Detroit -- Detroit Tigers fans no longer have Brandon Inge to kick around anymore.
The Tigers released Inge after Thursday's 5-4 loss to the Seattle Mariners, ending an era that started on April 3, 2001, when Inge made his major league debut at catcher on Opening Day.
In fact, I had a weird flashback to that day, standing next to Inge's locker before he spoke. That first day there was a huge crowd waiting for Inge at his locker. Everyone wanted to talk to the rookie who had just thrown out two guys trying to steal. On Thursday, it was Inge who was waiting for everyone.
Inge was always incredibly gracious with the media and Thursday was no exception.
"It's one of those things you can kind of see how things are going before they come," he said. "But it's no hard feelings whatsoever. This is my family, this is where I've been my whole career.
"I'll miss the guys, I will. But I have a chance to go play maybe somewhere else. It may be a good thing, a good start for me personally but my heart will always be in Detroit for 100 percent and forever.
"I appreciate everything that's happened here, every opportunity I've been given, stuff we've accomplished. But it's a business when you come down to the end of it. I hope the team does well. I hope they go on and win it all."
If the Tigers do win it all, it will be without Inge, who until Thursday was the longest-tenured Tiger.
The Tigers recalled designated hitterfirst baseman Brad Eldred from Toledo to take Inge's roster spot. Eldred was batting .388 with 13 home runs and 35 RBIs with the Mud Hens.
In addition to the added offense that president and general manager Dave Dombrowski hopes Eldred will bring, he said the move would also allow Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago to settle in at second base.
"Santiago and Raburn will get the primary time at second base for the time being," Dombrowski said. "Hopefully they'll jump up and grab it and I think that they will.
"But there really wasn't a lot of playing time for (Inge). We wanted to get Eldred up here at this point. I don't know what he'll do but he's earned the right, he's had some big league time.
"When we talked to our people at Triple-A, he's swinging the bat great. We'll try to take advantage of a hot bat."
There's no defending the fact that Inge had anything but a hot bat the last couple of seasons. Obviously hitting .197 with three home runs and 23 RBIs in 103 games last season and .100 with one home run and two RBIs so far this season doesn't cut it.
Although Inge heard plenty of boos from the fans over the weekend, he never took it too personally. He understood where they were coming from.
"This is an emotional city," Inge said. "This is a city that will back you, and you know they want their team to win, want their teams to do well, and when theyre not, theyll let you know. And theres nothing wrong with that.
"That just shows that theyre fans, one way or the other. Doesnt matter. A fan that dislikes someone or likes someone theyre still a fan. I respect them all, I really do.
"And theres nothing that anyone could ever do that changed my opinion of Detroit, this organization. Its been a class act, through and through. Ive actually been very, very proud to be a part of it."
It was evident in the parade of people that stopped by Inge's locker to bid him farewell - from teammates to manager Jim Leyland to the training staff - that while everyone realizes baseball is a business and you have to produce, releasing this particular player was a little different.
"Brandon Inge has done a tremendous job for this organization for a long time," Dombrowski said. "I realize for some people he's been a very controversial player. But from our perspective, I personally want to thank him for everything he's done for us.
"He's been a true soldier throughout the years. He's been a Tiger. He will always be a Tiger. Not only for what he's done on the field - and I understand at times there's been some ups and downs - but how this guy's worked, how he's represented us in various things off the field, you couldn't find a finer individual.
"We will be forever thankful for what he has done for us."
Alex Avila, whose locker was next to Inge's, didn't let an opportunity slip to needle his friend, even on a somewhat somber day.
"I'm going to miss seeing his ugly face every day, I really am," Avila joked.
"That is not even close. You're way uglier than I am," Inge retorted.
But in all seriousness, Avila said he really would miss Inge.
"I've known Brandon for 10 years now," Avila said. "Ever since I came here, since I was just a fan, he's always been like the heart and soul of the Detroit Tigers, always doing so much for the community, kind of like a fixture.
"When the team was bad to kind of making the turnaround, to being competitive year in, year out. He's always been in the thick of things. Definitely a big part of this community and this organization."
Santiago, now the only player left from the 119-loss season in 2003, was shocked to hear the news.
"Brandon was a great teammate," Santiago said. "He always work hard and a great guy. Sorry that happened to him but you know how it is."
Raburn, another longtime teammate who knows a little something about the wrath of dissapointed Detroit fans, also wished Inge well.
"He got a lot of grief the last few years and you would never know it the way he would come in the clubhouse," Raburn said. "It's unfortunate, kind of, the way people took him the last few years because there was nobody in here that works as hard as he does.
"He came back ready this year to prove a point. Unfortunately it just never got across. He's just a great guy and wish him the best for everything."
If no team claims Inge -- and it's unlikely one would with his 5.5 million contract this seas -- he'll officially become a free agent Sunday.
"If thats the direction they want to go, I respect that," Inge said. "I do. I obviously want whats best for this team. And if thats the direction theyre going, Im fine with it. I can catch on somewhere else.
"That's just the business side of it. If you've been around this game long enough, you understand. You understand how it works. You don't let it affect you in any way on the field. You prepare yourself.
"I'm always a guy, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. Looks like somebody took out the bridge. I'm gonna find another way around."