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Belle returns, shares laughs at Indians camp

The hair and beard are mostly gray. The scowl is gone, a smile in its place.

Albert Belle still casts a formidable shadow over the Cleveland Indians, and Tuesday the contentious slugger -- who was once the most intimidating hitter in baseball -- made a surprise visit to the team he left 16 years ago and had disconnected with completely.

Laughing easily, Belle leaned against a wall as the morning sun began to burn through above the Indians' complex, and along with former teammates Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Sandy Alomar Jr. and manager Mike Hargrove, reminisced about those days when the Indians ruled the AL.

They talked about the comeback wins, the time Belle famously looked at Boston's bench and flexed his biceps after hitting a playoff homer, and about getting Cleveland to the World Series after a 41-year wait in 1995.

"I came to see the guys," the 45-year-old Belle said. "It's good to see them again."

Shortly after arriving, Belle visited the clubhouse and was introduced to some of Cleveland's young players who couldn't wait to meet a player many of them had only known through TV highlights.

"He was my favorite hitter," said closer Chris Perez, showing off a ball that Belle signed for him.

It was Baerga's persistence and urging that convinced Belle to drive over from his home in Paradise Valley, where the man whose presence in the batter's box once rattled pitchers nerves, is now a stay-at-home dad raising four daughters.

"I waited until I was done playing to get married and then settle down and start a family," said Belle, forced to retired in 2001 because of a bad hip. "I don't know how guys do it, have a family and try to play baseball, man. It's tough. Facing [David] Cone and [Roger] Clemens was easy compared to being a dad. It seems like all the kids get tired and cranky at the same time."

Just like their dad.


Around the horn

* Dino Laurenzi Jr., the person who collected Ryan Braun's urine sample that tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone, said he followed the collection program's protocol in a statement. He says he has been a collector for Comprehensive Drug Testing since 2005 and has taken more than 600 samples for Major League Baseball's drug-testing program. "At no point did I tamper in any way with the samples," he said.

* Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who missed most of last year after elbow surgery, won't throw more than 160 innings this year, the team said.

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