Some guy on TV right now is giving something called the “State of the Union Address.” But if you want some real important information, then let’s get you caught up on all the latest tidbits from the Tribe’s winter Press Tour:
- For starters, the best news of Press Tour week is that 4-year-old Luke Holko is doing tremendously well in his recovery from the brain injuries he suffered when struck by a foul ball at a Mahoning Valley game in September. It was a joy to speak with Luke’s parents, Nicole and Chad, in Youngstown last night and see the expressions on their faces as they talked about their son’s incredible progress. They were also very excited to see Chris Perez, Aaron Laffey and David Huff pay their son a visit. You can read all about that here.
- The point of the Press Tour is to generate interest in the club while raising money for various charities. And if you read this space regularly, you know I try to make as much mention as possible about the Indians’ many community endeavors, because they are certainly worth noting. But if you want the full story on those activities, they will be chronicled in a new blog set up by the team’s Community Outreach department. Check it here and check it often.
- Perez said he is “95 percent” recovered from offseason surgery to remove a loose bone and a cyst from the back of his left ankle. Perez pitched with the condition throughout 2009, so it never affected him on the mound. He said his ankle is still a little weak when he plants his foot, but he’ll be fine for Spring Training and can always wear the brace he wore last year, if necessary.
- During the Youngstown stop of the Press Tour, a fan asked assistant GM Chris Antonetti what the plan is if something goes wrong with Kerry Wood. Antonetti simply pointed to Perez.
Michael Brantley is a little bit thicker than the last time we saw him. He said he gained 10 pounds of muscle by upping the ante on his lifting program. “I put on some weight, but it’s all good weight,” he said. “I’m the strongest I’ve ever been in my life. But I’ve been running each and every day, so I’m still light on my legs. I couldn’t be happier with my weight and conditioning.”
- Brantley (No. 46) and Carlos Santana (No. 11) cracked MLB.com’s Top 50 Prospects list, which was released tonight.
- Sandy Alomar Jr. thinks Kenny Lofton, who was named to the Tribe’s Hall of Fame today, should be considered for that other Hall of Fame. The one in Cooperstown. “Everybody talks about home runs, but this guy was the igniter for this organization for many years. … Kenny took pride in the leadoff spot and playing his role. The voters have to reward players for their abilities. It’s not just home runs and RBIs, but how they played their role.”
- What did Alomar think about his brother, Roberto, falling oh-so-short of the Hall in his first year on the ballot? He said the John Hirschbeck incident sealed Robbie’s fate, and he wishes that weren’t the case. “What bothered me about it was that in this day and era, people still don’t understand the Latin culture,” Alomar said. “We are so competitive and so emotionally involved in the game. Even at 6 or 7 years old, we want to win. It’s not just about having fun. So when we come here, we are exposed to many things that people don’t understand from us. Sometimes we don’t run because we’re frustrated. It’s not because we don’t want to hustle. Sometimes we throw our glove. … And sometimes we snap. So people don’t understand the way we play. I’m not calling anybody a bigot or anything. They just don’t understand.”
- Alomar talked a little about his program for working with young catchers, and he said a major part of it is getting them to focus on covering their signs. Too often, Alomar said, catchers’ signs are exposed to the runner at first base. “We will work on that,” he said.
- Manny Acta said the Indians are still exploring the possibility of making one or two additions before camp opens.
- I was surprised to learn that Lofton and Acta were teammates in the Houston system at the Class A Florida State League in 1990. Acta said he was playing “next to the cooler” in those days. He was a backup infielder.
- Jordan Brown did a video interview with MLB.com in which he discusses the controversy when he wasn’t given a September callup last year. You can check that out here.
- Finally, while the Press Tour isn’t over, I can safely say the coolest stop is undoubtedly the one that took place tonight, when Trevor Crowe, Tony Sipp and Tim Belcher visited the Historic Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield. Before a Town Hall session with fans, the trio took a tour of the reformatory, and I got the chance to tag along. The reformatory was in use from 1896 to 1991, and it has since been a filming site for “Shawshank Redemption,” “Air Force One,” a Godsmack music video and an episode of “Ghost Hunters.” For whatever it’s worth, I highly recommend the tour.
