April 2011

“When you hit a home run, it’s important to let everyone in the park know that you just hit a home run.”

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

Perhaps you’ve noticed Tribe players tugging on the lapels of their jerseys after one of their teammates hits a particularly profound home run.

If you’re as curious as I was, here’s the deal: What looks like tugging is actually mimicking the chain-popping tactic of four-time home run king Domingo Ayala.

Who the heck is four-time home run king Domingo Ayala? If you’re asking that question, then you’re like me and completely missed this YouTube sensation.

So here you go:

And now you know.

~AC

“Today, the Royal Wedding of Princess Vespa to Prince Valium. Tomorrow, Bingo.”

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

Prince William and Princess Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (or Billy and Katie, as those of us who know them best like to call them), exchanged their wedding vows today, and I celebrate them not just for their nobility but also their frugality.

Having fairly recently gone through the matrimonial process myself, I can attest to the sweet savings the royal couple encountered as a result of having their wedding on a Friday, rather than a Saturday. The reception hall probably gave them like one or two pounds off per person for the open bar. That really adds up.

It’s interesting that the Indians completed a sweep of Kansas City on the eve of Will and Kate’s wedding. With the loss, the Royals’ winning percentage dropped to .480, which I believe is the same percentage chance the royal couple’s marriage has of lasting. (Hey, don’t get mad at me. I’m just listening to the Chinese fortunetellers.)

Difficult as it might be, it’s time to put the royal ceremony in the rearview and return to baseball. And what a team to return to. The first-place Indians have won 10 straight home games – their longest home winning streak since a stretch of 13 straight from April 6-May 17, 1996, when little William was but a prepubescent prince and Kate was still a commoner (albeit a fairly wealthy one).

But I’m back in my former second-row seat in the Progressive Field press box tonight and tomorrow, filling in for Jordan Bastian, which can only mean the Indians are doomed. As a small consolation, Tribe fans, I am pleased to bring you the…

