DETROIT — Detroit wasn’t Carlos Guillen’s original team, but he’ll forever be known as a Tiger.
That doesn’t mean he was thrilled when the Tigers acquired him from the Seattle Mariners in 2004 for Ramon Santiago and the lesser-known Juan Gonzalez.
“At the first moment when they trade me, I don’t want to come here,” Guillen said Friday, after the Fiesta Tigres luncheon in honor of his induction into the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame. “Not really I don’t want to come, but I say this team lose 119 games.”
Guillen got a call from Andres Reiner, the scout who originally signed him, that changed his mind about playing for the Tigers, who lost 119 games in 2003 and were a bad team for years before that.
Said Guillen: “He say, ‘You want to play for Dave Dombrowski, Alan Trammell. They’re good. They’re good people. I bet you they’re going to try to do the best to turn around the team.’
“Made me feel different.”
From that time, Guillen worked to make the Tigers a different team, both in attitude and on-field play.
“I come here to, not teach these guys because they know how to play baseball, trying to put everybody on the same page, to believe in ourselves,” Guillen said. “I think when you believe in yourself, you’re going to have more confidence.
“That’s what I learned when I was playing in Seattle because I was the younger guy. I played with Ken Griffey, Jr, Alex (Rodriguez), Edgar (Martinez). I tried to do the things they did for me, trying to come here, trying to communicate to those guys — Omar Infante, Jeremy Bonderman — because I look around, I say, ‘Oh, there’s a lot of talent here.’
“It’s a lot of talent, but if you don’t believe in yourself, you’re not gonna do nothing with that talent. You have to believe in everybody.”
Guillen was one of the major talents who took the Tigers to the World Series in 2006.
That season, a 30-year-old Guillen hit .320 with 19 home runs and 85 RBI. His on-base percentage was .400 and his OPS was .920, impressive numbers for a shortstop.
In the postseason that year, Guillen batted .571 against the heavily favored New York Yankees and .353 in the World Series. Although he only hit .188 in the ALCS against the Oakland A’s, Placido Polanco and Magglio Ordonez were there to carry the load.
The latter part of his career was plagued with injuries, but Guillen said he’ll always have fond memories of the Tigers, the fans and the city.
“That’s why I love to come here, I love to play here, because they follow you everywhere,” Guillen said. “You’re in the street, they know you. You go home, they know you. This is a team everybody’s watching in Venezuela because we’ve got a lot of Venezuelan players on this team.
“We’re always trying to make the playoffs — first place, second place. We’ve got good players. That’s why I love this city.”
Tigers fans loved Guillen back Saturday night as he was honored before the game, which included him throwing a ceremonial first pitch to Ramon Santiago, one of the players who went to Seattle in the trade for Guillen.
The Tigers played a video tribute to Guillen, which included his infamous home run last season off of the Los Angeles Angels’ Jered Weaver, in which Guillen showed up Weaver after Weaver didn’t show Magglio Ordonez the proper respect.
Guillen hears about the home run from everyone — even from people in Venezuela.
“Everybody talk about what I did that day,” Guillen said. “Nobody say what he did to Magglio, what he do to Magglio when he hit a home run. They show on ESPN only Carlos Guillen, but they don’t show when Magglio hit a home run, him yelling, ‘Magglio, run hard,’ whatever.
“I don’t care. It’s fine. I worry when they not talk about you.”
Guillen is now having fun with his family in Miami, where his children, sons Alfonso and Isaac, and daughter Camelia, attend school.
Perhaps some day one of Guillen’s boys will play for the Tigers. If not, it could be another child from Guillen’s hometown of Maracay, Venezuela, which is also the hometown of Miguel Cabrera and Anibal Sanchez.
Guillen has a baseball academy there and visits every month. He started with just six kids, but now has 36 between the ages of 14 and 16.
“It’s fun when you try to create a routine for those kids, trying to teach what is baseball,” Guillen said. “Baseball is not easy.
“They think it’s easy. Play nine innings and go home. You have to prepare yourself before the game, all the little things we teach in our academy.”
Guillen’s baseball academy even got a special instructor to come in recently — Ordonez.
“He take batting practice, he work hard with the kids because it used to be our routine,” Guillen said. “He have fun. We have fun when we do those things.”
The baseball federation in Venezuela has already asked Guillen to be a manager of one of their minor-league teams, but that’s not something he’s ready to do quite yet.
“I only have three months without play every day,” Guillen said. “Maybe in the future, but not right now.
“Lot of the Venezuelan teams ask me what I’m going to do in the future. I say, ‘Well, first I’d like to spend time with my family.’ My kids are growing fast, trying to do things I haven’t done for 20 years. Then go back to baseball.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who got a chance to chat with Guillen on Friday, has always said Guillen has managerial potential.
“This guy is just a real good player,” Leyland said. “Switch-hitter. Knows the game. I said all along, I picked him early, I said he’d be a great guy to keep as a coach, potential manager someday.
“I always thought he was very sharp. He’s got good people skills, and he’s got a good feel for the game.”
Guillen retired during spring training this season with the Mariners. Although he’ll still be a part of the game in some fashion, it won’t be as a big-league player anymore.
“You miss travel, have fun when you win, worry when you lose, being in the training room, everything,” Guillen said. “The fans, the people, I miss everything.”
But one thing Guillen hopes he doesn’t miss is seeing the Tigers in the playoffs this season.
“They got a good team, but they need to step up,” Guillen said. “I think winning teams, they’re consistent.
“But they’re good. I think they got everything to win this division if they stay healthy.”