"The last thing he saw was the flashing red light…"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
http://www.twitter.com/castrovince

In 1992, my sixth grade class at St. Robert Bellarmine in Euclid, Ohio, was visited by backup Cleveland Lumberjacks goalie Bruce Racine. No offense to Racine, should he happen to stumble upon this (hey, we all Google ourselves from time to time), but I had no idea who he was then and I have no idea what he’s doing now.

But Racine’s name sticks in the vast recesses of my memory, for some reason. He came to us to talk about being a pro hockey player, then he offered up two tickets to that night’s Lumberjacks game. Cleveland_Lumberjacks.gifSomehow, I got my grimy little 11-year-old hands on them, and my brother and I went to Richfield Coliseum to check out all the glory that is Minor League hockey.

Now, what I’m about to say is in no way intended to offend the thousands of genuine hockey fans in the city of Cleveland. Believe me, I know you exist, and a few of you are even friends and acquaintances of mine. But I think I speak for the general Cleveland populace — a populace that was ultimately unable to support the Lumberjacks and various incarnations of the Barons, and one that I sincerely hope will allow the Lake Erie Monsters to thrive — when I say that, for whatever reason, hockey just doesn’t have the pull on us that it has on our neighbors in Detroit or Buffalo or Pittsburgh. I’m sure there are people smarter than me who have analyzed this situation and can point to various socioeconomic reasons as to why this is the case. But I’ll let them write their own blog entries.

My entry is about that Lumberjacks game, which was a thriller. It went into overtime and then a shootout, and the ‘Jacks (that’s what we, uh, big Lumberjacks fans would call our favorite team) pulled it off. The crowd of 122 people went wild.

Up until last night, that was my only professional hockey experience, and I was content to let it remain that way, because I figured nothing beats an IHL shootout.

Now I know better. An NHL shootout is even more spectacular.

I got to witness just such an event at last night’s Phoenix Coyotes game against the Vancouver Canucks. Adrian Aucoin’s goal in the sixth round of a shootout gave the Coyotes the go-ahead (not a hockey term, I’m sure), and Mason Raymond’s attempt to answer it was rejected by Phoenix goalie Ilya “Can I Buy A Vowel?” Bryzgalov. In that thrilling moment, something stirred in the inner resources of my soul… though it might have just been indigestion.

Anyway, I’m not going to pretend last night’s game has made me a huge hockey fan. But I can say with certainty that one way professional hockey might work in Cleveland (and Phoenix, for that matter, as the Coyotes recently declared bankruptcy) is to guarantee a shootout, every single night. Because I’m 2-for-2 and loving it. And I owe it all to Bruce Racine.

