Originally written February 15, 2013 on Fox Sports Detroit:
LAKELAND, Fla. -- If Miguel Cabrera is feeling any pressure about having to repeat as the American Leagues MVP and Triple Crown winner, he isnt showing it. Cabrera exchanged handshakes and even some hugs with reporters before inviting them to his locker for conversation Friday morning. Cabrera seems to get more comfortable with the media with each passing year, and hes having even more fun in the clubhouse. While Cabrera conducted the interview in one corner of the Joker Marchant Stadium clubhouse, Tigers reliever Octavio Dotel began shouted at him from the other end of the rectangular room. You have to speak English! said Dotel, who, like Cabrera, speaks Spanish as his first language. You have to talk to them now! Youve won the Triple Crown and the MVP! Cabrera began laughing heartily, shaking from side to side. Everyone in the clubhouse joined in the laughter. Hes talking loco, huh? Cabrera asked the media members, then chuckled at his own joke along with the reporters. Cabrera hit .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBIs last year, and won everything baseball has to offer except the World Series. I asked him whether he puts any pressure on himself to repeat those accomplishments. You cant focus on what people say, Cabrera said. And what you did, that is over. He smiled and recalled a conversation he had with a friend in Venezuela. Cabrera said: The first thing he told me was: You cant think about how you played last year. You have to move forward and think about next year. He said the workout schedule and twice-weekly hitting he adhered to was the same as in recent winters. The banquet season for a player who had to accept so many awards -- including the Luis Aparicio Award as Venezuelas top major league player -- is long. But Cabrera -- who will leave soon to play for his country in the World Baseball Classic -- stayed on task, and when it was time to report to training camp for the first full squad workout on Friday, he arrived at 6:30 a.m. I need to get my work done early, he said. I needed to talk to Raffy about getting things done. That would be Rafael Belliard, the clubs infield and first-base coach, who early each morning hits grounders and works on fundamentals with Cabrera, first baseman Prince Fielder and others. My goal is to be better, Cabrera said. I want to be better every day, to be more quick. I am trying to get better with my first step. Cabrera, who made the switch from first to third to accommodate the signing of Fielder last season, wants to cover more of the hole and get to the line quicker to save hits from reaching left field. Hes also adding a second bat to his wooden arsenal. Cabrera exclusively used Sam Bats, which are made in Ontario, Canada, last year. This season, he's bringing back the Phoenix Bats, the brand he used with the Florida Marlins. Both are maple and cut to his 34-inch, 32-ounce taper specifications. Phoenix Bats, made outside of Columbus, Ohio, shipped them in a box bearing their slogan -- SINGLES SUCK -- printed in bold, black letters. Asked if he shares that philosophy, Cabrera shook his head and said, I dont know. But I used them when I played in Florida. For the record, Cabrera had 121 singles among a career-high 205 hits last year. He probably could use a wooden table leg and get results. As Tigers catcher Alex Avila said, He can hit right out of bed. It would be easy to take Cabreras consistent excellence for granted, and I asked Tigers manager Jim Leyland if that happens. I dont know if take for granted are the right words, Leyland said. But I know hes going to do pretty good. "Youre not going to take him for granted. Youre going to appreciate him for how good he is. Hes a special, special player. Just two players have won the Triple Crown, MVP and World Series in one season: Frank Robinson of the 1966 Orioles and Mickey Mantle of the 1956 Yankees. Cabrera was knocking on the door to join their select company, but the Giants swept the Series in four games to deny Cabrera all the riches one player could accumulate in one season. Winning the World Series seems to be the only thing that matters this year to Cabrera and his teammates. And they appear ready to enjoy the quest together -- with Dotels shouting at the teams biggest star being a prime example. It is very, very, very much fun to joke with Miggy, Dotel said. It is unbelievable. Being around Miguel, I enjoy that. "I just want to remind him all the time -- now that hes the MVP and Triple Crown winner -- he has to talk to you guys. He looked across the room at Cabrera, gripping a bat and getting ready to hit. That guy, man, Dotel said, he is just the best. After practice, Cabrera invited several teammates to his locker. He placed the Triple Crown -- the one presented to him by Commissioner Bud Selig at the World Series -- on his head and gave a two thumbs-up. Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez and Justin Verlander then leaned in for a photo. Good times.
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