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Sizemore already penciled in at top


Published: Mon, March 20, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


After a banner first year in the majors he'll lead off and play center field.
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) -- Grady Sizemore isn't only wanted by the ladies.
During an interview last week while Sizemore was watching some mindless MTV show after a morning workout and lunch, it became clear how in demand Cleveland's leadoff hitter, center fielder and most eligible bachelor has become.
"Grady, I need you in the pool," trainer Tim Maxey said.
"Right after I'm done," Sizemore said.
"Grady, sorry to interrupt," said an Indians minor league coach. "If I leave this box of baseballs at your locker, will you sign them for my son's team? Only you."
"Sure," Sizemore said.
"Grady, I need you to do TV outside," said media relations assistant Jeff Sibel.
"One sec," Sizemore said.
Cut last spring
These days, everyone wants a piece of Sizemore. Funny how times change. A year ago in spring training, the Indians cut him from their opening day roster.
But now, Sizemore is perhaps the face of Cleveland's organization, a 23-year-old bundle of hustle who emerged as one of the AL's best all-around players in 2005.
In his first full major league season, Sizemore batted .289 with 22 homers, 81 RBIs and 22 steals. He was the only player in either league to record at least 20 doubles, 10 triples, 20 homers and 20 steals -- and just the fifth to do it this decade.
Sizemore also made 152 starts in center field, finishing with a .992 fielding percentage and closing the year with a 62-game errorless streak. Manager Eric Wedge placed Sizemore in the leadoff spot on May 15, and he stayed there.
No. 1 with female fans
And, Sizemore, a three-sport high school standout who turned down a football scholarship at Washington, also became No. 1 among Cleveland's female fan base. Some of Sizemore's supporters have banded together as "Grady's Ladies" while others wear "Mrs. Sizemore" T-shirts sold in the club's souvenir shop at Jacobs Field.
"Oh, man," Sizemore says with a smile, slightly embarrassed by the attention. "I try not to think about any of that stuff. But it's hard not to."
It's hard to imagine what the Indians -- they went 93-69 -- would have done last season without Sizemore.
In the last days of spring training, the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo. He was sent down when the Indians decided that Juan Gonzalez's bat was more essential to their lineup than Sizemore's speed, youth and upside.
Three days after Sizemore was demoted, Gonzalez was placed on the disabled list with a hamstring injury and only had one at-bat all season.
This spring has been stress-free for Sizemore, who no longer has to prove he's ready for the majors. This season, his name will be the first one manager Eric Wedge pencils onto the lineup card before every game.
"It's nice in the sense that I can just focus on trying to get better and get back to that mid-season form without anything to worry about," Sizemore said. "It's not like I have to go out there thinking, 'Man, I'd better get three hits.' It's nice to know that I've got a spot, other than that it doesn't really change anything."
Lineup spot guaranteed
Sizemore's spot in the lineup is guaranteed, however, you'd never know it from watching him on the field. His style is full throttle -- all the time.
He runs out every grounder as if it's Game 7 of the World Series, and seeing Sizemore shift into another gear while legging out a triple in a spring training game is as warming as the Florida sunshine.
Because of that drive, toughness and talent, Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen called Sizemore "the best all-around player in the AL Central" last season. The Indians love Sizemore even more.
"He's already one of the best center fielders in the game," said Indians general manager Mark Shapiro, who acquired Sizemore and left-hander Cliff Lee from Montreal in the 2002 trade of Bartolo Colon. "Grady is one of those rare guys that every single person that watches him can appreciate. He runs out every ball -- even down here. That desire to get better, combined with his athleticism and talent is a deadly combination.
"He's a joy to watch. If you can't go watch and enjoy Grady, then you shouldn't be watching baseball."
Sizemore has been going full speed for so long that he couldn't imagine downshifting.
"I don't know any other way," he said. "It's who I am. I don't know how to go in any other direction or at any other speed. It's the way I like to play. It's fun for me that way."


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