03/02/11 9:50 PM ET
Buck views Indians stint as a fresh start
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
Buck is making the most of it, embracing his new surroundings and usually laughing and joking with those around him. It is a drastic contrast to his last few years with the A's. There were mornings in Oakland when Buck dreaded going to the ballpark.
"It was rough," Buck said. "There were times when baseball wasn't fun."
Buck is the first to admit that many of the problems he encountered with the A's were self-induced. And he is not about to blame his former team for the wave of nagging injuries that led to five trips to the disabled list in the past four years.
There is no denying, though, that Buck was not happy with the A's.
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When Oakland decided against offering Buck a contract in early December, allowing him to become a free agent, the outfielder was ready for a fresh start. He found precisely that with Cleveland, which is giving Buck a chance to compete for a spot on the Opening Day roster this spring.
"I wanted to go to a positive environment," Buck said. "That's what I've found in this place. I couldn't be more happy."
On Wednesday, Buck was hitting fifth in the Indians' lineup and manning right field at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, where the Tribe was taking on the A's. Before the game, he chatted with some of his old friends. During the contest, he went 1-for-3 with an RBI single and a run scored in a 4-3 loss.
Reminiscing was not on Buck's agenda.
In Oakland, Buck began to feel unwanted.
"There were times, absolutely," he said. "I don't want to get too much into it, because I'm not in a position where I can, but let's just say I'm embracing this new opportunity and I know it's going to benefit me."
The Indians hope the benefits go both ways.
"Travis has always been an interesting guy," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "This organization has liked him for a while and this is a guy that back-to-back years was handed out an Opening Day job by the Oakland A's.
"He's just had some injuries in the past. He's healthy right now. He's looking really good in camp. He's a guy that we're going to give plenty of opportunity in camp to find out if he can be a piece for us."
Buck said that Indians general manager Chris Antonetti indicated that the team had held an interest in the outfielder since college. When Antonetti and Acta met with Buck at the start of camp, they expressed great confidence in his ability to help the team if he avoided injuries.
Buck has competition for the backup role in outfielders such as Chad Huffman and Jordan Brown, among others, but that is the least of his concerns at the moment. Right now, Buck is simply enjoying the fun atmosphere early in camp.
"I needed [this] for my career to kind of rejuvenate it," Buck said. "Coming to a place where Chris and Manny and the rest of the guys know what I can do when I'm healthy, and have told me that to my face, it's a good feeling to have as a player."
Buck can play all three outfield positions and Acta said the outfielder has showed "raw power" during batting practice. With center fielder Grady Sizemore (left knee) doubtful for Opening Day and outfielder Trevor Crowe (right shoulder) shut down for the time being, Buck has an opening to push for a job.
Unfortunately, Buck is known more for his injury history than for his on-field exploits.
Last season, Buck missed a considerable amount of time with a strained right oblique. A left oblique issue plagued his 2009 campaign. Between 2007-08, Buck dealt with a sprained right thumb, a strained left hamstring, a right elbow injury and shin splints.
Buck's on-field production suffered along the way.
In 2007, Buck hit .288 with with seven home runs, 22 doubles and 34 RBIs in 82 games. It was a glimpse into his potential. Between all the trips to the disabled list, though, he then went on to hit just .226, .219 and .167 with Oakland in the 2008-10 seasons, respectively.
Buck noted that his stress level was at an all-time high during the past few years and he had a hard time figuring out how to deal with that part of his situation. He believes the constant stress contributed to the nagging nature of his health woes.
"It was such an, I want to say, maybe an unhealthy environment in more ways than one with Oakland," Buck said. "I was putting too much pressure on myself. I was kind of put in tough spots.
"Sure enough, some nagging injuries would come up and hit me and I'd kind of have to start from square one again."
Buck signed a Minor League deal with the Indians in late December and arrived at the club's complex in Arizona on Jan. 1. He said the stress that he felt for so long disappeared as soon as he stepped into his new surroundings.
"Right when I walked in here," Buck said, "I dropped all that baggage at the door. It's a new, fresh beginning."
For Buck, Cleveland has allowed him to enter camp with a clean slate.
"I really feel like I've turned the page with my injuries," he said.
That explains his constant smile.