Why Friday night was the best gift of all from the Detroit Tigers to Miguel Cabrera

Detroit Free Press

Miggy hugs.

They were all over Comerica Park on Friday night.

As the Detroit Tigers honored Miguel Cabrera with a seriously cool pregame ceremony celebrating his 500th home run, Miggy bounced across the field like a little kid and grabbed former Tigers great Willie Horton in a giant bear hug.

A leave-your-feet, knock-you-over kind of hug.

Cabrera adjusted and hugged some more, hanging onto the moment. Horton slapped his stomach and Cabrera leaned his head into Horton. It was so genuine, like a kid hugging his favorite uncle.

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They stood in front of a table displaying the bat Cabrera used to become the 28th player in MLB history to join the 500 homer club.

The fans in Comerica Park stood and screamed, waving 500 homer posters — and if it’s possible for an entire crowd to hug a player from the stands, it happened at that moment.

Then, Cabrera moved to the next station. A gift from the Tigers. A crystal to commemorate the moment.

Cabrera leaned into manager AJ Hinch with a bro-hug that turned into a two-armed bear hug. If you ever wondered what Cabera thinks of Hinch, how this first-year Tigers manager is already beloved and respected by the players, it was out in the open for all to see. You can’t fake that kind of moment.

On to the next station, another gift — yes, it was like watching a future Hall of Famer open Christmas presents.

What do you give a guy who can buy anything?

You give him a wonderful moment.

And that’s what this was.

The Tigers presented Cabrera with a painting. Cabrera looked at the framed piece of art, slapped general manager Al Avila on the back and it turned into another hug, as Avila pressed his head into Cabrera’s chest.

The entire ceremony had Avila reminiscing about former owner Mike Ilitch.

“Tonight, Mr. I, from above, must be looking down very proud, very happy,” Avila said.

This ceremony was like watching a retrospective out of the 1950s: “Miggy, This Is Your Life.”

And it all started with two scouts who found Cabrera as a teenager in Venezuela and they were brought back for the ceremony.

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“I said go out and find us the best young amateur international player on the market,” Avila said. “Within weeks, they got back to me. And they said ‘we found our guy,’ and I had to go see him right away. Because there’s so many other people out there… I signed Miguel one year later to the largest international signing bonus at that time in the history of the game.”

After the ceremony, Miggy rushed to his family.

More hugs and kisses for his son, two daughters, mother and wife.

“I think my kids, they don’t really know like what’s happening right now, but I think with time, they will find out,” Cabrera told reporters before the game.

Cabrera went up to former manager Jim Leyland and it was a quick hug — they had already embraced before the ceremony.

“It gives me great pleasure to be here tonight to honor the great Miguel Cabrera,” Leyland said. “Throughout his entire career, Miggy has played hard; he’s played hurt. He’s played humble. But most of all, he’s played happy. Through all his injuries, he has continued to play the game with the excitement of a Little Leaguer, with Hall of Fame results. Miggy, congratulations on being one of the greatest players to ever play the game.”

Cabrera, of course, won the Triple Crown in 2012 with Leyland as his manager.

“In my 58 years of professional baseball, it was the greatest individual performance I have ever seen,” Leyland said.

FROM THE STANDS: Tigers fans didn’t need a home run to show their love for  Cabrera

Another milestone to go

There have been so many bright spots this season for the Tigers.

The arrival of Hinch.

The improvement of several young players.

The new vibes and expectation.

But Cabrera’s home run chase became unforgettable. Every at bat was electric.

“Awesome,” Cabrera told reporters. “Hopefully we can have more moments like this, hopefully we can win more games and feel great for next year and be a team competing in the playoffs.”

He acknowledged that hitting 500 home runs wasn’t easy. “It’s something you don’t see every day,” Cabrera said before the game. “It was a lot of pressure. Even in the playoffs, you don’t see that, every at bat.”

Now, the next milestone is on the horizon. He entered Friday 21 hits from 3,000 (and picked up a single in the sixth inning).

Only six players have 500 home runs and 3,000 hits.

That will be truly magical.

“I think 3,000 is different because it’s easier than hitting home runs,” he said. “Hopefully, I can do it soon.”

There was one other really cool part of this celebration.

Cabrera gave his helmet to the Baseball Hall of Fame, which seemed fitting, if not prophetic.

He’ll follow that helmet soon enough.

BY THE NUMBERS: Cabrera has 500 home runs. But here’s the situation he has never homered in

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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