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01/16/09 11:57 AM EST
Indians hold 'Town Hall' Q&A session
Tribe fans' questions answered by skipper, club executives
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
SOLON, Ohio -- Outside, the temperature was 3 degrees, with a wind chill making it feel like minus 16. So when Indians vice president of public relations Bob DiBiasio reminded the current and former season-ticket holders who gathered at Solon High School for a "Town Hall" meeting with Tribe higher-ups that Opening Day was just 85 days away, it was welcome news on this frigid Thursday night. But plenty of other information came out of this session in which fans could prod manager Eric Wedge, scouting director John Mirabelli and executive vice president of business Dennis Lehman for information about their beloved ballclub. It was the third and final time this week in which the Indians, in an effort to reach out to their fans, held a question-and-answer session in the 'burbs. The first took place Monday night, when general manager Mark Shapiro and club president Paul Dolan appeared at Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School, and the second was held at Westlake High School, where Wedge and assistant general manager Chris Antonetti appeared. The goal of the hour-long panels was to provide a sounding board in which the fans who most directly impact the Indians' revenue streams could both voice their opinions and have their questions answered directly. And the questions Thursday night covered a broad range of topics, some of which are highlighted here. How will the playing time at first base, catcher and designated hitter be divided among Victor Martinez, Kelly Shoppach, Ryan Garko and Travis Hafner? Wedge said Martinez will remain an everyday player, bouncing back and forth between catcher and first base, Hafner will remain the everyday DH, Shoppach will get more playing time than the average backup and Garko will get a little less playing time than he had in '08. "Shop's done it for a half a year," Wedge said. "We'll see how real it is. I think it is real, as long as he doesn't get complacent." Wedge revealed that Garko will get some repetitions in the outfield during Spring Training, though he admitted he has no idea how that little experiment will go. Wedge said Garko has to produce runs, plain and simple, to make up for some of his defensive shortcomings and his lack of power and speed. "He's slower than everybody in here," Wedge joked. What makes you believe Hafner can return to his old form, following shoulder surgery? Wedge talked about the mental, physical and fundamental sides of the game, and how they all impact each other. "With Travis, it's the physical that's led to the mental and fundamental," Wedge said. "We've cleaned [the shoulder] out and rehabbed the problem. And he looks good." Wedge also commented on Hafner's notable weight loss since season's end. "He looks the way he's supposed to look," Wedge said. "When he's sleek, he's still strong, but he's loose. His chest isn't getting in the way. Worst-case scenario, he's a championship middle-of-the-order bat." Does Hafner need Lasik surgery, like Jhonny Peralta had performed? Wedge assured the crowd that Hafner has been tested thoroughly, from a medical standpoint. He thinks the problem is that Hafner put himself in a poor position to read pitches. "When you're in a position to see the baseball, either you're seeing it, or you're not seeing it," Wedge said. "He made changes to compensate for his shoulder." Will Grady Sizemore ever move from the leadoff spot to No. 3? "As soon as we get a legit leadoff hitter, we'll move [Sizemore] to the three-hole," Wedge said. "But I don't want to rob Peter to pay Paul. If your leadoff hitter isn't getting on, it does you no good to have Grady at No. 3." Wedge also said he'd like to see Sizemore shorten up his stroke in two-strike counts, on occasion, to help lessen his strikeout total. But he admitted it's a tough adjustment for Sizemore to make. "It's like talking about a guy who sprints all over the place," Wedge said, "and you're asking him to jog for a while." Has the local economic climate affected ticket sales? "We're all concerned about it," Lehman said. "We're watching it closely. We don't have a lot of info on how season tickets will go. We've lost some, but we've gained some others. Our corporate sponsorship sales are doing much better." Lehman noted that single-game tickets don't go on sale until Feb. 28. DiBiasio pointed out that Opening Day tickets are still available. Does prospect Matt LaPorta have any chance of making the big league club out of camp? Don't bet on it. LaPorta, the key acquisition in the CC Sabathia trade, is likely ticketed for Triple-A Columbus. "He's less than a year and a half removed from college baseball, and you could make the argument that he hasn't had a full season of pro ball yet," Mirabelli said. "In the long run, for him to reach his ceiling, he needs to get seasoned." Will Peralta ever move to third base? Wedge called Peralta the "best shortstop, when it comes to making the average play, in all of baseball," which was certainly high praise. But Wedge did admit that Peralta has issues with range because of his size. Wedge said the Indians would have moved Peralta if they acquired a shortstop or second baseman this offseason, and he believes Peralta can handle the hot corner. Will Cliff Lee be offered a contract extension? "He's a guy we would love to have here," Mirabelli said. "He would be worth the investment. We'll be aggressive in that regard, I'm sure." How did the club go from 16 games below .500 in July to an even .500 at season's end in '08? Wedge used this question as an opportunity to discuss the mentality he's emphasized to his players over the years. "You don't play hard or respect the game or be a good teammate just because you're in contention or it's a sunny day or you're at home," Wedge said. "You have to do those things every day. Some family out there saved up their money so they could go to this one game. You have a responsibility to play for them. Our kids understand that."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.