Justin Verlander puts surgery, last season behind him as he readies to reign again – Mitch Albom, Detroit Free Press
How long has he been a Tiger? The year he made his big-league debut, 2005, with two July starts, Troy Percival was the closer and Bobby Higginson began the season as a utility man. Joey Harrington was the Lions’ quarterback, Steve Yzerman was still the Captain, Lloyd Carr was coaching Michigan and — ready for this? — Darko was still on the Pistons.
“The market in Detroit is totally different,” he says. “I feel like the last few years I’ve reached a national level, but it took me doing something that only nine other pitchers had ever done (win the Cy Young and MVP). If I were in New York or L.A., it would have probably been different.”
“I’ve been part of the worst times in Detroit, and I’m just like everybody else that lives and works in Detroit. … I’m really optimistic about what’s going on in the city, and I like to think that this baseball team and me being a part of this have a small part to do with it.”
Verlander showed he’s ready to recapture his mojo. After an average 2013 regular season, he was lights out in postseason and unhittable after recovering from surgery in Spring Training. We may be concerned about the bullpen, left field, shortstop, hitters 7-9, but if Verlander is 2009-2012 Verlander, the Tigers will be just fine.
When Cabrera comes back to visit he travels with bodyguards and a police escort. The threat of kidnapping is very real. Cabrera’s family cited the example of Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, who was abducted in 2011 at gunpoint outside his family’s home in nearby Valencia. He was rescued two days later after a nationwide manhunt.
Unlike many Latin American countries, where soccer is king, baseball is the national obsession in Venezuela, cutting across classes and political ideologies. Cabrera was born into a family particularly wrapped up in the sport. His uncle Jose played professionally with the local Tigres de Aragua team, and his mother Gregoria was a member of the national softball team for 12 years.
“He’s erased from his life the things that could cause him to fail,” his uncle Jose said, referring to a pair of publicized drinking incidents in the U.S. that ended with Cabrera in jail.
“It gives us great pride to have someone like him in the family and the neighborhood. Miguel is the pride and cherished child of the neighborhood, the state and all of Venezuela.”
I had that thought after Miggy signed his monster deal knowing the problems in Venezuela, especially for the kidnappings involving ballplayers. While people can debate whether the Tigers were foolish for the contract extension, you can’t debate how Cabrera has grown as a person in his time in Detroit. Because of this coming of age, it’s no wonder he wants to finish his future Hall-of-Fame career as a Tiger.
The Tigers have made the playoffs four of the last eight years – including the past three – and reached the World Series twice in that span. However, before their recent stretch of success, the Tigers were awful. They suffered 12 straight losing seasons. Where now they have Cabrera, back then they had Robert Fick.
The Tigers have come along way. I have often chronicled the dark days of 1989 to 2005 when baseball went largely dormant in Detroit. As a fan during that time, I made it to nearly every Opening Day. Perhaps the low point was in 2002-ish when the Cleveland Indians put 7 runs up in the first or second inning. Then flurries began to fall. As a fan of a bad team, Opening Day is the beginning and end of hope. The high point during that time? Winning the home opener in 2004 against the defending AL Central champion Twins to run the team’s record to 4-0. After 119 losses just six months before, it was a great moment.
Tigers prayer service draws devoted fans on eve of Opening Day – Ann Zaniewski, Detroit Free Press
Is a World Series win in the Detroit Tigers’ future? Only God knows. And faithful fans wanted to leave nothing to chance Sunday , gathering on the morning before Opening Day at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Detroit to pray for the health and success of their beloved baseball team.
I’m not a religious man, but I am very hopeful that some of the spiritual people in attendance lit some candles, specifically for that Tigers’ bullpen.