Former fireballer at Comerica Park as part of Tigers' season-long celebration of 2006 AL champs
By Kyle Beery
DETROIT -- It was 10 years ago, but Joel Zumaya still remembers the 2006 Detroit Tigers season as clear as day.
From his Major League debut and hitting 100-plus mph on the radar gun, to pouring champagne on fans and hurdling the left-field wall to celebrate a trip to the World Series, he remembers it all like it was yesterday.
The former Tigers reliever paid a visit to Comerica Park on Tuesday to take in the Tigers' 3-2 walk-off win in 10 innings over the Blue Jays. Members of the 2006 club are making trips to the stadium throughout this season to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the Tigers making their first World Series appearance in 22 years.
With his personality still just as flashy as his fastball was, Zumaya openly talked about his memories as a Tiger and his love for the city of Detroit. He also talked about a string of injuries that led to his burnout, ending his career after five seasons with the Tigers.
Zumaya said the hardest he ever threw, that he was aware of, was 103 or 104 mph. He was 21 years old when he made his Tigers debut, and throwing so hard at a young age can take its toll on the arm. Despite multiple injuries, he doesn't regret reaching back for a little extra on his pitches. After he had Tommy John surgery in 2011, Zumaya struggled with knowing his career was over.
"I had a rough time after that," he said. "I really got in a hole. I divorced myself from baseball, and it was the toughest thing I could ever do."
Zumaya said he last threw off the mound in January at Tigers Fantasy Camp.
"A lot of people are saying it looked firm," Zumaya said with a laugh. "I'd say I can still probably throw 93 if I wanted to. But I don't think that's good enough for me."
Instead of catching his adrenaline rushes from throwing fastballs, Zumaya gets his thrills from catching big fish. He and his brother run a fishing business in the San Diego area, primarily fishing for tuna. He said the biggest tuna he has caught is right around 100 pounds.
He has had a passion for fishing just as strong as his passion for baseball since he was a kid. Zumaya sports tattoos of fish on his left leg, and enjoys getting to live "a normal life" since his playing days came to an end.
Zumaya broke into the Majors in 2006 by going 6-3 with a 1.94 ERA and 97 strikeouts.
His favorite memory of his short-lived career was when the Tigers clinched the 2006 American League Championship at home in a sweep of the Oakland Athletics. Zumaya was sitting on a bench in the Tigers' bullpen in left field with two other relievers when Magglio Ordoñez launched a three-run home run to end the game. They went pouring over the left-field wall instead of going around to use the bullpen gate.
He also reminisced on the night the Tigers beat the Yankees in the AL Division series and brought the champagne celebration out to the fans.
"You can't relive those memories," Zumaya said. "You can memorize them, and you can say, 'We were there, we did that,' but to go back and wish you could do it again, it's tough. I think about it every day."
He still cherishes those moments and is thankful for the support he still receives from fans, as he did during his return to Comerica on Tuesday.
"Every person I run into, it's a hug, it's a warm greeting," he said. "And you feel like it's a part of family, but these are just random people that are your fans, and are appreciative of what I did, and it just doesn't get any better than that."
Kyle Beery is a reporter for MLB.com based in Detroit. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.