It's a hot, humid day in the Motor City, and Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera is taking a break from batting practice to play catch with his son and with Michael Rostker, a 12-year-old who has cancer and is visiting through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Michael throws to Miguel, who catches the ball and hands it to Christopher Alexander for the return delivery.
After a few minutes, Cabrera begins lobbing throws back to Michael as if they were popups. Christopher Alexander tries to imitate his father but accidentally launches the ball at Michael's family, who are standing nearby. Miguel laughs, pauses for a picture, then takes Christopher Alexander's hand as the two disappear down the dugout steps and into the Tigers' clubhouse.
To Michael, the experience "means the world." To Christopher Alexander, it's just another day as the son of one of baseball's biggest stars. And to Cabrera, watching his son grow old enough to share meaningful time with him at the ballpark has been a special part of this season.
"It's an awesome time being a dad," Cabrera said. "The things you want to remember all your life -- I think that's what it's all about."
* * *
Cabrera may not be the vocal leader of the Tigers' clubhouse, but the veteran plays an understated role in helping young players acclimate to the big leagues.
Just ask shortstop Eugenio Suarez, who debuted last season as a 22-year-old and started in 71 games with the club. The rookie went through cold spells at the plate and missed time with a knee sprain, but Cabrera guided the youngster through difficult moments.
"He was the one who was with me through tough times and supported me," Suarez said in Spanish last week.
Though Detroit traded Suarez to Cincinnati in the offseason, the shortstop says he and Cabrera still speak frequently.
And when Suarez returned to Comerica Park for the first time since being dealt to the Reds, he was most excited to visit with Cabrera. It's because of teammates like him, the shortstop explained, that he feels like he's in a position to succeed.
"They were the people who helped me and showed me how to act on and off the diamond," Suarez said. "I owe them. I take them in my heart."
* * *
Cabrera chuckles as he describes Christopher Alexander's growth as a baseball player. For a 3-year-old, he already displays good hand-eye coordination and power when batting off a tee.
The spitting image of his father? Not quite.
The son to one of the greatest hitters in the game models his swing after that of Rajai Davis. He has been imitating the outfielder's follow through for years.
"It's crazy," Cabrera said.
Right now, though, Christopher Alexander is too young to realize what's so funny. To him, it's just baseball, after all. But to Cabrera, it's a moment worth remembering.
"I think you learn so much from your kids," he said. "Sometimes, they surprise you."