Nine moves. Thousands of miles traveled. A few swings a year.

It's safe to say that when Al Luplow — or, somebody — placed a broken bat in the stands at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in the early 1960s, he had no idea how many miles that bat would travel and the special place it'd hold for the kid who found it.

That kid was John Ploenes. And that bat represents one of the clearest ties to his childhood, memories of his dad and growing up an Indians fan.

Ploenes doesn't remember the exact date, but he remembers the day. He was 6, or 7 or 9 years old. His dad brought up him and his sister to be diehard Indians fans.

When they went to games, they'd go hours before the first pitch to watch batting and infield practice. His sister was an autograph hound, but he wasn't. He chose to head down to the first-base dugout.

"I look down, and there it sat, this cracked bat," Ploenes said. "I took it up to my dad and asked if I could keep it. My dad asked an usher and he said it was fine. Back in the day, if they broke a bat, they'd put the bat in the stands for a lucky fan to find."

That day, it was Ploenes' turn. He had stumbled across a broken bat with "Al Luplow" etched into the barrel, along with "Genuine Louisville Slugger."

Luplow, who passed away in December 2017, played for the Indians as an outfielder for five seasons from 1961-65. He was known in his career for making "the greatest catch nobody saw" at Fenway Park, but he was never much of a hitter, except for a half-season stretch in 1962 in which he hit 14 home runs, 15 doubles and drove in 45 runs. He went on to play for the New York Mets and then the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Luplow was a somewhat distant relative to Jordan Luplow, now an outfielder in the Indians' organization after he was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates this offseason. Unfortunately, the two never got to meet. But Jordan has heard all the stories.

"Especially coming back to the East Coast, I always get older fans who are like, 'I remember Al,' " Jordan Luplow said. "They'll show me cards. One guy brought me an entire set of his cards. It's funny, he ended with the Pirates and I started with the Pirates. He was with the Indians, and now I'm with the Indians, so it's kind of going in reverse order. So it's cool to hear fans and their stories about him."

After hearing of Al's passing, Ploenes has offered to give the bat back to the family, in part because it's been so special to him for so long. Since growing up in Copley, he's now moved nine times, including multiple stops in Florida and North Carolina. He hadn't been back to Ohio in more than two decades but now lives in Brunswick and works as the director of operations for Green Circle Growers, one of the largest greenhouses in North America, located in Oberlin.

And in all the many closets he's owned, that bat has always had its own place. A few times a year, he takes it out and swings it a few times. It is his direct link to those days at the ballpark in the 1960s. Along with his dad's 7-iron that was once used for a hole-in-one, it is among his more special mementos.

"Every time I move, I make sure I pack it carefully," he said. "It cracks up my wife that I've kept a broken bat for so long. It's just special because I'm a baseball nut. And if Jordan wanted the bat, I'd love to give it to him. He can pass it to his own kids and hold onto it for the next 50 years. I think that'd be pretty cool."

The bat itself is cracked, but the memories it conjures remain as intact as ever.

Roster moves

The Indians called up infielder Mike Freeman from Triple-A Columbus on Tuesday and optioned infielder Eric Stamets to Columbus.

Freeman, 31, has posted a 1.008 OPS over nine games, with three home runs and nine walks.

 

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.