Daz Cameron's 'life-changing' COVID-19 battle concludes with Detroit Tigers debut

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers outfielder Daz Cameron felt the symptoms.

And then some.

"You never know," he said, "until you get it and realize how bad it can be."

Cameron, 23, had seasonal allergies as a child, so when he tested positive for COVID-19 at the beginning of July, his health immediately spiraled — and he ended up getting pneumonia after contracting the novel coronavirus. The combination made baseball an afterthought and he didn't know when he would make it back to the field.

Tigers outfielder Daz Cameron signs autographs for fans before the exhibition game against Southeastern University at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla., Friday, Feb. 21, 2020.

He moved down to the third floor of MotorCity Casino Hotel with four other prospects who also contracted the virus, as his healthy teammates took the field each day at Comerica Park for summer camp in preparation for the upcoming 60-game season.

In early August, Cameron was deemed healthy and sent to the alternate training site in Toledo with the reserve squad.

And on Wednesday, the Tigers called up Cameron — the organization's No. 7 prospect — for his MLB debut, plugging him into right field and the No. 7 spot in the lineup. He didn't have much success on Wednesday — no one in the Tigers lineup did, as the team managed only two hits in a 19-0 blowout — going 0-for-3 with a strikeout and grounding into a double play.

"Once I got healthy, it was just something that was a norm for me again," Cameron said Wednesday. "My main goal (was) getting ready for this moment right now. I had to work hard, make sure I got in the workout room and actually did the right things to contribute for this day."

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Detroit Tigers center fielder Daz Cameron (75) poses for a headshot on media day at Joker Marchant Stadium.

He was "swinging good" at Fifth Third Field in Toledo, manager Ron Gardenhire said. After third-year outfielder Christin Stewart produced just 14 hits in 82 at-bats (.171), general manager Al Avila seemingly had no choice but to make a change.

So, Cameron got his big break.

"It's Daz's time," Gardenhire said. "We'll see what he's got."

His first call was to his father, Mike, who played 17 years in the MLB with eight teams. Then he called his mother, JaBreka, to share his big news. He heard from Tigers vice president of player development Dave Littlefield last night, just before Stewart's demotion was made public.

"It just felt like it was almost not real," Cameron said. "I mean, it's a dream come true. And I'm just shocked for words right now. I'm just happy to be here, and I'm ready to play for the team and get things started."

Cameron came to the Tigers from the Astros organization in August 2017 with right-hander Franklin Perez and catcher Jake Rogers in the Justin Verlander trade. He played 120 games for Triple-A Toledo last season, hitting .214 with 22 doubles, six triples, 13 homers and 43 RBIs; he stole 17 bases.

In 2018, he was much better offensively: hitting .285 in 53 games for Double-A Erie.

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"He's a great athlete," Avila said Aug. 27. "We like him a lot. He missed a lot of time this season, unfortunately. But he's healthy now. ... He's already in games and getting at-bats. He needs more at-bats, basically. That's the bottom line. We'll get him as many at-bats as we possibly can in Toledo at the alternate training site for the remainder of this year."

Cameron is the 10th Tiger to make his MLB debut in 2020 and the most recent top-10 prospect to do so, following third baseman Isaac Paredes (No. 6), left-hander Tarik Skubal (No. 5) and righty Casey Mize (No. 2).

"He went through an awful lot," Gardenhire said. "How it started off with him with COVID, and he's battled his way through it, looks great, looks strong. And like I said, they said he's swinging good, so we'll give him a shot up here.

"He had a big smile on his face. Another part of the guys that we've talked about for a long time. You know, see if he can do it up here."

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here's how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content