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Early in his career Cabrera took the gift for granted. Not anymore. When he has a bad at bat he goes to McClendon for feedback, even though he knows that feedback will probably start with one question: "What the f--- were you doing?" It is part of the verbal game the two play. When Cabrera has a hitless game, he kids McClendon: "You were horses--- today."
Some athletes get on a hot streak and don't want to think about what they are doing, let alone change it. Cabrera says he hones his swing every day, regardless of how well he does.
Even after that three-home-run game in Texas? "I went 1 for 4 the next [game], so that means something," he says. "You're not perfect."
He neglects to mention that the one hit was a home run to centerfield.
Why are they so driven to play, when most players are willing to skip a game a month? In the Tigers' clubhouse answers vary. Leyland points to Ilitch, who has committed almost $400 million to the two. "Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are very fond of Mr. Ilitch, they're very respectful of what he's done for the organization and the amount of money he's paid them," Leyland says. "They believe they have an obligation to him."
Santiago says of Cabrera, "It is no secret: He wants to win a championship."
Fielder says he is motivated partly by people who say he is too big: "If you can play every day, I don't understand what's wrong with my body type. It might be the way to go."
Cabrera says, "You gotta appreciate this time when you have a chance to play every day. You don't know when it's gonna stop."
There are a lot of reasons for Fielder and Cabrera to play every day. The truth is, they don't need a reason. This is who they are. The game is both challenging and therapeutic for them. They embrace the difficulty of beating the pitcher and the grind of doing it again the next day.
Serious injuries can happen to anybody at anytime, so Cabrera and Fielder have been lucky. But Tigers trainer Kevin Rand says what separates them from other players is their ability to play through everyday pain. They are so in tune with their bodies that they can compensate for a tight hamstring or balky ankle and still produce. Fielder says, "I'm big, so people assume I'm able to deal with it," but he and Cabrera visit the trainer's room regularly. They just don't give in to faulty body parts. They are reluctant even to ask to be the designated hitter for a day. Imagine doing your job virtually every day for six months, including weekends, without a mental vacation.