Boone hopes long year pays off in Cleveland

CLEVELAND -- Aaron Boone is happy he no longer has to feel the wrath of Boston Red Sox fans.

"I'm kind of off the hook," he said Monday. "I've run into
some people from Boston who have said, 'Hey, it's all right now.'
I've been amazed at how many people love the Red Sox or the Yankees -- or hate them -- there's not much in between there."

Boone, whose 11th-inning homer in Game 7 of the 2003 AL
Championship Series put the New York Yankees past the rival Red Sox
and into the World Series, hasn't played since injuring his left
knee in a pickup basketball game in January.

"In a lot of ways, it has been a very long year," he said.

Boone said that at the time he didn't realize his $5.75 million,
one-year contract with New York prohibited him from playing
basketball. He got only 30 days termination pay -- $917,553 -- from
the Yankees.

He then signed a two-year contract with Cleveland as a free
agent in June with the hope of joining the Indians in August, but
needed another knee operation.

"People are under the misconception this was a setback, but it
was totally unrelated," the third baseman said. "This was
something I felt over time. I felt it when I played in Cincinnati
before I even went to the Yankees [in 2003]. They said I could try
to play through it or get it fixed and be 100 percent ready for
spring training in 2005."

Boone said it would be special to win with the team that last
won a World Series in 1948 -- the year his late grandfather Ray was
an Indians rookie. Ray Boone, the senior member of the first
three-generation major league family, died Oct. 17 at age 81.

"Gramps was a baseball junkie," Aaron Boone said. "He passed
on so much to all of us from a baseball standpoint."

Boone, who was in town to get checked by team doctors, likes the
Indians' chances to improve in the AL Central in 2005.

"I expect us to be really good," he said. "That's why I am
here. The idea is to win and when I looked at teams as a free
agent, I liked what I saw in Cleveland."

The 31-year-old Boone, who has played 679 career games at third
base, 30 at shortstop and 21 at second base, said he would prefer
to stay at third -- which means incumbent Casey Blake would have to
be moved to another position.

"I think all of that will play itself out," Boone said. "I
think Casey and I have both versatile enough to help this club
wherever they put us."