Miguel Cabrera reaches 3,000 hits with same childlike joy he’s had his whole career

Detroit Free Press

As Miguel Cabrera walked to home plate before the biggest hit of his career, the wide-eyed child inside the living legend was nervous.

“I couldn’t feel my legs,” Cabrera said.

Isn’t that the best part of this? How the vulnerable, emotional, bright-eyed child came out at a moment like this? Because that child is what makes him so lovable.

“Miggy was super nervous,” Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “It’s awesome. I think the kid in him is realizing what it means to his family back home or his kids in the stands.”

Cabrera took two quick warmup swings — one last chance to loosen up his 39-year-old body. And to get his feeling back.

THE INSIDE PITCH: What makes Miguel Cabrera one of the greatest hitters ever? Just ask the pitchers he faced

The home-plate umpire got some new baseballs, specially marked for this moment. Cabrera dug his cleats into the batter’s box, smoothing some dirt, making everything perfect. This is a man of rigid routine, whether it’s during spring training workouts or midseason games. His preparation is what makes him so special and unique.

Even though it seemed as if every person in Comerica Park rose to their feet — a massive, sun-washed crowd of 37,566, which was the Tigers’ largest non-Opening Day crowd since July 15, 2017 — the place went eerily quiet.

Like everybody was holding their breath in anticipation.

And in the 2,600th game of his 20-year career, on the third pitch of his 9,666th at-bat, Cabrera shot a single into right field for the 3,000th hit of his career. He touched first base, kissed his finger and pointed at the sky.

“They left the hole open so when I put the ball right there — thank God,” Cabrera said.

It was magnificent and historic; and when you stack his milestones together, his place in baseball history becomes clear. He is one of the greats of the greats. Cabrera becomes only the 33rd player in MLB history with 3,000 hits. He is only the seventh player in MLB history with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. And he is just one of three players with 3,000 hits, 500 homers and a .300 career batting average.

[ Watch: Miguel Cabrera reaches baseball immortality with his 3,000th career hit ]

The others? Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.

Hank, Willie and Miggy. What company this man keeps.

“I’ve never been a part of any sort of big milestone,” Hinch said. “We just don’t know if we’re going to see another (3,000-hitter) in our baseball lifetime or our whole lifetime.”

This is a testament to Cabrera’s greatness. He is a rare talent who could hit for both power and average. But it’s also a testament to his determination and skill, longevity and perseverance.

He played through health and injuries, good times and bad times.

Always with a certain joy.

“The joyful kid in him is real — it’s authentic,” Hinch said. “He’s got passion. He’s got a kid spirit, too, and he’s got an edge to him and everything in between.”

SHAWN WINDSOR: As Miguel Cabrera makes history, let’s reconsider his spot among Detroit’s all-time greats

After the monumental hit, Colorado shortstop Jose Iglesias, the former Tiger who was extremely close to Cabrera while in Detroit for five seasons, came running over to Cabrera. Iglesias handed him the ball and they hugged.

Then, the Tigers came spilling out of the dugout in pure spontaneity. High-fives and bear hugs. Fireworks shot in the air and a thick gray cloud of smoke floated over the stadium.

It felt like the Fourth of July and Opening Day and a playoff game, all wrapped into one.

“It was unscripted,” HInch said. “We didn’t really know what to do how to do it, but we know we wanted to be on the field with him.”

That seemed fitting. Cabrera has always been about his teammates, wanting to be part of something bigger than himself. The Tigers relief pitchers came jogging in from the bullpen and Cabrera’s family was ushered onto the field. Cabrera took off his helmet and jogged toward home plate and hugged his family: Gregoria Torres, his mother; Rosangel Cabrera, his wife, and his daughter Brisel and son Christopher.

“I don’t have words to describe the great feeling,” Cabrera said.

Then he stopped and faced the crowd, lifting up the ball to show everybody.

He returned to first base, raised his helmet to acknowledge the crowd once again and pointed at his chest. It was electric and wonderful. The bond between Tigers fans and Cabrera has only strengthened over the last two seasons, as he has chased history.

[ Inside Miguel Cabrera’s milestone-filled climb with the Tigers to 3,000 hits ]

It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in person.

Rarely does someone get to witness history.

Rarely does someone get to watch one of the greats in real time.

But that’s what happened on Saturday afternoon, under a brilliant blue sky and a warm temperatures.

It was electric and magical.

To make this even more sweet for Cabrera, the Tigers beat the Colorado Rockies, 13-0, in Game 1 of the doubleheader.

“We are thrilled, happy we won the game and we’ve got to prepare for the next game,” he said.

The hit heard ’round the world

The celebration extended far beyond Detroit.

Cabrera’s chase has been huge national news in Venezuela, where he was born and remains a national hero.

“You won’t see a single person on the streets in Venezuela today,” said Daniel Alvarez-Montes, who has been in Detroit since Wednesday, documenting the 3,000-hit chase for a website that focuses primarily on Venezuelan baseball players. “Everybody will be at home, watching however they can. Especially with how it is right now in the country, it’s tough for everybody. For people to have this type of news, for at least one moment, whenever he comes up to the plate, to have everybody rooting for one guy, he kind of unites us.”

[ Matthew Stafford gets ovation in Detroit, watches Miguel Cabrera’s 3,000th hit: ‘Amazing’ ]

“How big of an athlete is Miggy in Venezuela?” I asked.

“He’s the greatest athlete ever,” Alvarez-Montes said. “I know we’ve had huge baseball players, or soccer players, or Olympic athletes. But I don’t think there is bigger athlete in Venezuela right now.”

One day, Cabrera’s statue will be unveiled in the concourse of Comerica Park along with all the other Tigers greats.

One day, he will enter the Baseball Hall of Fame.

He’s “one of the greatest Tigers of all time,” Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch said in a released statement during the game.

And Tigers general manager Al Avila, who scouted Cabrera when he was 16 years old in Venezuela, watching him on a field behind his house, said: “Seeing Miguel grow from a teenager taking batting practice on neighborhood fields in Venezuela to becoming one of the best players in baseball history has been one of the great joys of my life. His humility, passion for having fun and genuine love of the city of Detroit are completely unmatched and joining the 3,000-hit club only strengthens his standing as one of the game’s all-time greats.”

MORE FROM CABRERA: Tigers fans felt robbed when Yankees walked Miguel Cabrera on purpose. I don’t blame them

Music to everyone’s ears

Before his third at-bat, the Tigers showed a video montage of Cabrera highlights, an absolutely beautiful, touching, emotional video set to the music of BLKBOK (Charles Wilson III), a Detroit piano prodigy who composed an original score for this moment.

Cabrera stood outside the on-deck circle, warming up, watching the video.

It was surreal and wonderful.

“This was special for me because I got to do it here,” he said.

Then, in the sixth inning, he came up one last time. Everybody was standing, clapping. This moment turned into a daylong celebration.

And then he lined a ball up the middle, driving in two runs.

Eric Haase, who grew up watching him, replaced him as the runner at first base. As Miggy jogged to the dugout, the fans had another moment to cheer for him.

He ended the afternoon as Mr. 3,001.

Just six hits shy of Al Kaline.

Greatness creeping toward greatness.

Miggy took a seat on the bench and started smiling. He glanced to his left and saw himself on the scoreboard and the fans were screaming and he started smiling even harder.

That Miggy smile that said everything.

The nerves replaced with pure childlike wonderment and joy.

MORE FROM SEIDEL: The window is open for the Tigers. Why they must step through it right now

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

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