Cleveland's model player

Jeff Passan

SARASOTA, Fla. – Grady Sizemore, perhaps the most coveted player in baseball, talks in a wonderfully deadpan monotone. Reminiscent of Steven Wright, only faster, like someone pressed the fast-forward button. And though Sizemore has the discipline of a monk when it comes to baseball, sometimes his mouth finds itself a step ahead of his brain.

A half hour after he slammed his second home run of the spring for the Cleveland Indians, Sizemore planted himself on a wooden bench. Across from him sat utilityman Casey Blake, who had played third base that afternoon despite spending most of the last two seasons in right field. One particular shot off a Cincinnati bat had sped by Blake.

"Hey, Casey," Sizemore said.

Blake looked up.

"Two years ago, you would've gotten that."

Two years ago, Sizemore would not dare have said that, no matter his Homer Simpsonesque tendency to unveil his inner monologue. Two years ago, Sizemore left spring training headed to Triple-A Buffalo, recalled only because Juan Gonzalez was made of papier-mache.

Of course, two years ago, Grady Sizemore was simply a player full of potential, not the game's archetype – a center fielder whose bat, glove and legs are weapons, whose improvement places him with Joe Mauer, Johan Santana and Albert Pujols on the fantasy list of best players around whom to build a franchise, and whose polish shines like he just came from a jeweler.

"There's one guy in our clubhouse who has a chance to be one of the greatest players of his generation," Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said, "and if you spent a day around our team, just looking at their personalities, you would never know who he is."

Well, unless the day started off in the parking lot.

Only a star could pull off what Sizemore did this spring. On the players' reporting day, he pulled into the team's Escalade- and Tahoe-filled parking lot with a robin's-egg blue, four-door 1966 Lincoln convertible. If it had hydraulics, you'd just as soon think he was a rapper filming his latest video.

"It's a boat, man," Sizemore said. "It's a cruiser. I wouldn't say it's my style. I just like the car. Tough not to."

Sounds a lot like what people say about Sizemore.

Born and raised in suburban Seattle, he forfeited a scholarship to play quarterback at the University of Washington to sign with Montreal as a third-round pick for $2 million. Cleveland stole him in 2002 as part of the Bartolo Colon deal that also netted them Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips, and quickly the Indians knew the least-known component of the deal might be the best part of it.

If every general manager could cut their perfect player out of a granite block, Sizemore might be the closest thing to it. At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Sizemore he's big enough and strong enough to hit 28 home runs as a left-hander, complementing his 53 doubles and 11 triples. He plays Gold Glove-caliber center field. He has the patience to hit leadoff, the speed to parlay soft hits into extra bases and the wiliness to score 136 runs.

And, by the way, he doesn't turn 25 until August.

"I have more players and managers and coaches from other teams come up about him," Shapiro said. "We have arguably one of the two best hitters in the American League in Travis Hafner. One of the best offensive catchers in Victor Martinez. One of the best starters in C.C. Sabathia. And more people want to talk about Grady than any of them.

"He has athleticism, effort, energy, attitude, intelligence and baseball ability. Those things just don't align very often. You see some guys with a few. Grady is the coming together of all those incredible traits."

Wouldn't know it talking with Sizemore. The monotone hides his emotions. He talks in generalities. It's not that he's uncomfortable. Sizemore handles himself like someone who has done this for 10 years.

Self-promotion just isn't his style.

"I'd like to think I'm good at slowing things down," Sizemore said. "You're always going to have things coming at you from all directions, and it's going to seem like too much."

To deal with it – the double-barreled attention from opposing teams on scouting reports and from the fans in Cleveland, including Grady's Ladies, a growing group of women smitten as much by Sizemore's dimples as his doubles – Sizemore retreats into his own land, Gradyville, pop. 1.

"I talk to myself all the time, and I don't even realize I'm doing it," Sizemore said. "My mouth will be moving, and I don't know what I'm saying. People will look and I'll wonder why."

Only then will Sizemore catch himself and offer this explanation: "I think I'm one of a kind."

He wasn't talking about baseball.

Though he might as well have been.