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…

  • About two billion people watched the royal wedding his morning. About half as many are expected to watch Alex White’s Major League debut with the Indians at 6:05 p.m. ET on Saturday night. White’s debut is significant, not just because he was a prominent Draft pick two summers ago, but because the Indians’ willingness to start his arbitration clock and make a 40-man move (more on that in a sec) to get him up here now speaks to how far this club has come in the contention cycle.
  • I think this is a point the Duke of the DiaTribe, Paul Cousineau, articulated well in this post. No matter how he fares in his debut, White’s arrival is certainly more exciting and encouraging for fans than some recent homegrown ho-hums that have been trotted out there. The Indians revamped their Draft focus a few years back, and White is the first byproduct of that improved approach to reach the bigs. Good on ya, Tribe, for giving the kid a shot this soon. He’s earned it.
  • The Indians haven’t yet announced who will be removed from the 40-man to make room for White. Just speculating here, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the name rhymes with Bless Sod (that doubles as a great lawn care tip, too, by the way).
  • Travis Hafner’s out a second day with right ankle inflammation. As of Manny Acta’s session with reporters, the Indians were still waiting on results of the MRI, but Acta said the injury does not appear serious and Pronk’s available off the bench. “We just want to make sure everything is OK,” Acta said. “We’d rather be on the safe side and give him an extra day off.”
  • As expected, Jason Donald was activated off the disabled list and promptly optioned to Triple-A Columbus. Things are going too well with Jack Hannahan to shake it up at third, and at this point, Donald might be best-served to prove his worth as a multi-position player in the infield.
  • Speaking of Hannahan, here is an excellent note from David Cameron.
  • Meanwhile, that Columbus infield is awfully crowded, as Josh Rodriguez is also back. The Pirates, who claimed him from the Tribe with the first overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft, designated him for assignment earlier this week. When he cleared waivers, the Indians got him back for $25,000, half of the fee the Pirates paid the Tribe when they drafted him. Rodriguez was 1-for-12 with the Bucs.
  • Former top prospect Adam Miller has been cleared to pitch in the bullpen for Class A Kinston. Great story. His career looked as good as done when right middle finger issues forced four surgeries, and Miller hasn’t pitched in a professional game since May 2008. “I don’t think many individuals could have endured the series of injuries and rehabilitations as well as he has,” farm director Ross Atkins said. “The fact that he’s pitching again at this level is truly a testament to his ability to stay focused on what he could control and not once feeling sorry for himself. It truly has been inspirational for us to witness.” Atkins said Miller has been clocked at 95 mph and has flashed an above average slider.
  • Check out the column I wrote for MLB.com today on “Big League” Choo and the other elite outfield arms in the big leagues.
  • I mentioned Cory Snyder’s old “Gunsmoke” poster in that column. Scene magazine’s Vince Grzegorek tweeted me to note that somebody really needs to put an image of that poster on the Internet, and I concur. It’s nowhere to be found. Now, I know one of you out there must still have this poster somewhere in storage, in your memorabilia collection. So won’t you please take a picture and let the rest of us bask in the glory of ‘80s cheesiness at its finest?
  • Speaking of Choo, a reader tweeted me to ask if Choo plays the computer game Starcraft, which is apparently huge in Korea. Choo does, indeed, partake. So now you know that.
  • “Big League” Choo is obviously an inspired nickname. The Plain Dealer’s Dennis Manoloff is a big nickname proponent and has tried to come up with one for various members of the Tribe. Some of his ideas are better than others, but allow me to use this space to publicly vouch for Shelley “The Dunc Tank” Duncan. Justin Masterson has been referred to as “The Big Masty,” “Bat Masterson” and “Mastodon.” He said when he was younger they called him “Thankles,” because his leg was basically one solid mass from thigh to ankle. Given these choices, I’d have to side with “The Big Masty.”
  • It is often pointed out that everywhere Orlando Cabrera goes, he wins. Acta clarified that. “Everywhere but Montreal,” Acta said. “I was with him there for three years, and we didn’t win anything.”
  • Grady Sizemore has 12 extra-base hits in 44 plate appearances, if you need him.
  • Raffy “No Comment” Perez hasn’t allowed an earned run in 20 appearances, dating back to last year, if you need him. I wonder what he has to say about that…
  • The Tribe did not win its 10 game at Progressive Field last season until June 10. And the Indians’ 16 wins this month equal the club record for April (reached four times, the last of which was 1999).
  • Oh, and barring some amazing, mathematically impossible collapse, the Indians will escape April with a winning record – something that’s happened just two other times in the last eight years. What does a winning record in April mean? Why, I happen to have a story for MLB.com on that very topic. In the last 10 years, from 2001 through 2010, 59 of the 80 teams (or 73.8 percent) that reached the playoffs had at least a .500 record in April. In that same 10-season span, of the 78 teams that finished the season with 90 wins or more, 61 (or 78.2 percent) at least broke even in April. So… there’s that.
  • Always good to see Victor Martinez and Little Vic. V-Mart’s on the DL with a groin strain but on the trip with the Tigers, and Little Vic was, of course, in full uniform on the field before the Tigers stretched.
  • Acta’s Song of the Day was “It’s a Beautiful Life” by Ace of Base. I’m afraid the Song of the Day feature has truly taken a turn for the worse.
  • My Song of the Day is “Why in God’s Name is It Still in the Low 40s on April 29?” by Scritti Politti.

~AC

“Beauty walks a razor’s edge”

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

It was a picturesque, 75-degree day in downtown Cleveland on Tuesday, but the threat of incoming rain was persistent. The would-be weathermen at Progressive Field speculated that the Indians and Royals would avoid the rain on this night, but would likely get hammered by it Wednesday.

So it is, in a literal sense, with April weather in these parts. And so it is, in a figurative sense, when a couple of small-market teams surprise the baseball world in the season’s nascent weeks. The Tribe and Royals are two of the game’s great feel-good stories in the early going, but many watching them wonder when the storms will hit.

As was the case at Kauffman Stadium last week, these two clubs find themselves staging an unlikely battle for first place in the American League Central. Notably, the series opener was attended by representatives from multiple national media outlets. Their course was clear: Tribe-Royals. Get ‘em while they’re relevant.

“It’s good for both cities and fan bases,” Indians manager Manny Acta said of that early relevance. “Despite how early it is, we’re happy about it.”

On this night, the rain held off, and Acta’s Indians strengthened their grip on the Central’s top spot by belting five homers and snapping a three-game slide in a 9-4 victory. The Royals, meanwhile, extended what is now a four-game losing streak that some are portending to be their rendezvous with reality.

Undoubtedly — and as the K.C.’s current skid shows — the ride for the Indians (14-8) and Royals (12-11) won’t remain as smooth all summer as it was in the season’s first three weeks. At the same time, though, it’s no stretch to say the early play on both sides has certainly contained elements that are factual, not fantasy. The Indians have been aggressive in the strike zone, the Royals aggressive on the basepaths. Both have turned in a defensive effort that is drastically improved over what we saw in 2010, and it’s made a major impact.

