LAKELAND, Fla. -- For four months, Duane Below was enjoying a storybook season in the big leagues. The ending was a bit of a letdown.
As he sat at home in October, watching the Tigers advance to the World Series, Below admits he had a tough time watching the games. There was at least a twinge of regret there, wishing he could have been a part of it.
Below was part of the pitching staff from Opening Day until Aug. 13, when the Tigers optioned him to Triple-A Toledo. When Detroit made its September callups, Below wasn't one of them.
Thus, while the Tigers went on their late-season run for a second straight American League Central title, Below went home to Britton, Mich., where Tigers fever is prominent. For more than a month, Below had to strike a balance of conflicting emotions.
As a player, it was difficult to sit and watch games from his living room, having been with the team for so long. For that same reason, though, it was easier to root for teammates who had become friends.
Anyone who knows Below, how positive of a thinker he is, knows how those conflicting emotions turned out.
"It was definitely tough, especially watching it and wanting to be there to be part of the team," Below admitted. "Still, you've been with these guys day in and day out and you want them to do well and succeed. I didn't necessarily distance myself from it. I wanted to support and watch and cheer for them. It was hard for me because I wasn't there, but they want to put the best team out there on the field, and I wasn't part of it. I've been working hard this offseason to try to give myself a chance to be a part of it in the coming years."
That positive outlook has roots in his family. His older brother, Scott, helped him through tough times on the way up the farm system, including his recovery from Tommy John surgery, as he worried about how to make an impression. Scott told Duane to control what he can control and not worry about the decisions.
"He just talked me through different things, because he represented me until the end of 2010," Below said. "He's had success in business in different things, through some of his life experiences. So we talked."
As he reflected on 2012, he didn't want the ending to ruin the months that came before it. So instead of letting it drag him down, he's trying to use it as motivation.
"There were so many positives throughout the year," Below said. "I was able to be there for such a long amount of time that I couldn't take the negative side. I wanted to be there for the postseason, but it didn't happen. I didn't want it to wreck the year. Last year was a positive year for me. Just continue to try to build."
That led him back to Lakeland in November, when he started his offseason workouts toward getting himself as close to midseason form as he could for Spring Training. The results helped him catch the organization's attention two years ago, then kept him in a battle for the final rotation spot until the end of camp last spring. He lost out to Drew Smyly, but still found his way onto the Opening Day roster when the Tigers needed someone to replace injured reliever Luis Marte on the final day of camp.
If he's going to make the team this year, it'll have to be in the bullpen, where the long-relief role is wide open. Though Below would seem to be in the same spot as Casey Crosby, potentially competing for long relief or insurance starter in Toledo, the Tigers haven't yet decided whether they'll stretch out Below as a starter this spring.
"I think that's one that's still being tossed around," manager Jim Leyland said.
So could Below's role.