Inge: No hard feelings on release
One of the last Tigers players to file past Brandon Inge’s locker on their way out of the clubhouse and on to New York was Octavio Dotel. He has only been a Tiger for a few months, but he played against Inge for years at plenty of stops.
“I don’t know how you do it, 13 teams,” Inge joked with Dotel as they hugged.
“You keep smiling,” Dotel answered with the smile of a well-traveled veteran.
Inge already had that down.
As long as Inge’s release had been speculated by many, anticipated by some, dreaded by others, the finality of it Thursday — and the timing of it especially — hit the clubhouse hard. There were several red eyes in the clubhouse, including Inge’s.
If his heart was broken, though, he didn’t show it. Odd as it seemed, he handled his release better than his teammates. It was the end of a 12-year Tigers tenure, longest by any player in Detroit since Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker retired, but it was also a fresh start.
“I could see the direction it was going,” Inge said. “Not so much today, but just the direction in general. You can tell when you’re not really getting much playing time. You can tell the lineup he really wants to go with and how you are. Like I said, it’s no hard feelings. If I can’t help this team, I’ll try to go somewhere else and help.”
Inge had arrived at Comerica Park Thursday morning with his bags packed for New York, the Tigers’ next stop. He wasn’t expecting something would happen at this point, but he knew instantly what was happening when someone from the Tigers called him into manager Jim Leyland’s office immediately after the game.
“I mean, I didn’t play in the game,” Inge said, “so there was really no other reason for them to call me in before a road trip.”
When he walked in, he found manager Jim Leyland, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, and vice president/assistant GM Al Avila waiting for him.
Alex Avila has had the locker next to Inge for the past two-plus years. He didn’t know anything was happening until he saw Inge shaking hands with other teammates.
“Everybody kept giving him a hug,” Avila said, “and I was [ticked] off about the game and the way we’ve been playing, and then he says that he got released. I’m like ‘Dang. It’s just an awesome day today.’”
He was being sarcastic, of course. He knew Inge for years well before he became a Tiger, back when he was Al Avila’s son.
“I’ve known Brandon for like 10 years now,” he said. “Ever since I came here, when I was just a fan, he’s always been kind of 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 make them turn it around and be competitive year-in and year-out, he’s always been in the thick of things. Definitely a big part of this community and this organization.
“He’d always joke around with me when I was a sophomore in high school. Kind of from the get-go, he’s treated me like a little brother. I remember when I was drafted and I was catching — and he had went back to catching [in 2008] — I remember coming into the clubhouse right before I had to leave to West Michigan after I got drafted and he’s like, hurry up and get up here so I don’t have to catch anymore. Just stuff like that. I mean, great guy.”
When the Tigers called a team meeting in Cleveland at the end of last April, Inge and Avila were leading it. Victor Martinez, who eventually took a leadership role on the team, was out on a rehab assignment at that point. Inge and Avila helped sort things out.
“Something that I learned from him,” he said, “is one way that you gain respect and become a leader on a team is through your actions and the way you treat people. And I’ve been lucky enough to grow up in a great family that has taught me those lessons and also be able to play and experience Major League life next to people like Brandon. Just life lessons you can’t be taught anywhere else.”
Ramon Santiago knows about life lessons with Inge, too. They were teammates on the 2003 team that lost 119 games. They’ve been the last remaining connections to that club ever since Jeremy Bonderman was gone.
Santiago, too, took it particularly hard.
“That’s why it’s hard, because he’s been my teammate for so long,” Santiago said, looking down at the floor while he talked. “And now, it’s tough. But Brandon is a tough guy. I know he’s going to bounce back. He’s going to work hard. He’s a good player.”
Santiago was talking quietly in a clubhouse that was eerily silent, save for people wishing Inge good luck. To many, it was the end of an era. Inge was trying to look at it as a fresh start.
“That’s just the business side of it,” Inge said. “You’ve been around this game long enough you understand how it works. So yeah, of course you don’t let it affect you in any way on the field. But yeah, you prepare yourself. It’s more just common sense.
“I’m always the guy that will cross that bridge when I get to it. And it looks like somebody took out the bridge, so I’ll find another way around.”