“He hit it to the Tiki Bar!”
That was the call made for a spring training homerun that, upon reflection, served as a warning sign for Major League Baseball. A warning sign because the homer came off the bat of Detroit Tiger third baseman Miguel Cabrera on a chest high fastball. The homerun indicated he was not only prepared to follow up on his historic Triple Crown winning 2012 campaign, but perhaps prepared to top it.
Somehow, through one quarter of this season, he has exceeded expectations. Cabrera is hitting .384 with 12 homeruns and 49 RBI. All of these numbers put him ahead of the pace he was on last season and once again in the hunt for a Triple Crown title.
Of course, while it is highly unlikely he will pull off back-to-back titles (it is has never been done in major league history), the fact remains that fans are getting the privilege to watch one of the best, if not the best hitter of the generation in his prime. And the entertainment value has been second to none.
Just last week in a game against the Texas Rangers, Cabrera singled in his first at-bat before hitting homeruns in his second and third plate appearances. After getting intentionally walked in his fourth Cabrera, as if to release his frustration, smashed his third homerun of the game in his fifth.
But while he has been able to put on these displays of power, more impressive is that Cabrera has done so without sacrificing at-bat with strikeouts. Cabrera has compiled 25 extra base hits while striking out just 24 times, a shockingly low ratio compared to most big league sluggers like Baltimore’s Chris Davis (28-46), Atlanta’s Justin Upton (22-49) and Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt (24-43).
Even with all his recent success, Cabrera continues to play the game with the same enthusiasm as the rookie that won the 2003 World Series with the Florida Marlins. Cabrera and teammate Prince Fielder always look like they are having fun on the field and in the dugout. They smile, they create ridiculous handshakes and they remind the fans that though they get paid millions of dollars, they would play the game for free.
From a historical perspective, what Cabrera is doing rivals that of the greatest years of Mickey Mantle or Barry Bonds, but the overall performance of his teams have prevented him from claiming big time awards.
Though he has finished inside the top five in MVP voting six times, he has only won the award one time, that coming last year. A .320 career batting average should also put Hall of Fame voters on notice.
As for now, Cabrera’s game goes beyond awards and statistics. Right now it is the fans in the outfield stands that need to be on notice, especially the ones at the Tiki Bar.