Three hours before game time on a recent rainy afternoon in Cleveland, Marty Cordova was told that the weather would keep the Indians from taking batting practice outdoors. Cordova, a 31-year-old outfielder, had already taken 15 minutes' worth of cuts at Jacobs Field's indoor cage, but he grilled the bearer of the bad news. "Are you certain?" Cordova asked. "You're 100 percent sure? Who told you?"
Assured that Cleveland manager Charlie Manuel was the source, Cordova's normally expressionless mug sagged. "When I was at Triple A Salt Lake [in 1994], I'd take extra batting practice in the middle of the desert when it was 110�," he said. "At spring training this year I'd hit in the morning before games, at night after games, whenever I got the chance."
Cordova has resumed the work habits he had gotten away from in the recent past. By cutting back on weightlifting and dropping 20 pounds during the off-season, Cordova has bucked the bigger-is-better trend that has seen Punch-and-Judy hitters pump up like Hans and Franz. At 205 pounds, the 6-foot Cordova weighs almost the same as he did when he won the 1995 AL Rookie of the Year award with the Twins. Instead of pounding protein shakes, he's back to taking extra batting practice after a 2000 season during which, he acknowledges, his work ethic flagged. Through Sunday he was hitting .339 with nine home runs and 35 RBIs in 177 at bats as the Indians' fourth outfielder and occasional DH.
The righthanded-hitting Cordova's lighter frame and improved bat speed have enabled him to pull inside fastballs with power and cut down on strikeouts. (He's averaging one for every 6.8 at bats, down from one in every 4.4 over the past four years.) Those statistics indicate quite a turnaround, considering that Cordova went to spring training as a nonroster invitee. It was a humbling experience, but he batted .442 to make the Indians.
Following his impressive rookie year, in which he hit .277 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs, Cordova had an even better season in 1996, batting .309 with 16 homers and 111 RBIs. Then foot and neck injuries limited his production over the next two years. After the '99 season, in which Cordova batted .285 and led Minnesota with 70 RBIs, the Twins declined to exercise a $3.75 million option to keep him, and he signed a nonguaranteed deal with the Red Sox worth $2.5 million for 2000 and '01.
Cordova asked for his release after Boston let the deadline pass for picking up that deal and it became clear he wasn't going to be an everyday player. The Red Sox let him go at the end of spring training. He was picked up by the Blue Jays, who used him sparingly. He hit a career-low .245 with 18 RBIs in 62 games. "In Toronto I would come to the field not always prepared," Cordova says. "I was frustrated because I wasn't playing, and when I did play, I wasn't successful because I wasn't working hard."
A free agent again after last season, he accepted a one-year, $600,000 offer from Cleveland, and when injuries to Travis Fryman and Kenny Lofton created an opportunity for him, he capitalized with a torrid start and a 22-game hitting streak, the second longest in the majors this year. Still, with Lofton, who came off the DL on June 1, and Juan Gonzalez fixtures in center and right, respectively, and with three other good-hitting outfielders—Wil Cordero, Ellis Burks and Russell Branyan—vying for time in left, Cordova isn't guaranteed regular duty.
Determined not to let the uncertainty throw him off this time, he just keeps swinging. "Last year I bulked up like crazy, and my attitude was that I was going to prove to the Twins that I could accomplish more than they expected," he says. "That mindset hurt me. Now I'm only trying to prove that I'm good enough to be in the major leagues."