Colin Kaline making a name in West Michigan

COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. — Every Detroit Tigers fan knows the name Kaline, but not everyone knows there are two Kalines in the organization.

The Kaline everyone knows is Hall of Famer Al, a special assistant to president/general manager Dave Dombrowski.

The one under the radar is Colin Kaline, Al’s grandson and a second baseman for the West Michigan Whitecaps of the Single-A Midwest League.

The Tigers selected Colin in the 26th round of the 2011 draft after he graduated from Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Fla., where had the opportunity to play against the Tigers in the annual opening game during spring training.

Although the Kaline name is already famous in Detroit, Colin is just trying to make a name for himself.

“In this organization, I’m very proud of what he did. But at the same time, you want to establish yourself as your own player,” Colin said.

“He’s been very instrumental in allowing me to do that. People are always going to say things, whether they’re positive or negative. But all my teammates support me for who I am, and I just go about my business every day, try to do it the right way.”

One of the things that might make it a little easier for Kaline is that he’s not the only Whitecaps player with a famous name. Among his teammates are Patrick Leyland, son of Tigers manager Jim Leyland, and Nick Avila, cousin of Tigers catcher Alex Avila and nephew of Tigers assistant GM Al Avila.

“I wouldn’t say it helps, but it’s never a bad thing when other people are going through the same type of thing that you are,” Colin Kaline said. “They at least understand to the same level, whereas other people are very helpful but those guys kind of go through the same thing.”

Many of Kaline’s current teammates were also teammates last year on the Connecticut Tigers, who play a short season in the New York-Penn League.

“It’s great,” Kaline said. “It’s always a good sign when you’re getting moved up.

“Actually, a lot of guys from the Connecticut roster are here this year. So, it’s fun being able to play with a lot of your friends and being so close to home. It’s exciting that I get to see a lot of my family members and a lot of my good friends get to come to the games.”

Unlike when he was in Connecticut, it’s easy for Kaline’s family members to come see him.

“They come over whenever we have a weekend series,” Kaline said. “With work during the week, it’s hard, but during the weekend, they just hop on the interstate and head on over. They don’t have to worry about booking a flight or anything like that.”

Kaline said his grandfather usually makes it across the state whenever the Tigers’ schedule allows.

“The Tigers’ schedule and our home schedule have kind of conflicted so far,” Colin said. “But I still talk to him and keep in touch with him baseball-wise and just life issues.”

Meanwhile, Colin is still adjusting to life as a professional baseball player in his first full season.

“Everyone in pro ball was the best player either on their high school team or their college team,” Kaline said. “The best players in the country play here, so on a day-to-day basis, you just go up against the best of the best. Whereas in college, there were some teams that were maybe a little less talented than others.

“In pro ball, everyone’s good and every team has good players.”

In addition to the upgrade in competition from college baseball, Kaline is getting used to playing in a lot more games.

“I think the most challenging thing is just the everyday grind, learning to train your body and your mind to be ready to perform,” Colin said. “At this level, 140 games is a big jump from the 55-60 you play in college. It’s definitely been the biggest transition.”

But there are advantages to professional baseball as opposed to college baseball.

“This is the first time we’ve had a real offseason,” Colin said. “In college, you have an offseason, you get to go home, but it’s about three weeks. You’re busy trying to catch up with your family and catch up with your buddies.

“But here, this being your job, you have an extended time to train your body, train your mind. It was a good offseason.

“It’s nice to have some time off after playing a full college season and then a short season in minor-league ball.”

Although Colin is not hitting the way he would like, batting only .190 in 28 games, his manager is pleased with what he has done.

“Colin started off playing a lot early in the year before Jason King came back from an injury,” Whitecaps manager Ernie Young said. “Now Colin’s probably going to play sparingly, some third base, some second base.

“He’s very hard-working, very competitive, and he’s done a good job so far.”

The Whitecaps are 20-25 and seventh in the Midwest League East, but Kaline hopes that if they can start winning some close games, they’ll be able to move up in the standings. They’re 7-13 in one-run games.

“One-run games have been killing us this year,” Kaline said. “But we have a lot of talent on this team. It’s just a matter of time before everyone starts clicking.

“We have great chemistry. The clubhouse is a riot. Everyone’s always having a good time.

“Right now, it’s just keeping everyone positive because those one-run games haven’t been going our way, but we’re looking to turn it around.”