Homers, titles, and life in Detroit: A 1-on-1 with Miguel Cabrera

Miguel Cabrera. It's a name known across the world. From his skill on the field to his antics off it, the man better known as Miggy has been a part of the American baseball world for two decades.

This year marks 20 years since Cabrera first signed to play professional American baseball. And 11 of those years have been spent here in Detroit. I had a chance to speak with the 35-year-old veteran star about some of the highlights of his career.

It began in 1999, when the Florida Marlins signed Cabrera as an amateur free agent at 16 years old. He’d spend the next few years rising in their minor league system, from Gulf Coast League Marlins to the Utica Blue Sox of the New York-Penn League to the Kane County Cougars to the Jupiter Hammerheads to the Carolina Mudcats.

On June 20, 2003, he made his Major League debut at 20 years old, hitting a walk-off home run against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the bottom of the 11th inning. At the time, he was the third player to hit a game-winning home run in his major league debut since 1900.

With Cabrera’s help, the Marlins would win the World Series his rookie year. In Game 4, his two-run homer gave the Marlins an early 2-0 lead that propelled them to a 4 to 3 series win. Sixteen years later, he remembers what it all felt like.

"It was awesome. It was kind of lucky, too, because it was my first year. I was able to go to the playoffs. Going to the World Series and winning it was an awesome deal and good experience," he said.

But his time in Miami had come to an end. On December 5, 2007, Cabrera and starting pitcher Dontrelle Willis were traded to the Tigers for four pitchers, a catcher and an outfielder. Cabrera signed an 8-year, $152.3 million contract extension — the largest in Tigers history at the time. It was also the fourth-largest in baseball history at the time, right behind Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez

“I mean I understand this is business,” Cabrera said of the trade. “So it was the right move for the Marlins to go and trade me. They think it was the best thing for the team and I was cool with that.”

And the Tigers were undoubtedly cool with it. From there, Cabrera’s career took off. His incredible skill would help the Tigers win four straight American League Central Division titles from 2011 to 2014, three straight American League Division Series wins from 2011 to 2013, including a World Series appearance in 2012 after beating the Yankees in the the American League Championship Series.

That same year, he was also the first to win the Triple Crown — the first since 1967 — as he led the American League, batting .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBI.

“Thank God to give me this opportunity, and share it with you guys, and share it with my family, and share with my country Venezuela, and everybody here,” he said.

Cabrera was named American League MVP in back-to-back seasons in 2012 and 2013, becoming the third Tiger to win the MVP award more than once. Then in 2014, Cabrera signed an 8-year, $248 million contract extension that would keep him in Detroit through at least 2023. Add the $44 million owed to him on the final two years of his previous contract, and the 10-year deal was worth $292 million.

That broke the record for the highest commitment at the time, which was $275 million to New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez in 2007.

Throughout his career, Cabrera never forgot about his loved ones back home. He would represent Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2017.

"We don't have time to go back home and play the winter ball. So we've got a chance to play in the World Baseball Classic. That means a lot to me as a person and our country we are proud of our country and (anything) we can do for our country," said Cabrera.

While he’ll always care about his home country, Cabrera told me that after over a decade in Detroit, there’s a ton he loves about the Motor City. Two things in particular -- the food and the people.

“We've got good restaurants in Detroit. The kind of stuff we do after a game. Go to a good dinner. Go to a good lunch,” he said. ““They're great people. They've been great for me. The last 11 years in Detroit have been amazing.”

And the people of the city love him back. From murals to his salsa ventures to Miggy branded hats, fans have always - and continue to - support the star.

"I love his personality on the game," said Miggy fan Bonnie Whitaker. "He likes to have fun, get the job done. He's just an awesome player."

WIth several years left on his contract, Cabrera says Detroit might be it for him.

“I think I'll finish my career here. There have been a lot of good years here in Detroit. Right now we are coming in with a new process. We gotta deal with this process, so I'll go out there and try to play hard and (try) to be better every day,” he said.

That process he's talking about is a rebuild. Coming off two consecutive 98-loss seasons, the Tigers may have a better sense of how long that rebuild could take at the end of this year. Cabrera’s hoping for a healthier season after playing only 38 games last year due to a season-ending surgery on his biceps in June. Meanwhile, the veteran is using his experience to take younger guys under his wing.

“Talk to them. Try to go out there and try stuff. Try to go out there and do extra work with them. I think the communication we're going to have here is going to very important here at spring training. We try to work and be ready for the season," Cabrera said.

It's paying off on guys like outfielder JaCoby Jones and rookie pitcher Casey Mize

"He's one of the best players in the league for a long time and he's a great clubhouse guy, he teaches young guys how to be a professional and he's just fun to be around," Jones said.

"I was covering first base and Miggy threw me a ball. It's been cool just to see him around. He's huge — a lot bigger than you realize so I've worked with him a little bit. That's been a really cool part for me," Mize said.

"Try to go out there and do my job, try to help the young kids to get better everyday," Cabrera said. "Hopefully this process won't be too long and we can be a winning team again."

When it comes to how long a rebuild could take, only time will tell. But one thing’s for sure — after nearly 20 years, Miguel Cabrera has made his mark in professional baseball and a lasting impact in Detroit.