Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera, Javier Baez share magical moment with youngsters

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Sometimes, the best baseball stories happen off the field.

They seem to unfold organically, especially when kids can meet their heroes, and that’s what happened on Tuesday in TigerTown.

Detroit Tigers veteran Miguel Cabrera was involved in a magical moment — at least, in the eyes of several kids from Puerto Rico.

And then Javier Baez made it even better.

STARS ON MISSION: Miguel Cabrera, Javier Baez set goals for Tigers: ‘We’re trying to win’

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So let’s set the scene:

A baseball team from Next Level America Academy — a sports academy in Puerto Rico — stood behind the right-field fence Tuesday watching the Tigers practice.

As the Tigers ended their practice, the players walked across the field toward the facility.

Right toward the boys.

The Next Level America Academy team was waiting on a sidewalk, standing behind a fence. Then, Cabrera stopped by.

“It was very cool,” Orlando Gonzalez, 18, said. “He’s going to be a Hall of Famer someday and we got a picture.”

[ Eric Haase — for the first time in his life — enters spring with MLB job ]

The team is made up of 23 players ranging from fifth grade to 12th grade.

They’re in Florida playing in a month-long tournament against college teams because the players are hoping to get recruited and get scholarships.

Then, it got even better for the boys when Baez, the Tigers new shortstop who was born in Puerto Rico, spent some time with them.

“It’s amazing to see him here,” Gonzalez said. “One of our own. It’s an honor. It’s great.”

Did he give you any advice?

“Yeah,” Gonzalez said. “He told us to keep working out, keep practicing to get to the next level.”

Within an hour, the photos were posted on the team’s Facebook page.

“It’s pretty great,” Harvey Perez, the team’s coach, said. “We see how the pros behave here and how they manage and play the game. To be honest with you, it was a privilege to be here. All the kids in Puerto Rico, right now, are studying. But these boys can study online and be here too.”

Tigers still ‘really high on’ Alex Faedo

For the first time in a long time, Alex Faedo threw a baseball at the Tigers’ spring training complex. The right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery in January 2021 and, 14 months later, just completed his third live batting practice.

His first two live BPs occurred in Tampa during MLB’s lockout. The No. 18 overall pick in the 2017 draft replicated two innings Tuesday and tossed 30 pitches.

“I feel the most comfortable with all three pitches (fastball, slider, changeup) as I ever have,” Faedo said. “You do a lot of throwing, a lot of bullpens. I’ve thrown like 20-something ‘pens, I feel like. I’m sure that’ll be a conversation with Fett (pitching coach Chris Fetter), like what he wants me to do. I trust him a ton. He’s really knowledgeable.”

FROM OFFSEASON: How Alex Faedo rehabs from Tommy John surgery without team input in lockout

Faedo hasn’t pitched in a professional game in 926 days. First came the COVID-19 pandemic, then the Tommy John surgery. He had a 3.90 ERA with 25 walks and 134 strikeouts over 115⅓ innings in 22 starts for the SeaWolves in 2019, his last pro season for the Tigers.

At one point, the talk of TigerTown featured four young pitchers: Faedo, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning. Mize, Skubal and Manning have made their MLB debuts, while Faedo aims to do so in 2022.

“He’s got a long road to develop and continue to see if he can help us this year,” Hinch said. “But I was impressed today.”

“I was really happy to see all those guys and the success that they’ve had,” Faedo, 26, said of his former Double-A teammates. “Hopefully, my day is coming. Just got to keep having good days and stack them on each other, kind of like a domino effect. A lot of good days together, hopefully I can have a chance.”

Left-hander Joey Wentz, who underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2020, helped Faedo through the rehabilitation process. He stood behind home plate Tuesday for Faedo’s first inning, then shifted down the first-base line for the second frame.

“The stuff is coming out the way he wants it,” Wentz said. “He commanded it really well for the first time out in spring. I think he feels, mentally, in a great place, which is big. It’ll be really fun to watch his season progress.”

The Tigers can’t wait to see.

“He was in the same rotation (in Double-A Erie in 2019) with some of the young guys that are in our rotation now,” Hinch said. “Pretty good heavy slider usage. I know he’s got a good fastball. He needed to get Tommy John in order to be fully healthy.

“I know we’re really high on him. He’s a first-round pick for a reason. That goes without saying. But I’m anxious to get him on the field. I just hope he doesn’t try to do too much too soon given the environment.”

VETERAN INFIELDER: Tigers second baseman Jonathan Schoop: Javier Baez was ‘best choice for us’ at shortstop

MONDAY’S OBSERVATIONS: Casey Mize reveals why he needs splitter to return in 2022

Alan Trammell and the power show

Nothing like bringing a Hall of Famer out of the bullpen for some batting practice.

Alan Trammell threw batting practice on a back field on Tuesday morning, and Eric Haase hit several hard shots to the right side.

“Oooh!” Trammell said in approval.

Then, Dillon Dingler, a catching prospect, put on a show.

During one time at bat, Dingler hit four shots that were either home runs or one-hopped the fence. But Dingler saved his best for last.

He hit a towering bomb over the center-field fence, which is 420 feet away.

The ball clanked off the blue wall about 20 feet in the air behind the wall.

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