Hafner reflects on unlikely career
Popular Tribe slugger came from small-town roots
"I couldn't really care less," he said with a shrug. "I don't concern myself with that. Baseball is such a hard game that as soon as you worry about that stuff, you look up and you're 0-for-your-last-20. You just have to focus on being prepared and playing your game." Hafner, 29, is gearing a good deal of his preparation this spring toward playing first base. Saturday marked his fourth start at the position in nine spring games, and he's shown fine form. Once the season starts, the Indians will try to work Hafner in at first once a week, at most, though even that will be difficult, given a logjam at the position that includes Blake, Victor Martinez and, most likely, Ryan Garko. But whether he makes one start at first or 25, Hafner believes he'll be ready. "I put a lot of work in over there to feel comfortable during the games," he said. "I played every day over there for six years in the Minor Leagues, so I should be comfortable. I guess the toughest part is not doing it on an everyday basis. Getting out there like this just isn't quite the same as when you play it every day." An arthritic right elbow will likely prevent Pronk, who started four games in the field last season, from ever playing first on an everyday basis. Nonetheless, being relegated to a DH role hasn't damaged Hafner's pride. "I'm to the point," he said, "that I just want to win." If the Indians do win as much as they hope this season, they'll do so with Hafner as the cornerstone of their offense. When healthy, he's put up MVP-type numbers the past two seasons. A run to the playoffs just might be enough to push him to the forefront of the voting. Now, wouldn't that be an unexpected development for the little farm boy? If it happens, the once-raw Hafner said he'd have those two years of community college to thank. "I learned strategy, work ethic, baserunning, hitting approach," he said. "We ran a lot, and that was really the first place I lifted weights. Looking back, that probably helped me more than anything in my career." And it's a career whose initial path, when paused for reflection, looks all the more remarkable.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.