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03/10/10 4:08 PM ET

LaPorta finding formula for success

Promising outfielder's humor keeps clubhouse loose

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The legal pad sitting on a counter in the middle of the Indians' locker room is titled, "Wall of Knowledge." It's a collection of quotes from various Tribe players and staff members, capturing the crazy things that come out of people's mouths when they're cooped up in Spring Training camp for six weeks.

Matt LaPorta's words dominate this "wall." LaPorta is not just one of the more promising young players on a developing Indians ballclub, he's a fountain of what Tribe players have begun to refer to as "LaPortaisms."

LaPorta came in from a workout one day and asked, "Is it bad that I'm dehydrated in one leg?"

When a teammate made mention of having his car shipped to Arizona, LaPorta responded, "In a box?"

In the lunch room one day, somebody commented on one of LaPorta's skills. He summoned his inner Yogi Berra and responded, "It comes naturally. I just have to think about it."

To his credit, LaPorta has no qualms about his prominent place on the pad. He's certainly not the only one among us who sometimes speaks before he thinks. It's just that when LaPorta does it, it happens to be hilarious.

"Whatever keeps the clubhouse loose," he said.

That's not a surprising attitude from the 25-year-old LaPorta, a good-natured, well-mannered kid with Christian values and big dreams. Some of those dreams were realized in 2009, when he made his debut for the Tribe team that acquired him in the 2008 CC Sabathia trade and homered for his first Major League hit. The next goal, of course, is to become the right-handed bat who brings thunder to the middle of the order.

A major step toward that goal was taken Wednesday, when LaPorta, five months removed from the surgeries that cleaned out his left hip and repaired a sprain of the joint at the base of his left big toe, made his Cactus League debut against the Padres.

"I couldn't sleep last night," LaPorta said before the game. "I feel like a little kid getting ready to play a Little League game."

LaPorta's debut came at first base, the position where he's been working throughout spring camp. Eventually, once his body can be trusted with the day-to-day grind, LaPorta will begin seeing more time in left field, the position where he's expected to be slotted in on Opening Day, thanks to the Russell Branyan signing.

Wherever he plays, LaPorta is expecting to hit. He hit in Little League, when he was belting home runs as a 10-year-old. He hit in college, when he was a two-time SEC Player of the Year and first-team All-American at Florida. And he hit in the Minors, where he compiled a .942 OPS in 224 games at the Class A, Double-A and Triple-A levels.

Having acquired his first 46 hits, including seven homers and 13 doubles, in the big leagues in 52 games with the Tribe last year, LaPorta is ready for more in 2010.

"I'm just looking forward to the season," he said. "I think it's going to be fun. This is a good atmosphere to be around."

The Indians feel LaPorta has nothing left to prove in the Minors, which is why he is assured of a spot on the Opening Day roster, assuming he gets through camp healthy.

"You definitely feel like you're a part of things a little more," LaPorta said. "But you still have to come out and respond."

LaPorta, though, doesn't worry about responding to the demands and the wild expectations that come with being a key acquisition in such a high-profile trade. When the Indians dealt Sabathia, they dealt one of the more awe-inspiring arms to ever come up in their system. Sabathia's Cy Young season the previous year was proof that he had finally turned all his potential into reality.

Now, LaPorta finds himself hoping to walk that same path, albeit in a different role. And Indians fans will be tracking him every step of the way.

"I never really think about [that pressure], to be honest," he said. "My goal is to come out and compete every day, and it's competing against myself and trying to make myself better, so I can help the team. Whatever people think on the outside, the pressure they put on me, I don't really think about that."

The concept of competing against himself began to formulate in LaPorta's mind during his Gator days.

"I learned then that there are other things that are going to go on in your life," he said. "You can't compete against somebody else who might have different talents than you. You compete against yourself. How did you get better that day? That's what's important. The more you compete with yourself and not worry about anybody else, the more you have a recipe for success."

LaPorta's search for that recipe leads him to consider the thoughts of many cooks. He's an avid reader of books in the motivational market, and he enjoys learning how athletes in other sports approach their craft.

In LaPorta's locker right now is a book titled, "Golf's Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia" by Dr. David L. Cook, a golf mental coach.

"It's a different perspective on how to approach the day and how golfers approach their game and practice," LaPorta said. "It just gives you a pattern you can model after, whether it's golf or basketball or whatever. One of the things it preaches is you have to see it, feel it and trust it. That's similar to baseball. You've got to see the baseball and feel and trust that you've prepared for that moment."

LaPorta must feel like he's been preparing for the 2010 season forever. He's been a regular at the Indians' Player Development Complex since he came out of surgery. That only makes him all the more eager to get started, but he's learned to respect the length of a season and its inevitable ups and downs.

"When I was a kid, I always wanted to be perfect," he said. "I've come to realize it's not always going to be perfect. You've got to maintain your composure and keep your eye on the process."

And, of course, have a few laughs along the way.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.