LAKELAND, Fla. − On one side of the rainbow — that one that stretches across baseball, uniting generations of players and fans — you will find the aging superstar.
Miguel Cabrera strolled out of the Detroit Tigers clubhouse on Monday morning, came down the sidewalk and approached the practice field.
“Hey Cabrera!” shouted Katherine Ward, of Detroit, who stood behind a chain-link fence. “We are down here from Detroit to see your last spring training.”
“Beautiful!” Cabrera said, twirling his bat.
It was his first official practice of his final spring training. The start to his final season — one last 162-game trip before the Hall of Fame.
He carried a single wood bat. No glove. He’s not expected to play in the field much, if at all, to save his knees. And his back. And his ankles.
He turns 40 in April.
“What do you remember about your first one?” he was asked, about his first spring training.
“I don’t remember,” he said, smiling. “Long time ago.”
He has played in 2,699 games over 20 seasons, you can forgive him if it’s a blur.
But he thought about it some more.
“Different car,” he said, smiling. “I have a better car.”
He broke into laughter — that old, familiar, joyful laugh. He’s in a great mood, a great place. All the milestones — 3,000 hits and 500 homers — have been achieved.
“My No. 1 focus — all I worry about — I’m trying to win games,” he said. “Hopefully, if I can hit, I want to be in the lineup.”
On the other end of the rainbow — the place where it begins — you will find a young, promising prospect.
Colt Keith, a 21-year-old third baseman, is the youngest player in the Tigers’ major league camp. He’s still got that youthful, excitable energy.
“It’s just feels crazy to come into a locker room and have all my stuff be put away for me and the breakfast was insane,” he said.
The breakfast was insane. That’s how a 21-year-old thinks, right?
Keith was born in Zanesville, Ohio, on Aug. 14, 2001 — just a few months after Cabrera began playing in his first minor league season in the Marlins organization.
“It’s surreal,” Keith said.
All of this is surreal for him. Being in a major league clubhouse. Seeing the big leaguers just a few feet away. All of it.
Hard to predict what will happen
It’s hard to put your finger on what this team could be.
They lost 96 games last year and didn’t make much of a splash in free agency.
“I would say 20 steps forward,” pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez said.
OK, that might be a tad optimistic, if not downright crazy.
But some progress seems likely.
A year ago, it seemed as if everything that could go wrong for this organization, well, turned into a dumpster fire. Over and over. There were injuries and, well, more injuries, and it seemed as if everybody had a horrible season.
“Our goal for this year is to play competitive baseball as deep into the season as we possibly can,” Scott Harris, the new guy running the team, said. “Coming off 96 losses, there are no shortcuts back to contention. It starts with putting together a team in an environment that can play competitive baseball every day. We are going to play competitive baseball as deep into the season as we can. That’s going to be our goal. We’re going to start there, and then we can build on that.”
TIGERS OPENING DAY ROSTER PREDICTION:Position battles in spring training
An organization in transition
As the Tigers went through their first official workout, most of the same faces are back from last year.
Javier Baez and Jonathan Schoop are back in the middle of the infield. But Schoop is noticeably thinner after losing some serious weight.
Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson, the faces of the future, are entering their second seasons.
The only real questions are at third base and how they split up the time at catcher.
The buzzword for this organization is youth. Finding it and developing it.
“We’re gonna put together a team that’s going to be pretty versatile,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “It’s going to be pretty dynamic in certain areas, and we’re going to have to overcome some things, too. So, I think it’s a … group of players that we need to mold over the next six weeks.”
The other noteworthy thing about this camp is just how normal it all seems again.
COVID-19 loomed over 2021, and the lockout seriously messed up 2022.
So, things are back to normal.
Alan Trammell was throwing batting practice — a sight that just warms your heart.
And there was no forced social distancing.
No holding meetings outside.
Nobody wearing a mask in the clubhouse.
“Normal beginning is nice,” Hinch said. “So, it’s nice to have the family component back of being in the clubhouse being in our environment. Being in their space, where they are every day and and feeling normal again.”
A season of Miggy
As Cabrera went through his first official practice of the spring, he had the usual easygoing vibe. He stopped and chatted with the son of an assistant coach, taking his time, having a real conversation.
Just a big kid at heart.
As he neared some fans, they started screaming for an autograph.
Baez wrapped his arms around Cabrera, “Nope!” Baez said, pulling him away.
Like he was Cabrera’s bodyguard.
Cabrera does not want to be the story this year. He hates when it’s about him. But this season will be about him. As long as he stays healthy and is in the lineup.
“Well, I brought him up in the first meeting,” Hinch said, cracking a smile. “So that tells you that I didn’t listen to his desire to not be talked about but you know, again, we’re gonna cherish our time with Miggy. … Because it’s a big deal. I mean, we can go our whole career without being around a player the caliber of Miguel Cabrera, and what he’s given the sport, and the doors he’s opened for Venezuelan players, the influence he has around the league, the respect he has from players and coaches.”
This team is in such a strange place.
A transition phase.
From Miggy to the youngsters.
“When you think of Keith walking into his first major league clubhouse as a 21-year-old, he’s gonna kind of side-eye Miguel Cabrera and wonder if he’s looking at him,” Hinch said. “Can you approach him? Can he talk to him? The faster we break those walls down, the better for the young kids.”
And so it begins.
Another Tigers spring training.
The start of season of goodbyes for some.
A season of beginnings for others.
Breaking down barriers. Letting the transition happen.
“The vibe around this team is noticeably positive,” Hinch said, “and that’s a good start to camp.”
Sunshine. Warm breezes. Young prospects getting their first taste. And a smiling Miggy.
What a wonderful way to start.
Contact Jeff Seidel: email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.
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