'The Gambler' at Tigers camp as instructor

'The Gambler' at Tigers camp as instructor

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The last time Kenny Rogers was in Tigers camp, Justin Verlander wasn't even arbitration-eligible, let alone making $20 million a year. Rick Porcello was a teenager fresh out of the Draft, not in the middle of the rotation.

That was 2008, Rogers' last year in the big leagues. He stayed away for four years, preferring to spend time with his family. This was the right time to come back.

"I think the timing was right for me," Rogers said. "Every morning [the last few springs] I was like, 'Thank goodness I don't have to go through this, because I don't think I could take it.' It's really a different time for me right now.

"I'm kind of enjoying it, to be honest with you. I enjoy where I'm at and being able to do certain things, but it's kind of nice to come out and be here for a week or so and see if there's a benefit to be gained for someone."

He isn't ready to coach yet, not with two teenage kids back home in Texas, but he's ready to give instruction a try in camp and see how it feels. For the first day at least, it felt pretty good.

The lessons were right to his strengths. Manager Jim Leyland brought him in to work with Detroit's left-handed pitchers on holding baserunners. Rogers retired as the all-time Major League leader in pickoffs, topping a relatively recent leaderboard since the stat began being tracked in 1974.

When Rogers moved into first place on the list in 2008, he said getting pickoffs was secondary for him, that he'd rather hold them close and set up a ground-ball double play. His pickoff reputation helped him greatly in that regard.

He spent Wednesday trying to pass along some of that wisdom to Detroit's young group of lefties, just a few of whom were even in pro ball when Rogers was still playing.

Drew Smyly was a junior in high school when Rogers led the Tigers to the World Series in 2006, and a redshirt freshman at the University of Arkansas when Rogers retired. He tweeted it was "sweet" to learn from Rogers.

That's why Tigers special assistant Dick Egan had kept bugging Rogers to give it a try.

"Like I said, any way I can help at all, I'd be more than happy to try," Rogers said. "I've still got to learn coaching in general. It's not being a player. Just because you could play the game and understand how to do it doesn't mean you're going to be a good coach. There's a lot of ways to impart something to someone but they may not get it for the first thousand times. Saying it different ways and explaining it sometimes takes a talent."