubhouse last season -- a season of frustration, injury and substandard numbers -- even Trammell would be left wondering whether his career had peaked a few years ago and was now slowly rolling to a stop.
"If I came off last year and didn't do well in the first few weeks of this season, those thoughts would have been in my head," said Trammell, who hit .243 in 1989.
But 1990 has become the year of his resurrection. He earned a sixth trip to the All-Star Game in July, and is a .300 hitter for the sixth time in his career. His corner is no longer haunted by whispers from the past. There are, instead, the first faint rustlings of immortality, a soft murmur that sounds like "Hall of Fame."
"He has matured to the point where he is one of the veteran players in the game," said Parrish, who now catches for the California Angels. "I definitely think he is a candidate if he continues to play the way he's been playing this year."
Trammell doesn't like to think about Hall of Fame ballots this soon. After all, in his mind, he still has several good years of ball left. "I don't feel like I'm over the hill," said Trammell, who is 32 and in his 13th season. "If I'm healthy, I'll put the numbers on the board."
His .317 average for 470 at-bats tops all the Tigers, andFryman's .313 comprises only 128 at-bats. Trammell leads the team list in hits (149) and doubles (33), and is near the top of the charts for stolen bases (10) and RBI (76)
"He just seems to keep improving," Parrish said. "There's no telling how long he can keep playing. He's certainly an asset to the ballclub, to this whole town."
In the past, though, Detroit has never really been his home.
"I am a Californian; I was raised out there," said Trammell, who usually spends the offseason in San Diego. "My family and my wife's family are from there. My friends are there."
This year, he decided to become a serious resident of Detroit. True, he still owns the house in San Diego. And he'll probably retire there. But for the first time in his career, Trammell has made plans to spend the off-season in Michigan. His kids are enrolled in school; his wife has settled in.
"I'm established here now; my family lives here," Trammell said. "For as long as I'm playing, we'll stay. But the winters are going to be tough at first. . . ."
His biggest worry is that he'll be bored -- or lonely -- when the snow hits the ground. For the first month or so, he'll be kept busy shopping. There are those small matters to attend to -- he needs boots, a winter coat, a wool sweater or two. But then what? He can't exactly have his usual backyard barbecues.
"There are plenty things to do to keep busy," Trammell said, again and again, as if he still was trying to convince himself. "The Pistons, Red Wings, Michigan and Michigan State games. We can go skiing . . . "
Or, at least his kids can go skiing. He will watch, perhaps venturing to the edge of the hill, video camera in hand. But he will not put on a pair of skis. The most vigorous activity he takes up these days is golf. It's easy, relaxing -- safe.
"I'm not going to do anything foolish," he said. "I'd love to get out and do more things with the kids and all that, but it's a risk I can't afford to take."
One need only look at his numbers to understand. The ups and downs of his career can be easily tracked to his state of health. Elbow problems plagued him in 1985 and '86, and after two straight .300 seasons, his average dropped to .258 and .277 those years. Last season he played only 121 games because of a back injury and posted the worst average of his career.
As Parrish pointed out: "When Alan Trammell is healthy, he's as good at shortstop as you're going to find. It's the injuries that make things tough for him."
Trammell said: "If there is one thing I'm self-conscious about, it's my injuries. I know if I stay healthy, I can continue to move up."
The 2,000-hit plateau is well in reach -- he has 1,908 so should reach it by midway through next season -- and Trammell does not want a freakish accident to jeopardize that goal.
"That's something that I would be very proud of," he said. "It puts you at another level."
What Trammell really wants, though, is to be a part of another Tigers generation. He knows that after teams reach the top, like Detroit did in the middle '80s, players age and it's time to bring in the new. He knows it takes a while, perhaps 10 years, to rebuild. But he does not want to hang up his jersey in the corner locker and watch from across the room. He will accept the label "veteran," but he is not ready to be considered out-of-date.
"If we continue to go down in the standings, they're going to have to bring in some young kids and I understand that," Trammell said. "But I would like to stay with the Tigers. I want to be with the new regime when we get back up in first place again."
He has to wonder, just a little, where Fryman -- a natural shortstop -- fits into that new regime. Thoughts of trades and new positions have certainly entered his head. But all his career he has been a shortstop, all his career a Tiger. As long as he is playing at this level, he expects things will stay that way.
"I'll know when it's time," Trammell said, "and it isn't time yet. I'm still playing well."
In the end, then, Trammell sees Fryman as less a symbol of his imminent departure than a key to the club's -- and his own -- future hopes.
"Eventually, he'll be the shortstop," Trammell said, "But it's worked out well for the team, having Travis play third base. It's helped to have his bat in the lineup."
And he does not seem to mind that the limelight now shines on the other side of the locker room, leaving his corner in the shadows.
"Of course, everybody likes to be recognized, and I certainly have been," he said. "But I don't mind taking a back seat. The team, management, and other people in baseball, they all know I'm doing the right things."