There once again is a spring in Gino Tagliaferri’s step, because next spring he will step across the lines and return to professional baseball.
Tagliaferri, who left the sport in March after 1 1/2 seasons in the Detroit Tigers’ organization, requested and received reinstatement from the club this week and is expected to rejoin the team for spring training.
“I miss the game,” said Tagliaferri, 20. “I feel like I felt in high school. I have that same cocky attitude back.”
Tagliaferri, known for an aggressive and combative nature during a standout career at Kennedy High, left the Tigers’ organization last spring, citing burnout and disenchantment over the way he was treated.
Assorted injuries, including a cyst on his right wrist and soreness in his throwing shoulder, also prompted Tagliaferri to consider whether he wanted to pursue a pro career. He said he also had high blood pressure and suffered persistent headaches.
Yet the trial separation was too much for Tagliaferri to bear. Late last week, Tagliaferri contacted his agent, Joe Bick, who called the club and told team representatives that Tagliaferri had had a change of heart.
The Tigers steadfastly had refused to grant Tagliaferri an outright release. And on Tuesday, Tagliaferri received word from Bick that the club “welcomed me back with big open arms.”
Tagliaferri received a $65,000 signing bonus from the Tigers after being selected in the third round of the amateur draft in 1989. Tagliaferri, a three-year letterman who led Kennedy to the City Section 4-A Division title as a senior, had solid credentials.
As a senior, Tagliaferri (5-foot-11, 190 pounds) hit a state-high 13 home runs, a single-season City record. In his career, he hit 23 home runs, a City record, and as a senior was named the 4-A Division and Times Valley player of the year.
The transition to pro ball and wooden bats was rough, however. In 1989, his first season at Niagara Falls, N.Y., of the Class-A New York-Penn League, Tagliaferri played third base and left field and batted .173. The former high school shortstop struck out 54 times in 110 at-bats.
In 1990, Tagliaferri played at Niagara Falls and Fayetteville, N.C., of the Class-A South Atlantic League, batting a combined .192 with eight home runs and 44 runs batted in. He struck out 162 times in 422 at-bats.
There were off-the-field problems as well. Tagliaferri was strip-searched after he was falsely accused of stealing money from a team trainer who no longer is in the organization.
“My attitude right now is that I can forgive,” he said.
The Tigers, who remained high on Tagliaferri despite his strikeouts, told him to take as much time as necessary to heal and recover his desire to play.
Tagliaferri has requested that he be assigned next spring to the team’s Class-A team at Lakeland, Fla., which is considered high A ball. He was scheduled to report to Lakeland last spring.
“I feel just like I did in high school, and that’s a feeling I never had in the pros before,” he said. “I feel like I can start right where I left off.”
Tagliaferri was not idle during his year away from pro ball. Earlier this month, he and two partners opened TNT Sporting Goods, a long fly ball from Kennedy. During the summer, Tagliaferri coached an American Legion baseball team composed of Kennedy players.
Although he was involved in baseball, something was missing.
“I couldn’t even sit down and watch a Dodger game,” Tagliaferri said. “I’d look in the paper and see names of some of the guys I knew (in high school) and some of them weren’t doing any better than I was.
“It’ll be great to get back. It’ll be like seeing old buddies again.”