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Miggy unplugged: Cabrera addresses Ilitch's death, more

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Production crew works with Tigers' Miguel Cabrera on a production shoot with an industrial feel for Fox Sports Detroit in one of the hangars at Tigertown.

Lakeland, Fla. — The Tigers held their first full-squad workout Saturday, which is annually the day perennial All-Star and two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera gives his first extended interview of the new season.

And, even after a long workout and a photo shoot, he was in rare form. He was his usual playful self, but at the same time, there were sincere moments of introspection — like when he discussed the death of owner Mike Ilitch and the troubles that have befallen his native Venezuela.

He talked about taking up boxing as his new cardio workout. He talked about hearing his name in trade rumors this offseason. He talked about the possibility that this is the last run for the nucleus of this team. He talked about the pride and responsibility he feels representing Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. And he talked about his quest for 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.

Here is Miguel Cabrera’s state of the union address:

Question. This is your 10th spring training with the Tigers. How is this camp any different for you?

Answer. A lot of things happened in the offseason. Last week, we got bad news about Mr. I. It was heartbreaking. We come into this spring training a little sad, but at the same time we come in (thinking) that we need to keep going and do this for him. He was always thinking about a World Series championship and we never gave him that chance. So we've got extra motivation. We need to do extra stuff to try to be our best this season.

Q. How did you find out about his death?

A. My agent called me. I wrote a text to Mr. Christopher (Ilitch) and sent him a message that said I'm sorry for their loss.

Q. How often had you spoke to Mr. I in recent years?

A. We kept in touch. He was always great to me. Every time he came to the stadium he came down to my locker and we talked. I knew him very well.

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Q. Mr. Ilitch always said he wanted you to forever be a Detroit Tiger. What did that mean to you?

A. It means a lot. He gave me an opportunity to be here in Detroit. He signed me for a lot of years. Every time I saw him, I would say thank you for giving me this opportunity to be in Detroit, have Detroit part of my family, part of my life, my home.

Q. How did you react when you heard your name mentioned in trade rumors this offseason?

A. Now, in this baseball era, you hear a lot about trades. You hear more about that. We hear a lot of rumors. We hear a lot of things that people say the owner or general manager should do. It doesn't bother me at all. If they think they can trade a lot of guys here to be better, you've got to be open. Don't be selfish about it. Like, ‘I want to stay here.'  No. If they say the best thing is to trade people, they've got to do it. They've got to make a choice.

Q. You were happy they didn’t blow the team up, though, right?

A. Yeah, that's great because we've got a chance to play one more year together. We know what we've got here. We know we didn't go to the playoffs the last two years, but I think if we stay together, if we stay healthy, we've got a chance to compete every day.

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Q. You say one more year; do you sense the window is closing?

A. I don't know. J.D. Martinez is going to be a free agent. A lot of people are going to be a free agent. Ian Kinsler's going to be a free agent. I think it's like, 'Let's make one more shot. We have a chance to give it one more shot.' We'll see what happens.

Q. You will be 34 in April. Does your body feel any different?

A. I'm feeling good. I don't worry about my age. God gave me strength and the ability to keep playing. I'm going to keep playing to 40. My contract says to 40, so why you worried about it?

Q. We saw the pictures you sent out of you doing a boxing workout. How did you get into that?

A. My friend Jorge Linares (WBA lightweight champion), he's going to fight in Las Vegas at the end of this month. He told me, 'You should do this for cardio, you should do this for footwork. It's going to help you to keep moving. It's going to be good for your body.' He's from my hometown in Venezuela.

Q. How long have you been doing it?

A. The last three or four months. Watch out! (Raises his fist and laughs).

Q. Can you feel any difference, conditioning-wise?

A. Footwork, you feel stronger in your shoulder. But it's all about here (points to head), be stronger in your mind. Don't get people in your mind.

Q. What are your thoughts about playing in another WBC?

A. I'm very excited. We're ready to go. We've been practicing in Miami. Hopefully we can have good tournament and this tournament will help us to get ready for the season. You've got to be ready to play. We're going to go out there and play nine innings. Play nine innings, it's going to be hard, but I think we did a great workout in the offseason and I think we're going to be ready for that.

Q. Does it have added importance for you and your teammates, given the economic and political problems in Venezuela?

A. We need to do something for our country because our country is in bad shape right now. We have a lot of problems. It's like two sides, you know. Politics is hard.

Q. Can baseball help, do you think?

A. Sport can help any country to get together. Not just baseball. Any sport can bring a lot of happiness to people and bring people together.

Q. How much does that hurt you, knowing all the stuff that’s going on over there?

A. It's hard when you leave your country and it's hard to go back and stay over there. When I was back in Venezuela, I went for one week. I used to live there. Now I live here in the United States. It's hard to leave your country, it's hard to leave your family over there. My whole family is in Venezuela … I don't want to think about it because it's hard. People in Venezuela, there are very hard times right now.

Q. Do you still have family there?

A. Yeah. I worry about them. They're worried too. They say, 'Let's keep fighting.'

Q. On a happier note, you have 2,519 hits. Are you allowing yourself to think about 3,000?

A. It's a long way to go. Let's see how it goes this season and we can think about that.

Q. But are you getting to the point in your career when maybe you can start thinking about those kinds of milestones — 3,000 hits, 500 home runs (he’s got 446).

A. You're thinking when you sign about if I get 3,000 hits, about if I get 400 home runs, about if I get 1,500 RBI. I was thinking about that when I was younger. But right now, my first time in the big leagues, I stopped thinking about numbers. Numbers are good, but if you start thinking about it, you might get pressure every day and you won't be able to play. I prefer to go out there and do my job and see the number afterward.

Q. Manager Brad Ausmus told us today that he marvels at how much fun you have playing the game. He said you play the game with a child-like joy.”

A. I don’t know. When you start getting older, you start thinking more. You start to worry about, 'I do this at home plate and my swing' and things like that. When you're 20-something, you just go out there and play. When you're 30-something, you're thinking more. (Chuckles). I prefer to play when I was 20. I don't think, I just play and have fun.

cmccosky@detroitnews.com

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