As you might have read on the main site, Manny Acta held a Town Hall session with season-ticket holders at Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School last night. The event was moderated by Matt Underwood and filmed for use on SportsTime Ohio next week.
A few pieces of Excruciating Minutiae that aren’t in the article but are nonetheless worth passing along from the Q&A…
- Acta reiterated the Indians’ insistence that Shin-Soo Choo’s military obligation in his native South Korea is nothing for fans to be concerned about. He said this was one of the first questions he had for Mark Shapiro and company when he interviewed for the job, and he was assured it will be taken care of.
Acta said Choo is in the process of becoming an American citizen.I spoke with assistant GM Chris Antonetti about this today, and he said Acta misspoke here. He said Choo has not begun the process of acquiring citizenship, but the Indians remain 100 percent confident Choo will not have to leave the team to fulfill his obligation.
- The Indians are not ruling out the possibility of Rafael Perez starting by season’s end, but, initially, he will pitch solely out of the bullpen. “From a health standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to have a guy go from [pitching] 80 innings to 180,” Acta said. “You only want to raise your innings by 30 percent. He’ll pitch out of the bullpen in Spring Training. If we feel he can step in and build some innings as a starter [later in the year], that’s a possibility.”
- On Jeremy Sowers’ chances of making the team in either the rotation or the bullpen: “Spring Training will tell that. The guys competing against him are going to tell us whether he belongs in the rotation or the bullpen.”
- On his coaching staff, which he gathered in Goodyear last week for a series of meetings: “I feel so much better after spending four days with those guys. They have passion and love to teach, and they care. I think we brought the right people in here.”
- On first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr.: “You guys know him as a great player, but let me tell you something. This guy’s going to be a tremendous coach, too.”
- On pitching coach Tim Belcher: “He’s not only intense. He’s smart. He brings a lot to the table. Tim has done it all. He’s a very organized, prepared guy.”
- Acta didn’t bite when a fan vented his frustration about Eric Wedge occasionally benching guys when they were hot. “I have a lot of respect for Eric,” Acta said. “There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that you don’t know. There are things we can’t tell you, because we don’t want to tell the other clubs. Sometimes a guy needs a day off and we’re not going to make it public, because you’re going to question his toughness.”
- On Jake Westbrook’s winter ball stint in Puerto Rico: “It takes a lot for a veteran guy who is set financially to go to winter ball and take his family over there. … In his last outing, I could see in his facial expressions that he’s feeling good. He’ll come into Spring Training with no restrictions.”
- On 38-year-old backup catcher Mike Redmond: “He’s going to be great for this ballclub. I don’t look at his age. He’s coming in fresh. Not too many backup guys hit at the clip he’s hit at. When you’re backing up Joe Mauer, you don’t get to play that much.”
- On attempts to sign Jamey Carroll: “We did offer Jamey a good contract. We did try very hard to sign him, because who wouldn’t want to have Jamey? I know he’s already married, but Jamey’s a guy you would want to marry your daughter.”
- Underwood asked Acta which Fausto Carmona he expected to show up in 2010 – the one who dominated in 2007 or the one who had a disastrous 2009. “The good one,” Acta said, drawing a big laugh. “You weren’t expecting me to say the one from last year, were you?”
HAFNER HELPS OUT
Also on Monday, Travis Hafner and his wife, Amy, visited SouthPark Mall in Strongsville to shop with about 20 youth (ages 16-18 years) from the Beech Brook foster care adoption agency. When foster children reach their late teens, Beech Brook prepares them for independent living, and these young men and women are nearing their emancipation.
Pronk and his wife gave each kid $300 to spend at the mall and tagged along for the shopping excursion. Yes, I know Pronk makes a ton of money, but this was one of those gestures you love to see from a person in his position. The Hafners didn’t have to do it, but they did.
THE GOOD OL’ DAYS
The June 4, 1974 game between the Tribe and the Rangers was a real riot. In case time or the number of suds consumed has erased your memory, that was the game in which the infamous Ten Cent Beer Night promotion was held, and it, uh, didn’t turn out so well. But for those who wish to celebrate the shenanigans through cotton, the good folks at Homage Clothing have just the shirt for you.
