Mystery guest helps Tigers celebrate Miggy

June 12th, 2022

DETROIT -- The big, wide sunglasses that Miguel Cabrera wears during day games allow him to avoid the glare of the midday sun, not only to see the pitches coming in, but to see the whole field that he has used for more than 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. But there’s also a secondary benefit -- people can’t see his eyes.

He will always be associated with being happy on a baseball field. He isn’t known for crying. So it’s no coincidence that when he took the field Sunday before the Tigers’ 6-0 loss for pregame ceremonies celebrating his 500th home run last year and his 3,000th hit, he was wearing sunglasses.

“Any time Miggy thinks he’s going to be emotional, he wears the big Oakleys [so] he can hide it a little bit,” manager A.J. Hinch said.

On Sunday, as Cabrera saw the heartwarming, eloquent video tribute narrated by his daughter Brisel on Comerica Park’s giant video board, those sunglasses came in handy.

“To be honest with you, I got choked up when his daughter was talking about him,” said catcher Tucker Barnhart. “I just put myself in that position, listening to your kids talk about you and how they see you. It was awesome.”

The Tigers, having already thrown a similar celebration last year for Cabrera’s 500th homer, wanted to throw in some surprises for him this time, and they didn’t disappoint. If that video didn’t get Cabrera choked up, the surprise visit from former teammate and fellow Venezuelan Victor Martinez did.

“We’re really close friends,” Cabrera said. “For him to show up today to this ceremony, that means a lot to me.”

Martinez wasn’t among the Tigers alumni brought in for the weekend-long Summer Bash celebration. He received a text message from the Tigers asking if he’d fly in. When he arrived at the ballpark, the team hid him in an office to ensure that neither Cabrera nor other players had any idea. Not until Martinez emerged in the dugout did most people find out.

It was telling that the star of the Blue Jays, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., was at the top of the visiting dugout for most of the ceremony until he had to get ready to hit in the first inning.

To transition from the emotions of that to the game wasn’t easy, and the Tigers’ ensuing loss to the Blue Jays didn’t help. Cabrera has always been a bottom-line player who wants to win. He has been rejuvenated this season in part by the opportunity to help further the Tigers’ turnaround, and he’s pained by the Tigers’ disappointing offense. Detroit hit .170 for the three-game series against Toronto, and the team’s eighth consecutive game without a home run marked its longest streak since 1989-90, and longest single-season streak since 1972.

“Right now, we’re having a rough season,” Cabrera said. “I think we need to do a better job offensively and start to win more games.”

At the same time, he’s learning to balance frustrations like that with an appreciation of moments like Sunday.

“You get this only one time in your life,” Cabrera said. “I don’t know how you can handle it. But at the same time, it was awesome. I want to say 'thank-you' to the fans, to you guys, to the organization, because it was a special moment for me.”

The Blue Jays didn’t take it easy on Cabrera or his team. Guerrero crushed a two-run home run to left-center as part a four-run fourth inning off Tarik Skubal. The way Ross Stripling worked against the Tigers’ inconsistent offense, that was enough.

Since Stripling retired the Tigers in order in the first, Cabrera -- batting cleanup Sunday -- had a few minutes to compose himself before leading off the second inning. His opposite-field swing on a first-pitch high fastball sent a fly ball carrying to right field and brought the 29,399 fans in the ballpark to the edges of their seats. But right fielder Teoscar Hernández kept retreating until he caught it at the base of the wall.

Cabrera was one of just three Tigers to reach base, but on a ball that stayed in the infield in the fifth. Guerrero snagged the grounder to the right side, but Stripling couldn’t handle the low throw as Cabrera trailed the play, reaching on a Guerrero error.

As frustrating as the game ended up, the play provided a moment to laugh.

“He looked at me and he goes, 'Is that a hit or an error?'” Stripling said. “I told him, 'It could be whatever you want it to be.'”