DETROIT -- "Big. A lot of power." Those are some of the memories Miguel Cabrera has about Andres Galarraga -- a baseball legend in Venezuela -- when the Detroit Tigers' first baseman was younger. After he made it to the majors, during batting practice Cabrera repeatedly tried to hit a ball where Galarraga hit a grand slam in 1997. Into the left field second deck. It's a feat that Cabrera has yet to accomplish. "Not even close," Cabrera smiled.
Soon, Cabrera will no longer be chasing Galarraga's record in both Major League Baseball and Venezuela. At 398 home runs, Cabrera has one home run to go before tying his fellow Venezuelan with career-home run No. 399. But not only for the most home runs hit by a Venezuelan, though. Cabrera will join Tiger great Al Kaline, who holds the all-time record for the Tigers organization. But that's not why Cabrera plays the game, even in his 13th season.
"That's awesome, man, but I think I don't play this game to pass somebody to be better than somebody or get more home runs than anybody," Cabrera remarked about the impending record. "I mean, that's a good number, hopefully I can hit home runs the next couple and we win the game. But we have to keep playing. It's a long season."
It's an accomplishment that can't be ignored. But while acknowledging the significance of his 399th career-homer back home in Venezuela -- the excitement, celebrations, and pride that will carry -- Cabrera's focus is the next game. The Tigers, going for their fifth consecutive American League Central Division title, and another playoff appearance, finally ended a week-plus long slump of anemic offense.
A slump that, on a personal level, Cabrera would rather not think about. Too much information is bad, and the more you think about what isn't going right, the greater the struggle. Recently, Cabrera was asked if he knew that his batting average in the last stretch of games was .095. That game, it was all he could think about, and it began to mess with his mind. Cabrera isn't one to watch much video on the opposition. He relies on his memory instead, which, for him, simplifies his approach.
But to hit two home runs in the same day, the 33rd time he's done so in his career and both two-run shots, reminds Cabrera that he has been playing the game for as long as he has. For all the talk that Cabrera receives about his power, he credits Galarraga with more. For Cabrera, what he has pales by comparison.
"At that point, I never said I'm going to do that because he had so much power," Cabrera smiled. "You can't do the same thing, what he did, because he hit a lot of home runs with power, like 450-, 500-foot home runs. You don't want to say I'm going to be better than him. My home runs are pretty nice, but 400. When he used to hit a ball, he'd hit the ball like 450 to 500. Obviously he's got more power than me."
But the discussion isn't just about power with Cabrera. The slugger is not simply referred to as a great hitter, but he is consistently in conversations for the argument as one of the greatest of all time. And the thought that he would one day reach the 400 home run milestone wasn't something that Cabrera thought of until this season ... when he realized he was only 10 away from tying Galarraga's record. Earlier in Cabrera's career, that was a lofty and unattainable achievement. Now, he's one home run away from that mark.
As easy as Cabrera makes the game appear to be, moments like his recent mini-slump are there to help remind him that the game is nowhere near that simple. The slugger still gets stuck inside his own head. Cabrera overthinks things at times, especially when there is too much information. And sometimes the best approach after a rough night at the plate is to think the next day will produce a different outcome and leave it at that.
"When people tell me something like that, yeah," Cabrera said. "I think over and over and try to figure out what's wrong. Why am I doing that? So, yeah, sometimes."
Cabrera is trying not to think about where he stands in the record book. For the most part, it's a distraction. But at the same time, the more significant accomplishments are worth contemplation considering their significance in baseball history.
With one away from tying two players with such significant importance in the game, and two from passing their records, Cabrera still never expected to hit as many home runs as he has. But Cabrera, who looked as relaxed as he has in a long time, is looking forward to the accomplishment.
"Time goes quick," Cabrera reflected. "I feel like my first year was last year. Sometimes I'm scared because I don't want to stop playing baseball, you know? I just want to stop (aging) right here. I'm 32. Stop! And keep playing. Time goes too fast, man."