Coke’s role changes on, off the field

DETROIT — The odds of Detroit Tigers left-handed reliever Phil Coke being a good dad appear to be high.

That doesn’t seem to be the case for his chances to take on the team’s full-time closer role this season.

Coke and his wife, Bobbie, welcomed their first child, daughter Mickenzie Lou Ann, a couple of days after Coke turned 30 last July.

This past offseason is the first one he’s spent as a new dad.

“It’s a little different, but it’s a fun different,” Coke said recently. “It’s a slightly different mindset because now I have another person that I need to be making sure that I’m doing all the right things for. Being so young, she doesn’t know anything about the world.

“It seems like a daunting task, but every day’s an adventure. It’s how I choose to look at it. It’s not a pain in the neck or anything like that … I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly.”

Coke also enjoyed the Tigers’ run to the World Series last season. One of the indelible images from the playoffs was Coke slamming his glove on the mound after the Tigers finished sweeping the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series.

Coke, filling in for a faltering Jose Valverde, got the save in that game and another earlier in the series.

Coke’s clutch performance left some wondering whether he should graduate from interim closer to the full-time job.

“I don’t think my glove would be able to handle it,” Coke joked while reporters laughed. “It took it like a champ. No breaks or anything like that. It’s just as strong as it was before it hit the ground.

“But the closer role is going to be defined by the season. We’ll see how it goes. I’m not expecting to be the closer. My job is not to have an expectation, other than of myself to do well and to do the best for the team.”

Those words are probably music to manager Jim Leyland’s ears.

Team president and general manager Dave Dombrowski has said several times since last season ended that Bruce Rondon, 22, would be given every opportunity to win the closer’s job in spring training. That doesn’t mean he definitely will be successful.

“We have guys that can close a game, but I’m not sure, other than potentially Rondon, whether we have guys that can close every game,” Leyland said. “In other words, Cokie can save a game, (Joaquin) Benoit can save a game, (Octavio) Dotel can save a game.

“But I’m not sure any of those guys would hold up, day after day, physically or mentally. I think that you have to be careful of that. If I have to mix and match, I’ll mix and match.”

Although he’s a big-league veteran, Coke has just six more major-league saves during the regular season than Rondon does and is flattered that people consider him capable of being the closer.

“I’m absolutely honored to be mentioned in the ring of hats to have the opportunity, if necessary,” Coke said. “In all honesty, I hope the kid goes out there and exceeds everyone’s expectations.

“But as we all know, it’s the game of baseball. You never know what you’re going to get one day from the next. That’s why we have the guys that we have that are as capable as they are.”

Meanwhile, Coke has another kid to worry about, one who doesn’t care what baseball job Dad has.

Coke, fiery on the field, seems to be quite tender when it comes to Mickenzie Lou Ann, even when she keeps him up at night.

“Sometimes you just don’t have that little magic knock-your-kid-out-for-the-night kind of ability, that magic sleep touch,” Coke said. “Sometimes you ain’t got it. Sometimes Mama’s got it and you don’t. Sometimes neither of you do.

“It’s an interesting balance of figuring out the child’s attitude and their makeup and their personality, and balancing it with yours and your ideas. Whether your child is able to allow your ideas to occur or not is kind of, it’s a trip, man. It really is.”

Although Coke might be sweet when it comes to his little girl, he said that hasn’t changed who he is as a pitcher.

“No, I think I have a slightly more intense perspective, if that’s possible,” Coke said. “Is that possible? We’re going to find out.”