Call-up to Tigers ‘super exciting’ for OF Mike Gerber

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Who cares if he’s only here for a day — albeit it a long one. Who cares if he’s here as the 26th man to provide some roster protection during a split, makeup doubleheader. Who cares if he’s back in Triple-A Toledo tomorrow.

Let the record show, Mike Gerber made it to the big leagues.

“It’s still super exciting,” said Gerber, a 25-year-old outfielder who has been climbing, quietly but steadily, through the Tigers’ system since 2014. “You work your entire life for this. This is the goal from Day One. Every kid dreams of playing up here in the big leagues.

“I am just happy to be here, happy to help these guys out any way I can.”

This isn’t likely to be Gerber’s last big league call-up, just his first one. He is a plus defender who is comfortable in all three outfield spots and, although he’s struggled some early in Toledo, has some pop in his bat.

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He was in the hunt for a roster spot this spring before JaCoby Jones caught fire and the Tigers decided to keep Rule 5 draftee Victor Reyes.

“We wanted to bring up another outfielder,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “It’s 18 innings of baseball we’re dealing with today. ... Having three guys on the bench for two games — kind of a lot of innings to cover.”

Major League Baseball allows teams to add an extra player from their 40-man roster for doubleheaders. Players like Blaine Hardy, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ronny Rodriguez and Pete Kozma are in Toledo, but not on the 40-man roster.

Mikie Mahtook, the Tigers’ Opening Day left fielder who was sent down to get his offense back on track, was another option.

“He still needs time,” Gardenhire said of Mahtook. “It’s not the right thing to do (bringing him back for just one day). It would be silly for him. He needs to keep working down there.”

The Tigers typically would bring up a pitcher to have a fresh arm in the bullpen. They did do that, but it was a straight roster move. Chad Bell, who pitched 1 2/3 innings Thursday, was sent to Toledo and right-hander Warwick Saupold was recalled.

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“We talked about a couple of different ways,” Gardenhire said. “But we don’t have too many guys on the roster.”

The other two options that were discussed were infielder Dawel Lugo and catcher Grayson Greiner.

“We have two catchers and I need versatility in the field more than anything else,” Gardenhire said. “This is just kind of the way we’re going to go.”

That works for Gerber. And it’s a fitting cap-tip for a guy who has fought heavy odds since he wasn’t drafted after an appendectomy cost him a large chunk of his junior season at Creighton University.

The Tigers took him in the 15th round after his senior season.

“I don’t think that (appendectomy) helped my cause, for sure,” he said. “But I knew once I got drafted I’d just have to put up numbers and produce and thankfully, that’s what I was able to do.”

In five minor-league seasons, he’s hit .289 with a .355 on-base percentage and a .476 slugging (54 home runs and 253 RBIs).

“Yesterday was an off-day in Toledo, and I was just hanging around the apartment,” Gerber said. “(Mud Hens manager) Doug Mientkiewicz called and said, ‘I hate to do this over the phone, but congratulations — you are going to the show.’ ”

Gerber said his heart fell into his stomach, and he was rendered speechless by the roiling emotions. He called his mother, Karen, first.

“She immediately started screaming,” he said. “And then a lot of tears.”

His mother, his wife, his uncle, maybe as many as 15 friends and family members hastily booked flights to get to Comerica Park on Friday.

Even his younger brother, David, a Class A pitcher in the Mariners system, got the OK to be there.

Gerber expects his father to be there, too — in spirit. Michael Gerber died of kidney cancer when Mike was 17.

“I’m sure he’ll be watching, someway or another,” Gerber said. “It’s a special moment for my entire family. My brother, the first thing he said was, ‘Dad would be super proud.’ ”

Doesn’t really get any more special than that.