Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 5/6/12
By STEVE KORNACKISpecial to FOXSportsDetroit.com ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. On Thursday, the Tigers will walk onto the field at the Oakland Coliseum and experience what Will Rhymes did this weekend at Tropicana Field. They will see Inge, a Tiger from 2001 until April 26 of this year, trot onto the field in the green and gold of the Oakland As. The player most identifiable with the Tigers over the last decade will be playing third base for somebody else. It was very weird seeing him in another uniform, said Rhymes, an ex-Tiger now playing infield for the Tampa Bay Rays. We were all talking about that on our bench. He looked great, but it didnt look right, Brandon Inge not wearing the Olde English D. There are Tigers fans who will still pull for the 2006 World Series hero and 2009 All-Star with countless ESPN Web Gems and six walk-off homers for their team. But there will be others watching on FOX Sports Detroit who are bound to wave at the screen and utter good riddance. They will be same people who booed him this season at Comerica Park before he was released while batting .100 coming off a season in which he hit .197. The first day I heard the boos this year, it was tough, Inge said prior to Saturday nights game. It tore me up a bit. I didnt understand what I had done to deserve that. But I had to get it out of my head after that day. I couldnt let it bother me. I had to use it as motivation -- look at it as something that was kind of funny. Inge was asked if was all the strikeouts a franchise record 1,189 that got fans down on him. No, Inge said, that wasnt it. It was just that the fans saw me one of two ways. The first view of me was as a hard-working, blue-collar kind of guy. The second came from the jealous types, who saw me as this guy who was somehow in the big leagues despite being their size (5-foot-11, 188 pounds). They were the people who thought, I can hit better than him. Inge batted .234 with 213 doubles, 38 triples, 140 homers and 589 RBIs for Detroit. He batted .353 in his only World Series appearance, .296 in two ALCS and .429 in last years playoff series with the New York Yankees. He frequently led the league in fielding categories, and came into this season leading all league third basemen with 1,892 assists since 2005. It was tough to leave all that behind, but Inge, who turns 35 on May 19, said he kept it together while bidding farewell on his final day at Comerica. Tigers manager Jim Leyland brought out the most emotion. He put this hug on me and I had to fight back tears, Inge said. He said, You are one of the best soldiers I have had in a long time. That meant a lot to me and got to me. So did this comment from Rhymes: Brandon is the best teammate I have ever had. Hes incredible and goes out of his way to take care of young guys. Everybody loves him; hes a great dude. He brings a whole lot of things to the table. It was tough to hear that he was getting booed. He gave all he had to that city for 11 years. And fans should know they do not see the true value of a player unless you are in the clubhouse. It was in the clubhouse where he put teammates in their place when they strayed, where he talked hitting with them after a tough game and where he was always the first one to console when bad news arrived. Oakland manager Bob Melvin, a former Tiger catcher and coach who tutored Inge while he was coming up in the farm system, knew what he was getting. He sees the world through everyones eyes, Melvin said. He gets it. He is not looking at things six inches from his face. He understands what everybodys job is and helps. Inge plays the game the way every manager wants to see it played. He might hit .230, but will hit in the big situations. Defense was an issue for us, but it isnt anymore -- at least not at third. Im thrilled to death to have him. Melvin had an on-going ritual with Inge while managing the Mariners, Diamondbacks and As. I would spot him on the field and point to him, Melvin said. Then Id pat the seat next to me, telling him I wanted him on my team. Hed get that big smile and say, No, no. Now Im glad to finally say Im managing him. Inge was 1-for-6 Saturday night with a single, and is batting .143 for the As. He struck out with the bases loaded and one out in the 10th inning of a 4-3 Oakland win in 12 innings. But Melvin said the average doesnt reflect the hard-hit balls and quality at-bats Inge has given him. This is awesome, Inge said. Im so excited to be here, playing for Melvin and at third again. He moved to second base this season with Detroit after Miguel Cabrera switched from first base to third base with Prince Fielder signing to play first. Inge added, I like the way Melvin doesnt panic, the whole staff hes put together and the quality of people on this club. Its a very respectful group of young players. They might need a little fire, though. Is that where he comes in? Hell yeah, Inge said with that impish grin. Shortstop Cliff Pennington said, What he brings is leadership, and thats great for our team. And hes already made some special plays in the field. His personality, his presence, the way he carries himself. Thats the stuff he shows you; he leads. Inge later cracked a joke about having to cover the whole left side of the infield with Pennington beside him. But, when Pennington walked away, Inge raved about him. Oakland center fielder Yoenis Cespedes, the Cuban heavily pursued by Detroit this winter, also has caught his eye. When he hits the ball, hes got Miggy power, Inge said. And when he gets older, he is going to have Prince Fielder power. Nothing scares him. I like that. Inge didnt ask starting designated hitter Seth Smith for the No. 15 he wore in Detroit, and instead requested No. 7. Its my dads favorite number, Inge said. He was a big Mickey Mantle fan. I wore No. 7 growing up and all the way through to college. But when I got to Detroit, Dean Palmer had it. And then Pudge (Ivan Rodriguez) got it. How was it putting on his new number and colors? I liked it, Inge said. I even liked the white shoes. Its part of the teams tradition, and I was an As fan because I was a Mark McGwire fan. Inge has stayed in touch with Tigers catcher Alex Avila, outfielder-infielder Don Kelly and bullpen catcher Scott Pickens. I told Donnie, Were playing you next week you better pull the ball. He responded by saying he was going to drop a bunt down on me. I said, Do that, and your average is going down. Ill be fine playing them. It will be fun to see them and joke around with them all again. Quotable Brandon Inges favorite moment as a Tiger: Magglio (Ordonez) hitting the homer that sent us to the (2006) World Series. It was a shot, and before the ball was even out of the infield we all jumped up and threw things in the air. What a feeling, going to the Series. Inges top accomplishment as a Tiger: The (six) walk-off homers. The first one was off (Angels closer) Troy Percival (in 2003) and sticks out. I was fouling off those 100 mph fastballs and just trying to hit a line-drive grounder.
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