April 24, 2017
In moment of inspiration when Tigers
need it most, Aducci delivers; Hicks, too
By KEITH GAVE
For those who always strive to see a silver lining in every dark cloud, who believe in the power of perseverance, meet Jim Aducci – the newest and, without debate, the unlikeliest of Detroit Tigers heroes.
Aducci was the latest battlefield promotion to the major leagues after the Tigers hit a stretch in which they lost four regulars from their lineup in five games – Justin Upton missed several games to an army injury and Jose Iglesias (concussion protocol), JaCoby Jones (hit in the mouth with a 95-mph fastball) and Miguel Cabrera (groin) all went on the disabled list, where J.D. Martinez has been since the start of the season.
The Tigers weren’t playing great to begin with, hitting a low point not seen in years when they were swept at Tampa Bay, and now they were losing key players from their lineup.
Needing to turn things around quickly over the weekend in Minnesota at the end of a nine-game road trip, the Tigers made three emergency call-ups from their Toledo farm club. Which isn’t as easy as it sounds when the Mud Hens are playing on the road in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.
Aducci, an outfielder-first baseman just a few weeks from his 3n2 birthday, got the call to report to the Tigers immediately at about 12:15 a.m., awakening him from his sleep. Four restless hours later, he arose for a van ride to the airport and a connecting flight to Minneapolis-St. Paul. He arrived just before noon, with just enough time to introduce himself to his new teammates, take a few swings in the batting cage and, against what seemed like staggering odds only a few hours earlier, wound up being the guy the TV reporter wanted to interview after a 13-4 Tigers victory.
In his first major-league game in three years, Aducci had three hits – including a single and double in his first two at-bats – drove in two runs and scored twice.
“Sometimes that’s the best way to do it,” manager Brad Ausmus said of the emergency call-up player he didn’t know much about. “It doesn’t’ give you any time to think about anything. Just go out and play.”
But forgive Jim Aducci if, after getting a decent night’s sleep, he didn’t take a moment and think that a day like Sunday just wasn’t in the cards for him. Because it wasn’t.
Born in Burnaby, British Columbia, Aducci was playing high school ball in suburban Illinois when he was drafted by the Miami Marlins with the 16th pick of the 42nd round, which means he 1,251 players were drafted before him in the 2003 MLB draft. That’s when teams are picking up warm bodies to flesh out their low minor-league clubs.
Aducci, however, had a different plan in mind for himself. After nine seasons kicking around the minors with nine different clubs he finally reached the Triple-A level, one step below the majors. He got his first glimpse of The Show in 2013 with Texas, and had a cup of coffee again the following seasons. His combined stats: 25 hits, including one home run, in 132 at-bats for a .189 average.
Which explains why the Rangers optioned him back to the minors, and why Aducci decided to try his luck elsewhere. He went Korea to play in a professional league that is just beginning to produce players who can compete and succeed in Major League Baseball. Aducci played the better part of two seasons as a “yong-byung” – the Korean phrase meaning “mercenary.”
His first season there he hit .314 with 165 hits, including 28 home runs in 594 at-bats in 132 games for the Lotte Giants, who play before some of the loudest, most passionate baseball fans in the world. He was having a similarly good season in 2016, but he left the Korean Baseball Organization after just 64 games because, according to the online sports publication Vice Sports, he faced a 36-game suspension after allegedly testing positive for oxycodone, a painkiller banned by the league.
He finished the 2016 season in the Mexican Pacific Winter League. The Tigers signed him to a minor-league contract in January, and he continued his hitting ways in Toledo. In 43 at-bats over 12 games, Aducci had 15 hits for a .349 batting average.
“In Toledo, I was just playing the game, just having fun,” he told his Fox Sports interviewer. “That’s what we’re trying to do here, too, just keep rolling with it.
“This was kind of a big afternoon for me, personally, to come back from overseas. . . It just feels good, to help win a game here. It’s been an exciting, long day – but something I looked forward to.”
He did not add the words “for a long time,” but he could have.
Asked at the end of his interview if he felt tired at all after what was a whirlwind 16 hours or so.
“Yeah,” he said with a grin shared by anyone who was watching that game and that interview, “I am a little bit tired.”
Aducci was the second position player in as many days to have to make that unlikely 1,150-mile trip from far eastern Pennsylvania to the Twin Cities. On Friday, John Hicks got the call. A catcher by trade, he was slotted to fill in for Cabrera.
Hicks, 27, looked out of place at first base, misjudging a foul pop up that cost his team a couple of runs. But at the plate, Hicks has looked quite comfortable.
He has five hits, including his first major-league home run, in 10 at-bats, with six RBI, in the two games since his promotion. Prior to signing with Detroit last year, Hicks had played just 17 games, with Seattle in 2015, when he averaged .063 in 32 at-bats.
Another wonderful story of perseverance by another journeyman minor-leaguer – which just might be precisely the kind of inspiration the Detroit Tigers could use after hitting a serious rough patch so early in this pivotal season.