DETROIT — As competitors, they did what they could to prevent it. As countrymen, they swelled with pride when it happened.
The first player on either team to hug the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera on Saturday after he became the first Venezuelan-born player to collect 3,000 MLB hits was Cuban-born José Iglesias. The Rockies’ shortstop, who played with Cabrera in Detroit from 2015-18, covered second base just long enough to see that time was called, then jogged over to first for a bear hug as the near-sellout crowd roared at Comerica Park.
Yonathan Daza, who idolized Cabrera growing up and is from the same hometown, Maracay, Venezuela, shaded over to shallow right field from his spot in center, eager to soak up the mob scene at first base. Catcher Elias Díaz, who hails from Maracaibo, Venezuela, stepped out from behind the plate to catch a hug on Cabrera’s path across the field.
In a show of deference, starting pitcher Antonio Senzatela — who’s from Valencia, Venezuela — remained in a gray area near third base, where he’d sprinted to back up a potential errant throw, content to give his country’s hero the main stage.
“That,” Daza said of the hit, “is bigger than baseball.”
“To be here, on the same field as him, I have no words to say what I feel right now,” he added.
Daza and batterymates Senzatela and Díaz represent three of the five Venezuelan players on the Rockies’ roster, along with right-handers Germán Márquez and Jhoulys Chacín. Cabrera is a legend back home and pride for country is fierce, so it was almost poetic that he bested Senzatela for No. 3,000 during the Rockies’ 13-0 loss in Game 1 of the split doubleheader at Comerica Park.
“He’s the best Venezuelan player right here in the big leagues,” Senzatela said. “When I grew up, I was watching him. When he was in the Major Leagues for the first time, I was 8 years old, and now I’m pitching here. I’m happy for him.”
Cabrera had sat at 2,999 career hits since Wednesday when his three-hit night against the Yankees brought him tantalizingly close to the mark. He went 0-for-3 on Thursday, his fourth plate appearance stolen when New York manager Aaron Boone opted to intentionally walk the slugger in the eighth inning. The Rockies’ current three-game series against the Tigers was then delayed one day after Friday storms caused the cancellation of the opener, leaving the suspense to build, even in the Rockies’ clubhouse.
“It was a good feeling, obviously, throughout the ballpark all morning,” Colorado manager Bud Black said. “You could tell there was a little bit of a buzz, for sure. It grew as the game got closer to first pitch. And then when the game started, very noticeable buzz for sure. And then when the Tigers came up to hit in the first, you could sense that the crowd was anticipating greatness.”
“[Cabrera and I] were talking before the game today,” Iglesias said, “and he was telling me, ‘I can’t sleep.’ I said, ‘Me either, so you better hit one.’”
With very little delay, that’s what happened.
Senzatela first nipped the outside corner with a four-seamer that Cabrera fouled off, then drifted up and out of the zone on a pitch Cabrera laid off of to bring the count even.
“You just want him to ground into a double play in that situation,” Senzatela said. “It’s good for him, good for Venezuela, to get the 3,000th hit. But if you ask me, I didn’t want him to get a hit off me.”
Unfortunately, Senzatela’s third offering, also a fastball, came inside and belt-high and provided too much temptation for Cabrera to resist. He poked a grounder through a hole in the right side of the infield. The crowd went wild. Iglesias manned his post and then quickly abandoned it. Daza looked on from afar, Díaz waited patiently and Senzatela dutifully moved out of the way.
The celebration wasn’t reserved solely for the Rockies’ Latin American contingent. Bench coach Mike Redmond was on deck when Cabrera got his first Major League hit, as a 20-year-old with the Marlins in 2003. Redmond’s career has taken him to many other cities in the nearly 20 years since, but he admits always having enjoyed following Cabrera’s career.
From No. 1 to No. 3,000 has been quite a journey, and Redmond was glad to be able to witness each side of it.
“The history of what was just accomplished … speaks for itself, and I don’t know if we’ll see another one,” Redmond said. “Guys get a lot of hits, but if they can stay out there for as many years as Miggy has, that’s the key. I don’t know if we’ll witness this again. So that’s pretty cool.”