GOODYEAR, Ariz. — On my flight to Arizona last week, I read a story in Sports Illustrated by Albert Chen about this year's Cleveland Indians. It asserted that these Indians were already cast by Hollywood 25 years ago.
"How could you not," Chen wrote, "confuse the real-life Indians, losers of 94 games last year, with the fictional counterparts from Major League?"
I've seen a few people already make the comparison about Cleveland's current batch of characters, though one of the major plot points of the movie doesn't pass muster.
These Indians, the real ones, spent money in the offseason. And they weren't getting people from the California Penal League or letting training-camp wannabes squat their way onto the team. They were signing top free agents like Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn.
Still, driving to the Indians clubhouse Monday, I wonder if the Indians themselves believe in such a premise. Were they, in their own eyes, like the Indians of film? When I walk in and see 42-year-old Jason Giambi (another of Cleveland's offseason acquisitions) sitting quietly in front of his locker, I knew he was the man to ask.
"I'll take it," he says of the "Major League" comparisons. "We have a good time and it's fun and hopefully that will translate into wins.
"I'm for sure like Jake Taylor," Giambi continues. "I'm the old guy on the team, there's no doubt."
You should ask some of the other guys who they are, Giambi told me. That, I thought, was a Wahoo of an idea.
"Hitter Rick Vaughn," Swisher proclaims himself, without more than a second's thought. "I'm not Jake Taylor, bro. That's too old."
I tell him Giambi's happily volunteered for that role and Swisher howls.
"I'm trying to think who would be our Pedro Cerrano," Swisher says. "I don't know."
Let's put Pedro Cerrano, the Caribbean slugger, on hold for a second and see what Indians closer Chris Perez has to say.
"I guess the easy parallels are to Wild Thing. But most people forget he was a starter at the end of the year. So, I would be ..." he thinks a second. "There's not too many characters to choose from.
"I'm not Ed Harris," he says, referring to the wily veteran pitcher with an arsenal of creams hidden on his body to doctor his pitchers.
Perez finally settles on Charlie Sheen's character, Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn.
"I guess I'd be Wild Thing. He kind of did his own thing, walked to his own beat and had a good arm."
He looks across the clubhouse and has an epiphany.
"I guess Brett Myers can be Ed Harris," Perez says.
"We don't have a Jobu either. Actually, Santana makes a good Jobu."
Cerrano, he means. Jobu is the voodoo doll that Cerrano believes helps him hit curve balls. And he also means Carlos Santana, the Indians catcher. That's a notion that teammates back up.
"Santana's Cerrano," says second baseman Jason Kipnis. "Can't hit a curve ball. Just kidding. Doesn't speak that great of English."
Kipnis looks a few lockers down at Lonnie Chisenhall, who might be the Indians starting third baseman this year.
"Chisenhall is definitely Dorn," Kipnis says.
Giambi jumps back in the conversation and agrees.
"Yeah, that's a good one," Giambi says.
"Bourny is Willie Mays Hayes?" Kipnis asks.
"Yeah, Bourny for Willie Mays Hayes," Giambi says.
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That seems like a no-brainer, except when I ask speedy centerfielder Michael Bourn ...
"I don't really know the movie that well," Bourn says. "I know it to a certain extent, but I've never seen it straight through."
You mean it doesn't come in the "Welcome to the Indians" orientation kit that every player gets?
"I'm Mike B, that's who I am," Bourn says.
Kipnis, meanwhile, is having a hard time figuring out who he should be. Fact is, viewers don't know many of the fictional Cleveland infielders. So the news that Bourn isn't a "Major League" devotee gives him a new idea.
"I could almost be the Willie Mays Hayes," Kipnis says. "I'm trying to hit home runs too much and I should be swinging for contact."
That's a "Major League 2" reference for anybody who stopped after the first one, which is understandable.
The sequels, however, open up a new bag of questions. But we'll stop here for now. Maybe next year we'll cast again. First, let's see if this year's Tribe can do what its 25-year-old Hollywood counterparts did — make the playoffs.
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