Quintin Berry: Detroit’s feel-good story of the year

Quinrin Berry celebrates after scoring the winning run against the Toronto Blue Jays in a game at Comerica Park in 2012.

Imagine living in eight towns in eight different states over the course of seven seasons. You switch apartments, live out of a duffel bag and people forget your name as quickly as they hear it.

You hit .312 in 487 at-bats during your second year, but the promotion is A-ball to A-plus ball. Whoop-dee doo.

The years pass, and managers critique your game, all while that voice inside your head questions the abilities. In a game of failure, you never know when fate is knocking on your motel room door.

But you tie your cleats, pound your mitt, shag balls, and take batting practice because, dammit, someday this tedious work will pay off.

That was Quintin Berry, who played 692 minor-league games through five Major League Baseball organizations, and then, finally, on May 22, he got the call from Toledo Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin.

You’re a big-leaguer, kid.

“My son is only seven months old,” Berry told Tom Gage of the Detroit News. “He was looking at his mother and me wondering why we were yelling. Phil kept apologizing for having to do it over the phone, but it was fine with me.”

Berry buttoned the No. 52 Detroit jersey, pulled on the Old English D cap, and entered the dugout inside Cleveland’s Progressive Field on May 23. He turned a bunt single into a double for his first major league hit and provided Tigers fans with a reoccurring scene: Berry standing atop an infield base, unleashing a howl toward the Earth, hands thundering together in a swooping, rhythmic motion.

He became known as “QB” or “Q,” the underdog who defied the odds and electrified fans with his blazing speed and energy. He was the first Tigers player to hit safely in his first six games in the modern era (since 1901), according to Zack Meisel of MLB.com. By July, Berry had six games with at least three hits, which again made history: He was the first Tigers player since to post six games with three-or-more hits in his first 44 career appearances since Pat Mullin had seven in 1941, according to Greg Luca of MLB.com.

“I just needed to find a team to take a leap of faith in me,” Berry said to the FS Detroit camera in a 94-second segment entitled, ‘Dear teams that gave up on me.’

“Without those experiences, I might not be where I’m at today, making my dreams come true.”

From his major league debut through August 4, Berry hit .286 (62-for-217) with a .373 on-base percentage. In 60 games, he had 35 runs and 24 RBIs. And, of course, he was never caught stealing: 15 swipes in 15 attempts.

But on Aug. 5, Leyland began using Berry sparingly. Brennan Boesch saw a multitude of starts. Heck, even Jeff Baker cracked the starting lineup.

It didn’t make sense. Berry was hitting .310 (13-of-42) during a stretch in which he saw action in 11 of 12 games heading into Aug. 5. But then he played in just 21 of the next 34 games, fell out of a rhythm, and mustered just three hits in 27 at-bats.

Was the magic gone? Was the book closed on the feel-good story of the year?

“I consider Berry an extra player right now,” Leyland said on September 11 to George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press.

Many Tigers fans expected this. They thought Berry’s pixie dust would eventually fade and maybe Leyland’s comments were the end of the road.

Berry, however, earned a post-season spot above the disappointing Boesch, thus making a comeback story within a comeback story.

He scored the game-winning runs in Games Two and Three of the ALCS against the New York Yankees.

Before that, he had two hits and a stolen base in Game One of the ALDS against Oakland. He became the first Tiger with such stats in a post-season debut since Matty McIntyre in Game One of the 1908 World Series.

“This is awesome, man,” Berry said about the post-season. “I understand why everyone wants to get here and everyone wants to be a part of it.

“I’m having a blast out there. It’s electric. I’m having a great time.”

You look at the name stitched across the back of the jersey and make judgments based on performances. You toss around words like “cut him” and “send him to Toledo” without realizing the human underneath the Old English D is desperate to fulfill his childhood dream.

There were 692 minor league games, cheap motel rooms, and countless sacrifices for Quintin Berry. There were 1,200-plus new players drafted every year – more competition, more challenges, more doubts.

But Berry never gave up – and he became the Detroit sports feel-good story of 2012.

“Those are great stories,” Leyland told Meisel, “guys that waited a long time to get their chance, get up here and take advantage of it. That’s what it’s all about.”

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