Detroit Tigers rookie shortstop Eugenio Suarez is wearing No. 30, which just happens to be the number one of his heroes, Magglio Ordonez, wore while winning a batting title and leading Detroit back to the World Series.
"I like everything about Magglio," said Suarez. "He was a good hitter — a very good hitter. And he’s a very good person, too. Our strokes are different, but I take the same approach to hitting: just see the ball and hit the ball.
"Wearing his number makes it even more special to be here with the Tigers."
Did Suarez, 22, ask for No. 30?
"No," he said, "it was the number given to me when I came to the big leagues."
When Suarez arrived on May 27, Tigers clubhouse manager Jim Schmakel handed him the classic Tigers home uniform with the Olde English D on the front and No. 30 on the back.
"I’d like to think I actually researched this and gave Eugenio the number because it was Magglio’s," said Schmakel, 62, who has been handing out numbers to Tigers since 1979. "But it just ended up being total luck that I gave him No. 30. And now Eugenio reminds me a lot of Magglio. How about that?"
But even that chance connection pales by what happened in the third inning of a game with the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park on June 14.
The pennant-clinching homer Ordonez hit in 2006 was played on the scoreboard video screen prior to that inning, and Ordonez was then shown sitting in a stadium luxury suite with his wife and daughter. He stood up and waved as the fans gave him a warm reception.
When the cheers quieted, Suarez stepped to the plate and promptly crushed a home run.
How’s that for feeding off some good karma?
But it got even better. The Tigers scored seven runs that inning, and Suarez got up again and hit an RBI-double. That made him the first Detroit player with two extra-base hits in one inning since — you guessed it — Ordonez on Aug. 12, 2007 against the Oakland A’s.
Suarez walked his next time up and led off the seventh inning with a triple. So, when he came up again in the eighth inning, Suarez had a chance to become the first Tiger since Carlos Guillen to hit for the cycle. Guillen did it on Aug. 1, 2006 against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla.
When Suarez hit a ground ball to third base and ended up reaching first on a fielder’s choice play, the cycle went by the way side. The man patting him on the back was Tigers first base coach Omar Vizquel, the Gold Glove shortstop from Venezuela who was another one of Suarez’s heroes.
it just ended up being total luck that I gave him No. 30. And now Eugenio reminds me a lot of Magglio. How about that?
"Good job," Vizquel told Suarez. "What’s done is done. Just keep playing."
Suarez was batting .400 after that game on June 14. But he’s gone 3-for-24 (.125) since then, and is experiencing the same growing pains as rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos. Laying off low breaking balls is something Suarez must learn to do, but his overall numbers are good considering he played only 12 games at Triple-A Toledo before his promotion to Detroit.
Suarez is batting .250 with three homers and six RBI heading into an 8 p.m. Tuesday game at Texas with the Rangers on FOX Sports Detroit (Tigers Live begins at 7).
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has been careful to not put added pressure on Suarez, and has either batted him ninth or eighth. But one strikeout for every four at-bats has been a problem along with left-handers. Suarez is batting .167 against southpaws, but is a healthy .290 against righties. That defies the usual pattern for right-handed hitters.
Still, he’s shown surprising pop and has proven to be better than average with the glove. And he has swagger in his step and has shown leadership potential. When reigning Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer was giving up seven runs in one inning, Suarez was the one who approached Scherzer to offer encouragement and pound his glove in support.
"He’s given us more offense than we thought," Ausmus said recently. "And he’s shown a little more power than expected. But we knew he’d inject a little energy."
Suarez was 17 when he signed a free agent contract with the Tigers on Oct. 9, 2008. They were not a tough choice — what with Ordonez and Guillen, another Venezuelan, playing for Detroit.
"The Tigers definitely were my favorite team," said Suarez, who is from Edo Bolivar. "They had a lot of Latin guys, too, like Placido Polanco, and were the best organization in the minor and major leagues. I did not need the money most. I just wanted to play for the Tigers.
"And being able to play with all the superstars on this team is a dream come true."