Barbaro Garbey reflects on ’84 Tigers

Barbaro Garbey helps out with the Braves' pre-game practice Sunday.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — There was a familiar face hitting grounders to the Atlanta Braves before Sunday’s game.

Barbaro Garbey, who got off to a fast start with the 1984 world champions and drew comparisons of Roberto Clemente from Tigers manager Sparky Anderson, was helping out with pre-game practice.

"I have so many great memories of ’84," Garbey said with a smile. "But opening day was the best feeling for me. I did not start, but I remember sitting on the bench in Minnesota.

"I got one at-bat and grounded out to second, but I was just so happy to be there. I thought of how far I had come."

In 1980, Garbey was among 125,000 Cubans who were allowed to leave the country because of the poor economic state that existed in the country. He came as part of the Mariel Boat Lift. Four years later, he was standing for the National Anthem at the Metrodome as a major leaguer.

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"I left my country to fulfill my dreams," Garbey said behind the batting cage at Champion Stadium on the Disney World grounds. "I did not want to leave my country in vain."

Garbey, playing mostly first base and third base and some outfield, was as hot as the Tigers coming out of the gate. He was batting .435 on May 3 before leveling off to .287 for the season with 17 doubles, five homers and 52 RBIs.

The Tigers won that opener, 8-1, and took off on their historic 35-5 run. They dominated the division, swept the ALCS from the Kansas City Royals and took the World Series in five games vs. the San Diego Padres.

The ’84 team will have a reunion on June 30 at Comerica Park, and Garbey hopes to attend. He enjoyed being part of a fantasy camp for fans with his former teammates this winter.

He still keeps a close eye on Cuban players who have followed him to the majors — including Detroit shortstop Jose Iglesias, who’s currently out with a stress reaction and inflammation in his shins.

"I heard from people there that Iglesias has some of the best hands to ever come out of Cuba," Garbey said.

Garbey, 57, is going to be the hitting coach for the Braves’ Gulf Coast League team here. He lives in Livonia and has been a minor-league instructor for the Chicago Cubs (eight years) and Tigers (two years).

Garbey also gives private hitting lessons at the Arctic Edge Ice Arena in Canton for the Great Lakes Academy of Baseball.

PERALTA RETURNS TO LAKELAND

Shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who was not re-signed by the Tigers as a free agent, will return to Joker Marchant Stadium on Monday afternoon as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Detroit traded for Iglesias after Peralta was suspended 50 games for PED use. The Tigers then used Peralta with success in left field during the final series of the regular season and the postseason.

However, Peralta, a two-time All-Star, no longer fit in with the club. He landed on his feet by signing a four-year contract for $53 million with the defending National League champions.

Stan McNeal of FOX Sports Midwest wrote: "If you don’t believe that new shortstop Jhonny Peralta left Detroit on good terms, this should convince you. When the Cardinals make the 2 1/2-hour trip to Lakeland to play the Tigers on Monday, Peralta will be on the bus."

Said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny: "He won’t be making a lot of far trips, but that’s one I figured he’d be pretty good about going on."

Peralta is looking forward to it.

"It will feel good to go there and say hi to everybody," he said. "They’re good friends."

AROUND THE HORN: Tigers manager Brad Ausmus figures Justin Verlander, who should be making his first Grapefruit League start soon, will get in the five starts he needs to prepare for the regular season … Former Braves left-hander Steve Avery of Taylor exchanged lineups with Ausmus before the game. Avery is a spring-training instructor for the Braves. Ausmus was 2-for-6 (.333) vs. Avery during his career.