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INDIANS New faces surround Vizquel



Published: Fri, February 21, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The veteran shortstop is familiarizing himself with teammates.

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) -- Omar Vizquel realizes these are not the Cleveland Indians he's come to know and love over the years.

With the team rebuilding, the big names Vizquel has played with the last nine years are gone. They've been replaced by younger players and prospects.

"It's a new look all over," said Vizquel, the Indians shortstop since 1994. "Hopefully, I'll meet these guys. I'll have to get a media guide with their pictures so I know who they are."

The change in the Indians' clubhouse is best exemplified by the fact the locker occupied for years by Jim Thome, who signed with Philadelphia in the off-season, is now being used by Casey Blake, a minor league free agent who might be the opening day third baseman.

Fond memories

"I played with some of the greatest guys in the world," Vizquel said. "It's tough now. You'd see Jimmy hit big home runs. You'd see Robbie Alomar walk by and watch Manny Ramirez hit. But that's the way baseball is. So many things change."

Vizquel did take appropriate measures before some of those players became ex-teammates.

"I got a Jim Thome autographed T-shirt and a Manny Ramirez autographed bat," he said. "I knew they were both leaving. You didn't have to be a genius to figure that out."

The Indians won six AL Central titles between 1995 and 2001 and reached the World Series in '95 and '97. Last year, they finished third in the division at 74-88.

"I've got some great memories here, but you know you're not going to be able to win every year," Vizquel said. "We're in a rebuilding process so we have to go through this. It's strange, but you get over it. I hope they can build a team like they did in 1994."

Older than manager

Vizquel, who will turn 36 on April 24, finds himself older than first-year manager Eric Wedge, who turned 35 in January.

"He looks pretty young to me," Vizquel said with a laugh. "He seems like a pretty serious guy. I'm going to get to know him a lot."

Vizquel hopes the fact several positions are up for grabs in camp will invigorate veterans such as himself and 38-year-old designated hitter Ellis Burks.

"There's going to be a lot of competition," he said. "That should make spring training interesting. That should make the veterans play a little better. That will make it exciting."

Goal for season

Vizquel goes into the season with an individual goal in mind. He saw his streak of nine straight Gold Gloves snapped last season by Texas' Alex Rodriguez. Losing the award was a surprise for Vizquel, who had seven errors in 677 total chances.

"That's great motivation for me to win it back," he said. "When you're used to winning it, it leaves a little pain inside of you when you don't."




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