“I told these kids all along, and I’m sure Manny’s told his kids, ‘Don’t listen to what people say outside,'” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “People get a little too wrapped up in the paper side of it.”

That’s a common complaint. Not to mention a valid one. But predictions are often built on valid rationale, too.

What is ultimately unpredictable is youth, and the Royals and Indians both possess plenty of it. In fact, the Royals have the lowest average age in MLB, at 26.7, while the Indians are tied with the Marlins for second-lowest, at 27.8. It is never easy to forecast when tenderfoot talent will reach its potential, nor is it safe to assume that the inconsistencies of youth won’t be revealed over the course of 162 games.

So while the Indians are riding the high of the splendid early showings from Josh Tomlin and Carlos Carrasco (whose clean MRI after a Sunday start shortened by elbow trouble was a major bullet dodged), among others, in the rotation, and the Royals aren’t getting burned by the presence of five rookies in the bullpen, neither club would be shocked to see some regression in those areas.

It is also too soon to tell if the early results from the veterans are mere mirages.

For the Indians, Travis Hafner has looked a great deal more like the Pronk of old than the sore-shouldered version of 2008, ’09 and ’10, and Orlando Cabrera and Jack Hannahan have stabilized the infield defense while adding some unanticipated bonuses to the offensive production. For the Royals, Bruce Chen and Jeff Francis have offset the general unreliability provided by Luke Hochevar and Kyle Davies, while Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera have made an immediate impact on both sides of the ball.

But while the kids could waver and the vets could fade, there are core pieces in play here that can’t be overlooked.

You see it in the way Justin Masterson maintains his delivery and further rewards the Indians’ patience with him; in the way Billy Butler steadily produces in the middle of a Royals’ offense that been one of the most effective in the league; in the way Shin-Soo Choo, Michael Brantley and a newly healthy Grady Sizemore form one of the game’s more athletic, dynamic outfields; in the way Alex Gordon finally comes into his own with a new plate approach; in the way Asdrubal Cabrera and Alcides Escobar both play like All-Star shortstops in the making.

And you also note that the Tribe and Royals each possess that coveted commodity that is a reliable ninth-inning arm, with Chris Perez and Joakim Soria both locked up through at least 2013.

Maybe some of the above pieces will eventually be moving ones, but the building blocks are here, and more help is on the horizon. By year’s end, the Indians should have Alex White impacting their rotation (with another recent No. 1 Draft pick, Drew Pomeranz, not far behind), and the Royals should have two promising prospects, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, anchoring their corner infield.

Add this up, and consider the age issues that could catch up (and, in some cases, already are catching up) with the division’s big dogs, and it’s not impossible to imagine the Royals and Indians maintaining a steady presence atop the Central standings in the not-too-distant future.

But what matters most, of course, is the here and now. And with their early play, the Indians and Royals have made their present a lot more relevant than most imagined.

It’s up to them, not Mother Nature, to determine how long the rain holds off.

~AC

PS: If you haven’t already, please check out these recent columns…

Tom Wilhelmsen’s long journey back to baseball

In short time, Sam Fuld a legend

Joe Mauer too valuable as a catcher

“Where the river flows, tomorrow never knows”

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

The mystery of “what might have been” can haunt you, if you’re in a certain state of mind.

After my eighth-grade graduation, a bunch of my schoolmates went out for pizza. I couldn’t go because of family commitments. Had I gone, perhaps sparks would have ignited with my grade-school crush, the scent of pepperoni having an aphrodisiacal effect that would have led to marriage at 18, kids at 19 and an odd emotional attachment to (now-defunct) Longo’s Pizza of Euclid.

I’m 100 percent certain everything worked out for the best in that particular instance. And now that I think about it, I’m also 100 percent certain that if I actually had a crush on anything or anyone at that time, it was more likely the pizza than the girl.

But what about these 2011 Cleveland Indians? The boys of April. They are, suddenly, encountering their first bout with adversity after suffering a two-game sweep in Minnesota — a three-game losing streak overall, entering tonight.

In the mind of one particular player, closer Chris Perez, the Twin Cities sweep wouldn’t have happened had the hand of fate not churned out a thunderstorm that wiped out Friday’s action. Bad weather in Minneapolis in April? Unheard of. Remember, the Twins went 27 seasons without so much as a home rain delay, let alone a rainout. So this was a shocker. Granted, those 27 seasons were played in the Metrodome, but that’s beside the point.

What is the point, you ask? I’m starting to wonder myself.

