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Ian Kinsler prefers leading on field, not off

5/22/2014

DETROIT – Give former Rangers infielder Ian Kinsler credit: He was honest enough on Thursday to admit that the kind of leadership role he had in Texas wasn’t something that fit his style.

“I’m here to play baseball. I’m here to win,” Kinsler said. “I’m here to help the team any way I can and perform. That’s really it. I’m not worried about taking care of any young kids or making sure dress code is met or anything like that. I’m here to play ball and help the team.”

So was it a relief to come to a place where that isn’t expected or needed?

“Yeah, it is,” Kinsler said. “That’s all I want to do is play baseball. I want to be on the field and compete and talk about the game, help my teammates in that way. I’d love to talk about baseball and what I see on the field and things you can take advantage of. As far as the other stuff, in my opinion it’s for the birds and not something I enjoy doing.”

It’s not that Kinsler was “forced” to lead by the Rangers. But circumstances dictated that it was necessary. Michael Young left to play for the Philadelphia Phillies and later the Los Angeles Dodgers, leaving a void in the clubhouse. Other veteran players were replaced with young prospects, needing guidance and attention from those with experience. Kinsler was one of the few players left from the club’s core – a homegrown talent drafted and developed by the organization – and thought he was ready for the responsibility.

The Rangers needed Kinsler to step up and help run the clubhouse in Young’s absence. But Kinsler just isn’t that type of personality. He says he isn’t an emotional guy off the field, maybe hinting that if it was “rah-rah” speeches the club needed, he wasn’t the one to do it. But Young wasn’t particularly emotional, either.

Leading takes time. It means paying attention to everything around you both on and off the field. It’s being willing to say something even when it’s not popular, or checking in on a rookie even when your own game isn’t up to standards. It also means talking to the media and staying patient when dumb questions are asked. Sometimes it means biting your tongue, something Kinsler had trouble with at times. The other side of that is it means taking blame when things aren’t going well and putting up with fan discontent as one of the leaders of the team.

There are a lot of demands on those types of players, especially in a 162-game season that’s played in the span of six months.

That’s not an easy balancing act.

“I wanted to be a leader,” Kinsler said. “I love being a leader on the field. I love being a leader in the dugout. I love talking about baseball and helping players on the field and whatever it had to do relating to baseball.

“But after Mike left and the organization started to change a little bit, a lot of young players came up, and that became part of the leadership. You have to teach players how to prepare the right way and that in turn is going to help you win. But I'm not good at that. I'm not good at following a guy around or telling him what time to show up to the field or stuff like that, how to prepare for a game. I think they should figure that out on their own. As far as the game, I love to lead on the field.”

It’s honest. In Detroit, Kinsler can worry about being the leadoff hitter and contributing on the field. There are plenty of veteran players – stars, even – that can handle the clubhouse and push a young player along. Kinsler simply focuses on playing well and helping the team win. He’s doing that so far, batting .317 with four homers and 20 RBIs as the Tigers have jumped out to a five-game lead in the AL Central and the second-best mark in the American League.

Rangers manager Ron Washington said he didn’t see Kinsler as uncomfortable in a leadership role. He said leadership was something he felt the media talked about a lot, but didn’t fully understand.

“You guys put that stuff out there,” Washington said. “I never once went through that clubhouse and tried to tell anybody to be a leader, because leaders are people that other players flock to and identify with. I have no comment on any of that because I didn’t see that.

“I saw him do a lot of things in the clubhouse. I want 25 of them. I’ve seen him do a lot of things in the clubhouse.”

Kinsler agreed, saying that it wasn’t a matter of comfort.

“It just subtracted away from the game and my preparation,” Kinsler said. “Adrian took a lot of that also. It's part of it. It's part of the clubhouse and the chemistry, and that was our team at the time and that's what needed to be done. I tried to do it as best I could.”

He's a competitor and I think that, more than anything, is where the "0-162" comment came from and why it may be easier for him to put on a Tigers uniform and get fully invested because he so badly wants to beat the team in the other dugout -- whether it's the Rangers or anybody else.

Now, he’s focused more on what he has to do to get ready. Of course, the benefit to some of the younger Tiger players is that they see that every day. When the Tigers’ clubhouse opened to the media at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, the day after the Tigers returned late from a 13-inning loss to the Indians, there was Kinsler, one of just a handful of players getting dressed and getting his work in.

Kinsler, without really saying much, can be a leader. And that’s the way that suits him best.