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Detroit Tigers' AJ Hinch's Stanford roots boosted his career, connect him with Tiger Woods

Jeff Seidel
Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — One Stanford man was heart-broken for another on Wednesday.

Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch was rattled after learning that Tiger Woods was seriously injured outside Los Angeles on Tuesday after a rollover accident.

“I was sick to my stomach,” Hinch said Wednesday morning.

Hinch and Woods both attended Stanford.

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“We overlapped in college,” Hinch said. “I've seen him at Stanford alumni events and stood on the sidelines of football games with him. He’s come to a few games over the years. It’s scary. It's scary when you see that the footage and you see the car and then they recap what they think happened.

Tigers manager AJ Hinch hits ground balls during the workout at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida, on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021.

“And you immediately go to his family. He’s got young kids. It's very scary. You pray for him and hope he gets through all this these surgeries and can get some stability back in his life health wise.”

Stanford men

Woods attended Stanford between 1994 and 1996 before leaving to turn pro.

In a 2016 interview with PBS, Woods said he regretted not staying another year at college.

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“If you look back, the only regret I have in life is not spending another year at Stanford, and I wish I would’ve had one more year,” Woods said.

Hinch took the other route. He stayed all four years at Stanford. And if you want to understand Hinch and the way he will manage the Tigers, all you have to consider is his decision to attend Stanford.

And to stay.

Hinch was drafted in the second round out of high school in 1992. But he decided to go to one of the elite academic universities in the world.

That’s the first clue of how Hinch approaches life.

Here is the second: After his junior season at Stanford, Hinch was taken in the third round of the 1995 draft by the Minnesota Twins. But he stuck around for his senior season — to finish his degree — and he is regarded as one of the best baseball players in school history. After his senior season, Hinch was taken in the third round of the 1996 draft by the Oakland Athletics.

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Hinch, inducted into the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame, was a three-time All American. And he led the Cardinal to the College World Series.

"Stanford is where we build them, we build winners there," Hinch said to the Houston Chronicle in 2019.

In many ways, that statement underlines one of Hinch’s biggest managing philosophies: he is trying to build a championship mindset on the Tigers.

And it started with his time at Stanford.

Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch looks on throws during spring training Feb. 21, 2021, at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.

Intellectual curiosity

Being at Stanford sparked something in Hinch, “to be intellectually curious.”

He views life as a classroom. “It's not one specific thing as much as it's a continual learning environment that department instilled on us," he said.

When he put together his coach staff, he made it a priority to find like-minded coaches who are obsessed with learning.

Hinch studied psychology at Stanford, which explains how he approaches his job.

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“As I get deeper into the sport, you realize it is an unchartered territory when it comes to each person having to handle success and failure," he said. "Part of this job, and quite honestly the majority of this job, is connecting with players and trying to bring out the best version of those guys. You've got to understand their person as well as their player when it comes to how do you motivate? How do you communicate to that person? How do you get through to them?"

Hinch does not rely on a single class from Stanford or a single topic to guide his coaching.

Tigers manager AJ Hinch speaks to his team during the workout at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida, on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021.

It’s more of the overall mindset that came from Stanford and translates to baseball.

“It's a hard game, and players deal with a lot of different things psychologically,” he said. “So, I guess for me, it's, it's created, an intellectual curiosity to study players more than judge them."

And to connect with them. No matter their personality.

"Whether they're personality is outspoken and boisterous or whether they are reserved and quiet, I've got to find a way to tap into their potential as their manager," he said.

Hinch played seven years in the big leagues.  On the back of his baseball card, it says that he hit .219 in 350 games.

And now, looking back, he wishes he could have applied that psychology degree on himself.

“I wouldn't have sucked so much as a player,” he said with a smile.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.