Cameron Maybin, Austin Romine ready to be leaders the Detroit Tigers' rebuild needs

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers catcher Austin Romine didn't need his older brother, Andrew, much during the quarantine at his home in Southern California.

At least not with his 7-year-old son, Benjamin, firing the whiffle ball at him.

"Oh, no breaking balls yet," Romine said, laughing. "We don't want to mess that arm up. I was trying to work on his mechanics a little bit and stuff like that."

When Benjamin wasn't pounding the strike zone, Romine used a pitching machine with an automatic release to stay sharp after the MLB put spring training to rest in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic and paused the regular season. Meanwhile, teammate Cameron Maybin trained with his 12-year-old son, Trenton.

[ Tigers starving for competition, even if it's just against each other ]

Though they would've liked to have started the season as scheduled, they didn't take the extra family time — a rarity among pro ballplayers — for granted.

"This is the time I miss every year," Maybin said. "You know, these are important times of the year for a 12-year-old to have his father around, so it was somewhat of a blessing in disguise to be able to be at home, work with him and pick his brain about what he's thinking."

Maybin's home provides luxuries he capitalized on during the break: a batting cage, a throwing partner who can "let it rip" and "knows how to protect" himself. Actually, the 5-foot-4, 120-pound third baseman has a pretty good arm, his dad said (watch out, 2026 MLB draft).

"My son has always been a huge fan of the game, he's a student of the game already at 12," Maybin said. "And he loves everything about it, so I've been waiting for this age."

Detroit Tigers catcher Austin Romine walks off the field after batting practice at Comerica Park on July 5, 2020.

2020 Detroit Tigers schedule: All 60 games ]

If Trenton becomes a professional athlete, he'll join a few notable family members: his father; and cousins John Avery (NFL); Aaron Maybin (NFL); Jalen Reeves-Maybin (Detroit Lions); Marques Maybin (Louisville basketball); Rashad McCants (NBA); and Rashanda McCants (WNBA).

Romine's son would join some elite company, too: his father; grandfather Kevin Romine (Red Sox, 1985-1991) and uncle Andrew Romine (MLB, 2010-18).

Romine and Maybin eventually had to return to Detroit in early July to train for the 60-game season, which starts July 24 on the road against the Cincinnati Reds. Access to free time is now limited; COVID-19 protocols are strict.

"It's a different time we're in right now," Romine said. "People pay a lot more attention to stuff that we didn't really in the past and with hygienics. You got to be a little more careful with where you go and what you do.

"I've been playing baseball for a few years, and this is definitely the wildest year we've had so far."

Outfielder Cameron Maybin takes part in fielding drills during the Detroit Tigers' workouts at Comerica Park on Saturday, July 4, 2020.

Coming back home

Maybin is set to begin his third stint with the Tigers, who picked him at No. 10 in the 2005 draft. He made it to Detroit in 2007 but got dealt after the season to the Marlins in the Miguel Cabrera trade.

He came back to the Tigers in a November 2015 trade that sent Ian Krol and Gabe Speier to the Braves. After the 2016 season, he was traded to the Angels for Victor Alcantara.

The journeyman went to the Astros in 2017, Marlins in 2018 (second stint) and, later that year, the Mariners. Don't forget he was a member of the Giants and Indians (both on minor-league deals) and then the Yankees — all in 2019 — before returning to Motown on a one-year contract.

The 33-year-old believes he has "a lot of good baseball" remaining. He hit .285 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs in 82 games last season.

"We have a lot of youth," Maybin said, discussing what makes this Detroit team different. "And in the short season, I think this youth could play to our advantage."

Cameron Maybin leading the charge from the dugout after a walk-off hit by Placido Polanco in a Tigers  game in September 2007.

[ Why Detroit Tigers wanted to bring Cameron Maybin back a third time ]

He and other veterans also are handling the young players far different from how they were dealt with in years past.

"Guys used to get ragged and hazed a lot," he said. "We're trying to let these guys know it's OK to be yourself, do what you need to do to get ready to help this team performance. A big part is just making them feel comfortable. For the most part, you got here for a reason."

The voice of reason

Unlike Maybin, this is Romine's first time with the Tigers, although his brother played on the team from 2014 to 2017.

From 2011 to 2019, he was a Yankee, then signed with the Tigers in free agency. Adding Romine gives manager Ron Gardenhire reliability behind the plate, 10-plus home runs and ultimately, a voice of reason for younger players.

That's his role this year.

"I was fortunate enough, for the first half of spring training, to get to know the guys to build relationships better," Romine said. "So the second time coming in, it felt almost like you're coming back the next year. It was building on the relationships you already had."

In 2019, he hit .281 with eight home runs and 35 RBIs through 72 games. In eight years, he has never been a full-time starter.

Andrew Romine, left, of the Detroit Tigers talks to his brother Austin Romine, right, of the New York Yankees and first base coach first base coach Tony Pena during a bench clearing fight in the seventh inning at Comerica Park on August 24, 2017 in Detroit.

Romine praised the front office for adding top pitching prospects Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal, Alex Faedo and Franklin Perez to the squad. Those players, he said, have the talent but need to become more confident.

[ Casey Mize pitches in Comerica Park, just not the way everyone anticipated ]

His fortunes as a starter might change this year, but nothing is going to alter his leadership-centered focus.

"We have a couple of guys, and myself included, that were added to this team to bring a little bit more leadership to the team," he said. "I think it's just going to be infectious in the clubhouse."

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold