THE SEASON BEGINS in a kitchen 1,000 miles from Comerica Park. Two new baseball gloves -- black leather with orange stitching and laces -- sit atop a granite countertop. It's early February in Dallas, eight days before Ian Kinsler goes to Florida for his first spring training with the Tigers, the team that acquired him in the blockbuster offseason trade that sent Prince Fielder to the Rangers. There's a nervous energy about the three-time All-Star second baseman. He's 31, going on 32, and he's been playing pro ball for more than a decade, yet he's filled with excitement and anxiety.
Kinsler, his hair short and mussed, a five-o'clock shadow dusting his face, slips a glove onto his left hand. The leather is stiff. "Damn," he says, smashing a fist into the pocket, "this is gonna need work." He admires the initials of his children -- 5-year-old daughter Rian and 2-year-old son Jack -- stitched next to his new number 3, and beside that, two words: "Prove it." It's a mantra that carried him from overlooked high school player to two-time college transfer to 17th-round draft pick to among the most productive middle infielders of the past decade -- and back to being overlooked. Kinsler is often viewed as the "other guy" in a trade largely perceived as a salary dump for the Tigers.
He looks at his glove and reads the words. They've never seemed truer. At every level, Kinsler has proved doubters wrong. Now, coming off two mediocre years, he is out to prove himself again -- to the team that traded for him and, especially, to the team that unceremoniously dispatched him after eight seasons and two World Series.
"There was no remorse from the Rangers," Kinsler says of the trade. "They did not care." He obviously still does. "The team had changed," he says. "It was not the same personalities, not the same players, not the same chemistry. To be traded, it was refreshing to start new."
LAST SEASON, KINSLER says, the Rangers didn't feel like his team anymore. It had been two years since the club won 96 games with Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson and Michael Young, one of Kinsler's closest friends. Young, the franchise's career leader in games played, hits, runs, doubles, triples and total bases, was dealt to Philadelphia in December 2012. "It hurt us," Kinsler says. "He held everything together." The Young trade was, in Kinsler's view, a misguided move that left a leadership void in the clubhouse.
That was the first strike. The second came soon after, when the front office asked Kinsler to move from second base to first. The idea was to make room for Jurickson Profar, a then-19-year-old infielder who'd quickly become one of baseball's top prospects. A shortstop by trade, Profar was blocked at the position by Elvis Andrus, who signed an eight-year, $120 million extension in April 2013. Andrus, then 24, was considered among the game's most valuable shortstops. Kinsler was coming off an unexceptional season. He was 30. He didn't need it spelled out.