DETROIT -- The last time Jeff Baker was traded to a team in contention, he went from the Rockies to the Cubs three years ago for a hard-throwing young reliever named Al Alburquerque, whose breakthrough season with the Tigers last year allowed Baker's teammate to give him some ribbing.
"At the time, I would kid around that I was traded for a city," Baker recalled on Monday. "I remember watching on TV, and I've got some buddies that play in Tampa Bay. When he was facing them, they were marveling at his slider. They were joking, saying the Cubs got hosed, the whole nine yards. They always give me a good ribbing about that."
Depending on how the next couple of weeks go, Baker and Alburquerque could be teammates battling for a playoff spot together.
When the Cubs broke the news to Baker on Sunday that he had been traded, they told him he gained about 21 games in the standings. That wasn't really a surprise; he figured that as a veteran right-handed hitter, he could be headed to a contender around last week's non-waiver Trade Deadline.
When he found out he was heading to Detroit, Baker thought of the Tigers-Cubs series at Wrigley Field back in June and how many Tigers fans made the trip.
"That was unbelievable, the day that [Justin] Verlander got a standing ovation at Wrigley Field," Baker said. "We have great fans, but you see how the fans come out to support. Wrigley Field is iconic and everybody wants to come, but it's a different thing when you come and you're loud and you're not just there to take in the atmosphere, have a beer and a hot dog with your buddies. They were there to support their team. They were loud and they were vocal. As a player, you remember that stuff.
"It's one of the first things I thought about when I did get traded here. The fan support's one of the big things. You remember the stadiums you play in when there's not a lot of people there, and you remember the stadiums when there's a lot of people here."
Baker has been a utility player for the vast majority of his career and knows what the role entails, and he says he's ready to contribute however the Tigers need him. He also knows what it means to play in a playoff race. In addition to 2009 with the Cubs, he came up a rookie in '07 on the Rockies team that went on a late-season run that landed Colorado in the World Series.
"It's in your own hands; that's all you can ask for," Baker said. "I'm excited to jump in and contribute and try to play a small role."