Cabrera continues on a Cooperstown path

Written by: Craig Muder

In 2003 – before he even played in his first big league game – Miguel Cabrera was already making a Cooperstown connection.

“I was in the minor leagues (at Spring Training),” Cabrera said. “To go hit in the cage, I had to go between like 6:30 and 7 a.m. because all the big leaguers came into the cage. So when I walked into the cage (that early) and I’d see someone hitting already at like 6:45 – boom, boom, boom – it was Pudge Rodríguez.

“So I said: ‘Oh my God, I’m late!’ He said to me: ‘Don’t worry, come hit with me,’ and he taught me some things about hitting I didn’t know, which helped me a lot with my career. I always appreciated that, going early in the cage with Pudge back in 2003.”

On April 23, Cabrera took another step to joining Rodríguez in Cooperstown when he recorded his 3,000th career hit.

A native of Maracay, Venezuela, Cabrera debuted in the major leagues just 63 days after his 20th birthday. He helped the Marlins win the World Series that year, earned the first of 11 All-Star Game selections a year later and was well established as one of the game’s best hitters when he was traded to the Tigers following the 2007 season.

With Detroit, Cabrera has won four batting titles, two AL Most Valuable Player Awards and the 2012 AL Triple Crown.

For Cabrera, a life in baseball has been a dream come true.

“I was around 10, 11, 12 or 13 years old, (and) I started to fall in love with baseball because my family had baseball schools in Venezuela,” Cabrera said. “We grew up as a baseball family. My whole family played baseball. I started to fall in love with this sport and I’m still married to baseball.”

In 2021, Cabrera hit his 500th career home run and donated the helmet he wore during the milestone at-bat to the Hall of Fame. He is now one of just seven players – along with Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Pujols and Álex Rodríguez – with 500 home runs and 3,000 hits.

“It means a lot to me to do something special like that for my family and for my country” Cabrera said. “It helps give more support to our kids in Venezuela because now they can think, ‘If he can do it, we have a chance to do it, too. So let’s keep working hard, let’s keep doing our thing.’

“Hopefully, we can have more Venezuelan baseball players come to play baseball in the USA.”

When his playing career is over, Cabrera will wait the standard five years before appearing on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot and then potentially becoming the second Venezuelan elected to the Hall of Fame.

Luis Aparicio, the 13-time All-Star shortstop from Maracaibo, became the first Venezuelan elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984.

“I have a good relationship with him because every year they give the Luis Aparicio Award to the best player from our country,” Cabrera said. “So we got the chance to meet him, to go over to his house, go to his city where he was raised and born. I’ve had the chance to meet him, had the opportunity to talk to him. It’s amazing. He’s a legend.”

Cabrera even had a brush with Cooperstown prior to 2003 when he played in eight games with the Utica Blue Sox – the Marlins’ Class A affiliate located about 45 minutes from the Hall of Fame – in 2000.

What would Cabrera tell the younger version of himself if he could talk to him today?

“I’ve got say ‘thank you’ to him because he never gave up, he always believed what he could do on the field,” Cabrera said. “His only goal was to play baseball, to be his best on the field, to try to grow as a man and as a baseball player. I have to appreciate everything he did.”

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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