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In Triple-A, Francisco dreams big

Ben Francisco has this dream. He's wearing a Cleveland Indians uniform as he stands at the plate in front of a packed house at Jacobs Field.

The outcome of the at-bat isn't as important as the dream itself, which is being in the major leagues. What happens to a dream deferred?

Francisco thought he was on his way to "The Show" after a terrific 2006 season with the Buffalo Bisons. The 25-year-old outfielder also had a strong showing in spring training, giving him hope of joining the parent club in Cleveland.

But he's back in Buffalo, still one step away from realizing his dream.

"Obviously my ultimate goal is being in the big leagues, so to not get there and be sent back here I was disappointed for a minute," said Francisco, who went 2 for 4 with two runs scored during the Bisons' 8-3 win over Ottawa in their long-awaited season-opener Monday. "But you just have to take it in stride. Right now, I'm looking forward to this season and focusing on what we can do. If I do what I'm capable of doing this year hopefully I'll get up there."

Francisco, who is playing center field for the Bisons, isn't missing from the Indians' 25-man roster because of a lack of talent. He's coming off a year in which he was Buffalo's co-Most Valuable Player after batting .278 with 17 home runs and 59 RBIs. He ranked second in the International League with 143 hits, had a 25-game hitting streak that was just three short of Alex Ramirez's club record and stole 25 bases.

After playing winter ball in Mexico, Francisco got the Indians' attention in spring training by hitting .293 and playing solid defense at all three outfield positions. But he was the odd-man out in an outfield with offseason signees Trot Nixon and David Dellucci joining Grady Sizemore, Jason Michaels and Casey Blake.

Francisco shouldn't be discouraged. He isn't the first minor leaguer to be forced to wait his turn, and he certainly won't be the last.

"The year he had last year in some cases will merit a promotion the following year," said Bisons manager Torey Lovullo. "But when you're a Cleveland Indian you have to do something extraordinary to break into that lineup. That's a solid outfield they have up there. You go back and look at Richie Sexson and Brian Giles and some of the guys I played with. They had to come back here after having great Triple-A seasons even better than Ben. That's just the nature of the game. But when he gets that opportunity to break in it will be a sweet reward for him."

Francisco is athletic with a strong arm and the range to cover a lot of ground. He's also a good contact hitter with a nice, compact swing.

But he is not yet a finished product. Being more disciplined at the plate and improving his defense and base running are his primary goals.

"When Ben Francisco connects the dots mentally and physically that's when we'll be talking about a major league player," Lovullo said. "He's getting there. He's very coachable, a great kid and has a great makeup on top of being a solid baseball player.

"I would love for him to spend another year here from a selfish standpoint, but if I were a betting man he's going to be in Cleveland before the year is over."

Patience is a big part of being a minor leaguer. The call-up doesn't always come when you want it, so all a player can do is stay focused on the task at hand.

So Francisco works and waits for the time when his dream is no longer deferred.

"Being patient is the name of the game here, especially in this organization," he said. "You just have to be ready for when they call your number."

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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