DETROIT — When Detroit Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler comes to bat at Comerica Park, a Motown classic, "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder, blares over the public address system:
Then Kinsler steps into the batter’s box, and good things usually happen. Kinsler is on pace for 204 hits and 86 RBI — both of which would be his highest production in those categories in his ninth major league season. He’s also hitting .302 with 11 homers, and ranks second in the American League with both 60 runs and 26 doubles.
He’s hovering under the radar a bit on a team where All-Stars Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez get most of the attention, but Kinsler’s numbers don’t lie where his value and accomplishment are concerned.
Kinsler’s never had more than 168 hits in a season, but is headed toward a lofty number in the second half of the season. Getting 200 hits is a hallmark of greatness. It’s a total that three-time American League batting champion Cabrera, who bats behind Kinsler in the order, has attained only once. Cabrera had 205 hits in his Triple Crown season of 2012.
Detroit obtained Kinsler in November from the Texas Rangers for superstar first baseman Prince Fielder. And from the day his walk-up song played for the first time, blending him to his new city, he quickly became a fan favorite with line drives, diving catches and a dirty uniform.
Does Kinsler play the song as a way of tying into Detroit?
"Actually, I started playing it last year," said Kinsler. "I went to a Phoenix Coyotes game and they played ‘Superstition,’ and the crowd started getting into it at what was a really bad game. So I went to it last year, and the crowd liked it.
"And now, here in Detroit, it works perfectly."
And he’s a perfect fit.
"I knew he was a grinder," said Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter. "But his personality is fun, too. On the field he’s serious, though. And I knew he was a good second baseman defensively, but I didn’t know he’s really good."
Detroit starter Rick Porcello, whose bread-and-butter pitch is the sinker, appreciates Kinsler’s range behind him as a ground-ball pitcher. He’s made just two errors in 371 chances for a .995 fielding percentage that ranks second to Boston’s Dustin Pedroia among AL second basemen.
"A lot of the balls that have been hit his way, in my mind they were going to be hits," Porcello said. "But he’s there and has it.
"And Ian’s been a tremendous teammate, definitely a leader. He sets a great example. I see him taking grounders during early batting practice, and it fires me up. That motivates me. He’s extremely talented, but scrappy, too. He’s a ballplayer."
And that’s the highest compliment in the game.
The Rangers drafted Kinsler in the 17th round out of Arizona State in 2003, but he made it to the majors in three short years. He credits Ralph Dickenson, then the minor league hitting coordinator for Texas, with his quick development.
"Ralph Dickenson had a huge impact on me as a kid in the minor leagues," said Kinsler, noting that Dickenson is now an assistant hitting coach for the Houston Astros. "He taught me how to hit with my legs and tighten me up. I’m still a free-swinger, but I was really a free-swinger when I signed."
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said, "He doesn’t have the classic baseball swing. His swing is funny. He swings up and still is able to hit the high pitches. He just tries to get the barrel on the ball, but the fact that he can get the fastball up always amazes me."
Kinsler was asked how he’s able to do that. He smiled, shook his head, and said, "I really don’t know. But when I’m right at the plate, that pitch is a pitch I can handle."
I knew he was a good second baseman defensively, but I didn’t know he’s really good.
Hunter said, "His swing is short and he has a simple approach. He gets the (front) foot down and goes. That’s a great line-drive swing and he’s on a 20-jack pace, too."
Kinsler credited Tigers hitting coach Wally Joyner and assistant hitting coach Darnell Coles for working tirelessly to keep him and his teammates sharp. Kinsler also appreciates the knowledge Joyner is able to impart based on having 2,060 major league hits, and the personal manner he brings.
And so, halfway through the season, Kinsler is on track to have his best season ever. If he reaches 200 hits, he’ll join Magglio Ordonez, Placido Polanco and Cabrera as the only Tigers to do that since Alan Trammell in 1987.
Kinsler is wearing Trammell’s No. 3 with the blessing of the team’s greatest shortstop.
He’s playing Stevie’s song, wearing Tram’s number, and bringing everything to the ballpark but a lunch pail. Kinsler’s become a part of Detroit faster than you can say Kid Rock.