DETROIT — Instead of trembling hands soaking brand-new batting gloves, a hawkish Brennan Boesch dug into the box and took a bold rip at the first pitch in his Major League debut.
Bruising the left-field wall in Arlington, Texas, the lefty’s double on April 23 signaled the start of what’s been a special rookie season for the Detroit Tigers left fielder.
A week later at Comerica Park, the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder approached the plate against the Los Angeles Angels to the soundtrack of Eminem’s “Not Afraid.” He then deposited a Joel Pineiro fastball into the Halos’ bullpen for a grand slam — the first home run of his brief career while living up to the Motown rapper’s lyrics.
“In this game, there’s nothing positive that comes from doubting yourself,” Boesch said before Tuesday’s win over Baltimore, just minutes after receiving news he’d been named American League Rookie of the Month for the second consecutive month. “You just trust yourself, your ability, whatever it is that got you here and continue to use it to be successful.”
What got Boesch here was a 15-game blitz of the International League while in Triple-A Toledo, where he batted .379 with 17 RBIs.
Called up to replace then-injured Carlos Guillen, Boesch quickly moved from designated hitter to left field, bumping veteran Johnny Damon from his defensive post. The former University of California star is hitting .341 with 12 homers — second only to Miguel Cabrera (.347 and 21).
Boesch is third on the team with 47 RBIs and he’s collected 17 doubles, three triples and posted a .595 slugging percentage leading up to a key three-game set against Minnesota, the final series before the All-Star break.
Those were All-Star numbers, but Boesch wasn’t voted onto the AL squad, not even by his own manager.
“I don’t agree with that,” Tigers skipper Jim Leyland said of the popular opinion that Boesch was snubbed. “I don’t think he should have made the team. I think it would have been a nice story and certainly could have been, but you’ve got guys who’ve been playing a while and are having big years. Like the (Stephen) Strasburg kid didn’t make it and I don’t think he should have yet. It’s a catch-22 because you’d like to see it happen, but I don’t have any problem with it. I actually voted for (Magglio) Ordonez as an extra outfielder.”
Damon felt the rookie should have made the team and even put in a call to AL manager Joe Girardi on the 25-year-old’s behalf.
“I was trying to push hard for him to get to the All-Star game,” Damon said. “The fact that he’s upset that he didn’t make it shows you how much he cares about the game. I had to talk to him a little bit and say, ‘Hey, outfielders and first basemen, there’s always that snub. You’re a great player, and without you we could be 10 games back now or maybe more.’ He knows his importance with the team.”
Now Boesch knows a bit more about baseball’s unwritten rules, though he’s moved on.
“It’s kind of in the past for me now and I’m not really thinking about it,” he said. “It will be nice to relax here in Michigan, recharge and be ready to go.”
Boesch said he’s learning something new each day he spends rubbing shoulders with his Tigers teammates. His folks, Phil and Vivian, are getting an education as well.
“We were going through the Detroit airport Monday,” Vivian Boesch said. “We were going through security and as my husband’s suitcase was going through the X-ray machine, they stopped and asked, ‘Whose suitcase is this?’ They looked at us and said, ‘What do you have in there?’ My husband said, ‘I think it’s my son’s (first AL Rookie of the Month) trophy.’
“At the last minute I had to buy some sweatpants at the Tigers store because I didn’t bring enough clothes. I had these huge Detroit Tigers sweatpants on, something I ordinarily wouldn’t wear, and they asked who our son was. We said, ‘Brennan Boesch,’ and they wanted to see the trophy. It was so cute. They were holding it up in the airport.”
Boesch, without much time to take stock of life outside of his cyclonic rookie ride, was unaware of his family’s airport ordeal.
“That’s funny,” he said. “Well, I’ve been relying on them my whole life, but maybe I need to come up with something else, like shipping (his latest trophy) home.”
Wes Morgan can be reached at email@example.com or 269-388-8400.