4/4/2014 5:59 P.M. ET
Perception of Indians has changed around baseball
By Jordan Bastian and Teddy Cahill / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- During a recent team meeting, Indians veteran David Murphy stood up and had a message to deliver to his new teammates. When Murphy used to come to Cleveland as a visiting player, the Indians were usually taken lightly.
Murphy wanted the current club to know that the outside perception of the Indians has changed.
"Murphy stepped up," Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said, "and said, in years past, when the Rangers or whoever would come to Cleveland, all you had to do was get a lead and kind of coast from there. He's like, 'It's pretty evident now. Teams know when Cleveland is coming to town now. They know it's going to be a good series. They know it's going to be a hard-fought series.'
"They see how much fun we have in the locker room and in the dugout. When you have teams that are going out and we're beating you and we're laughing in the dugout, too, guys are like, 'We don't know what to do with this team. We dont know how to handle this.' That's the best atmosphere to be in."
Kipnis brought that up as part of the news conference to announce his six-year, $52.5 million extension with the Indians. In the wake of last season's 92-win showing and run to the American League Wild Card Game, Kipnis, catcher Yan Gomes and outfielder Michael Brantley signed long-term deals with the organization.
Indians first baseman Nick Swisher, who came to Cleveland as a free agent two offseasons ago, said he definitely views his team differently now compared to when he played for the other clubs.
"It's not the same. I can even go off of when I came here," Swisher said. "When I was with other teams and coming to Cleveland, it was always fun for me to come home here, but you always knew coming in that, hey, if you didn't sweep, it was a bad road trip.
"For us now, people are realizing that when you come up in here to The Pro and the 2-1-6, we're going to fight for it. Last year's record speaks for itself. That wasn't our goal, to go out and have one great amazing season and then just fall off."
Brantley echoed the remarks of his teammates.
"Two days ago," Brantley said, "I was at second base and [A's infielder] Nick Punto walked up to me and said, 'You know what? You guys have fun and you guys are playing really well as a team. It looks fun over there. It looks fun to be a part of.' It is. Teams know that when we're coming in, we're coming in to compete each and every night. They know we're going to give our best effort on the field.
"I think it kind of puts a little fear in people, and I like it. When Cleveland comes into town, I want them to know that, 'Hey, Cleveland is here to play.'"
Hargrove recalls opening of Progressive Field
CLEVELAND -- The Indians opened this season's home slate two decades to the day from the inaugural game at Progressive Field. Known as Jacobs Field back then, the stadium is the crown jewel of Cleveland's sports scene.
Former Indians manager Mike Hargrove said it does not feel like 20 years have past.
"Only when I stand up out of my chair does it feels like 20 years," Hargrove said with a laugh on Friday. "No, it doesn't. Really, time really has gone fast. I think the ballpark has aged really well. It feels like it [opened] just yesterday."
Hargrove, who managed the Indians from 1991-99, was on hand for Friday's festivities to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to former Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. Hargrove said it is hard to describe what it felt like to open in Jacobs Field on April 4, 1994.
"You knew that was your place, that it was your home," Hargrove said. "We had played in Camden and places like that and really appreciated those beautiful ballparks. With this being your own, it was special. Opening Day, with the President [Bill Clinton] here and getting to meet him and talk to him, it was a real honor. It was really exciting.
"You can't do it justice with words. Opening Day has a special feel about it anyway, and you wish that every day could be Opening Day. But, it can't. You add those things to it, moving out of the old park and into this one, and the President, and knowing you had a decent ballclub. It was fun."
There were plenty of reminders Friday about the Tribe's first game at the ballpark, but one thing in particular had Hargrove recalling the '90s.
Prior to the home opener, the Indians announced that they had signed All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis to a six-year extension worth $52.5 million. Cleveland also recently signed left fielder Michael Brantley and catcher Yan Gomes to long-term deals. The contracts are reminscent of the pre-arbitration extensions former general manager John Hart helped pioneer in his days with the Indians.
"They did something that was copied by all the clubs," said Hargrove, referring to Hart and his front office. "And there were a lot of naysayers to begin with. Then, all of a sudden, two or three years later, you see other clubs doing the same thing, and they've continued that practice since then. I think it says a lot about what John and Mark [Shapiro] and Danny [O'Dowd] were able to accomplish here."
Injured Bourn weathering rehab delay
CLEVELAND -- Rain has not only been delaying games for the Indians this week, but it has forced the club to alter the rehab schedule for center fielder Michael Bourn.
After Triple-A Columbus' season opener was postponed because of rain on Thursday, Bourn's Minor League rehab debut was also pushed back. Indians manager Terry Francona noted that the sidelined center fielder was scheduled to play for Columbus on Friday and Saturday. Bourn did not play Friday because of wet conditions, but is slated to play Saturday in the first game of a doubleheader.
