Thursday, June 16, 2005

"(Jacob's) Field of Dreams"

Cleveland Indians' General Manager, Mark Shapiro, was at Landerhaven Corporate Club on June 15th to speak on "The State of The Indians." WEWS Newschannel 5 sports anchor, Chris Miller, was the moderator of this catered affair which was filled almost to capacity with many local faces and luminaries on the Cleveland sports - and business - scene. So, like the "Scooby-Doo'ish" fool that I am, I decided to investigate...

Although not my usual swimming hole, I have been to Landerhaven Country Club on a few other occassions and it was not a new experience to me. However, this catered affair - complete with mutton - took me by surprise. When I, representing the atypical Tribe fan - dressed in my cargo shorts, Cleveland Indians' T-shirst and looking like one of "The Katzenjammer Kids" - walked into a sea of swanky suits, I knew I was in trouble.

Eerie shades of "Caddyshack" and its motto, "The snobs versus the slobs," creeped into my cranium as I made my way to the registration table. I felt like a modern-day Jimmy Olsen as I picked up my "gee whiz" press credentials and proceeded into the main ball room. I sat at the "singles table" located all the way in the back of the room - (sigh) always a journalism bridesmaid, never a V.I.P. bride.

In the beginning, there was the usual generic brand of networking gibberish. Everyone carefully manipulating every sentence as "not to offend," and comparing resumes and other such soul-sucking nonsense. Sorry, kids, not interested in your Chutes and Ladders-climbing - I've been around the Cleveland Monopoly Board (tm). Been there, done that.

As salads and lunch were served, however, the atmosphere turned from so-so - to laid back and fun. I talked with Michael Trabert (aka "Mr. Ballpark") about his adventures in baseball, including travelling to every ballbark in the United States ...and beyond.

On the other side of me, I assumed another "friendly neighborhood businessman" had slipped into the empty seat as he watched me curiously jotting down notes into my pad. "Mind if I sit here," the Voice asked. "Not at all," I replied, self-involved (as usual) in my own thoughts.

"I think I'm going to steal one of these salads," he stated innocently, before shaking my hand and introducing himself: "Hi. Bob DiBiasio - Cleveland Indians Media Relations."

"Hi," I introduced myself. "I'm with North Coast Voice Magazine." I suddenly felt that sinking feeling - like Han Solo after Darth Vader had sent Boba Fett to fetch him.

Mr. DiBiasio must not have remembered - or chose to dimsiss - an "awkward altercation" we had years earlier - while I was the sports editor of The Cleveland State Cauldron. One of my cub reporters nicknamed "Skippy" referred to Albert Belle as a "sphincter" in one of his articles while covering spring training down in Winter Haven. Needless to say, Mr. DiBiasio was most displeased with me - and yanked our press credentials like a lawn mower cord.

That water under the bridge uneasiness aside, Bob DiBiasio was nothing but charming and gracious to me as we sat next together at the luncheon - maybe it was the nurturing "Perry White" side of him. Whatever the case, I never called him "chief."

Now on to Mark Shapiro: I have gone from not being much of a fan - to being absolutely amazed at his General Manager prowess for The Cleveland Indians. This guy was shooting from the hip - and wasn't afraid of pulling any punches with the media OR the fans. And believe-you-me, the fans were not shy about putting Shapiro's feet to the fire. Here are some highlights from "The Quotable Shapiro Sampler":

On the payroll: "Every dollar we make, every penny we make, goes right back into the team."

On why the Indians traded Bartolo Colon to acquire young players: "What good is a #1 starter, without a team around him? Fruits of trading great players are Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee."

On some of his "questionable" free agent acquisitions (i.e., Juan Gonzalez, Aaron Boone): "I've got to look painstakingly at a free agency market because of the Matt Lawton decision. I made a mistake with that."

On saying goodbye to Omar Vizquel: "We wanted to keep Omar. But this job is full of tough decisions. It's time for the next generation. I'm excited about Jhonny Peralta."

On the Indians' arch-enemies in the AL Central: "I don't view the White Sox as a long-term threat. The Minnesota Twins are the real threat. The Twins are a great organization from top to bottom."

On The Grand Plan: "I wasn't worried about the plan not working. I was worried about the plan taking a DETOUR..."

On the sometimes-semi-struggling up-and-coming players: "Development is not a straight line, it's up and down with young players. Sometimes it's a roller coaster ride."

On just winning, baby: "My job is to find a way to win with what we've got. Anything else is an excuse. If we win, everything will work itself out. Fans will come out and our payroll will go up."

It was an enjoyable and enlightening afternoon, especially after watching shameless sports gurus ("...who just like talking to salesmen") on TV - "The Self-Heralded Return of Phil Jackson" to the Lakers comes to mind. Phil Jackson is a shameless schmuck - and he and continuous crybaby, Kobe Bryant, deserve one another.

As for myself, and the rest of Cleveland, I guess will just have to be "stuck" with scrappy underdog, Mark Shapiro, and The Tribe.

COMING SOON in "Action Blog Comics #27": I play a game of catch with Ben Broussard!


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