GOODYEAR, Ariz.: While the Indians spring training complex was a beehive of activity Monday on one of the busiest days of the spring camp — thanks to team pictures plus radio personnel arriving for the first day of radio week — one of the more interesting spring training rituals was tucked away in a back room of the main hallway.
In a nondescript room used as a classroom when needed, Justin Sherman, Indians coordinator of community relations, was directing a small staff as they set up piles of player and team memorabilia to be signed.
New bats still encased in protective plastic sleeves were on the ground under a table waiting to be signed by slugger Jason Giambi. Several boxes containing new white baseballs were stacked on a desk in another area waiting to be autographed by shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.
“We try to make it as easy as possible for the guys, lining up the balls in the box with the sweet spot up, ready for their signature,” said Sherman, who is in his eighth season with the Tribe.
A stack of never-worn white jerseys with Michael Bourn’s name and number were piled high on another desk awaiting the center fielder’s signature.
“Everyone on the roster has a time to come in and sign today,” Sherman said. “Some guys who don’t have a lot of stuff can do it in a half hour or so. Others have to pop in a couple different times to get all done.”
First baseman Nick Swisher’s pile of 500 items was the largest this year. But All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis wasn’t far behind with 470 items. Giambi had 250 pieces of memorabilia to autograph.
Every item is authenticated with a small, shiny silver hologram sticker featuring a number that is logged and kept on file by Major League Baseball. In order to ensure nothing is taken, the room is monitored by video.
“The sticker tells you who signed, what day and where — spring training or regular season,” explained Tristan Blaylock, one of the authenticators who spent his time applying the stickers and keeping the day’s log of items.
SO FAR, SO GOOD — The Indians don’t play their first spring training game until Wednesday, but already manager Terry Francona is pleased with the spirited competition he’s seen out of incumbent Lonnie Chisenhall and catcher-turned-third baseman Carlos Santana after a week and a half of camp workouts.
“The biggest compliment you can give to Carlos is that you wouldn’t know he’s a converted player over there by watching him,” said Francona, who noted that at the same time, he didn’t want Chisenhall’s progress to be overlooked. “They’ve both worked hard.”
TOO EARLY — Which player will end up filling what role once the regular season gets underway March 31 is far from Francona’s mind right now. The veteran skipper is a lot more focused on “getting a good evaluation of every player in camp.”
“Then we can make our decisions,” he said. “Then if something happens, we have a fallback [plan] that we feel good about.”
However, the evaluation process can take longer than six weeks of camp allow.
“Spring training doesn’t give you a perfect evaluation of a player — their season does,” he said. “But you want to get the [best look] you can while you’re here during the workouts, during the game and especially with the younger guys you don’t know really well. They tend to take a lot longer to get into season mode.”
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