40-year-old Miggy 'like a kid' playing 1B before final emotional farewell

October 2nd, 2023

DETROIT -- spent 21 years hitting his way into exclusive territory. For a minute, fittingly, he was alone on the field.

He stood at first base by himself at Comerica Park, serenaded by chants from a sellout crowd. He knew he was going to play first at some point late in Sunday afternoon’s 5-2 win over the Guardians, though he had to borrow Spencer Torkelson’s game glove for his first appearance in the field in two years. But Cabrera had no idea he’d be running out of the dugout by himself before the top of the eighth inning.

Spencer Torkelson's glove signed by Miguel Cabrera with his accomplishments (Jason Beck)

“We surprised Miggy, which is very hard to do,” manager A.J. Hinch. “It was playing out so incredibly well for that type of moment: bat in the seventh, go out [and play first base] for the eighth.”

“To come back to first base for one out, it was another dream come true,” Cabrera said. “I thought I was never going to play in the field again because of my injuries.”

That part was planned. The Tigers -- without Cabrera -- had talked about it Sunday morning. The ground ball that followed could not have been scripted if they’d tried, even from such a gifted contact hitter as Steven Kwan.

“I really wanted Miggy to touch the ball in some capacity,” Hinch said. “Every infielder was nervous they were going to throw it and hit him in the chest.”

“Kwan jokingly came up and was like, ‘I’m going to pull a bunt right to Miggy,’” catcher Jake Rogers said. “I went [first-pitch] heater to Kwan and then the next pitch, I called slider. And then I set up and I went, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to hit this right to Miggy.’ And sure enough, it happened.”

For a split second, Kwan bolted down the first-base line, his instincts sensing a chance at an infield single. The 40-year-old Cabrera backhanded the ball like he’d been playing first all season, saw Kwan’s speed and beat him to the bag.

“I was excited,” Cabrera said. “I was like a kid over there. And I knew that was going to happen: a ground ball. I was ready. I made a nice play, too.”

"How about that? They put the guy out there for a curtain call and the first ball is hit right [to him],” said Guardians manager Terry Francona. “Sometimes, maybe things work out for a reason."

“We had talked about one out, maybe two, depending on how the inning went,” Hinch said. “The ground ball definitely happened organically. … I thought he was just going to run off the field.”

Reliever Will Vest, who had just entered the game, hustled to the bag in case Miggy couldn’t get there, and gave him a hug when he did. Then Hinch went back to script and came out of the dugout with Cabrera’s three children to pull him.

No one could plan the emotions that followed.

“I’m just trying not to look at the kids, because they’re all just really, really emotional,” Hinch said. “I kept saying 'I might cry, I might cry,' and I’m like, ‘Let it out.’

“And when we got to Miggy, [the kids] had started the day [throwing] the first pitch. And I told Miggy, ‘They started your day. They’re going to end your day.’”

The team met him at the mound and lined up to give him a hug, then lined up at the infield as his kids led him off to retirement.

“We made it,” Cabrera said he told his family. “Thank God we made it.”

It was a fitting tribute to close a 21-year career that ends with Cabrera among the greatest hitters in history.

“Every moment was hard for me,” Cabrera said. “I think it was the hardest game I ever played in my life. It was tough. There were a lot of thoughts in my head. I wasn’t able to focus.”

Cabrera went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Guardians starter Lucas Giolito before a four-pitch walk in his final plate appearance against reliever Enyel De Los Santos, but nobody cared about the 0-fer. Cabrera ends his career with a .306 average, 3,174 hits (16th most in Major League history), 511 home runs (25th), 627 doubles (13th), 1,881 RBIs, 1,258 walks, 103 sacrifice flies (tied for 25th) and a .900 OPS.

All season long, a team of relative youngsters laughed with Miggy and cheered him on through his farewell season. They saw happy Miggy, serious Miggy, competitive Miggy. Very few were ready for emotional Miggy.

“The whole year, everybody’s talking about what it’s like being on his farewell tour,” Torkelson said. “And it didn’t really hit me until Friday, when you see the crowd and you see all the celebrations. Just really awesome to be a part of. … I didn’t cry. I wish I did.”

Others took care of that.

“I didn’t think I was going to get emotional, but I got emotional,” right fielder Kerry Carpenter said. “That was the coolest moment I’ve ever experienced on a baseball field.”

“As soon as I saw him tearing up and other teammates, it got me going,” rookie center fielder Parker Meadows said. “He’s just so, so special to us and this city and baseball.”

Riley Greene said it was the first time he’d ever cried on a baseball field.

And Miggy?

“Second time,” said Cabrera, his eyes still watery.

First time?

“3,000 [hits],” he said.

Cabrera leaves behind a legacy in Detroit, in Venezuela and in baseball. He also leaves behind Torkelson’s glove, which Cabrera autographed while listing his career accomplishments.

“Now the gamer is retired,” Torkelson said.

And so is the legend who borrowed it.

“I’m lucky, because I played 21 years in the big leagues,“ Cabrera said. “I played with love. I played hard. I’m going to miss it, but it is what it is. There’s always the end.”