Ah, yes. Burgers. Double patty burgers with cheese pouring out of every crevice. They’re called Juicy Lucys (or is it Lucies?). They’re served by Shamrock’s Bar & Grille in St. Paul. Jack Hannahan is friends with the owners. He had a bunch of these gut-busters brought to the clubhouse before Friday’s (non-)game. The Indians devoured them. They were all hopped up on protein and calcium and ready to rock and roll, until rain intervened.

The next day, as Perez tells it, the pregame spread was highlighted not by cheesy beef but cheese and crackers. A real letdown, and, perhaps, a real reason why the boys of April saw their newfound losing ways continue.

What might have been. Somebody get these guys a Juicy Lucy. Or, failing that, some Longo’s Pizza.

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…

  • Tribe-Royals. April 26. Battle for first place. Just what you imagined heading into 2011, right? “I told these kids all along, and I’m sure Manny’s told his kids, ‘Don’t listen to what people say outside,’” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “People get a little too wrapped up in the paper side of it.” The papers might ultimately catch up to both these clubs. And both, of course, are limping into this series. But as I’ll write in my column for MLB.com, the early relevance of these two clubs is good for their cities and good for the game.
  • What would not be good for the Indians is an extended absence for Carlos Carrasco. So the team possibly dodged a huge bullet when his elbow MRI came back clean and he was cleared to throw a bullpen session here Wednesday. If everything goes well, Carrasco will start Saturday.
  • Our boy Jordan Bastian went all Fangraphsy on us and posted some good info on Shin-Soo Choo’s slow start. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. If you have any interest in advanced metrics and what they can tell us about what we’re watching on a nightly basis, Fangraphs.com is a valuable resource. Acta loves it.
  • Speaking of Choo, I’m working on a column on the best outfield arms in the game, and, as you might imagine, he’s up there. There are scouts who believe Choo is hands-down the best in the game, even better than Ichiro ever was because of his quicker release combined with his accuracy. Choo showed me how he transitions the ball from his glove into his hand into a four-seam grip, which keeps his throws from tailing off or sinking. And though he hasn’t been clocked since before he had Tommy John surgery in 2007, he’s adamant that he can still hit 95 mph on the gun. The column runs Friday, so keep an eye out for it.
  • And keep an eye out for Alex White, who is now 1-0 with a 1.90 ERA after striking out eight in 5 2/3 innings and giving up just one earned run for Triple-A Columbus on Monday. “He’s throwing the ball well down there,” Acta said. “We’ve gotten some reports that his slider is improving, which is one of his secondary pitches. I’m anticipating that he’s going to be here to help us at some point. The reports we’ve gotten, we won’t be afraid to bring this guy up here. If he has any developing to do, it can be continued up here.”
  • I’ll be filling in for Bastian on Tribe coverage on Friday and Saturday, so consider this my attempt to get back into the flow of the minutiae. I hope to have more for you this weekend.

~AC

“I just want to burn up hard and bright”

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

There’s an album by Ryan Adams called “Gold.” It’s one of my favorites. Or, to be more accurate, it contains one of my favorite seven-song segments on any CD that I own.

And those seven songs — “New York, New York,” “Firecracker,” “Answering Bell,” “La Cienega Just Smiled,” “The Rescue Blues,” “Somehow, Someday” and “When the Stars Go Blue,” in that order — happen to be the first seven songs of the album.

Perception, like possession, is nine-tenths of the law. Had these been the last seven songs of what is a 16-song album, I probably wouldn’t view “Gold” nearly the same way that I do. Of the album’s remaining nine songs, only two or three are listenable. The rest are pretty much horrendous. But they basically make up the latter half of the album, so they somehow don’t impact my overall opinion of the disc at large.

The same rationale might be applicable to the 2011 Cleveland Indians. People in these parts are actually buzzing — in understandably cautious tones, of course — about the Tribe. It’s a phenomenon brought on by the club’s unexpected 8-4 record.

With sound fundamentals (save for a few unsightly moments in an extra-innings loss to the Angels on Wednesday night), stellar starting pitching, a lockdown bullpen and timely hitting, the Indians are off to a “Gold”-like start to the season. Furthermore, the purported “big three” of the American League Central — the White Sox, Twins and Tigers — haven’t quite lived up to the hype.

All this has led to the Indians entering their weekend homestand against the Orioles on top of a division in which their preseason outlook was deemed by many (myself included) to be, as I wrote a few weeks back, “cloudy with a chance of fourth place.”

Of course, if the 2011 season were the “Gold” album, we’d only be about one verse into track two at this point. And the 2002 installment of the Indians, who notched 11 of their 74 wins in the season’s first 12 games, offer a somewhat recent cause for caution about reading too much into what we’ve seen in the early going.

