"A lot of people ask about growing up with my grandpa but it was kind of normal," said a relaxed and down to earth Colin Kaline. "He was a grandfather first and he and my grandmother were just like any other grandpa and grandma. They were always there for me offering support and it was always really nice to have someone like that in your corner that you could turn to if you started to struggle with things. And he's a great mind to pick – especially with baseball."
Colin fell in love with the game of baseball at an early age and with the help of his father, learned to adapt and deal with the fact that he carried such a revered and well known name.
"My dad told me to take everything with a grain of salt whether it's good or bad because people are always going to have something to say. There's always going to be naysayers so he said don't get too high or too low on what people are saying because they're always going to try to take shots at you – especially when they don't know you."
Carrying this frame of mind and attitude all the way through high school and into college, Colin turned down the opportunity to play professionally after being drafted originally in 2007. Knowing that he wasn't ready both physically and mentally – even now he's not a big guy at just 5-foot-10, 150 pounds – he needed college to not only get stronger but to also get a degree.
"I had to get bigger and I had to get faster. And education is important. It was great to be able to go to college, get my degree and walk away with one while still being able to play professionally after that. I might not have liked my decision to go to college had I not gotten another opportunity to play but in hindsight, it's easy to say it was a great decision because I did get my degree and now I don't have to go back to school after I'm finished playing."
Obtaining a degree and working on becoming a quicker and better player wasn't the only advantage Colin enjoyed while attending Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida. He also got the opportunity to take on the Detroit Tigers in exhibition games during each of the four years he was a Moccasin.
"It was awesome and that was a great situation to be in to get the chance to play the Tigers while in college. The Tigers are great and when we played them, they made themselves available and we could chat with them before the game. We got to see how they handled their business before games and how they handled themselves during games. They're very professional all the time and it made me hungry to be the same way."
Colin hit a respectable .287 during his senior year in college while plating 32 runs and committing only four errors. He was then drafted by the Detroit Tigers again, one round later than in 2007, in the 26th round of the 2011 amateur baseball draft. Recalling that day last year, Kaline still feels excited and blessed to be in the position he enjoys now.
"I was ecstatic. It was a great feeling, not only to be drafted but to be drafted by the organization that your grandfather has worked for his entire life and a team that I grew up so close to. I grew up a Tigers fan. So it was great and a wonderful experience for me and my family. I know my grandfather was extremely happy too that not only the Tigers picked me but also that I was getting a chance to play because he knew playing baseball was something I wanted to do for a long time."
Kaline got his first taste of professional baseball on the CT-Tigers' roster during last year's short season. Through 39 games he batted .222 with 26 hits and six RBI. Learning quickly that professional level baseball was an entirely new type of grind, Kaline looks back at the biggest adjustment from college as having to go out and play every single day.
"Playing every day and getting your body and mind trained to grind day in and day out is the biggest adjustment. You're not going to feel good every day but you have to show up regardless and take care of business on the field."
Kaline is now showing up every day at the field for the West Michigan Whitecaps but has struggled a bit more this season than last hitting a meager .155 through 35 games. And quite possibly for one of the first times in his life, he is joined by other players who also share famous and well known names in the Tigers' organization with the likes of catcher Patrick Leyland and relief pitcher Nicholas Avila. Kaline won't say it makes things any easier in West Michigan, but he won't deny that it can be comforting at times.
"I wouldn't say it makes it any easier [to have teammates with famous last names] but it's never a bad thing when people are going through similar situations. We don't have to lean on each other because we've all grown up knowing how to handle that but it's nice knowing that a support system is there if anything were to get rough."
Even with this season's struggles, Kaline knows he's still lucky to be where he is and loves the fact that he gets to compete every single day with people he enjoys being around. But he also knows that he needs to keep improving in order to accomplish his goal in the end – a roster spot on the Detroit Tiger's lineup.
"I need to improve in everything. I don't think there's just one area because I need to progressively get better at everything. Trying to take little steps every day and making sure I stay positive mentally is key because the mind is a powerful thing, especially in this game. You have to keep your mind in it."
And in the meantime, he'll be sure to continue picking the brains of a certain hall of famer.