As the son of a minister, growing up in East Tennessee, Phil Garner came to appreciate the finer things in life.
We're talking family. Camaraderie. Hunting to put dinner on the table. And complementing the meal with produce from churchgoers who couldn't otherwise compensate the minister for wedding or funeral services.
In a time and place of have-nots, Garner couldn't have been happier.
He shot squirrels on his best friend's farm. Often the two fished before trudging off to school. His granddad organized a family rabbit hunt each Thanksgiving.
These are the values that the Detroit Tiger skipper understands. And seeing his family, in turn, come to appreciate them is a joy he doesn't take for granted.
He still chuckles when thinking about how he and his 12-year-old daughter blew through the ammo hunting jackrabbits in Texas, and didn't hit a single one. And when his wife took her first bucks this year … don't get him started.
Despite early promise, the Tigers did not have a banner year, so it's real easy to get Garner to change the subject from baseball to the outdoors.
Here's what Garner had to say during a recent ESPN Outdoors interview:
ESPN Outdoors: "What do you consider your hunting specialty?"
Phil Garner: (Laughs) "I don't have a specialty, but I do like to deer hunt. And, recently, in the past several years, I've done some elk hunting out in Colorado, and I really enjoy that."
EO: "Rifle hunting, is that right?"
PG: "Rifle hunting, yeah. I had some bows a couple years ago and both my boys (Eric and Ty) took my bows and I've never seen them again. I wasn't able to get any better at that. Actually, Eric grew up and he manages a game ranch in South Texas. (The hunting industry seems to run in the family; Garner himself is part owner of a hunting and fishing booking agency out of Shreveport, La., called Wild Wing Hunts and Outdoor Adventures.)"
EO: "Manages a ranch that does what?"
PG: "It's a high-fence deer-game ranch; they sell deer hunts. It's actually gate-fenced and he gate-manages the property. They do like, I think, 50 bucks off of it this year, or something along those lines, and then they had maybe eight or nine trophy bucks. Actually, Roger Clemens' son killed a big trophy buck off of it."
EO: "Was that a relationship you had with Roger or was that just a coincidence?"
PG: "No, not me, that was all done through the ranch."
EO: "If you had one most memorable day in the field, what would it be and why?"
PG: "Well, it happened this year down in Cotulla (Texas) on the (Kahlig) ranch that my son manages. He needed to cull a couple of more deer, so, me and my wife went down to see him. He was going to let us shoot a couple of cull bucks for management purposes. He's watched them for a year or two, and these aren't the bucks you want to breed on into the future; you have a better gene pool that you want to tap into.
"Eric puts me on the stand, and my wife and he drive off, and he's going to put her on a stand about an eighth of a mile away. About 20 minutes later I hear a loud, 'Boom!' So, I think, maybe she got a shot. That's just Carol; she's never killed anything.
"And 5 minutes later I hear, 'Boom!' Well, I figured that she missed the first one and shot at it again; I was waiting for another shot to see if she missed him. About 45 minutes later they come driving up and on the back of the pickup truck there are two bucks. Not only that, she field dressed them, too. Then we took them back to the camp. She skinned and butchered them out, and we had them all packed up and ready to go."
EO: "That was her first time hunting?"
PG: "No, she's been hunting; first time she has ever killed anything."
EO: "I figure you were skunked?"
PG: "No, I ended up with some, too, but I was pretty impressed."