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04/04/07 10:00 AM ET
Heading home no cakewalk for Tribe
Getting to Winter Haven seems easy compared to return
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
Getting the Indians down to Winter Haven, Fla., for Spring Training is practically a cakewalk when compared to bringing them home for Opening Day. Just ask home clubhouse and equipment manager Tony Amato, the man in charge of this mess. "Moving them back up north is tougher," Amato said a few days before the move took place. "You've got so many things going on, and you're working around games. When we're up in Cleveland, we can take it at our own pace, and it's more structured." Structure, unfortunately, is not a Winter Haven specialty. The cramped quarters at Chain of Lakes Park don't afford Amato and his crew much space to prepare for the annual trek toward the regular season. And the fact that the Indians don't use the outdated facility year-round means Amato must load up everything in sight -- right down to the hangers. So when the Indians moved out of their spring digs last week, it was no small endeavor. Three semi trucks were packed with the Tribe's gear. One took materials to each of the Indians' Minor League affiliates, another was packed to the gills with weight-room equipment and the third was loaded up with the items that will fill up the Indians' clubhouse at Jacobs Field. "We fill one semi, easy," Amato said. "We have a lot more personal stuff that goes back. When we come down here, we only have about eight to 10 people from Cleveland, between us [clubhouse workers] and the front-office people. But coming back, we have 25 players, plus eight staff members, plus the front office all going back." Four years ago, when the Indians' roster was comprised of a bunch of 20-somethings living the single life, Amato had a little room to maneuver. That's no longer the case. "Now, we've got a lot of kids stuff -- Pack 'N Plays and cribs," he said. "As the team gets older, more and more of them are having families. In 2003, hardly anybody on this team was married. Now, we've got a lot of guys who are." Kids' toys are one thing. But ballplayers have toys of their own, and they usually come in the form of expensive vehicles. To get the players' cars from Florida to Ohio this spring, team travel director Mike Seghi arranged for six trucks to carry 26 vehicles. "The players pay for the shipping, and Seghi coordinates that," Amato said. "My assistant, Marty [Bokovitz] makes sure he has all the players' keys, which can be kind of stressful, because we know how absent-minded players can be with that sort of thing. And the guys that didn't drive down here have rental cars that have to go back."
The above items are all standard fare for the move north. But this year, Amato and his staff were hit with an additional little wrinkle. The Indians played in the first-ever Civil Rights Game in Memphis on the Saturday before Monday's Opening Day in Chicago. Beyond the fact that the game provided the logistical hassle of getting the Indians to Tennessee for one night, it also gave Amato the challenge of having an alternate uniform ready.
"It's worse than a throwback game or anything," Amato said, "We've got all new hats, all new helmets and all new outerwear, because they don't want anything with Chief Wahoo on it."
Amato also had to account for uniforms for a few Minor Leaguers brought up to contribute to that final exhibition game. Luckily, the Indians decided not to wear uniforms with names on the jerseys, so Amato didn't have to worry about any last-minute stitching.
The final week of Spring Training saw Amato and his staff working 18-hour days. The motivation, simply, came from seeing that light at the end of the tunnel.
"At this point, everybody's ready to head back home," Amato said, "so it's a lot easier to push to get everything done."
And once it's done, the six-month regular season awaits, and the fun never stops.
Still, when compared with Spring Training, the season proper looks like a breeze to Amato.
"I really look forward to the regular season," he said. "I think Spring Training is the most difficult of times, because you've got more guys and more demands, as far as making sure all their stuff is here and everybody's happy."
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Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.