Three former Tigers, three different stories
With free agency the norm for more than a generation now, you can't have a series between two teams without some sort of connection, some player or coach going up against his former organization. This series is no different, but each of the Nationals who once played for the Tigers - Robert Fick, Dmitri Young and Nook Logan - does so at a particularly interesting juncture.
I touched on this in the notebook this morning, but Fick is going through a really difficult time. His mother Gloria is about to die of lung cancer, though he's said that before and she has made it this far. You might recall I wrote about this situation in spring training, and the situation has dogged the utility guy all season.
"Death is a scary thing," Fick told me yesterday. He is only now starting to hit, starting to get his timing back, and every time I asked all season - which is far more times than have appeared in the paper - he says his mom's situation has nothing to do with his struggles. But when the Nationals won 4-2 on Sunday in Toronto, and Fick went 1 for 3 but stung the ball in all three of his at-bats, he was as happy as I've seen him. For a guy like him, 33 and far closer to the end of his career than the beginning, there is genuine worry about being released. His family situation would bring sympathy, but only if he hit better than .175. It's a cruel world.
Fick, a master of sarcasm who knows no boundaries in the clubhouse, is at heart a realist. In Baltimore last week, when a bunch of reporters were waiting to talk to Brian Schneider at a locker next to Fick's, Fick knew Schneider had homered and seized on the moment. "Hey Brian," he said, mocking the media. "What's it like to hit a homer with a guy hitting .190 providing protection behind you?" He was digging at himself.
All that, he said yesterday, is a release from his regular struggles. "I come here and give you guys [in the media] crap and rip on my teammates because it's an escape," Fick said. "This is where I can get away from it."
"I cry every day," he continued. "I cried for an hour today. The one thing I'm thankful for, though, is that my mom raised eight kids, and when she dies, she won't be alone. She'll have 10 people by her side." He particularly thanked his brother Chris and sister Judy. Chris has been there every day. "It's tearing him up inside," Fick said. "But when he's dealing with it, he's like a robot."
Fick has a fond place in Tigers' lore, hitting a towering grand slam to right in the final game at old Tiger Stadium on Sept. 27, 1999. He was a kid back then, really. Now, long after he left Detroit, he's expected to be a sage - who can come off the bench cold and get a hit, as he did last night in the Nationals' rally.
"I feel like I've got a chance in the late innings now," he said of his renewed vigor. Keep in mind, though, if Fick comes up in a tight situation tonight or tomorrow, he's got more going on than just how to deal with an 0-2 curveball.
Young, too, is in such a situation. I tried to stop him outside the clubhouse last night after he struck out against Todd Jones for the first out in the ninth. He declined to stop, just shaking his head. Clearly, he wanted to deliver the big hit against his old team. "I'm sure there was a little extra incentive for him," right fielder Austin Kearns said.
Young talked to Jim Leyland, the manager of the Tigers and part of the crew that released him last year amidst a slew of personal and legal issues. "I was kidding him," Leyland said before last night's game. "I said the best thing that ever happened to him was when we released him."
In a way, that might be true. "The way you're hitting now, I thought you were going to be hitting for me last year," Leyland said he told Young. He went 2 for 5 last night to lift his average to .335.
Asked before the game if it was gratifying to be hitting so well with his old team coming to town, Young said, "Being a leader on this team and having everybody look up to me is gratifying enough. Hitting well is just a bonus."
The reality is that Young will almost certainly be traded before July 31, and the way he's performing now, he could be a significant help to a pennant contender who needs a veteran bat off the bench - or as an every-day DH - that can hit with some power from both sides of the plate. But tonight and tomorrow, he's a Nationals facing the Tigers, and the way he walked away from me last night - frustrated by that strikeout - told me he really wants to beat those guys.
Logan tried to dismiss this matchup as "just another game," but of all the former Tigers - and maybe of all the Nationals - he is in the most perilous position. He has dropped his attempt to become a switch hitter, but he is now not swinging well at all from the right side of the plate. His weak grounder into a 1-6-3 double play killed one Nationals' chance last night, and he worsened his night by breaking the wrong way on a shallow pop-up to center.
Before the game, though, he said he joked with Leyland, even sending him some chicken from the Nationals' side of the clubhouse because the Tigers didn't have any over there. "I have a lot of friends over there still," Logan said, and he listed even the athletic trainers and equipment guys.
But that's merely a distraction now to Logan's predicament. Within the next few weeks, Alex Escobar is likely to (finally) come off the disabled list. Manager Manny Acta has longed for Escobar's right-handed bat off the bench or as an occasional sub for Ryan Church in left. That means that a position player is going to have to go. It's not going to be Ronnie Belliard, who is far too valuable. It could, I suppose, be Tony Batista. But it's to the point where Logan might start worrying about his future here. He is hitting .207 overall, just .222 from the right side. He was supposed to be a superior defensive center fielder, and he can definitely get to balls that regular outfielders can't reach. But he has experienced enough little plays where his instincts can be questioned to make club officials wonder.
As I touched on yesterday, the club is going to have significant decisions to make when the injured pitchers start returning. But don't forget about Escobar's return and its impact on the roster. He's rehabbing at Class A Potomac right now.
With right-handers going in the final two games of this series, Logan may not get another significant chance against his old team, because Ryan Langerhans - now hitting .247 with a .375 on-base percentage as a National - is going to play against all right-handers.
Three former Tigers, three different stories, three significant issues with which to deal.
Podcast returned today. Have a new recorder, not sure if it's loud enough, need to get used to it. They're now promoting the Journal more in the paper with a little note at the end of the gamers, so hopefully you regulars will have company with which to deal in coming weeks. Stake out your territory as the old guard now. We here at the Journal staff certainly know who you are.
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