Still, I offered the “Gold” comparison for a reason. In a city whose population declines and sporting sputters are well-documented, the 2011 Indians were in desperate need of a strong start to generate some interest from a fan base that virtually abandoned them last year. And while youth and depth issues might ultimately lead to this season going the way of “Gold,” with contention hopes tailing off over time, this club has placed itself in a position to leave fans with lasting fond feelings about the organization’s overall direction.

That’s the reasoned, realistic outlook for the remaining five and a half months of the regular season calendar.

But who are we to quash the cockeyed optimists in the crowd? What if what we’ve witnessed to this point is not a mirage but merely the early exploits of a playoff-bound club?

Both sides of the equation must be considered, because both have at least some semblance of a solid basis. There are elements of the 8-4 start that are real, and there are elements that still feel really far-fetched. So let’s do our best to separate one side from the other.

THE BATS

Through 12 games, the Indians are on pace to score 796.5 runs this season. How they’ll get that half a run, I have no idea, but, generally speaking, that’s the kind of pace befitting a playoff contender. The Tribe has done it largely because of some unanticipated pop from Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Brantley’s on-base ability and Travis Hafner’s revitalized swing.

What’s more interesting, however, is what the Indians haven’t received. Namely, the numbers we’ve come to expect from Shin-Soo Choo, who’s batting .200, and Carlos Santana, who’s batting .205. While Choo is obviously the more proven commodity of the two, both are patient and potentially elite hitters who can be counted on to produce over the long haul of the season, so major upside awaits.

The Indians will also get Grady Sizemore back soon from knee surgery, but there’s no telling if they’ll get anything resembling the 2008 version of Sizemore or some hobbled shell of his former self. At worst, though, one has to figure the Indians will get more out of Sizemore than they’re currently getting from Austin Kearns and Travis Buck, who will be replaced in left when Brantley shifts from center. So that represents some upside, too.

On the flip side, all expectations for Hafner must be measured because of the continued monitoring of his shoulder and, therefore, his at-bats. And while Cabrera will remain a major threat near the top of the lineup, I think it’s fair to say he’s on an unsustainable power and run-production pace, at present.

Finally, while Matt LaPorta’s two early homers usher in some enthusiasm, he’s still yet to demonstrate he can consistently handle offspeed and breaking stuff.

Early verdict? Because of what Choo, Santana and Sizemore can and will contribute, it’s not at all unreasonable to expect the Indians to continue their run-production rate.

THE ARMS

After allowing 23 runs to the White Sox over the season’s first two games, the Tribe pitching staff has basically turned in one inspired effort after another. In the last 10 games, the Indians’ arms have logged a 1.87 ERA, which goes a long way toward explaining the recently completed eight-game winning streak. In the just-completed road trip, Tribe starters had a 0.93 WHIP, limiting traffic and eating up innings to keep the bullpen roles settled and stable. Last year, Indians pitchers collectively had the worst strikeout-to-walk ratio in the Majors. This year, with essentially the same cast, that ratio is 2:1.

Fausto Carmona and Carlos Carrasco have both rebounded from disastrous opening outings against the Sox, with Carrasco still representing the greatest potential upside of any member of this starting five. Justin Masterson has drastically improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio (though lefties are still hitting .300 off him, so that’s worth keeping an eye on). Josh Tomlin and Mitch Talbot have provided a major back-end boost. It will be difficult to sustain, because neither guy has overpowering stuff, but anything’s possible if they keep throwing strikes.

While bullpens are always unpredictable, there was valid reason for optimism about the Tribe’s relief corps going into the year, and the ‘pen has generally lived up to its promise. Tribe relievers have allowed just a .171 batting average against, the best such mark in the AL. Chris Perez has not disappointed in the ninth, and the Indians are making the most of the advantage that is having two reliable lefty relievers (Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez) and the matchup problems that creates for the opposition. Right-handed rookie Vinnie Pestano is looking like a real find.

The early verdict? Two and a half turns does not a rotation make. The starters will come back down to earth a bit, and that will further test the bats. But the bullpen is more than capable of locking down late leads.

THE GLOVES

The Indians have made just five errors, tied for fewest in the AL. That is, perhaps, the most encouraging aspect of this club’s early play. The eight-game winning streak wasn’t built on smoke and mirrors. It was built on stellar starting pitching backed up by finely tuned fundamentals.

