Pair of GIBBYs a solid birthday gift for Miggy
MLB MVP Award, Hitter of the Year Award winner mentors longtime fan Castellanos
DETROIT -- Spend a few hours at Comerica Park and you may notice that Miguel Cabrera is, in a sense, everywhere.
In the press box. On the wall next to the elevator. In an off-limits corner near the Tigers' clubhouse. On a random bulletin board in the tunnel on the way to the field.
Wherever you go, you may be greeted with a single cutout of Cabrera's face -- just his face -- smiling at you, creating a sort of "floating Miggy" theme throughout the annals of the ballpark.
The cutouts are called Big Heads, and they are often seen in the stands as handouts that teams use to promote their star players. They're funny and attention-grabbing: large heads on extra-large popsicle sticks, likely to serve as an in-your-face reminder that you really, really like these larger-than-life ballplayers.
But in Cabrera's case, his Big Head doesn't necessarily make his head look fat as much as it further drives home the point that if you take away the gigantic 6-foot-4, 240-pound strapping frame, the round-faced, youthful-looking Cabrera could probably still pass for a teenager.
As he celebrated his 31st birthday on Friday and received his GIBBYs (Greatness in Baseball Yearly Awards) as MLB Most Valuable Player and MLB Hitter of the Year on Saturday, we're reminded that in Major League Baseball -- a veritable fountain of youth in a constant state of replenishment -- Cabrera is, in fact, not a kid. That's partly due to the fact that he is, as they say, on the "other" side of 30. But it's also because he's seemingly been around forever.
That's what happens when you make your Major League debut two months after your 20th birthday, immediately turn into one of the most feared hitters in the league and stay that way for the next decade.
It's also why a man in his early 30s shouldn't be surprised when a rookie teammate says, "Hey, I grew up watching you play." That's not anything out of the ordinary. It certainly isn't insulting. It's just how things are for someone who was barely out of his teens when he burst onto the scene.
That brings us to the Tigers' new third baseman, who grew up watching the Tigers' old -- or, should we say, former -- third baseman. Nine years separate Cabrera and top prospect Nick Castellanos, but they are now contemporaries in their field of expertise, as teammates and friends.
Rewind 11 years, however, and things were different. Cabrera was 20. Castellanos was 11. One was winning a World Series with the Marlins. The other was in the stands with his dad, watching it unfold.
Ask Castellanos about that 2003 Marlins team and he can rattle off any number of players he idolized. Juan Pierre. Luis Castillo. Jeff Conine. And, most notably, Josh Beckett, who will forever be etched in Castellanos' mind as both his favorite pitcher and the one he was facing when he hit his first big league home run on April 9.
Also on that '03 Marlins list, of course, was Cabrera.
"Miggy was definitely part of that core group that I loved," Castellanos said.
Today, Castellanos, Detroit's first pick in the 2010 Draft, is part of his own core group that the Tigers envision anchoring the next wave of contending Detroit clubs. He'll do it at the hot corner, a position that was made available after the Tigers traded Prince Fielder to Texas and moved Cabrera back to first.
That move appears to have created a perfect scenario: Castellanos, who was shifted from third to the outfield in 2012 as the Tigers attempted to address the Cabrera/Fielder infield logjam, was able to go back to his stronger position. And Cabrera, who was no stranger to first base after playing there regularly from '08-11, was moved back to a spot that best suits his size and defensive abilities.
Still, it has to be a little surreal for Castellanos, who just over a decade ago was simply a kid from the Miami area watching Cabrera from afar, but today has taken over a position Cabrera played for the last two years.
"He always told me he went to [Marlins] games," Cabrera said with a grin. "But we don't talk too much about it."
Their conversations, unsurprisingly, revolve more around the position Cabrera relinquished as soon as the Fielder trade was announced. Cabrera has been a helpful sounding board when Castellanos asks, although Cabrera doesn't think his younger teammate needs much coddling.
"We worked out together a few years ago in the offseason in Miami," Cabrera said. "We know each other really well. He knows what he's doing. What we have to do is let him play, have fun, just play baseball."
For his part, Castellanos prefers to watch rather than talk.
"He's always helpful whenever you ask," Castellanos said. "The best thing about Miguel is just watching him every day. You learn so much from Miguel. I don't bother him much by asking him too many questions, but you just learn so much just from watching him every day going about his business and just watching him work."
Just 22 years old, Castellanos appears to be long on both talent and humility. You could say he lacks a big head -- and you'd be right. To date, the only Tigers who have Big Heads are Cabrera and Justin Verlander.
There's still time, however. If the plan stays on course, Castellanos has a good chance to again watch one of his favorite players celebrate a championship. But this time, he'll have a slightly better vantage point -- from the other side of the diamond.