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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 transformed into a pennant winner, building a team the right way.
Zumaya saw that first hand.
The Tigers are struggling again, but aren't moving forward the right way, Zumaya has said, criticizing general manager Al Avila and ownership for extending his contract.
Zumaya reiterated his feelings on Wednesday at LMCU Ballpark before his public appearance as part of the West Michigan Whitecaps Made in Michigan Wednesday.
"Being a part of the organization, the organization was down in the slumps, but being a part of 2006, everything changed. That team changed the whole city around and changed the state of Michigan," Zumaya said. "It disappoints me where the organization is now and somebody has to speak up. The older generation hasn't really spoken up, so I am happy to be the guy to speak up. The Old English 'D' means a lot to me. It changed my life. Al (Avila) knows what's up. Everyone knows my feelings about Al, but for what he has been served on a platter with ... c'mon.
"If I was part of this team right 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. "When I was a kid here, it was a lot different. The city has blossomed a lot. It's beautiful.
Zumaya's first full season of professional baseball was with the Whitecaps in 2003. He was a starting pitcher, went 7-5 with a 2.79 ERA and struck out 126 in just 90 1/3 innings. He was later elected to the Whitecaps Hall of Fame.
"It's a grind. You have to eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and some dessert," he said. "You have to give it all. It meant a lot to me. I wanted to be up there (with the Tigers). I remember the host family, being in the ballpark. I love seeing how they host a game. It brings back a lot of memories."
Things looked bright for him as he rose through the organization. But when he arrived in the majors in 2006, the Tigers has some established starters and another rookie named Justin Verlander.
"For me, it wasn't that hard of a transition. I wanted it. I saw who I was up against ... Justin Verlander ... and I wanted to take a shot," Zumaya said. "I had some great coaching and great people to guide me along the way. I give a lot of credit to Todd Jones. The guy schooled me. If you are given that shot, you gotta take it."
Zumaya was 6-3 as a reliever in 2006 with a 1.94 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 83 1/3 innings. He struck out 10.5 per nine innings and had a stunning ERA+ of 233. It would remain the best season in 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 a new electricity out of the bullpen and helped spark 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 greatest all-time pictures in Tigers history is the one when I am standing up behind home plate with both of my hands up, looking at the crowd and seeing all of the people and what it meant for them," Zumaya said. "That was the biggest memory for me, seeing the lives of everyone changed in that moment."
This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Joel Zumaya brings heat on Tigers, discusses career path at Whitecaps appearance