Detroit — The one thing Miguel Cabrera doesn’t understand about this whole “final ride” business is when people expect him to feel wistful and melancholic.
It’s not been about that for him; at least not yet.
“I’m not sad,” Cabrera said hours before the last home opener of his career. “I’m happy because I’ve been given 21 years in the big leagues. I never take that for granted. So I am going to enjoy this year and when they give me a chance to play, I hope I can do my job.”
Cabrera addressed the media Thursday morning sitting in front of his new locker space in the brilliantly refurbished Tigers’ clubhouse. His locker is in the opposite corner from where it had been the last 15 years, away from the clubhouse entrance.
“Away from you guys,” he said, laughing.
But, as he patiently explained, that’s the only thing that’s different about this home opener.
“They’ve been asking these questions for the past few months,” he said. “It’s no different at all. I appreciate the moment because not too many guys in baseball get a chance to say goodbye. I get a chance to say it’s my last year.
“I’m going to enjoy the ‘last ride,’ like people say. I always say, thank God because he gave me the opportunity to enjoy these moments. It’s amazing.”
Cabrera was given an appreciative video tribute in Tampa and was a bottle of wine and black cowboy hat in Houston.
“He wore that cowboy hat all the way home,” manager AJ Hinch said. “Miggy is soaking it all in and being a good teammate. We don’t talk about it (Cabrera’s last year) nearly as much as you guys do because we don’t want to bring any more attention to it than he wants. But he’s in great spirits. He’s as loud as ever. After we stole four bases yesterday (against the Astros) he asked for the green light.
“Nothing’s really changed. I am glad he’s in there and I’m glad he’s in a good place. It’s fun to watch him get celebrated. … But honestly, I just want him to be a normally player today and contribute.”
That’s all Cabrera wants, too. He was in the lineup against Red Sox left-handed starter Chris Sale, hitting sixth. His playing time, as Hinch has said from the start of spring, will be strategic, carefully planned and spaced, mostly against lefties.
“You’ve got to understand your role,” Cabrera said. “I understand my role on this team. I understand what the manager and the front office are going to do this year. They want to win more games and however they want to use me, however I can help, I want to win.”
Cabrera noticed the throng of media on the opposite side of the clubhouse encircling Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson. The number of games the Tigers win this season will increase or decrease more in proportion to their production than Cabrera’s. And he understands that.
“They are the future of the Detroit Tigers,” Cabrera said. “Those guys are really good. They’ve got great talent. What they’re doing right now doesn’t surprise me because I know what they can do on the field. I don’t want to put pressure on Torkelson and Greene but I want to see more because they’ve got the talent.
“The future they have is really bright.”
So many fans came out in both Tampa and Houston to get one last chance to see Cabrera play and to say thank you for the memories. So many players, coaches and staff members on both teams went out of their way to get a moment with him.
“That’s beautiful,” Cabrera said. “To be honest, that is special to me. You see it in their faces that they want to say something nice to me. I appreciate it, I really do.”
But the way he’s looking at it, this is an opportunity for him to say thank you, too.
“I always think every Opening Day is different,” he said. “This is going to be my last one as a baseball player. It’s going to be different. There’s going to be a lot of emotions. Like I said before. I get to say thank you. Not too many people get a chance to play 20 years on Opening Day.”
When Cabrera tips his cap to the crowd upon his introduction today, understand, the gesture is genuine.
“Thank you to the fans for always supporting us every year,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re up or down. It’s been hard the last couple of years but they’ve still been with us. I always want to say thank you to the fans.
“If the fans doing come to support you, it’s going to be boring to play baseball. I hope we can do more for the fans, win more for the fans this year.”