Lakeland, Fla. — He’ll be 80 on his next birthday and, to tell you the truth, not many players ask him for hitting advice anymore.
They like him.
They respect him.
In fact, it would not be the same Tigers’ clubhouse — either here or in Detroit — if Al Kaline weren’t around often.
That’s how much of a welcome presence No. 6 still is.
But the fact it’s 2014 means that Al Kaline retired as a player 40 years ago, half his lifetime — and as the years have passed, players have picked his brain a bit less each season.
So when Jose Iglesias sought some hitting pointers this spring, Kaline wasn’t just pleased to oblige, he was thrilled such a young player would ask.
“I think the world of him,” Iglesias said Tuesday in the Tigers clubhouse before their first full workout of the spring. “He was a great player. Everyone knows that. Of course I want his opinion.”
Since the trade last summer that brought him to Detroit from Boston, Iglesias, 24, not only has done his best to immerse himself into fitting in with the Tigers but also has made it clear how much he looks forward to being part of their future.
There was no more willing participant, for instance, in the Tigers’ Winter Caravan than Iglesias — highlighted by the afternoon he enjoyed as a server at National Coney Island in Warren.
“These are our fans,” he said that day. “I should be good to them because they are good to us.”
And now he’s paid Kaline a proper tribute by appealing to his expertise.
“It wasn’t any big secret what I told him,” Kaline said. “With the type of hitter that he is, and with the speed he has, he should keep the ball out of the air as much as possible. He needs to be a line drive, groundball hitter. That’s what I said.”
It probably got more technical than that. Hitting conversations often do. But the discussion was one they both enjoyed — and to both, it meant a lot.
“What I told him,” Iglesias said, “is that if he ever saw anything in what I do that he could help me with, he shouldn’t hesitate to say anything.”
It wasn’t just a nice thing for Iglesias to do, however, it was a smart thing. Known for his defense, the shortstop doesn’t want to be a weak link in the Tigers’ batting order.
To the extent that he hit .259 in 46 games for the Tigers, he wasn’t a weak link. But considering he hit .330 in 63 games for the Red Sox before the trade, he underperformed as a Tiger.
But only offensively.
With the glove, Iglesias is a wizard. But it will help to have Omar Vizquel, one of the slickest shortstops ever, on hand as a coach this season.
“I think he’s going to be a great player,” Vizquel said of Iglesias. “Instincts at shortstop are something you can’t teach, and I think he has them.
“We haven’t worked out for a week yet, but anytime you have a shortstop like that, it’s a pleasure to see.”
And to hear.
“He’s a guy who talks about baseball all the time,” Vizquel said. “He wants to find out more. He wants to pick your brain.”
“It’s going to be real fun to work with him. I already see the quickness in his hands. You can’t teach that, either.”
Quickness just comes naturally for Iglesias.
As naturally as asking a Hall of Famer for help.