This is an area that has been a burden to the Tribe in recent years, particularly with so many groundball-inducing sinkerballers in the rotation. When the pitchers know they can trust the gloves behind them, that adds a layer of confidence that simply wasn’t there in 2010, when the Indians made 110 errors.

What’s notable about the defensive outlook for the rest of the year, however, is how likely the cast is to change over time. Second baseman Orlando Cabrera, third baseman Jack Hannahan and utility man Adam Everett have already made a big impact on the defensive effort, but all three of those veterans could find their roles marginalized or eliminated altogether if and when the Indians promote the likes of Jason Donald, Lonnie Chisenhall, Cord Phelps and Jason Kipnis over the course of the season.

But if nothing else, the veterans have helped establish a standard — one that must continue to be met when the pitching staff’s inevitable ups and downs arrive.

The early verdict? A young team will get younger in the infield as the year progresses, and with youth, inevitably, comes inconsistency.

THE “GOLD” STANDARD

All told, I think the “Gold” standard could apply here — and that would be a huge step in the right direction for this franchise. A strong start can definitively change the tone and the tune of a town that’s always eager to embrace a winner, and, from an economics standpoint, the Indians have to hope the fans will get behind this team.

We’ve seen some early hiccups from the big dogs in this division, and that’s further afforded the Indians an opportunity to surprise some people. And with these early wins comes a confidence that this young team can capitalize on. That’s the kind of confidence that can’t be bought.

Yes, depth concerns will leave the Tribe vulnerable to some brutal stretches this season, but, on the whole (and if the early results are any indication whatsoever) there might be enough here to make 2011 a memorable year — just as “Gold” is, for me, a memorable album.

~AC
PS: Here are some recent columns I hope you’ll check out…

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“Music makes the people come together”

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

Our music choices, fairly or not, often tend to define us. If you’re on a first date with somebody and find out his or her favorite song is “Hey Soul Sister” by Train, that says a lot about them. If you go on a second date with that person, it says a lot about you.

Music is a big part of this blog, from the barrage of Bruce Springsteen references to the elucidating and illuminating three-word music review segments (and, come to think of it, we’re overdue for one of those).

But nothing musical resonates with baseball fans quite like the at-bat choices of their favorite players. They are, after all, a window into the player’s personality (or lack thereof). A window that really wasn’t available to us until, if I recall correctly, the mid-90s, when at-bat tunes first came in vogue.

Back in the ‘80s, when I was a mere lad worshiping at the altar of Cory Snyder, I had no idea what music he was listening to (the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, perhaps?). This information might have provided me with a deeper connection to Snyder just before he ripped a home run in the Indians’ 6-1 loss or struck out swinging in their 6-0 loss (it was always one or the other).

Thankfully, you don’t have to be left to wonder. Here, once again, is the official list of at-bat and entrance tunes for your 2011 Cleveland Indians, with a hat tip to in-game entertainment manager Annie Merovich for once again providing the details.

And please note that the active players not listed here did not give the Indians a preference and therefore have their music selected for them.

Michael Brantley: “The Show Goes On” by Lupe Fiasco

Travis Buck: “The Game” by Motorhead

Asdrubal Cabrera: “Bachata en Fukuoka” by Juan Luis Guerra, “Super Estrella” by Fuego featuring Omega, “A beber” by Don Miguelo or “No Me Corras Cantinero” by Vitico Castillo

Orlando Cabrera: “Power” by Kanye West

Shin-Soo Choo: “Blowin’ Money Fast” by Rick Ross or “Ice Cream Paint Job” by Dorrough

Shelley Duncan: “Bombtrack” by Rage Against the Machine, “Fuel” by Metallica or “The Stroke” by Billy Squier (seriously, how awesome is Shelley Duncan?)

Adam Everett: “Lose My Soul” by Toby Mac

Travis Hafner: “Heirate Mich” by Rammstein, “Wohlt Ihr Das Bett” by Rammstein, “Feir Frei” by Rammstein, “Keine Lust” by Rammstein or “Du Hast” by… you guessed it… Rammstein.

Jack Hannahan: “Kiss Me I’m Irish” by Gaelic Storm or “Untouchable” by John Cena

Frank Herrmann: “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits, “Back to the Hotel” by N2Deep or “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin

Austin Kearns: “Some Girls Do” by Sawyer Brown

Matt LaPorta: “Mountain Music” by Alabama, “Life in the Fast Lane” by the Eagles or “Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty

Justin Masterson: “Rebirth” is the song listed, though I’m not sure who the artist is. I know local product Bone Thugs-N-Harmony has a tune by that name, though that doesn’t seem to be Masterson’s style. (UPDATE: It is the contention of a couple commenters that the song Masterson enters to is “Rebirthing” by Skillet.)

