Posted: Thursday September 22, 2005 2:24PM; Updated: Saturday September 24, 2005 5:38PM
Coco Crisp isn't just a cute name. He's a part of a young Indians squad that appears ready to contend for years to come.
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Forget Lost. Baseball has given us September's most unpredictable storylines. Every night is a new drama, overstuffed with a multitude of plotlines.
Two weeks ago Cleveland's Mark Shapiro, a business-savvy general manager cut in the mold of a Wall Street tycoon, sat in his office at Jacobs Field and talked exuberantly about his team's chances in the American League Wild Card race. A book sat on his desk: Thomas L. Friedman's bestseller, The World is Flat. The baseball world, it turns out, is flat as well -- the playing field leveled by astonishing revivals and similarly astonishing collapses. In the wild American League Central, Shapiro's Indians are no longer eyeing the wild card. With a three-game series set for next weekend against the first-place White Sox and the deficit down to a 1 1/2 games, Cleveland wants the whole enchilada.
Of all the storylines, none is more compelling than the rise of the Indians. They have arrived much like the young, brash A's did five years ago. The Indians will be a force long after 2005. "They've got some great young talent, guys who are ready to win now," says Torii Hunter of the division rival Twins. "No one around the league is surprised they're in [the playoff hunt]. What's scary is that they're just going to get better over the next few years."
Shapiro looks beyond 2005, and he likes what he sees: "Regardless of how the rest of the year plays out, the really encouraging thing is that you look at the core of this team, and you look ahead anywhere from two to five years, and a lot of these players will be here for the entirety of that time period. We've got up the middle talent with [Victor] Martinez, [Jhonny] Peralta, [Grady] Sizemore, all run producers, all tremendous high-character guys. These are guys who have a chance to give us one of the strongest up the middles in the game. To have such good productivity up the middle gives you great flexibility on how you plan the rest of the team. And we have Travis Hafner, who's been one of the most productive hitters in the American League. That's four dominant hitters, and don't forget Coco Crisp, either."
"Look at the rotation, you've got C.C. [Sabathia], Cliff Lee, and [Jake] Westbrook, all in the fold here for at least three-to-five more years. And we've got more talent pitching wise coming up. We can't compete in the free agent market, but we've got good things in place for a considerable amount of time."
Because of Cleveland's youth, the Indians clubhouse often resembles a frat house basement as players watch flicks like Napoleon Dynamite and Anchorman before games. A few minutes in the locker room reveals the differing personalities on the team; there's the soft-talking Sizemore (23 years old), a high school stud athlete from Washington state who had to (painfully) turn down a scholarship to the University of Washington, where he would have been a quarterback. ("It was a very tough decision for me," says Sizemore, "but I realized that baseball was my true passion. I don't regret the decision for a second.") There's motor-mouth Crisp, 25, whose father is a prize fighter and mother is a sprinter who qualified for the Olympics. (His sister is a competitive figure skater.) There's Martinez, 26, who grew up in Venezuela wanting to be Omar Vizquel. There's Peralta, 21, whose name is not a misprint ("It's just the name my dad chose for me," he says) and who grew up in the Dominican and is drawing comparisons to Derek Jeter. There's Sabathia, 25, who hails from Oakland and has won more games in his career than Mark Prior and Josh Beckett. And then there's Hafner, 28, who grew up on a farm in North Dakota and is making a dark horse run at AL MVP.
"We come from all parts of the country, all parts of the world, really, but we're all on the same page," says Crisp. "We like Will Ferrell movies and we like to win baseball games."