Cabrera better prepared to deal with stress
Tigers slugger opens up about issues handling pressure
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Miguel Cabrera has had the pressure of many on him ever since he was a highly touted teenage prospect growing up in Venezuela. This might be the first time in his life that he knows how to deal with it.
It took a late night last October, and the corresponding morning with police, to finally get him the help he needed.
"It's tough to learn from your mistakes, but that's part of life," Cabrera said Tuesday in a relatively empty Tigers clubhouse. "Now I'm prepared for that. It's not going to happen again."
For all that has been made of Cabrera's problems with alcohol and how Cabrera described it, it was part of a broader issue in his life that has been simmering for years. His offseason counseling wasn't simply about dealing with alcohol, but dealing with stress and pressure in a way he never quite learned.
He's opening up now -- with his family, his friends, everybody -- and says he's a changed man because of it. He's also opening up about the amount of pressure he faced last year while the Tigers were struggling to hold on and he was struggling to boost a faltering offense.
"Everything was built up inside of me," Cabrera said. "I was angry at everybody."
His overall problems dealing with stress came well before 2009. As a kid and as a prospect, it was the pressure of a potential pro career that would make millions for his family. Later, it was the pressure of living up to the expectations of his country. Then it was the pressure of supporting his team -- first in Florida, then in Detroit.
"I was young," Cabrera said. "I had a lot of pressure onto me with the Marlins and everything. I didn't know how to handle that. [People] said you're going to be a man here, you're going to be a man here, but I wasn't prepared for that."
He became a superstar in 2008 when he signed his eight-year, $152 million contract with Detroit. Inside, however, he was still in some ways the quiet kid from Maracay. For all the times he showed flashes of his personality, he never talked a lot about what he was facing, sometimes with even those close to him.
He has always been known as a relatively happy kid in the clubhouse, but not necessarily open. His relations with the media have been hot and cold over the years.
"That's a part of the problem: I don't talk to nobody," Cabrera said. "Other people, they really don't know who I am. Always I was quiet, not talking with anybody. Everything goes inside of me. I didn't have the chance to explain myself. I didn't have communication with nobody. ...
|"Right now, I'm more responsible for myself. I can get through anything."|
|-- Miguel Cabrera|
"I think that when somebody wanted to talk to me, they would be careful, because they know I'm going to be reacting."
A sign of that pressure surfaced early in his Tigers career. Two weeks into the 2008 season, when Cabrera was off to a slow start and the Tigers were struggling, he talked about how he felt he was letting the team down.
As the Tigers struggled to hold on in 2009, it was more of a problem.
"The last month, I put a lot of pressure on myself, because of the way we played," Cabrera said. "We knew we had a good chance to go to the playoffs. The last week, what we were doing, it was frustrating for me."
It was during that stretch run that his issues became public. A police report in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham cited an incident at the Townsend Hotel on Aug. 31, when witnesses said Cabrera got into an argument with a young man and challenged him to a fight outside.
A month later, of course, came the more publicized incident, when Cabrera returned home after a night of drinking and got into an argument with his wife. Police responded to a 911 call and took Cabrera into custody to get him away from the scene. No charges were filed.
All the pressures seemed to come out once the Tigers lost their American League Central tiebreaker against the Twins. Cabrera broke down in tears as reporters interviewed him, and he seemingly blamed himself for the collapse.
Cabrera spent the offseason receiving counseling in an outpatient program in Miami, where he has a home and he was working out with teammate Magglio Ordonez. One goal of the sessions was to get him to open up and be more honest about his problems.
"What I did with the doctor, we talked about a lot of things," Cabrera said. "I explained myself to him, what is going on with my life. Now I can be more open with people, with my teammates, with everybody. I can say the people can know me, they can know what's inside of me. Before, they don't know what's going through my mind."
The results have been positive. Cabrera has been more open with the media and with people in general since reporting to Spring Training a little more than a week ago.
"Right now, I have a chance to talk with my wife and my dad, and I can handle everything," he said. "Before, I don't do that."
Cabrera said he received a lot of support not just from family members in Venezuela, but from the people there in general. He said he also received calls from friends, including longtime teammate Dontrelle Willis.
"It helped a lot," Cabrera said. "When you come into hard times and you have friends that will call you, that's good. That is when the real friends come, when you're having a hard time. Not when you're having a good time. That's a good friend."
Right now, in turn, Cabrera seems ready to be a better person. He said he has not had a drink since that October incident. Getting away from alcohol was part of it. Getting him away from the pent-up pressure that led him there was a big part, too.
"Right now, I'm more responsible for myself," he said. "I can get through anything. It's coming easier to me. You know how sometimes you have problems, you [keep it] inside, and you can't let it out. That's what happened to me most of the time. I was angry most of the time. Right now, it's easy to let it go."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.