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Dirks an integral part of Tigers' lineup

OAK View Full Game Coverage LAND -- He grew up in the Kansas countryside, played prep ball in a town called Haven with a little over 1,000 people and farm fields everywhere you look, and returned home during a few Minor League winters to substitute teach at the high school and grade school across the street for some offseason scratch.

When baseball took him to the tropical climes of the Dominican Republic and he became a championship-winning superstar the locals dubbed "King Andy," he took that in stride, too.

Now, he's an integral part of the Tigers' lineup and he's contributing to a team that's a win away from its second consecutive American League Championship Series. And Andy Dirks still seems unfazed by it all.

"I'm just playing, you know?" Dirks said. "Just trying to have fun with it as much as I can, especially this time of year. It's pretty exciting and it's fun to play. This is the reason why you play the games. It boils down to the postseason, and we were lucky enough to get in this year and we're playing pretty good baseball right now. We've got to keep it rolling."

Dirks, 26, had things rolling early during the 2012 season. He had made the team out of Spring Training for the first time, and the left-handed hitter was proving to be indispensable. Through the first two months of the season, he was hitting .328 with an .894 on-base-plus-slugging-percentage. Then a bout with Achilles tendinitis that was supposed to be day to day turned into month to month. He didn't return until early August.

Still, he finished with very promising numbers. He hit .322 with an .854 OPS and hit eight homers and drove in 35 runs in 314 at-bats. He also hit .462 (12-for-26) with two homers and two RBIs in seven regular-season games against the A's. Then he had a hit and a stolen base in the Game 1 victory in Detroit and knocked out two more hits in Game 2.

"He's a good hitter," teammate Gerald Laird said. "He's a big league hitter. He's real advanced for how young he is, and the good thing about it is he never tries to do too much. He sprays the ball all over the field, he takes what they give him, and he's a tough out. And he can hit lefties as well as he hits righties. It's fun to watch."

Dirks said he tries not to think too much about his batting average or the pitcher he's facing or the fact that he's come such a long way in less than two full seasons in the Major Leagues. He's just concentrating on doing what he has to do to stay in the lineup and help his team win.

"That's your goal as a player," Dirks said. "You just try to get better and keep doing things and keep learning and keep playing."

He did that in the Dominican, where he helped the Toros del Este of La Romana to the country's Winter League title in the offseason of 2011. And last year, he went over to Santo Domingo's Escogido Lions and helped them to a Dominican and eventual Caribbean Series championship.

He became a celebrity, with crowds chanting his name at Estadio Quisqueya in the capital city and coming up with all kinds of nicknames for him.

"They liked me down there, I guess," Dirks said. "I got some hits. And they love baseball and love the fact that Americans will come over and play. They enjoy it because it gives them a different view and it makes them feel more big league.

"They recognized me. They called me all sorts of things over there. Half of them might have been bad, but I don't speak the language good enough to know."

He does, however, speak the language of hitting, and it's something the Tigers have in abundance.

"Our offense has gotten a lot better with him in there every day," Laird said. "Having him there late in the lineup or if he's hitting second against a righty, he gives more chances to Miggy [Cabrera] or Prince [Fielder].

"There's no question that he has proven to a lot of people that he can play every day, no matter who's on the mound."

Detroit Tigers, Andy Dirks