Detroit — One of the staples of spring training is pitchers fielding practice, where they work on taking ground balls hit back to the mound, and run to cover base and receive the ball when a ball is hit to the first baseman.
It’s something of a menial task, but it’s beneficial for the young pitchers to learn to play their position. It’s not necessarily something that the future Hall of Fame first basemen need to do.
In the searing heat on the July 4 holiday, there was Miguel Cabrera, taking grounders during the drill.
He flashed his trademark smile, helping guide pitchers through the requisite work.
Cabrera is healthy again and with a trimmed-down frame, he’s looking to pick up where he left off during a sizzling spring training in Florida, when full-squad workouts begin Monday at Comerica Park.
“I thought in spring training, it was rolling along pretty good and Miguel was as happy as I've seen him since I've been here because he felt great and hopefully that'll continue — because we need him,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said Sunday. “He's a big offensive power but (also) in the clubhouse he's really important.”
Throughout the weekend sessions of Summer Camp, where it was mostly pitchers and catchers, Cabrera was a fixture in the batting cage and on the field, with that love of the game coursing through his veins again.
It’s important during a transition time, with many of the top prospects in the 60-player pool feeding off the confidence and optimism Cabrera exudes.
“He’s the positive guy and he’s healthy right now and he feels wonderful, as he was in spring training,” Gardenhire said. “Any time your body allows you to kind of do the things you want to when you’ve been at his level — as high as he’s been and still is, as far as a player goes.
“With the injuries that he had, he’s feeling great now and he’s out there taking ground balls at first base and telling me, 'I could do this — you know that.' I just love watching him being around.”
At age 37, Cabrera’s svelte frame looks like he can handle playing first base, though the Tigers are looking to have him play more at designated hitter, to trim some of the wear-and-tear of the daily grind playing the field.
Cabrera, one of the stalwarts of the Tigers’ trips to the World Series and brighter times, is taking on more of a role as a veteran leader with the new-look franchise that has an eye on the future with some of their top prospects on the cusp of making the roster for the upcoming 60-game season.
What Cabrera did during spring in Lakeland and being around Summer Camp is having a positive impact, and he’s helping imprint the culture on the newer players.
“He’s an influence to all the young players. He's not afraid to make a statement to them if he sees that they're not getting it done, or they don't have their head screwed on right,” Gardenhire said. “You need leaders like that and we've got a few of them now, with some guys we brought in that are pretty good too.”
During the time after spring training was canceled in late March, Spencer Turnbull and a few Tigers were in Lakeland for a month, awaiting a potential restart to the season. There were some workouts, including with teammates Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris, to try to stay sharp.
For a time, Turnbull went back to his parents’ home in Mississippi, where he found another familiar practice partner — his father.
“We went to Dick’s and bought him some catcher’s gear and he sat on a bucket,” Turnbull said. “We got a couple of videos of it; it was pretty funny. He’s caught me my whole life. Any time I go home in the offseason I’ll throw to him. He’s not usually in full gear, but I throw to him all the time.”
During the downtime, for many pitchers, it was difficult to find pro catchers or anyone who could handle the speed and movement that an MLB pitcher can deliver. For Turnbull and his dad, that wasn’t an issue.
“Normally, when I throw with him, I’m full-go. It’s usually earlier in the offseason, so I’m not throwing 95, but that’s probably pretty close,” Turnbull said. “He’s been on the receiving end of some fun pitches, for sure. He’s never said (to slow it down) one time. He’ll wear one in the shins if he has to; he just wants me to be as nasty as possible, so he’s always happy when it’s moving good.”