Q&A with Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera: ‘I want to stay in baseball. Hopefully that will happen’

Detroit News

Miami — At least 50 members of the media, most of them from Spanish-language outlets in Miami, packed the interview room. A riser covered the length of the back wall and every inch was occupied with tripods and cameramen and camerawomen.

This is more than a three-game series between the Tigers and Marlins. This is Miggy-fest: A three-day celebration of Miggy Cabrera, who is making his final visit to his old stomping grounds as a player.

“He’s so popular here, as he should be,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “I’m happy for him, that he’s going to get the attention. He deserves it. This place is a big part of his history.”

This is where Cabrera’s career started, back in 1999. This is where he broke into the big leagues as a 20-year-old in 2003, where he helped the Marlins win the National League pennant and their first World Series championship. It’s where he earned his first four All-Star nods.

Lionel Messi may be the new kid in town, but, judging by the reception, judging by the three days off festivities planned for his final visit to Marlins Stadium (now called LoanDepot Park), Miggy is still king here.

Former Tigers’ and Marlins’ teammates Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante, plus Martin Prado, Alex Gonzalez, Wes Helms, and Jeff Conine were part of the festivities before the game Friday. On Saturday, Cabrera will take part as the Marlins celebrate Venezuelan baseball heritage. And Hinch said that he expects Cabrera to play in all three games.

Before all of that, though, Cabrera, who isn’t much a fan of speaking to a large group of media, walked into the crowded room, took his seat on the dais and charmingly and effusively answered questions for roughly 20 minutes. Most were in Spanish.

What follows is a partial transcription, translated to English by Evan Woodbery of MLive:

Q. You’ve lived the major part of your life here (in Miami). How does it feel that the Tigers are playing here in your goodbye season?

A: Well, first thank you for being here. I feel excited because it was here that I started and was given the opportunity to play in the big leagues. I signed in 1999 and for me to be here now in my last year, it is something extraordinary. I’m really happy and excited.

Q: Winning the World Series, you were so young. How grateful were you for your seasons here?

A: Very much. I had a lot of luck in winning in my first year in the big leagues, I’m very grateful and happy that happened. Of course, as you play, as you play more games, as you face more players, you gain more experience — and your level of play increases a bit more.

Q: World Series, best Venezuelan ever, MVP, Triple Crown. Do you think you lack anything?

A: Yes, winning a championship with Detroit.

Q: Can you believe it’s been 20 years?

A: Yes. I can believe it. I can feel it, too, in my body.

Q: What’s it like to be back?

A: I mean great. It’s a great honor to be back here. Here is where I started. This is my last year to play here, it’s going to be awesome for me and my family. Hopefully I can do good and hopefully we can win.

Q: Your beginnings in this city, not this same stadium. What memories come back as you play your last series against the Marlins?

A: Firstly, when they called me (up), when they told me I was going to play. The second, when I got here it was raining (laughs). Like always. Thirdly, I debuted and “walked off” against Tampa Bay. It was exciting. I remember it because of all the stadiums I’ve been to, that was the first. The guys were joking with me, calling me Flaco (skinny), (laughs).

Q: Has this season been an emotional journey for you for all the recognition and gifts you received? What has been most special?

A: Well, everything, everything. But especially when my Venezuelan compatriots approach me and spend a little time with me, celebrating these 20 years in the big leagues, celebrating the career I’ve had. For me it’s incredible that they take the time to share those moments with me, and we can treasure that memory for the rest of our lives.

Q: You said one of your first baseball heroes was (former Cincinnati Reds shortstop) Dave Concepcion. Why was he so special to you?

A: Because my family. When I was growing up, they always talk about him. My uncle, I remember he got like a nice relationship with him. They always talk about his game. They always talk about how smart he was when he played shortstop. So I was growing up Dave Concepcion, I want to play shortstop in the big leagues. I played a couple innings, but I didn’t play enough (laughs).

Q: What player was important in the evolution of Miguel Cabrera? Who influenced you the most?