Bourn is on the 15-day disabled list with a left hamstring strain.
"Bourny is scheduled to play tonight in the home opener with Columbus," Francona said on Friday before his club's 7-2 victory. "I think we're all going to wait and see the weather, how the weather plays out. He's supposed to play tonight and tomorrow. We reserve the right to use some judgment there. So, we'll see."
Bourn was originally scheduled to play on Thursday and Friday with the hope that he might be able to be activated when first eligible on Saturday. Bourn injured his hamstring while running the bases in a Cactus League game against the Giants on March 16.
Bourn, 31, signed a four-year contract worth $48 million with the Indians prior to last season, when he hit .263 with six home runs, 21 doubles, six triples, 50 RBIs, 23 stolen bases and 75 runs in 130 games. Bourn underwent surgery on his left hamstring on Oct. 15, but the team has indicated that the current injury is unrelated to that issue.
Lindor kicks off 2014 season at Double-A Akron
Shortstop Francisco Lindor, the Indians' No. 1 prospect, got off to a solid start to the season in Double-A Akron's Opening Day 7-1 victory at Binghamton, N.Y. He went 2-for-5 with a stolen base and a run on Thursday.
After a long offseason and Spring Training, Lindor said he was just happy to get back on the field for a competitive game.
"I was really excited," said Lindor, who is ranked No. 10 on MLB.com's Top 100 prospects list. "I was stoked because every time you get to play on Opening Day, it's good. After a while, you get tired of Spring Training and you're ready to get out of there and a play real game."
Lindor leads a prospect-laden team in Akron. He is joined by right-hander Cody Anderson (No. 4 on the club's prospect list), center fielder Tyler Naquin (No. 5), catcher Tony Wolters (No. 9), second baseman Joe Wendle (No. 11), infielder Ronny Rodriguez (No. 13) and left-hander Kyle Crockett (No. 17). All seven appeared in the win. Anderson allowed one run on four hits in six innings to earn the victory, and Wolters added two hits and an RBI.
After climbing through the Minor Leagues with most of his teammates, Lindor said he knows how good the RubberDucks are capable of being and was glad they were able to start the season on the right foot.
"I'm happy we got the W," Lindor said. "It's good to get the first one out of the way."
Lindor has shot through the Minor Leagues since the Indians selected him eighth overall in 2011. He is considered to be among the best defensive shortstops in the Minor Leagues, and hit .303 with 25 stolen bases between Class A Advanced Carolina and Akron in 2013.
Thanks to his late-season promotion to Akron last year, Lindor is closing in on his Major League debut. He said he hopes to improve as much as possible this season so he'll be prepared when he gets the call.
"I'm just trying to be the best player I can be," Lindor said. "That way I'm ready when that day happens that I get called up to the big leagues."
Quote to note
"Bro, I think it's awesome. I think it's so amazing. Just what the front office is doing, not only in the locker room does it make everything better, but even for the fan base. This is not a one-and-done type organization anymore. I feel that we're starting to create an identity of who we are."
--Swisher, on the Indians' recent long-term deals with Kipnis,Gomes and Brantley
• Francona felt Kipnis' at-bat during Cleveland's ninth-inning rally against Oakland in the second game of Wednesday's doubleheader was a perfect example of the second baseman's style of play. After being unable to get a bunt down, Kipnis reached base on a fielder's choice, stole second and then came around to score on a single by Brantley.
"He found a way to extend the at-bat, put the ball in play and then ran to first like his pants were on fire," Francona said. "That swayed the game in our favor. We all see what Kip can do -- banging a ball off the wall, stealing bases, hitting home runs -- but the contract, all it's going to do is allow Kip to enjoy playing the game. He's never going to back off on the gas pedal."
• Francona said he is thrilled to see young players such as Brantley, Gomes and Kipnis buy in to what the organization is doing by agreeing to long-term contracts. The manager said it is one thing for a player to say he wants to stay, but another thing for him to back it up with a multiyear deal.
"It's easy to say it," Francona said. "But when you put your money where your mouth is, I think that's great. I think we're trying to have a place here, a team here, where players enjoy playing the game right and, through that comes a lot of wins. With that, comes fans being proud of their team."
• Indians designated hitter Jason Giambi (on the 15-day disabled list with a broken rib in his right side) and Francona will sit down this weekend to discuss his rehab plan going forward. Cleveland is still weighing whether the 43-year-old veteran will require a Minor League rehab assignment.
• The Indians had a workout scheduled for Thursday's off-day, but Francona canceled it after the team's flight from Oakland ran into mechanical issues and a lengthy delay. The manager joked that he told players they would be "optioned out" if they showed up to the optional practice.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.