Rogers returns to Comerica Park
The last time Kenny Rogers was at Comerica Park, he was still pitching. The last time he was here for a postseason game, he was supposedly throwing 95 mph.
He guaranteed people he wouldn’t be doing that for his ceremonial first pitch. But he still had some power on his fastball in the dirt. He spent some time beforehand in the batting cage, trying to see how hard he could still throw. It worked.
It was catching practice for Brandon Inge, one of four Tigers players left from that 2006 team Rogers led to the World Series. It was a long-awaited return for Rogers, who made a clean break from the game once he retired in 2008 and went home to Texas.
“I would say the first year I missed it a little bit,” he said. “But when it came down to it, I knew my body was just ready to be done. I hurt all over a lot of times. After the first year, the itch went away, and I knew it was the right decision. I’m not much for not being able to, I guess, carry my weight. I didn’t feel like I did that the last year. I was hurt too much and not able to get out there. That’s one thing I didn’t want to do.”
He went from being a full-time pitcher to a full-time father and coach, no transition needed. Part of it, he said, was the wear and tear on a 40-something year-old body, a good share of which he believes came from those fastballs in 2006.
“I think I physically paid for those few games,” he reflected, “because I tried to throw the ball so much harder than normal. Then the next Spring Training, I’m getting an artery taken out of my leg. But it was by far worth it for me.”
The rest was just a desire to take a step back. He wouldn’t rule out the idea of coaching again once his kids go off to college, but that’s for another time. Even in his limited baseball watching, though, he’s getting a glimpse of the Tigers.
“I got away from the game a lot,” Rogers said. “I haven’t watched a full game since I left. But I have watched a few innings of Justin [Verlander] and Rick [Porcello] once in a while just to watch, just to see what’s going on.”
What he has seen from Verlander has impressed him, enough so that he supposedly let him know at some point this season he had become a pitcher, not a thrower. After Monday’s win was over, Rogers in the clubhouse talking with Verlander.
“Without a doubt, he’s had the best stuff I’ve ever seen from a pitcher,” Rogers said, “as good a curveball, change-up, excellent fastball, and he can dominate any lineup they put out there. But over the years that I was here, he was by far more of a thrower and trying to throw to a vicinity, and not locating very well.
“This year I have no doubt — I watched a lot of games where I saw a pitcher evolving, locating a lot more than he used to. And basically the trajectory of his pitches were crisper, more of a downward angle and not flat, which I like. It shows he was as dominant as any pitcher in baseball this year. It’s a credit to his work.”