COMSTOCK PARK – When Joel Zumaya joined the Detroit Tigers organization, it was one of the worst in baseball.
But in just four years, the Tigers turned into a pennant winner and built a team the right way.
Zumaya saw that first hand.
The Tigers are struggling again, but not moving in the right direction, said Zumaya, who criticized general manager Al Avila and the property for extending his contract.
Zumaya echoed his feelings Wednesday at LMCU Ballpark ahead of his public appearance as part of the West Michigan Whitecaps Made in Michigan Wednesday.
“As part of the organization, the organization was in a slump, but as part of 2006, everything changed. That team changed the whole city and changed the state of Michigan,” Zumaya said. “I’m disappointed where the organization is now and someone has to say something. The older generation hasn’t really spoken out so I’m happy to be the guy saying it. The Old English ‘D’ means a lot to me It changed my life Al (Avila) knows what’s going on Everyone knows my feelings about Al but what he was served on a platter with… come on.
“If I was part of this team now, I probably would have blown a gasket.”
Nearly 20 years ago, Zumaya was at the start of his career, pitching for the Whitecaps in 2003.
“Being here brings back those memories of being a kid again,” Zumaya said. “It was very different when I was a kid here. The city has blossomed tremendously. It’s beautiful.
Zumaya’s first full season of professional baseball was with the Whitecaps in 2003. He was a starting pitcher, hitting 7-5 with a 2.79 ERA and striking out 126 in only 90 1/3 innings. He was later elected to the Whitecaps Hall of Fame.
“It’s a routine. You have to eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert,” he said. “You have to give it your all. It meant a lot to me. I wanted to be up there (with the Tigers). I remember the host family, who was on the margins. I love watching them run a game. It brings back lots of memories.”
Things looked good for him as he ascended through the organization. But when he arrived in the majors in 2006, the Tigers had some established starters and another rookie named Justin Verlander.
“It wasn’t such a difficult transition for me. I wanted it. I saw who I was up against… Justin Verlander… and I wanted to take a chance,” Zumaya said. “I had great coaching and great people to help me along. I give Todd Jones a lot of credit. The man trained me. If you get that chance, you have to take it.”
Zumaya was 6-3 in relief in 2006 with a 1.94 ERA and strikeouts 97 in 83 1/3 innings. He scored 10.5 per nine innings and had a stunning ERA+ of 233. It would remain the best season of his five-year career with the Tigers, where he finished with a 3.05 ERA and a 13-12 record.
Now he coaches youth baseball on the West Coast and enjoys fishing.
But in 2006, his 104-mph fastball brought fresh electricity from the bullpen and helped the Tigers to the 2006 pennant, something Zumaya will never forget.
“The playoffs, being part of that home run and that World Series team. One of the best pictures of all time in Tigers history is when I stand behind home plate with both hands up, looking at the crowd and seeing it of all people and what it meant to them,” Zumaya said. “That was the greatest memory for me, seeing everyone’s life change in that moment.”
— Contact sports editor Dan D’Addona at Dan.D’[email protected]† Follow him on Twitter @DanDAddona and Facebook @Holland Sentinel Sports†
This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Joel Zumaya Brings Heat to Tigers, Discusses Career Path at Whitecaps Performance