CLEVELAND -- Ryan Garko hit at every step of the minors, including parts of three years in Buffalo. He kept hitting the last two months of 2006 when he finally reached the big leagues. He did nothing but hit again for the first two months of 2007. But June was a sobering month for the Indians' first baseman. Now the Tribe is going to play close attention to Garko in July to see how he deals with the first extended slump of his big-league career.12
"I've felt like I'm not that far off," Garko said before a recent game in Jacobs Field. "A lot of veteran guys have been telling me to keep the big picture in mind. Even [Atlanta third baseman] Chipper Jones got to first base and said to me, 'You're having a great year.' I'm thinking how much I'm scuffling, and he's like, 'Hey kid, you're battling to hit .300. Don't complain.' You keep the big picture in mind.
"Everyone always said that you're going to struggle in the big leagues, and I was at the point where I was getting two hits a game for a while. Now to go through that first rough patch, this is where you figure out what kind of big-leaguer you'll be."
Garko hit .292 and drove in 45 runs in 50 games for the Indians last year, and his 36 RBIs from Aug. 20 to the end of the season were the third-most in the American League. When the calendar hit June 1 this year, Garko was batting .337 with seven homers and 21 RBIs.
But this has not been a good month; Garko entered the weekend batting just .185 in June with two homers and six RBIs, lowering his overall average to .292. His swing was suffering and so was his playing time, as he had to sit in several interleague games while Travis Hafner played first base.
"Ryan is going through some struggles," said manager Eric Wedge. "It's very ordinary for a young player. Teams are aware of him now. It's the second time around for some of these teams to see him. Now the ball is in his court. It's time for him to make some adjustments, and I'm confident that he will."
Garko said his big point of emphasis has been to not let his offensive slump carry to his defense, where he's still a work in progress in the conversion from catcher to first base.
"Anyone can work hard when things are going great," Garko said. "It's a lot tougher when you're scuffling at the plate. I've made sure not to take it to first because I feel confident, comfortable and relaxed out there now, and I don't want that to change.
"Everything was going so fast when I first went out there in Buffalo and especially here last year. Now I'm confident to go get balls and make plays. Even when I make a mistake, I'm doing it at full speed."
Garko said he didn't take his fast finish last year and fast start this season for granted. In spring training, there was actually talk he could get nosed out of a roster spot and end up back in Buffalo again. Some Tribe insiders wondered if he would really hit as well as he did in 2006, when most of his numbers were piled up during September roster expansion time.
Garko was unfazed by that talk and won a spot on the club. Now he's just trying to make sure he keeps it.
"I wouldn't be the first guy who ended up in Triple-A that might not have deserved to be there if I had started the season in Buffalo," he said. "You've got to keep playing until you run out of options and force them to make a decision. I'm glad I went and played winter ball [in the Dominican Republic], kept my nose in it and didn't have a negative attitude. That really paid dividends. I'm keeping positive now, and I know this will work out."
Fielder family feuds
Prince Fielder has become a big part of the Brewers' resurgence, and his relationship with his famous father, Cecil, is sure to be a hot topic come October. One problem: There is no relationship. Speaking at an alumni function recently in Toronto, Cecil Fielder said they haven't talked in three years and he won't try to talk to his son unless Prince treats his father with more respect.
The rift stems mostly from Cecil frittering away most of his $47 million in baseball earnings through gambling and bad business deals. Things got so bad that Prince was served legal papers for his father after a 2002 Class A game in Beloit, Wis. Cecil also claims his ex-wife has told Prince to stay away from him.
"I just don't think my son knows how to let it go," Cecil Fielder said. "I don't think he's grown up yet. Until he can move on and talk to me like he's my son, we don't need to talk. He's going to talk to me like he's my son, not like I'm a man out on the street."
No fish story
The Marlins celebrated the 10th anniversary of their first World Series title when the Indians, their '97 Series opponent, came to town. Former Florida manager Jim Leyland told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel the dramatic finish against Cleveland has never gotten its due. Florida won Game Seven, 3-2, on Edgar Renteria's 11th-inning single after tying the game in the bottom of the ninth.
"I think if Game Seven would have been between the Yankees and the Mets, it would have gone down as one of the greatest in the history of baseball," said Leyland, now in charge of the Tigers. "If it would have been between the Yankees and the Dodgers, same thing. But it was the Marlins and Cleveland, so it never got its respect. I don't care what anybody says. Seventh game of the World Series? Starts on one day, goes to the next day, ends in 11 innings with a base hit with the bases loaded for the home team to win it? And it was 3-2, so it wasn't a sloppy game.
"[Four] years later they bragged about the one in Arizona where they dumped in the hit against the Yankees in Game Seven. We got a legitimate hit, not a bloop. Our Game Seven never got the credit it deserved. I've always been ticked off about that."
Around the horn
*More Leyland, as grouchy as ever recently when asked about a controversial call: "I'm sick and tired of being asked about umpires. I wish someone would put in a headline, 'I do not discuss umpires to the media, ever. That's final.' It's disrespectful. I don't do it."
*The Phillies are coming up on a dubious honor unreached in any of the four major sports -- 10,000 losses. They have 9,995 and don't plan any sort of special treatment when they reach the magic number.
"We don't celebrate losing," Larry Shenk, the team's 44-year PR head told the Associated Press. "In my lifetime, the only team that celebrates losing is the Washington Generals when they play the Harlem Globetrotters."
For some fan sites with gallows humor on the accomplishment, check out www.celebrate10000.com and www.countdownto10000.com.
*It's very possible the results of interleague play could decide the AL Central race. The Tigers finished 14-4 while the Indians were just 9-9. No wonder Wedge said last week he thought interleague should just be one or two series against a natural rival and not a full schedule.
*Friends have become alarmed with the amount of weight Tony Gwynn has put on since retiring. Gwynn, the coach at San Diego State, is trying to shed some pounds before his Hall of Fame induction later this month. He's partnered with Wheaties on a fitness regimen.