LAKELAND, Fla. — The sound from the back fields at Tigertown this week was unmistakable, even beyond the outfield fences. There was no mistaking where the yelling was coming from.
Miguel Cabrera was back on the field, egging guys on in practice, helping guys through the humdrum of a Spring Training workout.
“I love to play baseball. I love to have fun in the field,” Cabrera said on Friday in a phone interview. “I love going out there. I can show these guys you can have fun, but at the same time you can work hard. The more relaxed we can be in the field, I think the better we can think and react to plays we have in the field. I try to enjoy this and try to have fun. I try to do what I love, play baseball.”
Of all Cabrera’s career feats, his ability to have fun through the grind of Spring Training every year remains a marvel. As he nears his 38th birthday and his 19th Major League season, he still flashes the enthusiasm of someone half his age.
That’s fitting, since some of the biggest names in camp with Cabrera are right around that mark. Riley Greene was 2 years old, Spencer Torkelson was 3, when Cabrera made his Major League debut with a walk-off homer for the Marlins on June 20, 2003.
Even for players who have been around a while longer, it’s hard to remember baseball before Miggy. Those kids who grew up watching him as a force, trying to emulate his swing, are now his teammates.
“I’m still young,” Cabrera said with a laugh. “It’s kind of weird when they tell you that [they grew up watching you], but at the same time, you realize how long I’ve been hitting, for a lot of years. It’s when you start to realize that you’ve been here in this game for a long time.”
They’re now playing alongside him as he nears milestones. For him, his run at history is their history.
Cabrera needs 13 home runs for 500, and 134 hits for 3,000. He hopes he can reach both this season.
“It’s one of my goals this year,” he said.
It will take not only a healthy season, but a productive one. Healthwise, Cabrera said he feels like he did in 2014 or ‘15, when he was in his early 30s and contending for batting titles. His work to be able to play first base part-time has helped him at the plate.
“I feel more like when I was healthy,” he said. “I feel I can move my legs, move my hips, move my body when I’m hitting. I don’t try to do too much. I can do my swing naturally. I think it’s going to help me a lot this year to produce more, to hit more for power and try to raise up my average again.”
And yes, to reach individual milestones. Cabrera spent years playing for team success, and individual marks were a byproduct. When he won the Triple Crown amidst a playoff chase in 2012, then-teammate Prince Fielder had to remind him to enjoy it.
Cabrera appreciates it now.
“Right now, at this point in my career, 3,000 [hits] and 500 home runs, I never [thought] about that,” he said. “You think in the back of your mind, ‘I hope someday I can do that.’ But right now, to be in this position is really awesome. I feel proud of what I’ve done in my whole career, [but] don’t try to stop here, try to keep going and try to keep putting up more numbers, have fun and try to win games. If we’re able to win a lot of games, I think the numbers are going to be there at the end of the season.”
Just in case he loses sight of that, Cabrera has younger faces around him to make sure.
“The way they talk to me, how they speak to me, you can see in their face how excited they’re going to be,” he said. “You know they care about me as much as I care about them. That really means a lot to me because we are family and if we can stick together, and we’re able to go out there and play together, I think we’re going to be a different team.”