In a rough, rebuilding, season in any sports it is important to be objective and take stock of the important things. In baseball they are intangibles, the little things. Little things like pride, heart, grit, determination. These “little things” are keys to success, but they are often overlooked and taken for granted. Resiliency, toughness, leadership and intelligence can also be categorized into this grouping of intangibles. These are things that winning teams possess and losing teams are searching for. In a losing season lack of those things is glaringly obvious, except when it isn’t. This is the case with the 2010 Cleveland Indians led by Manny Acta. This young team seems to embody just about all of those necessary “little things”, the traits that it takes to become successful. This is despite having recently traded away all but 2 veteran players,
Shelley Duncan and the injured Travis Hafner are the only two players remaining over the age of 30. Duncan has jumped into the role of a clubhouse leader on a team of young, impressionable players. Unlike Hafner and Grady Sizemore, Duncan is not the strong silent type. Duncan, Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana are ready to lead this team into battle. Santana is on the verge of being the team’s voice and emotional leader like his catching idol Victor Martinez was. His hard-nosed style may have cost him a large chunk of his rookie season this week, but his presence in the clubhouse is a strong one.
Another losing season in Wahoo Land has us looking forward yet again, but I am seeing many more positives in this young squad then in past young Indians teams. Last night was a prime example. In a disheartening 3-1 loss to the bully Boston Red Sox the Indians showed a lot of heart, pride and fight (literally). The Bully Sox and jack-ass pitcher Josh Beckett figured they could walk all over the young Indians after a ill-advised home plate collision almost ripped off the leg of the team’s heart and soul. Beckett came right out looking for blood as he nailed Duncan in the 1st inning, and in the 3rd he threw at Choo. Without the slightest provocation Beckett was trying to take down what was left of the Indians offense. After the scary collision of the previous night, one would have expected the Indians to come out throwing at hitters, but instead it was the opposite. Beckett was not done as he went at the head of Duncan again later in the game, this was the breaking point. The Indians bullpen enacted revenge and threw at a couple Sox hitters which brought the benches onto the field, led by Shelley. This is as encouraging as a instance like this can be in baseball. You rarely see a last place team challenge a contender in this fashion, this shows that this Indians team has balls. They are refusing to just lay down and take a beating from a team that believes it is entitled. The Indians will fight, despiite being mired in another dismal season.
The Indians youngsters are gritty, they are fighters, they are not afraid of the Bully Sox and the other big money teams, they are willing to go toe-to-toe with the best. This makes me happy. This is encouraging, it is exciting. When our young players get their groove on the field it will be accompanied by the intangibles and swagger it takes to win. The intangibles that the near-miss 2007 Indians lacked. As did the ’05 squad. This team looks like it will never give up. Duncan may not be the an Indian after this season, but he is helping this team tremendously now. I hope the team keeps him around to provide a strong leadership presence. He is an unlikely source for such a role, a career journeyman AAA ball player, but he was on a Yankees team for several years that instilled the “little things” into their players. He brings experience to the table, the experience of both the best and worst baseball can provide, and he is teaching those lessons to this young team. I hope they pay close attention. Duncan has no problem getting in their and mixing it up (he showed that last night) and he brings it full-blast every day.
The Indians may not have a true vocal team-captain type, but the balls-to-theIwall effort night in and night out from Asdrubal Cabrera, Choo, Sizemore (when healthy), Duncan and Santana is a good place to start. No one expects this kind of fight and effort from a losing team with young players. This kind of effort that Acta is getting from the Indians is rare on a team in this situation. They are playing with all the right intangibles, playing with nothing to lose – and that is exactly what you need to do. All we can do is sit here and watch tis team grow and wait for them to mature, and oh boy will it be great whem they do. How the rest of the season plays out will tell us a lot about this team moving forward, it will tell us a lot about how good they can be. I do not see any quit in them, I see fire, desire and hunger. Encouraging signs for a young team indeed. The little things give us away, if you don’t have them everyone knows that and no matter how good you are you will fail. If you have the “little things” you can take the hits and keep going. The “little things” are what champions are msade of.