BRADENTON, Fla. — No matter what his numbers might say, Brandon Inge isn’t ready to call it a career.
Inge is batting just .156 with no home runs and no RBIs in 12 spring games for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who on Tuesday announced that he had made the team.
Perhaps the Pirates and Inge are clinging to the fact that he did have some success after the Detroit Tigers released him last April. He joined the Oakland A’s and batted .226 with 11 home runs and 52 RBIs in 74 games.
But in August, as the A’s were battling for a playoff spot, Inge sprained his right shoulder and then reinjured it in September. Tigers orthopedic surgeon Dr. Stephen Lemos performed arthroscopic surgery to repair the injured joint, which forced Inge to miss the end of the regular season and the playoffs, including a first-round series against the Tigers.
Although Inge knew that the surgery and his age might scare off some teams, he said he never considered retiring.
“I think I’ll play until someone just physically kicks me out of the game,” said Inge, who turns 36 on May 19. “I’ll play as long as I can. If I’m enjoying something I do — and that goes for anyone in any aspect of life — you should probably do it as long as you can.”
The Pittsburgh Pirates signed Inge to a minor-league deal right before spring training.
“I had to come in here and just get healthy,” Inge said. “It was a weird offseason, coming off surgery. I got my shoulder prepared this offseason as much as I could, but it’s nothing like getting back into baseball activities.
“At this point, it’s feeling pretty good. I’m just going to make sure I go out and get my time in.”
Inge, who still lives in Michigan, trained in the offseason with former Michigan football strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis.
“A couple days a week I’d do some mixed-martial-arts training with Mike Barwis,” Inge said. “He’s the only one I would probably trust with that. He’s so good at all that stuff, making sure I wouldn’t get too injured.
“It’s good for full-body workout and just good mind release — if you don’t get knocked out every five seconds.”
The versatile Inge would seem to be a good fit for a National League team because of his ability to play so many positions. This spring, he’s added another one — first base.
“It’s so much fun, I like it over there,” Inge said. “I might be the shortest first baseman in the league, but still it’s fun to play over there. I’m appreciative that they’ve given me that opportunity to kind of broaden my defensive horizons.”
Inge has accepted the fact that he won’t be offered a job as a starter, but still believes that he can help a team.
“In the role that most teams are looking for, yeah, I can play for a lot of teams at this point,” Inge said. “I love baseball. I play because I love this game. I love what it’s about.
“I want my kids to experience how baseball is and just the true form of baseball. For me, it’s just about playing.”
Some of Inge’s former teammates agree that he still has a lot to offer. In fact, Brandon McCarthy, now with the Arizona Diamondbacks, told AZ Central’s Nick Piecoro that the A’s might not have made the playoffs without Inge.
McCarthy feels Inge’s veteran presence and keep-it-fun attitude were a calming influence for the young Athletics..
“There’s guys (like Inge) that make you feel more comfortable, that loosen you up,” McCarthy said. “There’s a whole trickle down effect to it that’s impossible to quantify, but it does exist in there.”
Inge said he was just being himself and was thrilled that the A’s all welcomed him with open arms.
“I’m a little goofy and like to have fun and play around,” Inge said. “This is baseball. This is not open-heart surgery.
“We’re supposed to have fun here. We’re supposed to play hard and put a good team on the field for the fans.”
Up until Tuesday, Inge was on the bubble in terms of making the team, but he didn’t sound worried about it.
“Right now, Pittsburgh’s been very good to me,” Inge said. “I’m very, very thrilled with the opportunity that they’ve given me this spring.
“Obviously, just being a baseball player, I want to play, and if any team thinks that I can help their ball club, I would obviously go that route.
“There is a point where if I’m not going to perform as good as the next guy, of course, I would hang it up and say that’s my time. But as for right now, I’m still not quite yet ready.”