Column: The All-Star Next Door

Tigers' Brandon Inge keeps a low profile in Dexter
John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Three years ago, a few folks in Dexter, Michigan – a small farming town just west of Ann Arbor – were buzzing with rumors that the only house for sale in their neighborhood might finally be sold.  

I found out from my mom, who found out from her hair-dresser, Chantel Williams, who lived next door to the vacant house, that Shani Inge and her husband, Brandon, had bought it. They moved to Dexter even though it’s a full hour from his office. He works at Comerica Park, in Detroit, playing third base for the Tigers. In fact, he just played in his first All-Star game. But you’d never guess it from the way he looks – and certainly not from the way he acts.

A friend of mine I’ll call “Fred Fragner” – because that’s his name – is a home inspector. When Fragner knocked on the Inge’s door to do his job, the guy who answered looked so young, Fragner figured he was probably the family’s kid back from college.

Inge gave Fragner the full tour of the house, ending in the basement. There, Fragner noticed more baseball memorabilia than even the manliest of man-caves typically has.

“You play ball?”  Fragner asked.

Inge looked at him, to see if he was serious. “Yeah, I do.”

“For who?”

“For the Tigers.”

“The Louisiana State Tigers?” Fragner asked, still refusing to believe the guy was old enough to be a major leaguer.

“No, the Detroit Tigers!”

“The Tigers?!? You’re not big enough!”

Inge chuckled, and took it right in stride.

Before Inge left for the park that day, he asked Fragner if there was anything he could do for him. Fragner asked for an autographed baseball card. No problem, Inge said. After Fragner finished his work, on the way out he saw, on the kitchen table, a baseball card signed by Brandon Inge – and five more, just for him. 

In fairness to Fragner, a lot of folks can’t believe the 5-11 Inge is a major leaguer. Inge is so inconspicuous, a local softball team daringly put him on their roster, called him “Charlie” – and got away with it for weeks.

The kids at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott’s Children’s Hospital have been quicker on the uptake. Brandon’s wife Shani had worked there, and both their boys were born there. But what hooked her husband was meeting the patients. 

Inge has been a frequent visitor ever since, and didn’t need to be prodded to donate $100,000 to build a new play area for the young patients. Instead of naming it after themselves, the Inges have asked the kids to come up with a name for it.    

Inge was scheduled to meet one of those kids, eight-year-old Tommy Schomaker, this spring. But Inge missed him because Tommy had to be rushed that very day into surgery to receive a heart transplant. When Inge came back a few weeks later, Tommy asked for an autograph. Inge agreed, on one condition: Tommy had to give him one, too – right on Inge’s right forearm. 

When Inge stepped into the batter’s box that night, he looked down at Tommy’s autograph – then knocked the ball over the wall for a two-run homer.   

I’ve never met Brandon Inge. I’d like to, but I don’t need to. I feel like I already know him. 

He’s the All-Star who lives next door.

About the author: John U. Bacon lives in Ann Arbor and has written for Time, the New York Times, and ESPN Magazine, among others. His most recent book is “Bo’s Lasting Lessons,” a New York Times and Wall Street Journal business bestseller. Bacon teaches at Miami of Ohio, Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, and the University of Michigan, where the students awarded him the Golden Apple Award for 2009. This commentary originally aired on Michigan Radio


  1. By a2eastsider
    August 7, 2009 at 9:40 am | permalink

    I had heard very nice things about Brandon from a friend of mine who volunteers at Mott. Those folks in Dexter have a nice neighbor! Thanks John and A2 Chronicle for a nice story.

  2. By sara hickey
    August 7, 2009 at 3:13 pm | permalink

    Hi John, Nice article and so very true. We will be celebrating Brandon and Shani Inge Day at Mott Hospital. We would love to have you attend if you have the time and we can introduce you to Brandon. He and Shani are very special people and do so much for their community of Dexter and for Mott Hospital.
    I continue to enjoy your work and appreciate your positive messages.
    Keep up the great work.
    Sincerely, Sara
    Please email me for date and time.

  3. By Kate
    August 7, 2009 at 4:08 pm | permalink

    I enjoyed this piece when I heard it on WUOM–thanks for printing it too.

  4. By Matt
    August 12, 2009 at 10:01 am | permalink

    Inge has always come across as a real class act. It always makes me smile to notice that most of the player t-shirts I see at Comerica have #15 on their back.