Knowing your role
Living the life of a big league player is about as good as it gets. Most guys in the big leagues realize how fortunate they are to be playing in a major league uniform. The Tigers have a couple of back ups that truly appreciate coming to the park every day, even if they know they probably won’t be in the lineup. It takes a special mentality to stay ready when you know you won’t start. For the Tigers, Vance Wilson and John McDonald succeed at their roles as well as anyone in the league.
Wilson is no stranger to sitting behind a star. In New York, he backed up Mike Piazza and here in Detroit, it’s Pudge Rodriguez. The secret to performing well as a backup is coming to the park everyday expecting to play. Even if you are not in the starting lineup, you have to expect that at one point you will get in the game. "Especially at the catching position," WIlson told me earlier this year. "Injuries happen and you have to be ready to play at any moment," he said. So do suspensions. Earlier this year, Wilson was pressed into duty when Pudge Rodriquez was out of commission. Wilson started in eight of the Tigers nine games in a stretch in August as Pudge sat out with a suspension. "Al Leiter taught me a lot about preparation and staying ready," Wilson said. Vance is often seen in the dugout chatting with the starting pitcher even on night’s when he is not playing. There is no question that Vance wants to start in the big leagues, but he also realizes that if he doesn’t have success as a backup, he may never get a chance to start.
John McDonald is a baseball player. There is no better way to describe him. When the Tigers acquired him in a trade with Toronto in July, the move was met with little fanfare. Yet, with Carlos Guillen’s inability to remain in the lineup with knee problems, McDonald’s acquisition gave the Tigers some depth. A fan favorite in Cleveland, it’s not hard to see why. Johnny Mac is not afraid to get the uni dirty. With the ability to play all infield positions, his value is often unappreciated. In the second game of a doubleheader in Kansas City on Tuesday, McDonald made an unbelievable catch. On a short pop up to right field, McDonald sprinted to short right, and with his back to the infield, made a diving over the shoulder grab that may have been one of the top three catches of the year for the Tigers. It was also a play that epitomized McDonald’s value to the club.