Eclectic Tribe sure to be fun on, off the field
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The here-today, played-out-tomorrow nature of the Internet meme is such that anything that went viral a month ago might as well have happened a decade ago.
So when the Indians players and staffers finally got around to filming their own version of the "Harlem Shake" on Monday morning, they were, shall we say, slightly behind in the count. By the time the video is actually released, the response from some will be along the lines of the McKayla Maroney "not impressed" face … which, come to think of it, is also pretty played out.
But hey, this is a Tribe team that had Scott Kazmir on the mound and Jason Giambi in the lineup for Monday's Cactus League tilt against the Angels, so, sometimes, old ideas can be resurrected.
Point is, this Cleveland clubhouse is cohesive enough that 50-something guys were willing to put on ridiculous costumes at 8:30 a.m. in the desert and shoot the silly video at Nick Swisher's behest. Suffice to say this is not something that happens everywhere, no matter how happy-go-lucky a time of year this might be.
B.Y.O.C. -- Bring Your Own Costume Monday -- is what Swisher called it, and the others heeded the call. Chris Perez and David Huff were the guys from "Dumb & Dumber," Michael Brantley dressed as Steve Urkel, Jason Kipnis was a parrot, Brett Myers was a wrestler, Justin Masterson donned a giant bearskin rug he swiped from the floor of his spring condo, etc., etc.
Even Terry Francona got involved, dressed as a baby with a bonnet.
"The boys came through in full force," said a giddy-even-by-his-standards Swisher, who dressed as an Ohio State football player. "When you set something up like this, you never know what you're going to get."
That might as well be the theme to the Indians' upcoming season, because, really, this team is particularly prickly to project. It should be more productive, it should be quicker on the basepaths and it should be agile in the outfield and dependable in the bullpen. And it should even be improved in the rotation, if only because it has nowhere to go but up in that area.
But if you really think you can predict how this dramatically reconstructed Tribe team will fare on the field -- in a sport in which a guy like Kazmir can put himself in prime position for a rotation spot after disappearing off the face of the earth two years ago or a guy like Giambi can claim a bench job mere months after he was a finalist for the Rockies' managerial job -- you know more about this stuff than I do.
All I know is that the Indians should be nothing if not entertaining, and they demonstrate as much with what has quickly become one of the more liberated clubhouse environments in the game.
"Very, very loose," Kazmir said. "It kind of reminds me of the Rays back in the day, just how loose we are. A lot of young guys and free spirits. Swisher brings it out of all of us, it seems."
Swisher brings it out, and Francona encourages it, as evidenced of the picture he hung of himself just inside the clubhouse doorway. He's wearing an oversized Indians cap and a goofball grin, with a note reading, "I demand respect."
Francona is pleased to play along because he knows, in a tangible way, how a negative vibe can encourage negative results. He said he experienced it first-hand with the Red Sox at the end of 2011, when he saw the seeds of a historic collapse unveil themselves in a subtle but significant way -- at the team's annual fantasy football draft, of all places.
"It was something we always did every year," Francona said. "We'd pick a night and do it after a game. Everybody stayed in the clubhouse, and we did it in Toronto that year. I remember looking around the room and thinking, 'The guys don't like each other as much as I remember.' It bothered me. … I remember me and DeMarlo Hale were sitting there and I was like, 'D, I don't like this.'"
Francona has a lot to like about this Indians team, bolstered as it is by the additions of Swisher and Bourn, to say nothing of the possibility presented by a more seasoned Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall and Brantley.
But while Francona articulates an expectation to win and to win now in his one-on-ones with the players, his public comments have stopped short of any bold declarations about this team's preparedness to challenge the Tigers in the American League Central.
Too much is unknown, especially about a rotation that turned in a 5.25 ERA last season.
"Some of our numbers got so skewed," said Masterson, in defense of that rotation. "We were bad at times. But we were so bad at times. I had seven games that were really bad and it made everything look worse. Within those games, it was just one bad inning. When we'd struggle, it was like 10-3. That doesn't really help the numbers. In one sense, you have to be realistic and say, 'OK, we weren't good, but we weren't that bad.'"
Maybe that's the case, but it didn't stop the Indians from adding potential upgrades, none of whom are a sure thing. Myers adds a needed dose of veteran dependability to that starting five, but he spent last season in a relief role. Kazmir is the odds-on favorite for the No. 5 spot (and he carved up his former Angels mates on Monday), but who knows what his endurance level will be after working just 73 innings in the independent Atlantic League and winter ball last year? Carlos Carrasco has upside but is coming off shoulder surgery, and Trevor Bauer has even bigger upside but still needs Triple-A seasoning.
So, again, good luck projecting how this all plays out. Just know, for now, that the Indians' big -- and, in some cases, bizarre -- experiment in ballclub-building is a success so far.
"All the pieces are there," Giambi said, "but they've built this incredible team concept. It's unbelievable how much we're starting to come together as a team."
The 42-year-old Giambi said this shortly after donning a skin-tight green body suit for the video, so, yeah, some unbelievable things are going on here.