It's easy to like Detroit Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario
LAKELAND, Fla. — There’s an awful lot to like about Jeimer Candelario.
It’s the way he acts in the Detroit Tigers clubhouse — quiet but full of confidence.
It’s the way he swings his bat — solid as heck.
It’s the way he prepares — like a true pro.
It’s the way he looks so comfortable at third base.
It’s how he seems to be so centered — he says he draws strength from a strong Christian faith.
It’s the way he is so fundamentally sound — he learned the game from his father, Roger Candelario, who runs a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic.
“I love him,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said of Candelario. “I think he’s fantastic. I love his actions at third base. I like his swing. I like his demeanor. They told me I would really like this guy and they are right. I enjoy watching him play. I enjoy watching him around the clubhouse. Out there on the work fields, he is always doing his job. He’s very professional. He’s very quiet. But I like him a lot. I think he’s going to be really good.”
Candelario is going to be really good because he is so comfortable. Because he feels as if he belongs.
And that all started with how he was welcomed by Miguel Cabrera.
When Candelario walked into the Tigers clubhouse for the first time, his locker was near Cabrera.
“Oh my gosh, I was excited,” Candelario said. “My locker was right next to Miggy.”
Certainly, that could be intimidating.
To be a young player meeting one of the giants in the game, a guy with a Triple Crown. Cabrera has seen tons of players come and go over his career.
But he befriended this young third baseman from the Dominican Republic.
They would pull their chairs together and talk.
“He always welcomed me and he always talked to me,” Candelario said. “I felt comfortable like I’ve been there a long time.”
Don’t discount how important that is. As the Tigers remake their roster, as they bring in a ton of young players, the vibe in the clubhouse is vitally important.
There is no discontent between the veterans who are left and the young players.
Candelario felt welcomed and confident, which carried over to his play on the field.
“They welcomed me and everybody gave me confidence to play every day,” Candelario said. “Being around Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, you see how they take care of their work and their business. It’s huge, it’s huge. They are consistent, all the time, no matter what happens. They are always going to work. If you play 15, 16 years in the big leagues, you have to do something special. They are consistent in how they work and how they take care of their business.”
Now, Candelario acts like he belongs. Like he is going to stay a long time.
“It was a big, big, big step for my career and I think it will be a great opportunity,” he said. “I just need to take advantage of it. Last year, they gave me the opportunity.”
Candelario is exactly what this organization is looking for — young, cheap, talented players.
Candelario was acquired from the Chicago Cubs in the Justin Wilson and Alex Avila trade.
“In the moment, when I got traded, I got sad,” he said.
But that changed after a phone call with Tigers general manger Al Avila.
“When Avila called me, he spoke to me, I felt, oh, I like it,” he said. “When I went to Toledo, I knew a couple of guys that I played with in the fall league. They welcomed me. In the first game, I hit a homer and I said, ‘You know what? I’m good. I’m good.’”
Candelario was called up to the Tigers and had a fantastic debut, hitting .330 in 27 games.
He has looked so solid at third that it has allowed the Tigers to move Nick Castellanos to right field.
Which certainly looks like a win-win right now.
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Certainly, it’s safe to assume Candelario’s numbers will come down.
But if everything goes as planned, if Candelario continues to develop and continues to hit, he will be a young veteran when the Tigers have a chance to be good again, let’s say, in four or five years.
“I just want to get better and be healthy and help the team win,” Candelario said. “If we are winning, everything else is going to be good, it’s going to be right. I just need to be consistent and help the team win.”
OK. So this team might not win. Not right now.
But you gotta love that mindset.
“I didn’t put pressure on myself,” he said. “I just played baseball.”
Candelario was born in New York and moved to the Dominican Republic when he was 5, when his father started a baseball academy in San Pedro, Venezuela.
“It’s one field and he works with a bunch of young guys,” Candelario said. “He is always practicing with them, getting ready to get signed. In the Dominican Republic, you get to play baseball all the time because of the weather. People there love baseball. They would play baseball with a rock and a bat, they don’t care. They just want to play baseball. My dad is one of those guys who is always there for me. He is always working with me in a positive way to play baseball. And God always gives me the strength and the power and faith to get better.”
Candelario can be summed up in three words: baseball, faith and family.
“God has given me the faith and the mindset,” he said. “The main thing is God. He is the one who gives me the strength and faith. My faith is always in God. If you don’t have faith, you don’t have nothing.”
After the Tigers' season, Candelario took about two weeks off. Then, he played winter ball.
“I played almost two months,” he said. “I hit really well.”
Over the last calendar year, he hasn’t really stopped playing. Or hitting. And he has started off this spring hitting .292 with a .414 on base percentage in his first 24 at bats.
OK. Let’s cut the chase. That’s the thing you gotta really love about Candelario — he just keeps hitting.
Contact Jeff Seidel: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.