Belle of the ball
I first heard it over a walkie talkie. Static followed by, “Albert Belle — 9 a.m.” It almost sounded like a warning. Lock the doors. Hide your kids. Big, bad Albert Belle was heading to Goodyear to flex his biceps and smash thermostats.
But, see, the Albert Belle we all remember is from another era. That menacing, intimidating beast of a slugger that collected 102 extra-base hits in 1995 — but walked away empty handed in MVP voting because he rubbed too many people the wrong way — is not the same man that was convinced to make the journey to Indians camp this spring.
This version of Belle was still softspoken as he ever has been, but he was cool and collected, and sported a wide smile for much of the morning as he reunited with old friends. He’s now a married father of four young daughters, which he says is a harder task that handling a Roger Clemens fastball.
Belle hasn’t picked up a bat since he retired in 2001 — “I’d rather pick up a golf club,” he said. — and he is only a causual observer of the game he once dominated. He attends one D-backs game a year and keeps tabs on the Tribe from afar. As for getting back into baseball, well, he’s not thinking too much about that right now, but it has rattled around in his brain.
You could tell that coaching is something he might enjoy. Why else would he have wandered into the clubhouse, pulled some young hitters aside and discussed the art of making a pitcher give you the pitch you want. Belle has a wealth of baseball knowledge and a repuation as being one of the hardest workers behind the scenes during his prime.
That 1995 team boasted one of the all-time great lineups. It’s a shame they didn’t win the World Series, because they’re often overlooked in the “Who had the best lineup of all-time” debate. Belle left via free agency after ’96 and, while he said he has no regrets, he also said he wishes his time in Cleveland would have lasted longer.
As the Indians like to say these days…
Some notes from Tuesday…
- That ’95 class reunion keeps coming together for the Tribe this spring. On Tuesday, Belle stood with Carlos Baerga and Kenny Lofton (the two that prodded him until he agreed to come to Goodyear), as well as Sandy Alomar Jr. and Mike Hargrove for a rare photo opportunity.
- Jason Bere, who pitched for and against the Indians in his career, is in camp as a special assistant this spring. When he saw Lofton, Belle and Baerga (“Seven-eight-nine!” beamed Lofton), Bere picked up his fungo bat and mimicked the three different stances each player used in their careers. As Bere headed off, he said, “I never saw the ’27 Yankees play, but the ’95 Indians? Whoa.”
- One player who really wanted to meet Belle, and had the chance, was infielder Jason Donald. He said he used to try to swing like Belle during backyard whiffle games as a kid. After he introduced himself to Belle, he mimicked the slugger’s old stance, too. “He liked it,” Donald said. “He thought it was funny.”
- Other things did happen on Tuesday, like live BP sessions for a few more pitchers. This time, the cage was around home plate because hitters were allowed to swing. Some arms that got their first taste of batters up there hacking included Justin Masterson, Vinnie Pestano, Tony Sipp, David Huff and Joe Smith, among others.
- Indians manager Manny Acta said last week that he’d announce his Opening Day starter after the early portion of pitching workouts. Acta noted on Tuesday that he plans on making that announcement on Thursday — one day after the first intrasquad game. Masterson or Ubaldo Jimenez will get the nod.
- The first spring game (Saturday against the Reds) will feature Huff as the starting pitcher. Huff, who is working on fine-tuning the mechanical adjustments he began making last year, is in the running for the fifth rotation job. The top two other candidates are Kevin Slowey and Jeanmar Gomez.
- Acta said Duncan made a case for being on the roster again this year with his overall work last season — not just with his performance in September. Acta added that the Indians won’t be handing Duncan an everyday job based on such a small sample size. Right now, that means Duncan is in the mix as a backup LF/DH/1B. Could he work himself into the starting LF mix? It’s certainly a possibility.
- Pestano said today that his main goal this spring is to try to improve with his slider. Against lefties, the goal would be to have it break in the direction of the hitter’s back foot. Last year, lefties hit .280 (.812 OPS) against Pestano compared to a .118 (.410) showing from righties. Pestano wants to fix that obvious discrepancy.
- An important step for Lonnie Chisenhall this spring will be to show he is continuing to improve against left-handed pitching. That was an issue last season, but one that became less of a problem late in the year. Acta believes consistent playing time lended to Chisenhall’s improved showing down the stretch.
- The first intrasquad game will be held at the Goodyear complez on Wednesday. Pitchers scheduled to appear include Jeremy Accardo, Nick Hagadone, Frank Herrmann, CC Lee, Chris Seddon, Tyler Sturdevant, Robinson Tejeda and Josh Tomlin. Thursday’s intrasquad game will be at Goodyear Ballpark.
- The Indians know their two catchers will be Carlos Santana and Lou Marson, barring injury. What isn’t clear is who is third on the depth chart right now. Acta said it will be up to the other catchers in camp, specifically, Luke Carlin, Matt Pagnozzi and Michel Hernandez.
Photo of the Day
“A day in the life,” joked lefty Tony Sipp.
Stay tuned for more…