WARM UP THE BUS
The annual winter Press Tour officially kicks off today. Acta, Michael Brantley, Jensen Lewis and Ross Atkins will be at Tangier Restaurant in Akron at 6 p.m.; David Huff, Aaron Laffey, Chris Perez and Chris Antonetti will be at Akron Children’s Hospital’s Youngstown branch at 6 p.m.; and Sandy Alomar Jr., Tony Sipp and Trevor Crowe will be at the Barber National Institute in Erie, Pa., at 6 p.m. Full info on the Press Tour, which runs through Thursday, can be found here.
The Indians are joining the Haiti relief effort with a special online auction that begins today. All proceeds will be donated to UNICEF in support of its effort to aid earthquake victims.
Starting at 5 p.m. ET, fans can visit this link on Indians.com and bid on unique auction packages.
The following items/experiences are up for grabs:
Ceremonial First Pitch Experience
The opportunity to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at a 2010 regular season game. This includes four Field Box tickets to that evening’s game and the opportunity for four people to view the Tribe’s batting practice from the field.
Meet the Manager Experience
Two people will meet new Tribe manager Manny Acta, view batting practice from the field and sit in the club seats, which include unlimited food and non-alcoholic beverages, during that evening’s game.
2010 Cleveland Indians Autographed Baseball Collection
The collection includes baseballs autographed by Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner, Jhonny Peralta and Grady Sizemore.
The Sandy Alomar Collection
Features an autographed bat and ball from Alomar, the 2009 inductee into the Indians Hall of Fame and the club’s newly installed first base coach.
The auction will end Feb. 26 at 5 p.m.
The Indians have a reality TV star on their hands.
New third base and infield coach Steve Smith and his daughter, Allie, form a team on the upcoming 16th season of the CBS reality-competition series “The Amazing Race.” The season premiere airs Feb. 14 at 8 p.m. ET.
In the show, teams of two people follow clues and race around the world via various forms of transportation. They are eliminated week by week, until only three teams remain. The team that arrives first to the final destination wins a cool $1 million.
No word on how Smith and his daughter fared. And even if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you, because I’m not one to spoil the endings of reality series.*
*although I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that the couple that ends up together on “The Bachelor” will break up within 12-18 months.
Smith isn’t the only pseudo-celebrity on this season of the show. Also slated to appear is Caitlin Upton, better known as the star of my favorite YouTube clip of all-time.
The Indians’ regular season and Spring Training broadcast schedules have been released, and they should offer you plenty of opportunities to see Mitch Talbot in action.
During Cactus League play, SportsTime Ohio will telecast six games, the Indians Radio Network (including flagship station WTAM 1100 here in Cleveland) will carry 20 games and Indians.com will broadcast 10 games to subscribers.
During the regular season, a total of 151 of the 162 games will be televised on SportsTime Ohio, WKYC Channel 3, ESPN and FOX.
STO will carry 148 games (all of which will be available in HD). WKYC will carry 20 of the STO games, FOX will carry the April 17 home game against the White Sox, and ESPN will carry the June 7 home game against the Red Sox and the July 26 home game against the Yankees.
The full schedule, which now includes start times and broadcast plans, can be found at this link.
The Tribe’s TV and radio broadcast teams remain the same, with Rick Manning, Matt Underwood and Al Pawlowski on STO and Tom Hamilton, Mike Hegan and Jim Rosenhaus on the Radio Network. The added wrinkle this year is that Rosenhaus, in addition to his pregame show host duties, will also be doing play-by-play for an inning each game.
I want to take a quick break from the momentous movements of the Indians’ offseason to help out a friend of mine.
Ramon Diaz is a former Tribe bat boy who still works in the Indians’ clubhouse during his summer breaks from Columbia University. He’s easily the most motivated, driven young man I’ve ever had the pleasure of coming across, and he’s looking for a little assistance in his latest endeavor.
Ramon is volunteering to teach English to underpriveleged children in Buenos Aires this spring. But in order to do so, he needs to raise $5,820 to cover his expenses, including flight and room and board, between now and when he leaves in March.
