Back home in Maracay, Venezuela, Rockies outfielder Yonathan Daza played on a team called the Tigers and pretended he was his baseball hero, Miguel Cabrera.
During a meet-and-greet once, Daza handed Cabrera a picture of himself on his team. Cabrera signed it.
Daza still cherishes it.
“I need my mom to send a photo so you guys can see,” Daza told reporters at Comerica Park before Friday's scheduled Rockies-Tigers game was rained out.
Daza, now wearing a Rockies uniform, may get a chance to see Cabrera make history. Cabrera entered Saturday's doubleheader one hit from 3,000 entering the three-game Interleague series.
“For me, I’m blessed to be here and see him play -- that was one of my dreams when I was a little kid,” Daza said. “And it feels amazing.”
It's hard to blame Daza for having that "pinch yourself" feeling, even though the Tigers' vaunted slugger will be trying to beat his team. Nine years and (going into Saturday) 2,888 hits separated the pair, but they have been linked before.
Most highlight surfers will recall that on Opening Day in 2021, Cabrera launched MLB’s first homer of the ’21 season in snow-globe conditions at Comerica Park on April 1. Twenty days later, with snow falling on a near-freezing afternoon at Coors Field, Daza hit his first career homer.
But that’s about as far as the link goes. Daza said he doubts that Cabrera remembers meeting him, as he was just one of many admirers.
“I know what he means to every player back in Venezuela, and I am happy for him,” said Daza, a reserve for the Rockies who is used mainly for his defense (although he was 6-for-12 in six games going into Saturday).
Any countryman facing Cabrera when there is a milestone in sight has the same mix of wanting to see history, yet still needing to beat an opponent. Imagine the emotions of Rockies right-hander Antonio Senzatela, who was slated to start Game 1 on Saturday.
Senzatela understands how Daza feels. The Colorado pitcher is from Valencia, Venezuela, and during his rookie year in 2017 he had a nervous meeting with Mariners ace “King” Félix Hernández, his hometown pitching role model.
Senzatela’s teammates started calling him “The Little Prince.”
A lesson from these experiences: it’s possible to idolize an opponent and still beat him. That’s what Rockies starter Germán Márquez, another Venezuelan, did on July 6, 2018, when he pitched his team past Hernández and the Mariners.
Rockies catcher Elias Díaz, who hails from Maracaibo, posted an Instagram story on Friday that included a photo of himself and Cabrera with the caption, "El caballo a punto de hacer historia," which translates to, "The horse about to make history."
“It’s bigger than baseball,” Daza said. “Not many people are doing those things every day. I’m happy for him. And I’m going to be happy to see him get that hit.
“Senzatela is my friend. I love Senzatela. I wish he would strike him out three times. But at the same time, [Cabrera] is one of my favorites. And it’s history for my country.”