“The approach he has, oh,” Cabrera marveled about Torkelson, who he said is better than him. “He’s getting comfortable, comfortable, comfortable. When people get comfortable like that, it’s dangerous. He’s going to be dangerous.”
Greene, he said, was their best hitter in Spring Training. Torkelson, he said, has a veteran’s knowledge of the strike zone.
“We see the video, and he takes pitch this much outside, this much up, this much low,” Cabrera said, pinching his fingers close together. “I said, ‘Wow.’ He’s going to be really good. He’s special, very calm. …
“They’re really good. For such a young age, they know the strike zone, they know what they’re going to hit, they know where they’re going to throw it, and they’re always ready to swing.”
It’s different now, he said, than when he broke into the Major Leagues at age 20.
“It’s different in baseball,” he said. “Back in the day, you had to be ready to play. Now when you come into the big leagues, they teach you how to play. Like, you have to play over here, you have to hit over here. I don’t know if it’s easier right now, but they show me they’re ready for everything.”
This is what fuels Cabrera at age 39, not the chase of milestones. He wants the chance to win again, and he wants the chance to help young hitters along.
“Three thousand is a big number, don’t get me wrong,” he said, “but I always play like the next guy to me is going to be good. I always play for my teammates. They teach me. I’m not going to change my game to chase 3,000, but that’s a special number. There’s only, how many, 33 guys? That number is really hard to get.
“Don’t get me wrong, I always dreamed about this moment. I was thinking about this moment, how in your career, where you’re going to be. I want to enjoy my moment. But at the same time, I want to think the same thing I thought when I was first coming up: Win with my teammates. It’s not fair to say I hit 3,000 because of me. No, I hit 3,000 because of my teammates, my coaches, my manager, everybody.”
He also remembered the influence of another member of the 3,000-hit club, Hall of Famer Al Kaline. They didn’t always agree, but they had tremendous conversations.
“We talked about hitting,” he said. “He always asked me when I got to two strikes why I spray [the ball]. He’d say, ‘Don’t spray. Hit a bomb.’ I’d say, ‘No, I’m going to hit. I want to put the ball in play.’ But he told me, ‘You’re not fast enough.’ I said, ‘I don’t care. That’s the way I play.’
“He said, ‘If you do this, you’re going to hit more home runs.’ And I said, ‘I play in Detroit. It’s a big field.’ We always had that conversation. At the same time, it worked for me, but I understand what he was saying. He wanted to see me hit more in the gap, but it’s not part of my game. I always want to hit like a small guy.”
Cabrera has always tried to hit like a small guy, he said, a credit he gives to his uncle, David Torres.
Cabrera also told the story of a Yankees scout who doubted his hitting ability.
“When I signed, some scout from the Yankees, they said if I’m going to make it to the big leagues, it’s going to be as a pitcher,” Cabrera said. “True story. He got fired after that, in 2003. …
“You know the Yankees, big money. ‘Oh, now we can sign this guy from the Marlins.’”
Now he’s a legend in Detroit.