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Book tip from Santiago put Machado on the right path

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Dixon Machado

Chicago – The last few years, seeing Dixon Machado bouncing around big-league camp with the Detroit Tigers during spring training, he seemed like a kid in a candy store. Always smiling, always a glint in his eye and pep in his step.

It was clear he was not only doing something he loved – playing professional baseball – he was doing something he was meant to do.

That’s why it was so strange to see Machado this April, after making the Tigers’ 25-man roster out of spring training for the first time in his career, often sitting alone in front of his locker, the ready smile often replaced by a pensive expression.

Didn’t seem like the same guy.

“It was hard at first,” he said Friday. “But I am fine now.”

The smile has come back recently. The bounce in his step is back, too. It looks like Machado is having fun again – which is what you’d expect from a 25-year-old who is realizing his life-long dream.

So what changed?

“I read a book,” he said.

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The book, recommended to Machado by former Tigers utility man Ramon Santiago, is titled, “Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence,” by Gary Mack. Alex Rodriguez has been the leading proponent of the book.

“I talked to Ramon when he was in Detroit for a couple of days,” Machado said. “He was talking about being a utility guy and how hard it can be. And he told me, ‘Read the book, it’s going to help you.’

“I bought it and started to read it, and it helped me right away. It’s been super-helpful.”

Who better than Santiago to steer a young player around the landmines and pitfalls of adapting to a utility role? Santiago’s road to the big leagues was much like Machado’s. He was one of the organization’s top middle infield prospects ticketed alongside Omar Infante to be the team’s everyday double-play tandem.

He soon had to face the cruel reality that if he was going to stick in the big leagues, it would have to be in a utility role. He would have to figure out how to be productive even though he wasn't getting regular reps.

It wasn’t any easier for Santiago at first than it was for Machado. And somebody suggested that Santiago read “Mind Gym,” which helped him turn the corner. And how he has paid it forward.

“Ramon did the same thing,” Machado said. “He said, ‘You are going to feel frustrated because you are not playing that often. And when you play you don’t get the results that you want. But you’ve got to keep a positive attitude the whole time. You don’t have to show everybody that you feel bad.’”

Those are some of the tenants the book espouses, along with maintaining confidence and an unwavering self-belief.

“The book talks about how to keep yourself positive, how to keep a good attitude the whole time,” he said. “Believe in yourself. You can do stuff that maybe some people think you can’t. But you have to keep it in your mind that you can do it and just keep working.”

Dixon Machado has appeared in 16 games for the Tigers this season.

The Tigers organizationally have no doubt Machado can play shortstop at the big-league level. He has plus range and a strong arm. He didn’t need to prove that to them. But he was asked to fill in at second and third base, also – though not very often.

He got four starts in April, got just two hits in his first 17 at-bats and had a couple of uncharacteristic misadventures in the field.

The combination of not playing much and not playing up to his standards knocked him down, but only for a minute.

“I started to get used to it,” he said, of his sporadic playing time. “I just told myself I had to keep working, I had to get better at my weaknesses. When bad stuff happens, you have to see the positive side and try to get better. That’s what I am doing.”

Since the calendar turned to May, Machado has hit .333 (5-for-15, with a pair of walks). He got a start at third base Thursday and crushed a ball some 400 feet to center field, only to see it fall into George Springer’s glove.

“I thought that was in the gap,” he said. “At least.”

The next time up he got some justice when a broken-bat blooper fell in for a single.

He was asked if his rough adaptation to a utility role helped make him better, tougher.

“For sure,” he said. “It was the mental part. I’d never been in the situation before so it was like a process. I had to understand that I had to work, work, work the whole time to keep in good shape. It has made me better. I learned some stuff mentally, and that helps, too.

“And hopefully when I get to play more I will start doing better. I know my situation right now. I have to get used to it and try to help the team whenever they put me out there – and hopefully it’s more often.”

That’s another lesson he’s learned about being a successful utility player. As Andrew Romine has showed, never stop believing you are an everyday player. Show up every day expecting and preparing to be in the lineup.

Twitter @cmccosky