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…

  • Speaking of “overtime,” the Indians and White Sox played to a 10-inning, 5-5 draw today. “I was thinking about a shootout at the end,” Acta said. “Home Run Derby.”
  • Mitch Talbot worked three innings against the Sox, allowing a run on two hits with two strikeouts and a hit batter. Five of the nine outs he recorded were on fly balls, which is a little disconcerting, especially to Talbot. “I’m not a fly-ball pitcher at all,” he said. “I usually get a lot of groundballs … This is blowing my mind.”
  • Talbot said his pitches have felt good, but the hitters are telling him something else. It could be the Arizona effect that hounded virtually everybody on the Tribe staff last spring. Having come from the Astros and Rays organizations, Talbot has never trained out here, aside from his Arizona Fall League stint after the ’09 season.
  • Manny Acta thought Talbot’s ability to change speeds might have contributed to the fly balls. He felt the hitters he was getting the hitters out in front with his changeup.
  • Still no telling who will win the rotation battle between Talbot, Aaron Laffey and David Huff. Two spots are open. Talbot is out of options, which will certainly come into play and, unless he gets hurt or completely falls on his face, ensure him a role on this club, in some capacity.
  • Michael Brantley continues to look like the sparkplug he was at the top of the Tribe lineup last September. Batting in the leadoff spot today, he went 2-for-2 with a walk and a run scored. It is, of course, too early to know what we’re looking at, but Brantley is simply fun to watch.
  • A few fans have compared the Brantley outlook (he’s currently ticketed for Triple-A Columbus) to what happened with Grady Sizemore in 2005. That year, an aging Juan Gonzalez was signed to a free-agent deal, ensuring Sizemore, who had a strong first showing in the bigs at the end of ’04, would begin the year in Buffalo. But when Gonzalez went down with an injury the first day of the season, Sizemore came up, and the rest, as they say, is history. Quite a few fans seem to be rooting for a similar scenario in the wake of the signing of Russell Branyan, who is still hobbling around with a herniated disc in his lower back and has yet to appear in a Cactus game.
  • The only two projected starters in today’s lineup were Luis Valbuena and Lou Marson. Acta said it’s important in these early games to get a look at the young guys who might factor into the Indians’ plans later in the year or in the years to come. Wes Hodges (2-for-3 today) and Lonnie Chisenhall (RBI triple) are making the most of the opportunity. Acta said Chisenhall is “very advanced for his age.” 
  • 232x266.jpgChris Perez is profiled at the Indians.com site today. And as the story mentions, his resemblance to “Eastbound and Down” character Kenny Powers has inspired him to seek a cameo role on the HBO show.
  • But the only role that matters to Perez right now is the Indians’ setup role. He’s off to a strong start this spring, having worked three scoreless outings, though Paul Konerko and Mark Kotsay both took him to the track today. “My slider’s not where I want it to be,” Perez said. “The more I get out there and pitch in ballgames, the more it will come around.”
  • Perez is working on a new two-seam fastball. It looked pretty good in his bullpen sessions early in camp, but he’s thrown exactly one sinker in the games. It came today on a pitch to Kotsay, and it was outside the zone. “It was awful,” Perez said. Perez is working with different grips on the pitch, trying to get a consistent feel for it. He’s hopeful it can become part of his repertoire and help him induce more groundballs with runners on.
  • Kenny Powers.jpgPerez, as you’ll recall, had his struggles against the White Sox last year, and he also had some trouble with the Twins. He was asked about pitching in the Metrodome, and he said the Twins making the move to outdoor Target Field this season is “one of the dumbest moves in the history of baseball.” He continued, “Just look at their winning percentage at home vs. on the road. I don’t know why they did it. Let alone the weather factor. Mike Redmond said it’s sweater and jacket weather there until June. They’ll have to play 40 games in that.”
  • Perez was one reliever acquired in the Mark DeRosa trade last year; Jess Todd was the other. Todd got roughed up thoroughly today by the Sox (three runs on five hits with a walk, a strikeout and a homer from C.J. Retherford in 2/3 of an inning). He got roughed up last September, too. He’s not considered a top candidate for one of the open spots in the Opening Day bullpen, and, generally speaking, he’s yet to show the big league promise that made him a Tribe trade target.
  • Jeremy Sowers threw to hitters for the first time on Wednesday and will throw a simulated session Saturday. Still no word on when he’ll get into Cactus games, but he’s obviously out of the rotation race. He could factor into the bullpen race, though his stuff, from a relief standpoint, probably isn’t suited for anything more than a long relief job.
  • Ben Broussard’s baseball career has come to a close. But the former Tribe first baseman is actively pursuing his music career, and he’s on the bill for tonight’s “Woodjock” charity event in Scottsdale. White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy organized the show. Omar Vizquel, Barry Zito, Bronson Arroyo and Bernie Williams are among the other scheduled participants.
  • The Professional Bull Riders tour is in town here in Glendale, and “Amazing Race” participant Cord McCoy is doing some promotional work for it. McCoy and Indians third base coach Steve Smith struck up a friendship during the filming of the show, and Smith posted a sheet in the clubhouse where Tribe players could sign up if they want to attend the PBR event. Shin-Soo Choo looked particularly puzzled as he read the sheet. Someone had to explain the concept of bull riding to him. I guess they don’t have that kind of thing in South Korea.

~AC

18 Comments

As was announced today, the after party for the Sunday, May 9th game against the Tigers, will be across the street at the Q at the Pearl Jam concert. See everybody there.

