Gammons weaves tales of baseball, life

CLEVELAND — When Peter Gammons does speaking engagements, he doesn't preach. He just tells stories.

Stories about baseball players young and old, about major leaguers with notable names, others about lesser-known minor leaguers.

Gammons, 66, has been doing it this way for four decades, spinning tales about the inter-twining of baseball and life lessons via print (Boston Globe, Sports Illustrated) and electronic media (ESPN and MLB Network), to name a few.

Thursday morning after a yoga session, 11 select Indians minor leaguers gathered in an interview room at Progressive Field and were treated to an hour of story time with Gammons, a hall of fame baseball writer, as part of the Winter Development Program's speaker series.

Gammons, who awoke at 4 a.m. Thursday to fly into Cleveland from his home in Boston, has been a regular speaker during the Tribe's 15-year program that helps to acclimate the organization's top prospects to the stadium and the city while training for 11 days each January.

Sitting in chairs just a few feet away from a seated Gammons, the players and two interpreters — Spanish-speaking Julio Rengel for Double-A shortstop Juan Diaz and Taiwanese-speaking Jason Lee for last year's Aeros catcher Chun Chen — were at rapt attention.

"I keep coming back because of the respect I have for this organization and (those who run it)," Gammons said afterward.

"It's not easy being a small-market team. And yet the values the Indians try to instill in their players are really important. I try to let the players know that people from the outside really respect what's being taught here. And if I've helped in any way what they're trying to solidify here, it's worth it."

Listening to Gammons tell one story after another, it's easy to see why he's universally liked in the baseball world. He prefers to focus on the positive and always seems to have a nice thing to say about every player he's ever met . . . even Albert Belle.

When discussing how much preparation can make a good player even better, Gammons brought up Belle, the former Tribe outfielder who was as volatile as he was valuable to the organization as the team's feared slugging outfielder during the 1990s. Despite his perpetual grumpiness, Belle kept a handwritten book on pitchers that helped him immensely throughout his career.

Sounding as if he were simply chatting with guys around the batting cage, Gammons' stories had a purpose, each highlighting a theme important in baseball.

"You don't have to be great to have a great moment in the game," Gammons said, launching into a story about outfielder Dave Roberts, who made his major-league debut with the Indians in 1999.

"He actually never had an at-bat (with the Boston Red Sox), but he's in the Red Sox Hall of Fame," Gammons said, explaining Roberts' cult-hero status in Beantown after his pinch-run stolen base in Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series catapulted the Red Sox to victory over the rival New York Yankees en route to their first World Series title in 86 years.

As for guys who play the game the right way, Gammons shared a story about another popular Indians outfielder.

"You got a guy here in Cleveland that, to me, defines the way the game (should be played) in Grady Sizemore," Gammons said. "It breaks my heart that he's gone through (the injuries) he's gone through. He was always diving and crashing into walls; I mean he played so hard."

In 2007, Gammons recalled asking Sizemore if he ever worried about "being Darin Erstad, a guy who played so hard, even though it ended up shortening his career."

"Grady looked at me and said, 'I don't understand the question.' So I tried again. 'Don't you worry about getting hurt and it somehow shortening your career?' He looked at me and said, 'I don't understand the idea that you don't play your hardest at all times.'"

Who knows how many of the 11 prospects sitting in the room with Gammons on Thursday will go on to enjoy major-league careers, piling up memorable stories of their own. But there's no doubt that those that do will have a leg up on how to go about it thanks to Gammons' insight.

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