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Published: Wednesday, 4/6/2005

Thames with Hens, but for wrong reasons

Don't waste your breath blaming Detroit Tigers manager Alan Trammell for sending outfielder Marcus Thames back to the Triple-A Mud Hens rather than grant him his rightful spot on the big-league roster.

It's tempting. Thames outplayed Bobby Higginson in spring training. He hit for a higher average, totaled more homers and drove in more runs.

It's very tempting. Thames is six years younger than Higginson. He has more upside. And he's hungrier than Higginson, a former Mud Hen who's made more money than he'll ever need, and is now coming off the bench instead of starting in right field. Thames is so hungry for a shot at the majors that if you listen closely, you can hear his stomach growling.

But this is baseball in 2005. Thames has been in-and-out of minor league clubhouses since the Yankees selected him in the 30th round of the 1996 amateur draft. No one said life is fair.

Thames Thames

Higginson is due nearly $9 million in salary this season, making him one of the Tigers' highest-paid players. And no matter what explanation Trammell gave reporters for his decision to keep Higginson over Thames, money was a factor. Owner Mike Ilitch can do a lot with his Little Caesars franchises for $9 million.

Higginson is a personal favorite of Trammell's - a tough-minded hard-worker with declining skills who's nearing the end of his career.

Trammell's heart is in the right place, but his logic is flawed.

Unfortunately, Thames doesn't have friends in high places.

Dmitri Young, Thames' best friend on the Tigers who clouted three homers in Monday's opener, spoke out against Thames' demotion, which made Thames feel better, but, here he is, back in Toledo preparing to open another season in the minors.

To his credit, Thames isn't blaming anyone.

He isn't taking the bait. He isn't pouting and pointing fingers.

What good would it do?

Detroit gave Thames a chance a year ago, promoting him after he tore up International League pitching and painted Tigers management into a corner to acquire his services.

Thames looked great in spring training. He proved last year wasn't a fluke, continuing to hit the long ball and drive in runs with consistency.

Thames is smart. To play the game of baseball at its highest level, he realizes he has to play along.

If that means taking his first 200 at-bats of the season with the Mud Hens - and liking it - so be it.

"I wanted to clear my head and pick up where I left off at the end of spring training,'' Thames explained yesterday.

Thames is prepared to do what Trammell challenged him to do last week upon sending him back to Toledo: Prove Trammell wrong.

"This will make me work harder to get back to the major leagues and prove people wrong,'' he said.

Thames has played in enough Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A cities and taken enough 10-hour bus trips to know he doesn't want to spend his entire career in the minors.

"I'm here,'' he said. "I'm happy, I've got a smile on my face, and I'm ready to play baseball."

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