August 1, 2014 at 8:34 pm

Terry Foster

Pudge Rodriguez was cornerstone of current Tigers' success

Former Tigers catcher Ivan 'Pudge' Rodriguez talks to fans during at Q&A before Friday's game. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)

Detroit — Former Tigers catcher Pudge Rodriguez tells the story of a young Miguel Cabrera in the batting cages as a rookie with the Marlins.

“Why do you choke up on your bat?” Rodriguez asked Cabrera. “You are a big man. Put your thumbs on the end of the bat.”

Rodriguez said Cabrera took the advice, and voilŕ, he has become one of the best hitters in the game.

Rodriguez jokingly took credit for Cabrera’s success, the Triple Crown and the two MVPs during a Friday luncheon to celebrate the contributions of Hispanic players to the Tigers.

Watershed moment

He might not be able to take full credit for Cabrera but he can take credit for what is happening with this baseball team. Look around Comerica Park.

You see stands filled with fans. You see a team that tops the AL Central.

Rodriguez started the surge when he signed a five-year, $40 million contract in 2004, right after winning a World Series with the Marlins. It didn’t seem like a good move at the time. After all, the Tigers had just lost 119 games, and Rordiguez still was piling up Hall of Fame statistics.

But …

“Someone had to start it,” Rodriguez said. “I talked to Dave Dombrowski and he said if you come here you will play with a bunch of great players and you will be in a World Series quicker than you think.”

Since Rodriguez broke down the door, the Tigers have filled their roster with the likes of Magglio Ordonez, Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and now David Price.

Without Rodriguez there’s no Ordonez walk-off home run that sends the Tigers to the 2006 World Series.

Without Rodriguez there’s no blockbuster trade for Price.

Motor City alum

Even after leaving the Tigers in 2008 and retiting from baseball in 2011, Detroit means something to Rodriguez.

“This is home for me,” said Rodriguez, who works for the Rangers and has a home in Miami. “You see Detroit out there and they have a winning team and the type of team the fans want to see.

“I am honored to be a part of the Tigers for five years. That is why I feel like I am home.”

Rodriguez was in Detroit four-plus seasons, and his legacy remains.

He was the first building-block for a successful franchise.

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