LAKELAND, Fla. – Two years ago, Miguel Cabrera hit his 500th home run, and last season he reached 3,000 hits.
Now there's one more reason for an extended celebration of the Detroit slugger's career.
This is his final year.
“I’m going to go out there and be me. Try to have fun, try to go out there and, when they give me a chance to play, play. I don’t know what is going to be my role this year," Cabrera said. "If I can hit, I want to be in the lineup.”
Cabrera sounded at ease with his decision to call it a career when he spoke at spring training Monday, joking with reporters in his usual playful way and insisting he doesn't need opponents to lavish him with attention. That will likely come whether he wants it or not.
“I brought him up in the first meeting, so that tells you that I didn’t listen to his desire to not be talked about," Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. "We’re going to cherish our time with Miggy. We’re also going to let him be a player, a contributor, and just be himself.”
Two decades after his big league debut as a 20-year-old Florida Marlin, Cabrera says he doesn't remember much about his first spring training — “I have a better car right now” — but he's hoping for a healthy season and more wins for Detroit.
The Tigers haven't made the playoffs since 2014, and Cabrera hasn't had a really excellent season since 2016.
Still, baseball was captivated a year ago when Albert Pujols managed to hit 24 home runs in his last season, surpassing 700 for his career.
Don't expect a similar chase from Cabrera, if only because he passed so many milestones so recently. He enters this season with 507 homers, 3,088 hits and 607 doubles — not to mention a .308 career average.
“It’s been a thrill to be able to follow him. I feel privileged to have a chance to watch him play days in, day out for so many years, and the joy that he brought us," said Dave Dombrowski, who is currently the president of the Philadelphia Phillies but ran Detroit's front office when Cabrera won the Triple Crown and the first of two straight MVPs in 2012.
Dombrowski, who was also with Florida when the Marlins signed a teenaged Cabrera in 1999, says he still exchanges texts with him when he accomplishes something big. There's certainly plenty of respect for Cabrera around the sport.
Cabrera played in 112 games last season. He said Monday that he feels good physically, but he joked that he'll have to wait and see how he feels after an 0-for-4 day at the plate. He made it clear that he's not expecting opponents to roll out the red carpet for him as his playing career winds down.
“It’s nice if they do something. It’s nice if they don’t," he said. "I don’t want attention, I don’t want any distraction for our team. We look forward to go out there and beat these guys.”
Hinch and the Tigers, however, want to enjoy this final season with him. Cabrera may be in the spotlight sooner than usual, since he's on Venezuela's roster for next month's World Baseball Classic — along with Detroit left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez.
“It's just going to be something special," Rodriguez said. "It's his last year. We're going to go to play together in WBC for our country and then play the last season in MLB together. I know it's going to be great and I can't wait to enjoy it.”
Follow Noah Trister at www.twitter.com/noahtrister
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