Here’s a question I don’t have an answer for: Would big money teams need to hold Brantley back for arbitration reasons? I’m guessing not, but I can’t imagine any team wouldn’t take it under consideration.
I only ask because I wonder what kind of uproar they’ll be by Tribe fans if Brantley keeps this up all spring and ends up in Columbus, anyway. It’s one thing to say the guy needs more time in AAA and, oh, we can hold him back for future money reasons, it’s another if he no longer needs that time and money is the only reason.
It would definitely smart, that’s for sure.

I feel like your logic is flawed, LACF. A big money team like that Yankees would have a 15 million/year guy already in each outfield position, so there would be no need to bring Brantley up and rush his arbitration. But in all seriousness, I see your point. If this turns in to a strictly money thing, then I am not for it. But combine that with the task of trying to find at-bats for him at the ML level, and it is probably a wiser move. My question is this: by having Brantley start the year at AAA, do we lengthen our contractual control over him at all, or this purely a financial thing?

Also, I am confused as to why LaPorta HAS to have his future at primarily first base. I feel like we have two very good corner infield prospects coming up in the next couple years with Hodges and Chisenhall, and if LaPorta is more comfortable as a a left fielder (which he played through college) then why force this change? I know he will likely start the year in LF, but that is mainly cause the Branyan signing. Can anyone please enlighten me here?

I am actually high on Wes myself, I have seen him play in Akron during the 2008 season, but I am not sure if there is even a spot for him in the organization. Hafner isn’t going anywhere and Laporta is a force with this team for many years to come. I am glad he is getting an opportunity to shine right now. If he can stay healthy, and this is a very big IF since he was hurt last season, but he can have a very good season for Columbus this year.

It is amazing how a few good games can refresh the fans’ memory about a particular player. Wes Hodges is the epitome of that. As Acta told us, his bat is his ticket to the bigs.

I would concur with ST (previous thread) that Sowers has a legitimate shot at starting the season on the DL for multiple reasons. I have been speculating that the opening day roster will look significantly different than the roster on May 19th when we play against the Royals (at home).

The opening day roster will be littered with out-of-options, last chance players filling in for 7 weeks as we wait for developmental guys. Marte (last bench spot), Kearns (4th OF), Talbot (5th SP), Rivera (6th RP), Ambriz (7th RP). Then who’s Columbus-bound? Brantley, obviously Brown, me…err Trevor Crowe I mean, Huff, Jensen Lewis.

Pigeon, where would you put Laporta in the outfield? Unless they trade Choo or Sizemore? You have Choo, Sizemore, and then Brantley, Laporta and Weglarz, who along with Chisenhall are the top 4 position player prospects in the organization–I could see Weglarz as eventually a Hafner replacement at DH, but you still have the Sizemore, Choo, Brantley outfield. At 1b they have Beau Mills, who hasn’t done much, and theoretically Hodges, who as I said, has a decent bat for a 3rd baseman but is not the power bat you want at 1b. For example his minors production isn’t remotely comparable to Laporta’s, or even Jordan Brown’s. Donald has put up better offensive numbers than Hodges. I mentioned in another thread that i think this proposed move to 1b is nothing but a negative for Hodges, it kills his value as a prospect. It’s interesting that they’re considering it, I thought at first it was due to a negative evaluation of Hodges defensively at 3b, that they gave up on the idea of him improving, but now I think it might have more to do with Chisenhall, that they’re thinking of having Chisenhall open the year in Columbus instead of Akron.

Ha! Pigeon, I think you’re right, and I don’t think big money teams even consider such time lines, and it’s another reason why they compete every year while teams like the Tribe have to work in cycles.
I think it might be both, ST. I don’t know that Hodges has lived up to all the hype behind him and I think, from everything Acta has said, that Chisenhall might be ahead of schedule. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they moved him to Columbus right away.
And not to argue with the fans that AC mentions, but I think we’d be looking at the same situation with Brantley even if Branyan wasn’t around. I think it will play out entirely as a control issue that has him bound for AAA no matter what, so even with Branyan we’d be seeing someone else at first (ideally LaPorta, with Kearns or Crowe stepping up to every day OF for half a season — because, at that point, why not?).
Excited to actually watch the game today — it’s on the MLB Network, for those who aren’t close to Cleveland and haven’t subscribed to MLB.tv yet (like me).

