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 Arizona a land of plenty for Indians

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PostSubject: Arizona a land of plenty for Indians   Wed Feb 18, 2009 10:10 am

02/16/09 10:00 AM EST
Arizona a land of plenty for Indians
Goodyear complex will benefit enamored Tribe year-round

By Anthony Castrovince /

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- As Indians players walked toward the back fields at the club's new Player Development Complex on Sunday morning, their cleats kicked some dirt onto the sidewalk.

Just as quickly as the dirt landed, a worker was there to sweep it up, ensuring the sidewalk would remain as pristine as it was the day the Tribe moved in.

"We'll see how long that lasts," manager Eric Wedge said with a laugh. "I think we're still in the honeymoon phase here."

Yes, at some point, the honeymoon will end, and the sidewalk will stain.

But even when the newness of this $108 million complex, which the team will begin sharing with the Reds next season, wears off, the facility should stand the test of time not just as an efficient place for the club to hold Spring Training camp but also as a year-round, impactful resource for the organization.

"It's incredible," Wedge said. "We had high expectations, but it's surpassed what we hoped."

Bad memories

To appreciate what the Indians have, you must first understand where they came from. The Chain of Lakes facility in Winter Haven, Fla., where the club trained the last 14 years, became something of a running gag among players, coaches and staff.

One particularly vibrant memory stands out from a few years back. After hurricanes hit Florida hard, Tribe staffers returned to Chain of Lakes to find more than 100 dead rats in the Major and Minor League clubhouses.

"And that's 100 rats' worth of dung, too," public relations director Bart Swain was quick to point out.

The layout of Chain of Lakes made little to no sense. The Major League athletic training room, for example, was sandwiched in between the clubhouse's bathroom and the coaches' locker room.

"You'd be stretching a guy out [in the trainer's room]," head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff said, "and guys would have to step over you [on their way to the coaches' locker room]."

Suffice to say this wasn't exactly the most workable of situations.

Up to the penthouse

But when the Tribe's pitchers and catchers reported for duty in Goodyear -- a growing desert town just west of Phoenix -- last week, they were greeted by a state-of-the-art setup geared toward meeting each and every one of their conceivable needs.

The Indians' Player Development Complex is a 42,000-square-foot gem highlighted by spacious athletic training and weight rooms and an elliptical-shaped Major League clubhouse that encourages players to congregate freely. Outside are six batting cages, six full practice fields (one of which has the exact dimensions of Progressive Field, right down to the 19-foot wall in left), two half-fields and an agility field.

Players have, at their disposal, video footage of their swings in the cage, a 1,200-square-foot hydrotherapy area, all the newest weight training and conditioning equipment and more high-definition televisions than a Best Buy store.

"When you can come to a place like this," catcher Victor Martinez said, "there's no reason not to get your work done. It's just great. You look around and see they've put everything in your hands to make you a better player."

As you might imagine, everybody associated with the Indians -- from the higher-ups in the front office to the players to the clubbies to the media -- are raving about the improvements, because everybody is affected positively by them.

"It sounds cliché," Soloff said, "but we're honored to be working here."

Players were so eager to get a feel for the new facility that most of them reported early to Spring Training camp this year.

"They should have done this a long time ago," second baseman Josh Barfield said. "It's a nice change of pace from Winter Haven, where you couldn't wait to get out of there."

Medical advancements
The Indians view the Goodyear complex as a year-round home away from home, because it will not only house their Arizona Summer League team and their fall instructional league operation, but also because it will be a place to rehab injured players.

One guy currently working his way back from an injury, Jake Westbrook, appreciates the facility from that standpoint.

"To have stuff like this to come to, especially when you're already feeling down about being on the DL, you don't have to dread going to the field to work out," said Westbrook, who's recovering from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. "You feel excited about doing that here, when you have these facilities."

Usually this time of year, when the team trained in Winter Haven, players were subjected to their annual physicals in such random places as the media lunch room or Swain's office. Minor Leaguers had to take their physicals at the local Holiday Inn because there was no room at Chain of Lakes.

In a new building rife with conference rooms and classrooms, the above is no longer an issue.

"Now we can do all of that on-site," Soloff said.

Local ties
It is the hope of the Indians' brass that more and more players decide to stay on-site in the offseason.

Already, this past winter, Grady Sizemore, Ryan Garko, Kelly Shoppach and Barfield stayed in the Phoenix area and worked out at the facility on a regular basis.

Farm director Ross Atkins, for one, hopes some of the organization's Minor Leaguers follow that precedent and become rooted near Goodyear.

"More players, as they look to establish themselves," Atkins said, "whether or not they live on the East Coast or West Coast or are married or single or it's their first home or second home, will be inclined to live near a facility like this. And the fact that it's 18 miles from a major metropolitan area is an added bonus."

Arizona adjustments
In the meantime, the Indians will use the facility for its chief intended purpose -- preparing the big league ballclub for the season ahead.

Moving to the Cactus League should help that preparation on multiple fronts. For one, the Indians now find themselves within an hour's drive of 12 teams. Only the Diamondbacks and Rockies, who train 140 miles away in Tucson, present a lengthy hike. And next year, when the Reds move in, the Indians will have multiple "road" games in their own backyard -- at the beautiful, 10,000-seat Goodyear Ballpark.

"That's something we welcome in a big way," Wedge said. "It allows us to get more work in and be more efficient. It's better for the players and their families. The logistics of it all is definitely an added plus."

The Arizona weather should be more consistent. The Indians would usually lose at least two or three days to rain in Winter Haven each spring, but that's not as likely to happen here.

"If you lose a day," Wedge said, "you can't get it back."

There will be some acclimation to the elements in store for this team. Wedge and his coaches know the ball will carry better here, because of the lack of humidity, so they'll have to adjust their evaluations accordingly.

But it didn't take anybody long to adjust to the new complex, which has drawn rave reviews and smiles and completely altered the culture of the Indians' spring camp.

"It means a lot to us," Martinez said.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

“It takes pitching, hitting and defense. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable.”    
–Joe Garagiola
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