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Jul 31, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Mikie Mahtook (27) at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When the Detroit Tigers made the decision to trade Cameron Maybin this offseason, it was obvious there would be a battle in Spring Training to determine who their center fielder would be in 2017. That battle became even more competitive when the Tigers signed Mikie Mahtook to compete for the starting job.

When Mahtook was only 4-years-old, his father, who was only 32, suffered a heart attack while playing tennis and died. Mahtook recently discussed how though his father is no longer around, Mahtook still feels like he has a relationship with him.

From MLive:

He wears the number 54 scrawled on his cleats. It is emblazoned on the barrel of his custom bats. It is a tribute to his father, who wore that jersey number at LSU.

“I obviously think about him all the time,” Mahtook said. “He still lives in me through stories from my mom, my uncles, and his friends. I don’t ever feel like he’s been completely gone. I feel like I have a relationship even though he hasn’t been here.”

Mikie Mahtook will compete to start in CF

With Spring Training underway, the competition for the center field position is underway. Mahtook, who is 27-years-old, will have to beat out a list of competitors that includes Tyler Collins, JaCoby Jones, and even Anthony Gose.

Last season, Mahtook only hit .195 in 65 games for Tampa Bay but in 2015, he posted a .295 average in 41 games. Regardless, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has made it very clear the center field position is up for grabs and that Spring Training will help determine the winner. (Or winners if the Tigers decide to go with a platoon situation)

“Those guys that are involved for potential center fielders, they know it’s open,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “It’s a performance-based game. I don’t love judging people on spring training. But in this case we’re going to have to use it a little bit.”

To read the full article on MLive, including Mahtook’s comments about his opportunity to compete for a starting position with the Detroit Tigers in Spring Training, please make sure to click the link below.

Source: Tigers’ Mikie Mahtook, after early-life loss, still senses father’s presence | MLive.com