June 2006

Shaking Things Up

   The Indians began the month of June by losing 12 of their first 17 games.  They wrapped up a 2-7 road trip by getting swept in Milwaukee, then came home and got blown out by the Chicago Cubs 12-8.  The following day Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro shook up the Tribe’s clubhouse by making several roster moves.

   Starting pitcher Jason Johnson, who hadn’t won a game since April 23rd, was designated for assignment and reliever Jeremy Guthrie was sent back to AAA Buffalo.  RHP Edward Mujica, who didn’t give up a single run at AA or AAA was called up to take Guthrie’s spot in the bullpen.  Joe Inglett was also called up and will give Manager Eric Wedge flexibility because he can play 2b, SS, left or center field.

   Sowers The biggest move won’t take place officially until Sunday when LHP Jeremy Sowers makes his major league debut against Cincinnati.  Sowers was taken with the 6th overall pick in the 2004 draft and was named the Indians minor league pitcher of the year on ’05.  He will arrive at the big league level faster than anyone could have anticipated.  Sowers has been described as a "cerebral" pitcher who has a great "feel" to pitch.  What does that mean?  When CC Sabathia arrived at the big league level in 2001 he was more of a "thrower" than a "pitcher".  Sabathia relied on his 97 mph fastball to get him through his Major League indoctrination.  Sowers doesn’t have a blazing fastball so he has developed his off speed pitches and has an excellent ability to locate those pitches.  He also has a great understanding of how to attack hitters by exploiting their weakness.

   Shapiro cautioned that no one should expect Sowers to carry the team on his back.  There is always a transition period for any young player making their first foray into the big leagues.  The hope with Sowers is that transition won’t take nearly as long as it has with others.  The bottom line is that Jason Johnson wasn’t going to get any better and with Sowers you have a pitcher that could be a permanent fixture in the Tribe’s rotation for years to come.  It also shows you how desperate teams in contention are for starting pitching when the Boston Red Sox traded for Johnson the day after he was deemed expendable by the Tribe.

   Eric Wedge has also intimated that other veterans jobs could be at stake if things don’t improve quickly.  The Indians aren’t throwing in the towel on the season but, its obvious now they aren’t going to sit around and wait to pull the trigger on more moves to try and get the most out of this season.  The Indians traded Coco Crisp in the off season to acquire a third baseman for the future in Andy Marte.  He was just named the International League player of the week when he homered in 5 straight games.  To a certain extent Sowers forced his way onto the ball club with how well he pitched at Buffalo this year.  The time may soon be coming when Marte does the same.

Taking a Bite out of the Big Apple

   "Every game here is like the World Series," says former Indians pitcher Jaret Wright.  The righthander succinctly sums up what its like to play for the Yankees in New York.  The atmosphere here is like no other in the game of baseball.  The media in New York usually outnumbers the players by a 2-1 margin making it uncomfortable for players who are not used to that type of scrutiny.

   The history and tradition of baseball is a living, breathing thing at Yankee Stadium.  Monument Park located beyond the center field wall pays homage to Yankee greats of the past.  When Grady Sizemore takes his position in center field he does so knowing that Joe DiMaggio once roamed the same grassy plain.  Before CC Sabathia took batting practice here on Wednesday, Jeremy Guthrie told him that he would be stepping in the same batters box that Mickey Mantle once stood in.  "That’s awesome," said Sabathia.  "I want to get some pictures taken of me swinging the bat here.  I mean how many guys can say they got to hit at Yankee Stadium?"

   Yankee Stadium is located uptown in the Bronx.  If you take the 4 train downtown to Grand Central Station you will be smack in the middle of the busiest city in the world.  Just a few blocks from Grand Central is Times Square, The United Nations Building, Park Avenue and all that midtown has to offer.  If you find yourself near Grand Central at lunch time then take the 6 train downtown to Canal Street.  Walk a few blocks to Mulberry Street and check out historic Little Italy.  The street is lined with restaurants and bakeries and you can’t go wrong with any of them.  My personal favorites are Il Fornaio and Pellegrino’s, located only 2 doors from each other.Littleitaly_1

   If you decide to make a trip to the big apple then make sure you bring your wallet.  Prices here are enough to give Midwesterners a serious case of sticker shock!  A bottle of beer will cost you $8.25 at the hotel and at Yankee Stadium a cheese steak sandwich runs $9.75.  Of course living in NYC is a whole different story.  A small two-bedroom apartment on the low-end will cost around $2500 a month.  A parking space might cost as much as $500 monthly unless you have an SUV then the price suddenly jumps to $750.