Chris Perez: “Firestarter” by Prodigy (though this was a last-minute switch from “Scream” by Avenged Sevenfold)

Vinnie Pestano: “Monster” by Skillet, “Rock You Like a Hurricane” by the Scorpions or “The Game” by Motorhead

Carlos Santana: “Chambonea” by Omega or “No Te Hagas” by El Personal

Grady Sizemore: “The Show Is About to Begin” by Black Rebel Motorcyle Club

Tony Sipp: “Hometown Hero” by Big K.R.I.T.

Mitch Talbot: He simply listed, “Anything country.”

Josh Tomlin: “Good to Go” by Jason Aldean, “Country Boy” by Aaron Lewis or “Lay ‘Em Down” by Need to Breathe

~AC

“Gotta keep rolling, gotta keep riding”

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

Bob Seger was rocking Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday night. (EDIT: This post was up for about three seconds before somebody pointed out that Seger postponed the show due to illness.) I saw him in ’96, back when he was still relevant enough for classic rock nerds like myself to have him on our must-see checklist. Before he really let himself go and began to bear a striking resemblance to my big-bellied, gray-haired Uncle Don (though, thankfully, my Uncle Don doesn’t wear that silly headband that Seger sports).

The night I saw him, Seger set a new indoor record by pumping his fist once every 0.56 seconds. (Go ahead and try to keep up that pace for two-plus hours, the way Seger did. You’ll probably blow out your rotator cuff.) I’m pretty sure he played a guitar on one tune, though I’m not nearly as sure that the guitar was plugged in.

But I respect the heck out of Seger. “Live Bullet” and “Nine Tonight” are the quintessential live discs. Put them on and tell me I’m wrong. I’m not. “Roll Me Away” is an absolute triumph of a tune. Seger had my attention up until the “It’s a Mystery” album. That’s where he lost me. He put out a song a few years back with this exact verse: “Here’s to the little things/The sports section/The Weather Channel/A good battery.” I don’t even know where to begin expressing how brutally bad those lyrics are.

Still, I suppose the world’s a better place with Bob Seger on a stage than off it. And Cleveland’s undoubtedly a better place when relevant baseball is being played. Lo and behold, that’s what we had here this week. A little Seger, and a little solid ball. (EDIT: Let’s just say Cleveland is now 1-0 in this area, with a Seger to be named later). Let’s make like Seger and celebrate the little things. I’ll also willingly celebrate the value of a good battery, because the ones in my TV remote just died. Maybe Bob was on to something.

