Cleveland's Travis Hafner
Young Slugger Sparks Revival
When he was a senior at Sykeston (N.Dak.) High, Travis Hafner's guidance counselor asked the eight students in the graduating class to write down their desired career choices. Hafner wrote professional baseball player. "The counselor asked if I had a Number 2 choice," Hafner says. "I said baseball was my Number 1 and Number 2 choice."
Hafner, as it turned out, didn't need a backup. In his second full year in the majors Cleveland's big-swinging, 27-year-old designated hitter-first baseman is having a breakout season, batting .325 with 17 home runs and 75 RBIs for the surprising Indians, who at week's end were 50-49 and 4� games behind the Twins in the American League Central.
As a rookie last year, the 6'3", 240-pound Hafner had to fill the vacancy left at first by Jim Thome, a popular player in Cleveland who hit 334 homers in 12 seasons before signing as a free agent with the Phillies in December 2002. Thome was one of Hafner's favorite players growing up. "Everyone made a big deal of me replacing him," says Hafner, who hit .254 with 14 homers and 40 RBIs in '03. "I know that you can't replace a guy like that. I was just focused on establishing myself as a major leaguer."
There wasn't a baseball team at Sykeston High, so Hafner ran track in the spring and men played American Legion ball in the summer before leading Cowley County ( Kans.) Community College to a juco national tide in 1997. A year earlier Hafner had been drafted in the 31st round by the Rangers. He spent six seasons in the minors and 23 games in the big leagues with Texas in '02 before he was traded to the Indians three days after Thome's departure.
"There are a bunch of guys in this clubhouse who were in the same boat as me last year," says Hafner, who was one of five Cleveland regulars who began last season with fewer than 50 games of big league experience. "Now we're paying close attention to what the White Sox, Twins and Tigers are doing. We're here to win this year."