A: Everyone, I think everyone. I was saying to another interviewer, I’ve been lucky to play with not just good players, but good people that always give me advice, that always help me. If I named everyone, I’m going to be here like two hours. Because truly there were many that gave me advice, many that helped me in my development and to be a better player.

Q: Has this year been like you expected or different?

A: (Under his breath) I had wanted to hit more (laughs). No, in that sense, no, my offense has not been what I expected. It has been very difficult not playing every day. Now I understand (bench) players. I always wondered, ‘Why aren’t you doing better?’ It’s because it’s actually really difficult to play one day, rest two, play two. It’s very difficult to get in a rhythm that way. But that’s not an excuse.

But at the emotional level, regarding the things we have mentioned, I’ve been very happy, I didn’t expect any of that. Truly I feel flattered and proud of everything they’re doing in this last season.

Q: When all this is over, how do you want to be remembered in the baseball world?

A: As you like. (laughter) As you like, truly. Everyone has their opinion, everyone has their way of thinking. I won’t get angry, good or bad.

Q: When you arrived in baseball, Andres Galarraga said you were going to break all his records. Do you have a similar prediction about who…

A: (interrupting) Ronald Acuna.

Q: When you were traded from Miami to Detroit, how did you see it?

A: When they called me, I had a lot of questions. Why did you trade me and why right now? We had spent two years with young players (in Miami) and the team was really growing and I thought the third year was going to bear fruit. They just responded to me, ‘Tranquilo (Don’t worry), you’re going to a good team, you’re going to have a chance to win the World Series.’ When we hung up, I saw the roster of Detroit and said, ‘Oh wow. Yes, we do have a chance.’

(After being traded), I felt a little bit of nostalgia (also translated sadness, homesickness), but I focused, I went to play in Venezuela (winter league) for my last season there. When I arrived in Detroit it felt like I was at home because there were Venezuelans that I had known for a while. I had played with Ivan (Pudge Rodriguez). I knew Edgar Renteria and I knew several people on that team. They received me with open arms.

Q: In the minor leagues, when you were promoted, did you know you were going to have success, or have doubts?

A: I’m going to respond this way: At that time, or the times before that, I always imagined being consistent in my career. I never imagined 20 years like this. But my mind was always focused in being consistent in what I do, trying to do my job and produce. That’s the important thing at this level of baseball.

Q: Would you trade a World Baseball Classic with Venezuela for a World Series?

A: What a question. I don’t know because the World Series is something that all ballplayers dream about from childhood and the Classic is something new.

I would have liked to win a World Baseball Classic as (I did) a World Series. We couldn’t do it. We fell short. It’s something I’m always going to think about it and be sad about because I couldn’t achieve that as a player.

Q: You have received so much kindness from people this year. Did you expect that?

A: Really, no. As I said earlier, I didn’t expect any of that.

Q: When all these celebrations come to an end on the final game of the Tigers, what does the future hold for Miguel Cabrera?

A: I want to stay in baseball. Hopefully that will happen. I’d like to continue helping young guys growing and developing their game. We’ll see. I try to live day to day to day. Don’t think in the past, don’t try to control what you can’t control right now. Let’s hope everything works out and good things come in the future.

Q. You mentioned in the past being a general manager in Venezuela? Is that on your bucket list?

A: Wow. Yes, I still have that in mind. I don’t know which team. There are several options. Yes, moving forward with that project. I want to stay in baseball. It’s something that I’m passionate about.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

Tigers at Marlins

When: 4:10 p.m., Saturday, LoanDepot Park, Miami

TV/radio: BSD/97.1

Scouting report

TBA, Tigers: There is a chance that lefty Joey Wentz is summoned from Toledo to make a spot start. But that will be determined by how many relievers manager AJ Hinch needs to use Friday. It’s possible that the Tigers could deploy an opener.

RHP Johnny Cueto (0-1, 4.50), Marlins: He’s just returning to the rotation after missing three months with a biceps injury. The Marlins signed him in the offseason for $8.5 million). He went six innings, allowed a run and struck out eight in his last start against the Rockies.

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