Brandon Inge played for a lot of good baseball teams, and he played for a lot of bad baseball teams.
The smile always was there, though, through thick and thin.
Few major-leaguers had more fun playing the game of baseball than Inge. It always showed — and that’s one trait the longtime Tiger wants to pass on to the stars of tomorrow.
“First and foremost is you compete, which is why we play the game,” Inge said. “But if I don’t see a smile on every kid’s face that comes on and off the field, then it is a problem. This is one of the best games ever, and you should be enjoying yourself.”
That’s one of the reasons Inge is moving back to Metro Detroit.
Inge, who played 13 seasons in the major leagues including 12 with the Tigers, has signed on to be the player-development director for baseball at The Legacy Center Sports Complex in Brighton. He will be introduced April 2, and will host a fielding camp that day, as well as hitting and additional clinics later in the week. He will make the full-time move back to Michigan in August, along with his wife, Shani, and their sons Tyler, 13, and Chase, 10.
After Inge retired following the 2013 season, he moved back to his hometown of Lynchburg, Va., where he lived on a 400-acre farm.
It’s there, after a couple of years of kicking back in retirement, where he got the coaching bug, having helped out with his high-school varsity and junior varsity teams, the middle-school squad, and his sons’ youth travel teams. One of those travel teams is known as the “Silver Gloves,” a fun dig at the fact he never won a Gold Glove.
But it’s not just fundamentals that he wants to get across. It’s passion and goodness, too.
“Developing kids has become my passion,” Inge, now 40, said in a recent conversation with The News. “When they move on to the next level, I want them to be looked at as great baseball players, but also good human beings, someone you would consider a great teammate.
“There are so many good kids out there with good talent, but a lot of them are playing the game for the wrong reasons. It kind of hurt my heart to see that. Baseball has been my life since I could walk, and it remains my life these days. And most of these kids (when I started) were just out for themselves. I felt like they were just playing to get to the next level, which, unfortunately, is the way society is.”
Inge doesn’t need a job. He made more than $40 million playing major-league baseball. He also has no interest for this gig to be a springboard into getting a job in professional baseball.
He wants to work with youth in a more-organized capacity.
And he wants to get back to Michigan, where his kids grew up — and where his wife did lots of good work with CS Mott Children’s Hospital. Shani is eager to team up with the ChadTough Foundation.
“She’s excited to get back into all that,” Inge said.
The Legacy Sports Complex, founded and run by Rodney Goble, features 33 teams from 8U to 18U, with talent levels ranging from community to recreational to select.
Inge, first a catcher, then a third baseman, then a utility player in the major leagues, will be in charge of adding curriculum, clinics and camps, and running them.
He was offered the job in January, when he was in Detroit for TigerFest. That’s when he met with Gobles, and was intrigued by the opportunity.
Teaching fundamentals will be Inge’s primary priority, of course. There will be kids he comes across who will have the ability to play at the next level — and, who knows, maybe in the majors someday. Inge was one of those lucky ones, a 5-foot-10 pipsqueak — albeit, a wildly athletic 5-foot-10 pipsqueak — who played in a World Series. But realistically, most of Inge’s pupils, maybe 999 out of a thousand, won’t be so lucky. That’s why a big part of his curriculum will be teamwork, and love for the game.
Legacy features a 12,000-square-foot baseball and softball training facility, with seven batting cages and a high-tech ProBatter hitting system. Its dome is 104,000 square feet.
“I love the game, I love being around the kids,” said Inge, who had 152 homers and 648 RBIs in his career, with an All-Star appearance in 2009, and who always was a fan favorite in Detroit — from the awful teams of the early 2000s and the contending teams of the mid-2000s. “That’s kind of what sent me down this path.
“I’d see kids seem miserable when they get in the car. I assume their parents are probably screaming at them for making an error. That’s not baseball.
“I enjoyed baseball. It’s the best time, ever.”