DETROIT – His 2012 season started the way it had every season since 2006: in the Minor Leagues, this time in Toledo, the Triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. Little did Quintin Berry know in April that three months later, he would become the X-factor for a team that is fighting to win its first World Series in 28 years.
“Going into the 2011 season when I got released out of Spring training [by the New York Mets], that was probably the time in my life where I was trying to figure out what else I can do,” said Berry, 27, the Tigers’ starting left fielder. “I could go back to school. I had a son on the way so I had to start thinking logically on what the next thing is to provide for him and my wife.
“It was at that time when I wasn’t sure if I would continue to play but, I got a phone call [from the Cincinnati Reds] three weeks after being released and I was able to turn it into something.”
That something did not pan out with the Reds, who were the fourth different team to release him, along with the Philadelphia Phillies and his hometown San Diego Padres. It did, however, lead him to one more opportunity with the Tigers when he signed a minor league contract on Nov. 9, 2011.
During Spring Training, he amazed many of his teammates and coaches with his speed, versatility, and work ethic. He also made a number of great diving catches in left field.
“I was just trying to have fun,” Berry said. “These guys made it really easy for me. I’m sure if I didn’t have that experience in Spring Training it would’ve been a lot more difficult to blend in and find my place. But ever since then, they made me feel a part of this team.”
Despite opening a lot of eyes in Florida, Berry was assigned to Triple-A Toledo when the season began. Led by the All-Star trio of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and A.L. Most Valuable Player Justin Verlander, the Tigers were the nearly unanimous pick to win the American League Central Division and challenge the Texas Rangers for the A.L. Pennant.
However, after a 9-3 start in April, the Tigers struggled mightily offensively and with mounting injuries. By May 24, Detroit was 20-24, 5 games behind then-first place Cleveland, and their lead-off man and center fielder, Austin Jackson, was sidelined with an abdominal injury.
Jackson was not just the team’s lead off hitter, but also their best defensive player, and the only speed threat at the time. Out of options, the Tigers called up Berry, who had never played a Major League game.
“I had a feeling that there was an opportunity that could come up,” Berry said. “Unfortunately, Jackson got hurt but it gave me an opportunity to come up here. We knew that I was going to get a short window to prove myself up here, otherwise I might not ever make it back.”
In just his third Major League at bat, Berry picked up his first career hit in bizarre fashion. He bunted a ball that slipped past Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis. With Berry’s speed on full display, he ended up at second base with a double and later scored.
A three-sport star at Morse High School in San Diego, Berry played baseball, football, and basketball. He chose baseball over the other two sports because he felt it was the one that best molded him into a complete athlete.
He played college baseball at San Diego State, where he was an all-conference player in 2005 and 2006 and was coached by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. Berry’s success has been so sudden that he is still adjusting to being an everyday player.
He still drives one car – a 2006 Lincoln – and had been living in a small apartment just outside of Toledo with his wife, Priscilla, and 9-month-old son, Kameron, until recently, when he moved his family to nearby Troy. Berry admits that being on the road and away from his infant son, whose pictures are taped to his locker, can be rough sometimes.
“It stinks [to be away] sometimes, but it’s nice to get a little time away,” Berry said. “He’ll run me wild. I’ll come to the ballpark a little tired some days. It stinks to leave him though and I’m happy when I get to see him. But it’s nice to miss him a little sometimes.”
Berry’s credits his wife and mother for not letting him quit baseball and keeping him grounded. Berry would live with his mom to save money in his early minor league days and the struggle continued with his wife in Toledo before the call up.
“(Priscilla) has been huge through my whole career,” Berry said. “She was there with me, five months pregnant sleeping on a blow-up mattress in the dining room in an apartment with three other guys. She’s been riding it down with me.
“She’s been helping me move, doing all the things she has to do by herself when I’m on the road and she’s been my biggest support piece. Without her, I don’t think I’d have made it this far.”