   New York City.  It’s a great place to visit but, I wouldn’t want to live here.

Inside the War Room

   "This is our Super Bowl," explains Indians Assistant General Manager John Mirabelli.  "This is the day we’ve been waiting for all year."  The 2006 First Year Player Draft is a chance for the unsung heroes of the Indians organization to shine.  Scouts from all over the country pack the Indians draft war room in anticipation of infusing more young talent into the farm system.

   The Indians invited all of their full-time scouts to the draft for the first time ever, in an effort to enhance communications between the team and the player being selected.  A huge board measuring 7 feet high and 25 feet wide covers one end of the room and is filled with the names of every conceivable player available in the country.  Each area scout sits in front of a laptop computer to follow every move in the draft.

   Directly in front of the area scouts are the scouting crosscheckers and members of the front office.  Mirabelli sits in front of the big board flanked by Assistant Scouting Director Brad Grant.  Sitting immediately to their left is National Crosschecker Chuck Ricci, General Manager Mark Shapiro and Assistant GM Chris Antonetti.  On the other side of the table sit Crosscheckers Paul Cogan, Matt Ruebel and Scott Meaney.  These men all have access to the Indians Draft software program developed by Matt Tagliaferri.  This system enables them to access scouting reports on any one of the thousands of players being considered as well as on-demand video.

   When the draft begins the room falls as silent as a high school classroom on the day of final exams.  The silence is broken only by the voice on a speakerphone announcing each pick by the various teams.  After only 5 picks in the first round a familiar voice on the phone is heard announcing the Dodgers need more time to make their selection.  Its former Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda who finally exclaims, "The ONLY Major League Baseball team in the city of Los Angeles is the Dodgers and we select…"  This is a direct dig at the Angels who have been trying to lay claim to the market of L.A.

   The Indians don’t have a first round pick and must wait until the 39th selection to claim their first player of the day.  Between picks the whispers in the room raise the noise level to a low hum only to be silenced with the announcement of the next selection.  Some scouts nod to each other during selections that make sense and raised eyebrows are exchanged over picks that seem to defy logic.

   The Indians have targeted 4 players that could be possibilities at #39.  They are concerned Boston will take one of them but, the Red Sox go another direction drawing sighs of relief from the Tribe’s top brass.  At the conclusion of the first round there is a 15 minute break.  The Indians brain trust huddles to go over contingency strategies in case their targeted players are gone by the time they are ready to pick.

   Indians owner Larry Dolan and team President Paul Dolan are on hand to observe the draft and wait anxiously as the tension mounts.  At 2:00pm, just one hour after the draft begins the Indians are finally on the clock.  "The Indians select David Huff, pitcher, UCLA," announces Mirabelli.  Immediately, area scout Vince Sagisi goes into a backroom to phone Huff.  The pitcher tells Sagisi that he is thrilled to be selected by the Indians.

   Huff, a lefthander, has drawn comparisons to Tom Glavine and Barry Zito.  He turned down an offer of $500,000 from Philadelphia when he was a high school senior and instead chose to pitch at UCLA for John Savage who previously tutored Barry Zito and Mark Prior.  He is considered to be a polished pitcher with command of a tremendous change-up and should move quickly through the system.

   The Indians now await back-to-back selections an number 56 and 57.  Shapiro calls Paul Dolan over to the draft table to advise him of their plans.  It is explained to Dolan that it may take more money to sign certain players than originally anticipated.  The Indians President never wavers giving Shapiro the green light.  Moments later a player on the Tribe’s "A" list is taken by another club and Shapiro grimaces with disappointment.  Without hesitation they quickly re-group and select RHP Steven Wright of Hawaii then second baseman Joshua Rodriguez from Rice.

   Next up the Tribe tabs third baseman Wes Hodges of Georgia Tech and later selects shortstop Adam Davis of Florida.  Rodriguez, Hodges and Davis are former teammates.  While not necessarily by design, the Indians have smartly drafted 3/4 of the starting infield from last year’s Team USA.

   The draft will continue the following day and when the dust settles the Indians will select roughly 50 players.  Traditionally only half of those players will sign contracts and begin their pro careers.  The men in the war room can only hope the players they’ve picked today will one day wear big league uniforms. 

   One scout whose player he recommended was just selected begins to pace the floor in the back of the room.  His face is a mixture of joy and anxiety.  Happy "his" player was selected.  Hopeful he will be a "hit" and not a "miss".  Its no accident there is a huge bottle of antacid and a jar of aspirin sitting on a nearby table.  Before the day is over both will be empty.