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02/19/09 4:43 PM EST
DeRosa quick to become team leader
Though new, versatile infielder being recognized for attitude
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The day he arrived to the Indians' Player Development Complex last week, Mark DeRosa asked a clubbie if it would be all right for him to cut the sleeves off a warmup fleece. He didn't want to disobey any of Eric Wedge's spoken or unspoken policies. "I'm not a guy who likes to make any waves," DeRosa said. "I want to go with the flow." But Wedge -- who, for the record, didn't get in the way of DeRosa's chop job on the fleece -- believes his new third baseman will have no trouble fitting in here. In fact, Wedge is already referring to DeRosa and closer Kerry Wood as leaders in the Indians' clubhouse.
Where Wood carries himself with a certain aura that comes with his ability to close out ballgames with a blazing fastball, DeRosa comes in as the scrappy, versatile, whatever's-best-for-the-team type.
You've seen his kind before. His name was Casey Blake.
"There's a lot of similarities between those two guys," Wedge said.
Forget the obvious observation that Blake and DeRosa share the ability to move around the diamond or the lineup with ease. It's clear their numbers from last season -- Blake hit .274 with 21 homers, 81 RBIs and an .808 OPS, while DeRosa batted .285 with 21 homers, 87 RBIs and an .857 OPS -- are remarkably similar; and Blake is 35, while DeRosa is 34.
But Blake's importance to this team from 2003 until he was traded midseason in '08 grew as he emerged as more and more of a clubhouse leader. The type of guy who would answer to the media after a tough game or help out a teammate in need.
Wedge believes DeRosa is already stepping into those shoes, even in these early days of Spring Training.
What is it about DeRosa that leads Wedge to this belief?
"Strength in personality," Wedge said. "He's not afraid to speak up if something needs to be said. Part of that makeup is the fact that he believes in doing things the right way. There's a responsibility that goes along with that. If you believe in doing things the right way and someone's not doing it the right way, it should burn at you enough to address it."
DeRosa hasn't had to address any pressing issues yet. His main focus, for now, is getting to know his teammates both on a personal and professional level.
"It always seems as soon as I get comfortable somewhere, I'm gone," he said with a shrug. "It's not as difficult [adjusting to a new team] when you've been around the game a little bit."
After breaking into the bigs with the Braves in 1998, DeRosa signed as a free agent with the Rangers in 2005 and spent two years with them. He then signed with the Cubs in before the 2007 season and spent two years there, before the Indians acquired him in the New Years Eve trade that sent Minor Leaguers Jeff Stevens, Chris Archer and John Gaub to Chicago.
Through his transition from team to team, DeRosa has learned to transition from role to role. This will be the first season since 2004 in which third will be his primary position.
"It's a position I've played," he said. "I've bounced around so much the last four or five years that just by getting out there and taking a few ground balls, I can get the hang of it."
DeRosa will have to do so in a hurry, because he's leaving to represent the U.S. in the World Baseball Classic at the end of the month. He said he's using these early days of fundamental work to get a feel for working with shortstop Jhonny Peralta.
"[Learning] what he likes to do, how far he can go in the hole, where I've got to position myself," DeRosa said. "Also, it's about building a rapport and knowing which [pitchers] can jump off the mound and make plays on bunts and those slow rollers down the line. That's stuff that's worked on every day in practice."
But it apparently won't take much work for DeRosa to establish himself as a clubhouse leader.
"He's a strong makeup guy," Wedge said. "I think you can appreciate him on paper, but when you bring in the day-to-day and the guy he is, it's two-fold. You double that."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.