Now, it's Graves who's the veteran
Friday, January 13, 2006Burt Graeff
Plain Dealer Reporter
The hair is long. The ears are pierced and about a dozen tattoos line various body parts belonging the Danny Graves.
"I was a kid the last time I was in here," said Graves, looking around the Indians clubhouse on Thursday afternoon. "I am different now."
Some of the nameplates he saw above the lockers in the empty clubhouse at Jacobs Field on Wednesday: Hafner, Boone, Sabathia, Peralta.
The nameplates are much different than the ones Graves saw when he was called up to the Indians in July 1996. "Guys like [Albert] Belle, [Kenny] Lofton and [Jim] Thome were here then," Graves said.
"I saw those superstars and I wanted to go hide in a corner. Now, I talk a lot."
Graves was 23 when he first appeared in a big-league game, pitching two innings in a 19-11 victory over the Minnesota Twins on July 13, 1996.
Baseball careers often have unusual twists. The Indians sent Graves, then a right-handed prospect, to the Cincinnati Reds as part of a six-player trade in July 1997.
In Cincinnati, Graves' career came alive, then died.
Now, back in Cleveland, Graves hopes to revive it.
The Tribe, looking for help with the departure of Bob Howry to the Chicago Cubs, signed Graves to a minor-league contract in December with an invitation to the big-league camp for spring training.
"I felt like I was 44 years old at the end of last season," said Graves, 32.
"Today, I feel like I am 24.
"I am a born-again baseball player."
Graves holds the Reds' franchise record for career saves - 182 - but what turned out to be an ill-fated move to the starting rotation in 2003, where he went 4-15 (5.33 ERA), sent a blossoming career into a tailspin.
The Indians played a role in Graves' career bottoming out. In a May 22 game at Cincinnati against the Tribe, Graves started the ninth and was rocked for five runs in one-third of an inning in a 9-2 loss.
Moments after he was removed from the game, a fan near the Reds dugout barked a racial slur to Graves, who is the lone big-league player born in Vietnam. Graves responded with an obscene gesture and, on the next day, was designated for assignment by the Reds.
"The fan should not have said what he said and I should have not responded the way I did," said Graves, who closed out the season with the New York Mets and the Class AAA Norfolk Tides.
Graves is eager for the chance to revive his career where it began.
"Mentally, the starting thing stayed with me for a long time," Graves said. "I can joke about it now. Hopefully, the 15 losses is out of my system.
"Physically, I think I'm close to being back. The arm strength is there."
Tribe General Manager Mark Shapiro was the team's director of minor-league operations when Graves was traded nearly nine years ago. "On the day I left," Graves said, "Mark told me he'd try to get me back.
"When I came in here today, it was like I never left. Even if some things are different."
Like the longer hair, the ear piercings, the tattoos and the nameplates above the lockers.