Tuesday, Oct 16, 2018
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Worldly White looking to settle down with Tigers

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LAKELAND, Fla. - Rondell White has had a pretty extensive tour of the North American map. He has played in five different cities, in two different countries, and in both the American and National leagues.

White figures that at age 32, in his 12th year in the big leagues, he has enough stamps on his passport. He would not mind settling in one location for a good, long ride.

He hopes Detroit, of all places, can be his baseball home for a while.

The Tigers lost 119 games last season, which hardly makes Detroit sound like a hospitable place, but White thinks the worst days are behind the storied franchise. He chose to sign with the Tigers last December as a free agent.

“That s something that I thought about - the losing here last year - but you get the feeling that is all behind them now and things are going to change, White said from the Tigers spring training facility.

“Everyone is very positive - upbeat. I was treated with class and respect since Day 1, and it means something when a team really wants you. It just felt right.

Of course, White s two-year, $6 million contract will ease the adjustment to the Tigers. He was one of the principal beneficiaries as Detroit opened its coffers this season in an attempt to bolster a lineup made up last season of underachieving major leaguers and minor leaguers who had moved up too fast.

White, an outfielder, sounds almost anxious to play for the Tigers after bouncing around with three different teams last season, and four in the last three years.

“Most guys like stability, and moving around a lot is tough on you, White said. “You can t control the business side of baseball and that has a lot to do with guys changing teams, but if you had a choice, most players would want to find a good place and stay there. I m no different.

White was available after a 2003 season that saw him make the National League All-Star team as a member of the San Diego Padres, and then get traded to Kansas City late in August. He hit two grand slams last season, and batted .343 in September for the Royals.

“Rondell is a proven big-league hitter, and that made him attractive to a lot of teams, Detroit manager Alan Trammell said.

“He s been consistent over the long haul, both at the plate and in the field, and that kind of contribution will help any team. He brings us a very valuable commodity like experience, and the enthusiasm of a rookie.

White s resume includes stops in Montreal, Chicago, and New York before he played in San Diego and Kansas City. He is a career .288 hitter with 156 home runs and 590 runs batted in. He started in left field for the Yankees in 2002, and led all American League outfielders by playing that season without an error.

“There s no doubt that having a guy like Rondell White around makes this a better team right away, said veteran Dmitri Young, who is starting his third season with the Tigers. “This is a guy who has been a great player for a number of years, and he comes in here anxious to show everyone that he still is a great player. The Detroit fans are going to like what he brings to our lineup.

White took some heat in New York after hitting just .240 in 2002, when he struggled because an injury to his finger that affected his grip on the bat and his swing.

Some looked at the eight trips to the disabled list in his career and labeled him as “injury-prone or worse.

“People were critical, saying I was washed up, saying I couldn t hit any more, White said. “I heard the talk that I had a bad year, and I was a guy who was hurt too much. I decided not to listen to them, and just go out and determine my own fate.

White, who hit .300 or better for four straight seasons, said that initially the criticism did bother him. He said the kidney and spleen contusions, the broken finger, the hamstring strains, the dislocated shoulder and the strained groin muscle all came about as a result of playing the game hard.

“I take pride in the way I play, and if you play this game all-out, injuries will be a part of it, White said. “When I hit .240 that season, I considered that an embarrassment. And I don t like being embarrassed.

White, who exactly one year ago was swapped to San Diego by the Yankees for former Tiger Bubba Trammell, painted the numbers “.240 on his bathroom mirror as a motivation.

“If I didn t feel like working out that morning, one look at those numbers changed my mind in a hurry, White said. “It was a pride thing with me.

The Tigers, a club starving for offense last season, hope White is the proven hitter they need in the heart of the batting order. White does not consider the wide green pastures of Comerica Park a threat to his hitting prowess. He expects to find the gaps, and let the home runs take care of themselves.

“My mentality as a hitter is that the bigger the park, the more room to operate and use all of the field, White said. “If you swing for the fences, sure, you ll get yourself in some trouble. If you just go up there and hit, the home runs will come. A smart hitter will use the park to his benefit.

White, who was selected as the 24th overall pick in the June 1990 draft by the Expos, has already had an impact on the Tigers.

“You learn a lot just being around veteran guys like him, said Cody Ross, who played 124 games with the Mud Hens last year and is battling this spring to earn a spot on the Detroit roster. “Rondell White knows how to play the outfield and he knows how to hit. He s not a real outspoken guy, but you can tell right away he s a big-league pro by just watching the way he works.

White said he wants to bring a quiet confidence to the Detroit clubhouse, and help the Tigers start a new era of winning.

“People tell me the mood is different, there is a different feeling around this place, a positive kind of thing, White said. “I hope that continues, and we get off to a good start and build even more confidence. This doesn t look like a team that lost 100 games last year. Guys are putting in extra work, smiling a lot and expecting good things to follow. I wouldn t have come to Detroit if I didn t think we had a real good chance at turning things around.

Matt Markey can be reached at mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6510.

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