Iglesias does not mind having high standards to live up to: 'It pushes me to work harder'
DETROIT — Just based on his advanced billing, Jose Iglesias is going to have a high bar to live up to.
Based on the number that fans see on his back, he’s got expectations just as lofty.
Iglesias will wear No. 1 with the Tigers — a jersey that hasn’t been worn since Lou Whitaker retired in 1995 — a standard of excellence that may be just as hard to live up to as the fact that he’s been compared to the best defensive shortstops in the history of the game, guys like Omar Vizquel and Ozzie Smith.
“I asked for No. 1. It used to be a really good player here in Detroit, and unfortunately, I never got to see him play. I hear a lot of good things about him, and just really thankful to have that number, and represent it,” said Iglesias, who was five years old and living in Cuba when Whitaker played his final game. “I like No. 1, I hear about it used to be a special number, and I would like to have it.”
His manager, Jim Leyland, was willing to offer up his own jersey number, if Iglesias wanted it. The 23-year-old wore Leyland’s No. 10 this year in Boston, before Tuesday’s three-team trade that brought him to Detroit.
“He did? Well, I’m going to ask him if he wants it. If he wants it, he can have it,” Leyland said. “But if he wants No. 10, he can have it. I’ll ask him today. Sometimes it’s a significant thing with a player. If the kid wants No. 10, he can have No. 10. Maybe they’ll be ripping the wrong guy then.”
For many fans, there’s an attachment to the physical number a player wears. Not so much for Leyland, who’s worn several, starting with 28, when he was a coach with the White Sox. Sparky Lyle offered him $1,000 to take the number, when he joined the team.
“I said two might do it. No. I gave it to him. I didn’t want $1,000. Take the number. What do I care?” Leyland joked. “If this kid wants No. 10, he can have it. I’ll ask him today.
“One thing we know for sure: He’s going to be here a helluva lot longer than I am.”
Iglesias won’t be eligible for arbitration until 2016, and won’t be a free agent until 2019. That definitely puts him the category of youngster.
“He looks like he’s about 15 years old. I think today was one of the first days since I’ve been here, or in my career, that when I saw him, I did feel a little old,” Leyland admitted.
He’s not the only one.
“When you’re 30, everybody is a kid. I know he’s pretty young. But Cuban baseball, they push you to a level that it doesn’t matter how old are you, you still have to perform at the high level. He was doing that. So he’s one of those guys that has been playing under pressure, a lot of pressure for the Cuban national team and stuff like that,” fellow Cuban Brayan Pena said. “That’s why everybody knew when he defect, everybody know that he was ready to play in the big leagues. It just took a little time for him to adjust to the big league level. I think he’s doing pretty good.”
If he’s not the shortstop of the present — he was initially slated to play second base Friday night, but slid over to third when Miguel Cabrera was scratched, recording his first RBI in a Tigers uniform — he’s certainly the shortstop of the future.
“I’ve heard a lot of people talk about him, obviously favorably,” Leyland said. “Had a conversation with a general manager last night ... that told me their people just absolutely loved him, thought he was terrific.”
He’s the guy the Tigers have been waiting for to anchor their middle infield for years to come. They took a run at him when he was an amateur, having defected from Cuba, back in 2008.
Other than that, he doesn’t know a whole lot about the organization, or the city.
“Detroit, everybody knows great organization, great team. I’m very happy to be here. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to be here, and represent the Tigers,” he said. “Not much, I’m sorry. I (didn’t) know much about Detroit, but I’ll learn about Detroit from now on.”
He prefers to play shortstop, though, despite the lofty comparisons he sometimes draws.
“That’s my natural position. I’m a natural shortstop. But as soon as I’m in the lineup, don’t matter where,” Iglesias said, shrugging off the comparisons. “Not really. Doesn’t really bother me at all. Actually the opposite. It pushes me to work even harder every day. Get even better.”