Through KeyBank, Ramon has set up a donation account called “The Road to Argentina.” If you’re so inclined, you can make a donation online at this address. And to learn more about the program Ramon is taking part in, you can visit this site.
Go get ‘em, Ramon.
Sandusky native Brian Bixler is the latest entry into the competition to be the Indians’ middle infield utility man.
The Tribe acquired Bixler on Monday in a trade with the Pirates. Low-A third baseman Jesus Brito, who split last year between the Arizona Rookie League and short-season Mahoning Valley, was sent to the Bucs.
Bixler has spent the better part of the last three seasons at Triple-A Indianapolis, where he’s batted a combined .276 with 21 homers, 130 RBIs and a .766 OPS while striking out 366 times in 1,199 at-bats. He’s appeared in a total of 68 games in the big leagues over the last two seasons, batting .178 (27-for-152) with a .475 OPS.
The 27-year-old Bixler has played primarily at shortstop in his career, but he can also handle second base, third base and center field.
With Luis Valbuena likely to see the bulk of time at second base and Asdrubal Cabrera locked in at shortstop, Bixler, Jason Donald and non-roster invitees Mark Grudzielanek and Luis Rodriguez will compete for the utility role. And there is, of course, still a chance another name or two will be added to that mix before all is said and done this winter.
The Indians have signed 38-year-old Mike Redmond to a one-year contract to be their backup catcher. It is their first Major League free agent signing this offseason, and it brings their 40-man roster total to 39.
Redmond is a veteran of 12 Major League seasons with the Marlins and Twins. He debuted with the Marlins in 1998 and has compiled a career average of .289 with 113 doubles, 13 homers and 238 RBIs in 741 games. He was a member of the Marlins’ 2003 World Series championship club, and he was a part of the Twins’ 2006 and ’09 AL Central Division crowns.
The Tribe is well-acquainted with Redmond, as he spent the last five years with the Twins, serving as a backup to Joe Mauer and hitting a combined .297 in 257 games with them. Last year, he batted .237 (32-for-135) in 45 games.
Redmond will serve as the backup to Lou Marson, and he adds some needed experience to a young ballclub.
And Redmond should also help liven up the clubhouse in what figures to be an uphill battle this season. This is, after all, the same guy who takes batting practice in the buff when he’s trying to get out of hitting slumps.
UPDATE: Redmond gets an $850,000 guarantee and $10,000 each for 40, 45, 50, 60 and 70 games started.
UPDATE No. 2: The official company line for the Tribe is that Marson and Wyatt Toregas will compete for the regular catching spot, with Redmond serving as the backup. I think it’s safe to say Marson is the odds-on favorite for the job. Carlos Santana, as we’ve said before, starts the season in Triple-A.
The Indians have extended seven internal invites to big league camp:
RHP Alex White, Yohan Pino and Frank Herrmann, INFs Lonnie Chisenhall, Beau Mills and Niuman Romero and C Damaso Espino.
White, Chisenhall and Mills were all first-round picks, and this will be the first exposure to big league camp for White and Chisenhall.
That brings the total number of non-roster invitees up to 16.
Matt LaPorta had a conference call with reporters today. Not a whole lot to add to my most recent update on his progress in his recovery from hip and toe surgeries, though it’s worth noting that he expects to be cleared to initiate baseball activities next week.
“I should be able to start Spring Training with everybody else,” LaPorta said. “I’ll have another checkup with my doctors right before [Spring Training] to make sure I’m 100 percent. I’m on a good pace.”
Of course, the Indians will know a lot more about LaPorta’s pace once he begins running, throwing and hitting. His original timetable for recovery from the October surgeries was four to six months, and it remains to be seen where he’ll fall in that timeframe. If it’s four months, then the Indians have their starting first baseman. If it’s six, they’ll have to dip into their depth, which could include the recently signed Austin Kearns and/or Shelley Duncan.
LaPorta said he doesn’t expect to limited in any way, once healthy, and that he can help out in both the outfield and first base. The Indians have made it clear they expect LaPorta to see the bulk of his time in 2010 at first.