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DETROIT — A familiar thought came over Ryan Raburn as he returned to the scene of his baseball nightmare Friday afternoon.
Reporters waiting by his locker inside Comerica Park’s clubhouse? This couldn’t be good.
“Feels like I messed up the game,” he said, “and I haven’t played yet.”
Raburn was kidding.
The former Tigers second baseman has moved on. A year after it all went so wrong in Detroit, where he was booed on loop in 2012, Raburn has rediscovered his swing and passion in Cleveland.
Raburn returned to town as one of the hottest hitters for one of the hottest teams. Traditionally a slow starter, the Indians utility man is the reigning American League player of the week and began Friday batting .329 with four homers.
“It’s been awesome,” Raburn said. “I didn’t really have any expectations when I came over here. I just wanted to come here and show guys I could still play and just have fun and enjoy the game. Last year was not very enjoyable. It was tough.
“Everybody seen how bad it was. It wasn’t real fun to come to the park every day and have to deal with it. Just to have fun and play the game, it’s been a treat.”
Drafted by the Tigers in 2001, Raburn said he holds “some great memories in Detroit.” He made his big-league debut here in 2004 and eventually settled into a key part-time role, averaging 15 homers and 52 RBIs between 2009 and 2011.
His career detoured last year. After the Tigers named Raburn their starting second baseman out of spring training, he batted .171 with one homer in 66 games. Fans unloaded while Raburn said he “forgot how much fun this game was.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland, ever protective of players past and present, now suggests he misused Raburn.
“I think I probably screwed him up last year making him a second baseman,” he told reporters. “If I had played him part-time in the outfield and moved him around and not just had high expectations, he’d have probably been fine. So I’ll take the responsibility for that.
“He’s a talented guy. It was probably my fault. I just thought maybe we could get 15 home runs out of him playing second base. It didn’t work, so it’s my mistake.”
Told of Leyland’s comments, Raburn said, “I appreciate him thinking it was his fault, but it’s nobody’s fault.”
Besides, he believes the change in scenery was for the best.
“It’s a little different. I’m not used to getting hits this early,” said Raburn, who did not start Friday. “It’s been fun. ... There’s a new family now. Hopefully we can do some great things over here.”
PRINCE ALMIGHTY: The pitcher in the grainy old videos of a 12-year-old Prince Fielder taking batting practice hacks at Tiger Stadium?
Indians manager Terry Francona.
As a Tigers coach in 1996, Francona would sometimes throw BP, including to the precocious son of Detroit slugger Cecil Fielder.
“I remember he didn’t pick up the balls,” Francona said with a laugh. “I said, ‘Hey, man. I don’t care how far you hit him, you’ve got to pick up the balls.’ ... We got a good laugh at that.
"I just remember thinking no 12-year-old should be able to hit a ball that far. I hope he doesn’t do it against us.”
EXTRA INNINGS: Indians center fielder Michael Bourn batted leadoff in his first appearance since gashing his right index finger on a slide into first base on April 14. ... The Tigers began Friday having won 28 of their last 36 games against Cleveland at Comerica Park — their most wins against any team at home during that span.