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Feb. 22 Mark Shapiro was there at the end of the Super Bowl, on the field behind the Patriots bench in Houston as New England celebrated its second championship in three years. He was there at the insistence of Scott Pioli, the Patriots' director of player personnel, with whom he has shared a kindred spirit since each broke into his business with the Indians and the Browns.
"The word 'sophomore' literally means 'wise fool' (many thanks to my high school etymology teacher). It means simply that you think that you know more than you actually do. It's a frame of mind and it's a dangerous one but it can be actively dealt with if you are cognizant of its existence. Unfortunately, it plagues many young players as they embark upon their second go-around in The Show -- the attitude that 'I did it once and it really wasn't that hard. I'll just cruise through this thing because I have all the answers. I did it once, I can do it again.' Amidst a fury of postseason congratulations from teammates, fans, family, friends, and media this attitude almost manifests itself from within, being constantly fed. Eventually it is born into an aura of arrogance that pervades one's mind and one's world. "What's more is that this attitude doesn't come without an ample amount of cultivation from the player's team. You can't totally blame a team for a player's poor attitude but the team becomes an unwitting accomplice by affording the player a new level of responsibility and freedom previously unavailable to him. He's now being told about the team's plans, the team's future, and how he fits into that picture. These things take their toll on a player's ego. Certain players have an obligation to take on some additional responsibility as they grow and develop -- seems harmless but it actually can be pretty overwhelming to be catapulted so quickly into a leadership role, especially on a team admittedly lacking veteran leadership. "In short it is extremely easy to fall into this mental trap because the people around him treat him in a noticeably different way, an overly uplifting way, and mentally it is difficult to cope with these changes. A false feeling of arrogance is born after being inundated with praise, and laziness becomes embedded within like a nasty virus just waiting for the perfect time to infect your mind. I certainly fell into this trap when I was 19 years old but at the time I just didn't know it. That year all the upper classmen were either drafted into the pros or had graduated leaving me to hit in the middle of a batting order largely comprised of weak juniors but very strong sophomores. We went to the College World Series that year. We choked and I didn't help things. "After all this I seem to have more of a grip on the situation. I know what to expect and how to handle it. But it is still no guarantee that it won't happen to me just as it has happened to others. Granted there are players like Albert Pujols who had no such correction in their career line of success, and for now his history will be my inspiration for 2004. Not only did he avoid the jinx but he obliterated every single expectation set upon him in his first three years in the big leagues. Colorado Rockies manager Clint Hurdle once told me 'there are two types of player in this game, Jody: those that are humble, and those that will be humbled.' Well I am humble. Being humbled sucks. And I want no part of that again. If I approach this season with a humble heart just as I have in the past I know I will be satisfied with the results, no matter what they are. No wise fools here any longer -- that is one thing I can guarantee."Put down your stopwatches. That's all one has to know about Gerut, and why he is a core player with the Indians. Are they likely to contend in the American League Central this year? Maybe, maybe not. C.C. Sabathia, Clifford Lee and Jason Davis could give them a solid front of their rotation. With Bob Wickman back at the end, along with David Riske, Jose Jimenez, Scott Stewart and Rafael Betancourt, the bullpen is deep. Milton Bradley, when healthy, is a premier player. How close to .500 they go will depend on how many of their talented young players make the major leagues and begin to produce, from catcher Victor Martinez to prize outfielder Grady Sizemore to pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. Through trades -- especially getting Sizemore, Lee and Brandon Phillips for Colon -- and the draft, the farm system is considered one of the deepest in talent in either league. In contrast to the AL East, the Central is a division in which teams can build for the long haul. This coming winter, the Indians will have some cash to invest in the right free agents, but there isn't likely to be any team in the $80 million range, not in the foreseeable future. As the Indians are trying to build, the Twins have an organization that continues to develop talent to withstand the losses of players they cannot afford. The White Sox have several star core players, but have never jumped to the payroll levels of their big-market counterparts, which means that after this season they may lose Magglio Ordonez. Kansas City has been built through the hard work of Allard Baird, and after Tony Pena's energy and enthusiasm rekindled the franchise, the Royals came back to life and face 2004 with additions like Juan Gonzalez knowing that at the end of the season superstar Carlos Beltran will be gone. And the Tigers, after the humiliation of a 119-loss season, went out and added Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Guillen, Rondell White and Fernando Vina to try to regain respect. It is a division that might be won with 85 wins, which means that if the pitching develops, the Indians may contend with the Twins, White Sox and Royals. More important, Cleveland is being built to, like the Twins, contend year after year in a middle-class neighborhood.
Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota
Clifford Lee, LHP, Cleveland
Victor Martinez, LHP, Cleveland Rookies to watch in July
Jeremy Reed, CF, Chicago
Grady Sizemore, OF, Cleveland
Zack Greinke, RHP, Kansas City Keys to their teams' seasons
J.C. Romero, LH reliever, Minnesota
Jeremy Affeldt, LHP, Kansas City
Carlos Pena, 1B, Detroit
Jason Davis, RHP, Cleveland Most significant newcomers
Pudge Rodriguez, C, Detroit
Juan Gonzalez, RF, Kansas City
Joe Nathan, RH reliever, Minnesota Most significant losses
Bartolo Colon, RHP, Chicago
Tom Gordon, RHP, Chicago
LaTroy Hawkins, RH reliever, Minnesota
Eddie Guardado, RH reliever, Minnesota
Raul Ibanez, OF, Kansas City Best spring training name
Maxim St. Pierre, C, Detroit Five significant statistics
1. Chicago led the division in run differential, fewest runs allowed, most homers, fewest strikeouts and most walks by their hitters, best starters' ERA and most pitchers' strikeouts and did not finish first. 2. Cleveland had the most unearned runs (96) and the second-most errors (126). 3. The Royals' bullpen was 26-29, 5.54 ERA and blew 28 of 64 save opportunities. 4. Detroit was outscored by 337 runs and had a team on-base percentage of .300, and still outscored the Dodgers. 5. The Twins walked the fewest hitters, committed the fewest errors, allowed the fewest unearned runs and had the best on-base percentage in the division. Team songs
Chicago: "Wake Me, Shake Me (Don't Let Me Sleep Too Long)" Cleveland: "All That You Dream" Detroit: "Crawling from the Wreckage" Kansas City: "Wish List" Minnesota: "Soak Up the Sun."