Inge finds second home with Mud Hens, TigersWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
While most of Toledo couldn’t wait until the clock struck zero on the life of Ned Skeldon Stadium as home to the Mud Hens in the early 2000s, a young, hardworking, up-and-coming prospect from Lynchburg, Va., was enjoying the ballpark’s final days as he began his journey to the big leagues.
That player was Brandon Inge, now 33 years old and in his 11th season in a Tigers uniform. At the age of 23 in 2000, Inge made his debut as a catcher with Toledo after being called up from Double-A Jacksonville.
“It took me back to my roots,” Inge said of Ned Skeldon Stadium in a phone interview with Toledo Free Press. “It felt like old-school baseball where I grew up. I grew up in Lynchburg, Va., and it just felt like good, old country baseball. I had a great time playing there, and everyone used to talk about, ‘Oh, that stadium is a little different. It’s old.’ I loved it. I loved it.”
At 5 feet, 11 inches and 190 pounds, Inge was not the biggest of prospects, but the Virginia Commonwealth University product played with a yeoman’s work ethic and toughness out on the diamond that soon won over fans.
Inge was drafted by Detroit in the second round of the 1998 Major League Baseball June Amateur Draft and continued to parlay that toughness all the way to the big leagues, making his major league debut with the Tigers on April 3, 2001.
Now Detroit’s longest-tenured player, Inge credits his time with the Mud Hens and games at Fifth Third Field as playing a vital role in his success at the next level.
“It helped my career more than anything [I] could say, playing there,” Inge said. “The competition, just the way they run the game and the stadium there and keep the fans interested. I had a blast. It was probably one of the most crucial steps into making my career out as a big league player.”
Inge quickly became a fan favorite in Toledo, garnering a popularity that carried over to the Motor City when he started to see major playing time with the Tigers. In 2006, Inge played a key role in helping Detroit reach its first World Series since 1984. Inge batted .253 as he established career highs with 27 homers, 83 RBI and 83 runs scored in 159 games at third base that season.
“Anytime you have fan support it is absolutely flattering,” Inge said. “Take anyone in their everyday lives. If you know that you have the support of the people around you, it makes life so much easier and so much more fun, so I thoroughly enjoyed playing in Toledo for particularly that reason.”
Even though Inge is in his 11th season with the Tigers and one of the oldest players on the team, fans are still as appreciative of him now as they were during that historical year back in 2006. For Inge, the feeling is mutual when it comes to both the Detroit fans and the Mud Hens faithful.
“You want to be nice to them, sign autographs for them and take care of them, and so being able to have that translate and go up into Detroit, the same fan support was there as well,” Inge said. “Tiger fans are Toledo fans, Toledo fans are Tiger fans. That’s the way it goes in Michigan and in Ohio, too.
“It was really cool to be able to put something on the field in Detroit where they could kind of follow a former Mud Hen player, and once you play for the Mud Hens you’re always going to be a Mud Hen. That’s a brotherhood there, so I was very flattered.”
After a 2010 campaign in which he surpassed 1,000 career hits, recorded 10 or more home runs for the seventh straight season with 13 homers and was tops among all American League third basemen with a .977 fielding percentage, Inge was rewarded with a new contract from the Tigers in October. The two-year, $11.5 million deal will keep Inge in Detroit until at least the remainder of the 2012 season with a club option for a third year in 2013.
“Respect from your peers is the most important thing you can ever have in this game,” Inge said. “I’ve seen all the organizations. I’ve never played for them, never played for any others, but I know all the guys now. I know most of the coaches, players. I mean, I know everyone in Major League Baseball at this point, and I respect all the other teams. I just don’t want to play for them.
“I want to play for Detroit because like you said everyone in the front office, everyone that’s come up through Toledo, it’s a big family that we have here with the Tigers, and they take care of their players. I want to take care of them by playing hard and putting a good product on the field for them. I’m glad and very fortunate to be there.”
And even though Inge is one of the old dogs in the clubhouse, he’s still playing with the same energy and passion for the game that got him where he is today, adding that the Tigers can win the World Series if the team stays healthy.
“There’s no reason why we can’t go all the way, and that’s the goal,” Inge said. “There’s no other goal that we have. We’re here to win it all this year, and it’s not like we’re saying we are. It’s not like we’re being cocky doing it, but that’s our mentality. We’re positive this year.
“We’re going to play hard, and if we don’t win a game, we’re going to come back the next night and we’re going to win that game. I love the attitude in the clubhouse. I love the talent that we have on the team. I mean, this is going to be a fun, fun year. We’re going to have fun with it, too.”