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…

  • I’m trying to think of a more fundamentally sound sequence of events turned in by the Tribe in the last couple seasons than what we witnessed in the eighth and ninth Thursday. Truth is, I can’t, though that might say as much about my memory as it does about the team. Asdrubal Cabrera’s suicide squeeze was not only a brave, surprising and, above all else, correct call by Manny Acta, but it was perfectly executed by Cabrera. And Adam Everett’s heads-up decision to hold onto J.D. Drew’s bouncer and wait to see if pinch-runner Darnell McDonald would overrun the bag at second (which McDonald did, leading to the final out) demonstrated the sort of acumen you expect (but, alas, don’t always get) from a Major League infielder. You love to see a young team do the little things right early on, even if it’s not necessarily the young players doing them, because that sets a proper standard.
  • The most encouraging thing the Indians saw all week might have been Fausto Carmona righting himself against the BoSox. It’s fair to give a guy a mulligan for a poor performance on Opening Day. Happens all the time. But red flags are raised if such a performance sets off a downward spiral. Carmona, to his credit, didn’t let that happen.
  • The Indians are averaging a respectable 5.3 runs per game. And they’ve done it despite Shin-Soo Choo batting .083 and Grady Sizemore still in the realm of rehab. I think it’s still too early to read too much into what we’ve seen from Travis Hafner, who has looked solid so far, but the bats are off to a strong start with potential upside on the near horizon.
  • Choo had some very complimentary things to say about Eric Wedge and Jeff Datz, who are reunited in Seattle, where the Indians open a weekend set Friday. “I’m really happy for them that they got a new job,” Choo said. “I really, really appreciate Wedge. I saw him in Spring Training, and he told me, ‘Choo, I’m happy for you.’ And I said, ‘No, no. You gave me the opportunity.’ And Datzy, he worried about me in the outfield. If I made a mistake, he would tell me right away. I really appreciate every one of those coaches.”
  • Wedge didn’t have nearly as much to say about this upcoming reunion. “Who we’re playing is not relevant to me,” he told Seattle reporters. Sounds like Wedge to me.
  • While we’re on the subject of Wedge, you should check out his acting debut if you haven’t already…  
  • This means, well, pretty much nothing, but here it is anyway. Cumulative 2010 record of the Indians’ remaining April opponents: 449-523. A strong start for this Tribe team is imperative, both from an economic standpoint and the confidence-building effect it can have on a team so accustomed to shooting itself in the foot. At first glance, it would appear this schedule cooperates, but who the heck knows?
  • I mentioned economics. So, yes, let’s talk attendance, which has beengetting a ton of attention and, therefore, will be the meat of this post. I think Jon Steiner of Waiting for Next Year did a particularly good job presenting the situation for what it is. As Jon notes, the 2007 Indians finished a win shy of the World Series, yet finished 22nd out of 30 in attendance that year, so the “if you build it, they will come” cliché doesn’t really exist here as much as some might claim.
  • In truth, though, that 2007 tally was no great shock, given the tame expectations initially surrounding that club and the slow burn that is a town embracing a team. What was more surprising — and more damaging — was what happened the following spring. The 2008 Indians brought just about everybody back (which, if you were in the Indians’ PR department, was the much-heralded retention of a strong core… and if you were in the Internet commenter crowd, was a cheapskate move by a team unwilling or unable to augment its roster). Opening Day sold out, as it has in each of Progressive Field’s 18 years. But attendance on April 2 was 17,645. Attendance on April 3 was 15,785. This was, early on, a relevant team. A team with CC Sabathia still fronting the rotation and with Cliff Lee putting up an astounding April. A team that, after a bit of a slow start, quickly got back into the thick of the race. On May 14, a Wednesday night, Sabathia outdueled Joe Blanton, and the Indians beat the A’s, 2-0, to jump into first place. The attendance that night was announced at 18,188.
  • This isn’t a baseball town. Sometimes it pretends to be. But the ‘90s were a mirage, brought on by the perfect storm of a new ballpark, the Browns’ departure, the Cavs’ general awfulness (which extended to their uniforms), a revitalized downtown, a strong economy. To quote Steiner, it was “a red herring that means less than nothing in this discussion.” Or to paraphrase another washed-up rocker, Don Henley, those days are gone forever and we should just let ‘em go.
  • The ‘90s were the exception to the rule; 2008 was the reality. That team underperformed and was snake-bitten by injuries, quickly falling back out of contention by mid-June. An effort was made to build up the underperforming areas in a fairly aggressive offseason, but the ’09 team wasn’t any better, and attendance continued to sag. And as I wrote at the time, this led to the fire sale and the initiation of the rebuild.
  • I guess the point here is that while some people like to say that what’s happening now is the result of the Indians trading away their stars, the reality is that the seeds of the 2011 payroll were sewn way back when the Indians still had their stars. Low revenues lead to slashed payrolls which lead to attendance declines which lead to more slashed payroll… and ‘round and ‘round we go.
  • And now we can throw a ton of other factors into the mix. The economy still stinks. Cleveland population has shrunk to below 400,000. Gas is almost $4 a gallon. Each and every game is beamed into our widescreen TVs in high-definition brilliance on a nightly basis (frankly, I think this is a particularly underrated factor). And, oh yeah, it’s colder than a witch’s patoot. The difficulty of luring folks to the ballpark these days can’t be overstated.
  • The Indians’ season-ticket base is around 8,000, I’m told. So the walkup traffic has been light, with an assist from the weather. The Tribe has, in my opinion, done a fine job marketing itself in the right manner — essentially selling the experience of fanship and the memories the game has the ability to create, regardless of the standings. The team itself has some impressive young pieces and a bona fide star talent in Shin-Soo Choo. It’s awful early, but said team is playing entertaining baseball. I’ve written it before, but I really believe there are elements of this club that this city can get behind, especially in light of the Cavs’ season about to come to a close and the NFL possibly in lockout mode for 2011.
  • But the fans will only get behind this team if it wins, and, even then, the attendance figures will likely never overwhelm. The Indians seem to understand that. I don’t think they’re trying to overwhelm. I think they’re just trying to rebuild a solid base, bit by bit. And the only way to do that is to have more and more stretches like the one they’ve put together this week.
  • In case you missed my feature on Austin Kearns’ family, check it out here.
  • And a reminder that my column archive can be found here.
  • Next week I’ll have the annual at-bat music post. Early preview: No Springsteen. No Seger. So some of you will love it.

~AC

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