Pow­er­ful pres­ence

En­car­na­cion gives In­di­ans boom­ing bat

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY TOM WITHERS

As fans lining the chain-linked fence next to Cleve­land’s main prac­tice field jock­eyed for bet­ter po­si­tion to snatch an au­to­graph or selfie with the team’s new­est star, Ed­win En­car­na­cion showed no emo­tion.

With his glove bal­anced on his head, En­car­na­cion signed base­balls, bats, cards and what­ever else was thrust in front of him. He didn’t seem to be en­joy­ing him­self and ap­peared dis­in­ter­ested, dis­tant.

That’s when one fan pleaded for a lit­tle more.

“Hey,” he told En­car­na­cion. “You know you can smile. You’re with Cleve­land now.”

On cue, En­car­na­cion beamed a smile that bright­ened an oth­er­wise grey day in the desert.

There’s a lot of toothy grins on dis­play these days with the In­di­ans, whose sign­ing of En­car­na­cion to a three-year, $60 mil­lion con­tract — the rich­est in team his­tory — as a free agent this win­ter gives the AL cham­pi­ons a mid­dle- of- the- or­der slug­ger un­like any they’ve had since Al­bert Belle, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez an­chored some of those po­tent Cleve­land teams in the 1990s.

Af­ter eight sea­sons in Toronto, En­car­na­cion has a new home — and an un­ex­pected one.

When free agency opened, the small-mar­ket In­di­ans were per­ceived as the long­est of long­shots to sign En­car­na­cion, who hit 42 homers and led the league with 127 RBIs in 2016. There were as many as four other teams bet­ter fi­nan­cially po­si­tioned to sign the 34-year-old, who seemed des­tined to re­sume his ca­reer in Bos­ton or Texas or any­where but Cleve­land.

But he chose the In­di­ans be­cause of their po­ten­tial to be play­ing again deep into Oc­to­ber. “I made the de­ci­sion to come here, be­cause here I have the op­por­tu­nity to win the World Series,” said En­car­na­cion, whose 193 homers over the past five sea­sons are the sec­ond most in the ma­jors. “This team, they look great and I think they have great, young tal­ented play­ers here. We have a lot of op­por­tu­nity to be in the World Series again and win it.”

En­car­na­cion’s ar­rival ce­ments the In­di­ans as the team to beat.

He fits per­fectly into a stacked lineup that will in­clude young stars Fran­cisco Lindor and Ja­son Kip­nis and could have back Michael Brant­ley af­ter the former All-Star out­fielder played in just 11 games last sea­son.

One thing is cer­tain: man­ager Terry Fran­cona knows who will be bat­ting cleanup.

“You put a bat in the mid­dle that you’re not pen­cil­ing in, you’re putting it in ink,” Fran­cona said.

But while the three-time All-- Star has es­tab­lished him­self as one of base­ball’s most feared hit­ters, En­car­na­cion doesn’t flaunt his sta­tus or celebrity. He’s happy be­ing one of the guys.

Be­fore sign­ing him, the In­di­ans wanted to as­sure they were bring­ing in a player who would en­hance their cul­ture — not threaten it. It’s early, but En­car­na­cion has shown none of the trap­pings of star­dom.

“I’m not sure shy is the right word,” gen­eral man­ager Mike Ch­er­noff said in de­scrib­ing En­car­na­cion. “I think re­served. He def­i­nitely has a pres­ence. That has been clear since the minute he got here. But I think he’s much more of a quiet, lead-by-ex­am­ple type of guy. We did a lot of work on him in the off-sea­son with our scouts and reach­ing out to con­tacts. And ev­ery­body said on all fronts that he is a leader, but he doesn’t do it in that kind of loud, vo­cal way.”

AP PHOTO/ROSS D. FRANKLIN

Cleve­land In­di­ans’ Ed­win En­car­na­cion heads to an­other field af­ter bat­ting at the team’s base­ball spring train­ing fa­cil­ity Mon­day, in Goodyear, Ariz.

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