Chisenhall has looked good. It makes you wonder how he hit sub-.200 in Akron for a month. He and Weglarz both impressed me in the limited at bats I saw of theirs this spring … I think with Brown out of the picture, if Branyan can’t make it they have to go with Brantley, if he keeps hitting. They are in the business of trying to sell tickets, so you have to put the best team out there. With Branyan you can hope he produces at a level where he’s an upgrade over Brantley, but no one wants to go out and see Kearns. So many things could happen between now and when Brantley’s eligible for arbitration, much less free agency, that you can’t worry too much about the service time issue, not when holding him back would be an obvious detriment to the team.

I’d love it if Chisenhall did well in the minors and ended up in the majors ahead of schedule, say next year, for example. A roster of Choo, Sizemore, Brantley, Chisenhall, Cabrera, LaPorta, Santana, and whoever is at second and whoever is DH sounds pretty good, at least in theory.
Speaking of DH, is this Hafner’s last chance at holding that gig? There’s a lot of talk about guys who can hit in AAA, but aren’t the best fielders. At some point do we give one of them a shot at DH? Who’s our DH of the future?

assuming he’s healthy Travis Hafner will be our DH for the life of his contract. Plain and simple. I’m a little shocked that you would entertain the contrary LACF. Unfortunately we have to look at the Hafner signing for what it logically is: a big, unfortunate mistake. I firmly believe that his long term signing has sealed the fate of Grady Sizemore. Dolan spent the money once and it bit him in the keister. Never again IMO.

ST, I’m glad that you’ve come around to the idea that Nick Weglarz is a viable plus-prospect. And I wouldn’t limit him only to DH duties.

For me personally I would rather have seen Crowe + Kearns in LF/4th OF with LaPorta at 1B instead of Branyan, even if Matt started the season on the DL (hence insert Marte for 2+ weeks). It’s a money saving thing for me, nothing more. It’s why I’m resigned to the fact that for arbitration reasons Brantley won’t be on the opening day roster. I find myself struggling between what is rationale and what I want to see as a fan.

I’d never seen Weglarz play before, in the couple spring training games I saw he smacked a home run and like every other plate appearance he’s drawn a walk. I can see what they like about him. He still needs to produce this year, I’d love to see him have a good, consistent year and develop into a viable Hafner replacement sooner rather than later. In an ideal Indians world Michael Brantley will hit .300 and steal 40 bases, and Laporta will hit .280 and 30 HRs and they’ll sign Choo to a long term deal. In which case as with Laporta, there’s not a place in the outfield for Weglarz, and Laporta will have 1b locked down so the only place for Weglarz in the near term would be DH. Of course, I doubt Weglarz, Laporta and Brantley will all live up to expectations, so who knows what the future will bring. Also, the Indians might think about drafting someone who’s right handed in the near future. What the heck are they going to do when Chisenhall comes up? They’ll have Laporta, and then Santana and Cabrera as switch hitters, and everyone else will be left handed.

I think it might be both, ST. I don’t know that Hodges has lived up to all the hype behind him and I think, from everything Acta has said, that Chisenhall might be ahead of schedule. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they moved him to Columbus right away. And not to argue with the fans that AC mentions, but I think we’d be looking at the same situation with Brantley even if Branyan wasn’t around. diy solar power panels

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I’d love to see him have a good, consistent year and develop into a viable Hafner replacement sooner rather than later. In an ideal Indians world Michael Brantley will hit .300 and steal 40 bases, and Laporta will hit .280 and 30 HRs and they’ll sign Choo to a long term deal. In which case as with Laporta, there’s not a place in the outfield for Weglarz, and Laporta will have 1b locked down so the only place for Weglarz in the near term would be DH. Of course, I doubt Weglarz, Laporta and Brantley will all live up to expectations, so who knows what the future will bring. brothers and sisters season 4 episode 22

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