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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Former Tiger Ryan Raburn happy to be having fun at work again

DETROIT — Ryan Raburn understands the feeling of being the butt of jokes.

Truth be told, the self-effacing former Tigers utility man doesn’t mind that much — he’s made a few about himself, as well.

Remember that time he accidentally popped Miguel Olivo’s fly ball over the Comerica Park wall for a home run? Yep. So does Raburn. He referenced it when a TV reporter tried come up with an oddball conspiracy theory about weird bounces at the park during the 2011 American League Championship Series.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but weird stuff tends to happen when I’m on the field,” Raburn deadpanned at the time.

For a guy that can laugh at himself, it was no big deal that his new Cleveland Indians teammates were giving him the full razz treatment, as the media gathered around his stall in the visiting locker at Comerica Park on Friday, teasing him about still using his Tigers logo luggage.

Shoot, Raburn’s just happy to be laughing at work again.

“It’s pretty fun. I’ve been here so long, just to come back, kind of excited, a little nervous. I’m anxious to get back out there, see a few of those guys. A little different feeling being over here on the other side,” said Raburn, who admitted he almost took a left turn toward the Tigers clubhouse — where he spent parts of seven big-league seasons — when he came in from the parking garage on Friday, his first time back with his new team.

“I glanced over there a little bit, but this is a new family. Hopefully we can do some great things over here, but like I said, it’s a little different feeling coming back here on the other side.”

Known for his second-half bursts of power with the Tigers, Raburn has had a different sort of start to his season with the Indians. A career .225 first-half hitter (and .295 in the second half), Raburn came into Friday’s game hitting .329 with the Indians, having almost matched his RBI total from all of last season.

“It’s a little different. I’m not used to getting hits this early,” he laughed. “No, it’s been fun. I’m just trying to focus on having great at-bats, and having fun playing the game — I almost forgot how to do that.”

That’s no surprise, considering how poorly his 2012 season went with the Tigers.

After a torrid spring training — when reporters were joking with him about winning the mythical Grapefruit League batting title — Raburn hit just .171 in 66 games with the Tigers in the regular season.

He finished the year on the disabled list, and was released in November.

It was not a lot of fun for him, at all.

“Last year was not very enjoyable. It was tough. Everybody seen how bad it was last year. It just wasn’t real fun to come to the ballpark every day, and deal with it,” admitted Raburn, who watched his struggles sap all of his enjoyment out of the game.

It became like a job.

“Oh, definitely. It was a chore. Every time you come to the ballpark, it’s like ‘Man, alright. What’s going to happen today?’ ” he said. “But I think that’s just part of the game. I forgot how fun this game was, because ... there wasn’t much fun for me last year — even as good as we were playing. There wasn’t many positives coming out on my side.”

He would understand boos from Tigers fans, if he gets into a game this weekend, too.

“You know ... whatever they want to do,” he said. “I had some great memories here, and last year was tough, but whatever they feel like they want to do, that’s their own prerogative, that’s their own choice.”

Tigers manager Jim Leyland placed a lot of the blame on himself for being unable to get Raburn going throughout the year. He said just this week that maybe he should not have placed so many expectations on the career utility man by making him the starting second baseman.

Raburn shrugged off the thought.

“No. There’s different theories, different scenarios. And I ‘preciate him thinking it was his fault. But it’s nobody’s fault,” Raburn said. “I think it’s just the nature of the game. You go through spurts where it seems like nothing goes right for you, and you go through spurts where there’s nothing you can do wrong. I think it was just one of those years where, if it was going to go wrong, it did. Nobody’s to blame. I was the one out there playing, and just didn’t get it done.”

A change of scenery has worked wonders.

He’s not focusing as much on producing, not putting so much pressure on himself.

Based on a ridiculously hot streak earlier this month — when he went 11-for-13 with four homers and nine RBI in a three-game span — you can say it’s working.

“I’ve had some good stretches, but to that extent, no. I mean, it just seemed like nothing I could do was going wrong. ... Probably won’t ever do it again. Who knows?” he said.

But what’s different?

“I think in the past I’ve been so worried about results. This year, I’m just kind of focused on having good at-bats, going out and playing the game, just having fun. Just like when you’re growing up, in high school, Little League,” he said.

“I didn’t really have any expectations when I came over here. I just wanted to come over here and show guys I could still play. Like I said, just have fun, enjoy the game. ... I’m just focusing on enjoying the game, enjoying being around all the guys in the clubhouse. And, right now, it’s been pretty wonderful.”


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