Lakeland, Fla. – It couldn’t have been an easy phone call to make.
At the end of the 2012 season, less than two years after he was drafted by the Tigers, Colin Kaline knew his playing days were over. A high school standout at Birmingham Groves, the Tigers took him in the 26th round in 2011 after playing four years at Florida Southern.
But in 80 games in parts of two seasons at Low-A Connecticut and West Michigan, Kaline managed to hit just .197. He’d been offered a coaching job with the Gulf Coast Tigers and was ready to move on.
“I was at the stage of life where I had just got engaged and my wife and I were ready for the next step,” he said. “You’ve got to be honest with yourself and take a look in the mirror. I was an undersized utility player and my chances of making it to the Major Leagues was pretty slim.”
Before he made any decision final, though, he needed to call his grandfather, Hall of Famer Al Kaline. The call validated his decision.
“I’ve always told him, do what you love,” Al Kaline said. “Don’t worry about the money. You’d hate to go through life dreading going to work every day. Whatever you decide, do what you love. Obviously, he loves the game of baseball.
“He’s smart enough where probably he could have done something else and been very successful at it. But I am really happy he chose to do something he loves to do.”
Colin Kaline and his grandfather shared a long hug Monday before the Tigers played their annual tune-up game against Florida Southern. Colin, after one season coaching with the Gulf Coast Tigers, is in his third year as assistant coach at his alma mater.
A month shy of his 27th birthday, Colin Kaline is carving his own path in baseball.
“It’s been far enough removed now to where I feel like I’m doing my own thing,” he said. “My grandfather does such a nice job of making sure of that. He lets me do my own thing. But being close with him, being able to ask him questions – he’s a great person to talk baseball with.
“But he’s made sure I am doing this because I want to and because I am passionate about it – not because I feel I have to.”
As he walked into Marchant Stadium with his team Monday, Colin Kaline stopped to say hello to several of his coaches from A-ball, as well as a couple of his old teammates – James McCann, Tyler Collins and Jeff Ferrell.
It was only a couple of years ago that he was riding buses with those guys, and just a couple years before that he was playing against the Tigers in this game.
“You remember everything,” he said, when asked about playing in this game. “It’s one of the coolest things to experience. All these guys (the Tigers) are so good about talking to the guys and engaging the guys. It’s something you remember your entire life.
“Not many college players can say they played on the same field as Miguel Cabrera or Victor Martinez, guys you grew up idolizing.”
You don’t have to talk to him long, though, to sense he has a real passion for coaching.
“I’ve always had aspirations of being a coach and helping kids out,” he said. “Because growing up, my coaches were very influential on me. And you hear the horror stories from people saying their coaches were awful and crazy and ruined the game for them.
“I always wanted to be a guy that was an ambassador for the young players.”
It’s going on nine years now since Colin left Michigan and lived year-round in Florida. He’s four years into his coaching career and he’s ready to take the next step.
“That’s the goal of all assistant coaches, to eventually take that next step and be a head coach,” he said. “As of right now I am really happy at Florida Southern. It’s my alma mater and it’s pretty cool to coach these guys. But eventually, yeah, it’s my aspiration to be a head coach.”
Even if it means having to come back up north to do it?
“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “It’s not off the table.”
It would certainly make his grandfather happy to have him back closer to home.
“I am really proud of him,” Al said. “He’s a really good kid – though I guess he’s not a kid anymore.”