Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera arrived early to spring training Monday in Lakeland, Fla. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)
Lakeland, Fla. — It was 1 p.m. Monday, on a 75-degree day in central Florida, when the silver Escalade rolled into a parking spot just outside the Tigers clubhouse east of Marchant Stadium.
A man got out and traded quick greetings with a handful of fans who were hoping for just such a surprise as they lingered near Tigertown’s clubhouse entrance. The Escalade’s driver strolled past a chain-link fence and inside to a dressing room that will be his and his Tigers teammates’ part-time home for the next seven weeks.
“Let’s do it,” Miguel Cabrera said as he sat at his corner locker and began trying on new baseball shoes, his first official baseball act of 2014.
Cabrera’s “do it” exhortation was simply explained, he said. He wants to win a World Series. He realizes the Tigers came oh-so close to winning last season. And he probably agrees with those who suggest had Cabrera been healthy, rather than playing at half-mast because of his torn abdominal muscles, a Tigers team that lost three one-run games to the Red Sox in their American League Championship Series might well have triumphed.
But that was four months ago. Cabrera has since had surgery to repair damage commonly known as a sports hernia. He feels fantastic.
“Yeah, I’m good,” he said as he offered details about Monday’s mystery, which had to do with why the American League batting champion and 2014 Most Valuable Player was reporting to camp a full week before position players are obliged to check in.
“I want to get ready,” Cabrera said, as he pulled shiny shoes from a box and slipped them onto his feet.
“I want to get everything straight.”
Pitchers and catchers will christen spring camp when they report Thursday and begin workouts Friday. Cabrera is simply getting a jump on camp’s formal events. He will hit for a couple of days in a batting cage adjacent to the Tigers clubhouse.
He will drive to his Miami home later this week, then head north on the Florida Turnpike sometime Sunday, ahead of the next day’s official sign-in.
Cabrera does not care for percentages when asked about his post-hernia recovery. He repeated Monday that he’s “fine” and minus complications from November’s surgery.
Neither is he interested in talking about degrees of pain he lived, and played, with during his August-September-October ordeal. The injury began as a late-summer abdominal strain and steadily spread.
It became all but disabling during a September game against the White Sox at Comerica Park when Cabrera hammered a base hit to the right-field corner that looked like a certain double.
But when he rounded first base, his groin and legs appeared to shut down. Cabrera could barely trot into an easy tag at second base.
“You have to compete,” is all he will say when asked how he dealt with the pain, which followed him into the playoffs, and into that final ALCS skirmish the Red Sox won in six games.
He is shaking off past pain and bad memories as he gets ready for the 2014 season and for a job change. Two years after he departed first base for third base, Cabrera is returning to his old home at first. Prince Fielder no longer works in Detroit, while rookie Nick Castellanos is viewed as the long-term answer at third.
Cabrera is relocating, happily.
“I’m good with it,” he insisted Monday.
And as if to confirm that new life at an old position is about to begin, a blue-and-red first baseman’s mitt rested in Cabrera’s locker as he sifted through the shoe boxes and arranged personal items ahead of a long spring camp.