Cleveland Guardians making memories, good and bad, at Target Field: Week in Baseball

MINNEAPOLIS – Ballparks hold memories not just for the home team but the opposition as well.

When Carlos Santana played for the Indians, he loved to hit at Target Field. He’s hit 17 of his 260 career homers there, all but one coming in a Cleveland uniform, to make it his second favorite visinting home-run ballpark.

In Terry Francona’s first year as Cleveland’s manager in 2013, the Indians surprisingly clinched a wild card spot at Target Field on the final day of the season. They ended the season on a 10-game winning streak and needed every one of those wins to qualify.

After the game Francona, amidst the spray of champagne and beer, said Danny Salazar would pitch the wild card game against Tampa Bay. At that time Salazar was a phenom, regularly hitting 100 mph. He went on to make the All-Star team in 2016, but injuries stole his electricity. His last year in Cleveland and the big leagues ended quietly in 2019. On Thursday, however, he signed a minor-league deal with the Yankees.

Michael Brantley probably does not have great memories of Target Field. During the 2011 season, he had to leave a game there because of heat stroke. Manager Manny Acta was forced to play second baseman Luis Valbuena in left field and it cost the Indians a couple of games.

Four years later Brantley, back at Target Field, dove for a ball in the left-center gap. He landed hard on his right shoulder. The injury nearly ended Brantley’s career. Brantley missed most of the next two seasons, undergoing numerous surgeries, before making a full comeback in 2018.

The comparison with Josh Naylor is easy to make. Naylor, playing right field on June 27, collided with second baseman Ernie Clement in pusuit of a short fly ball at Target Field. He suffered a fractured right leg and ankle.

The injury not only ended Naylor’s season, but threatened his career. He has made a remarkable comeback this season, but was unavailable for this weekend’s series after testing positive for COVID-19. Naylor would never say so, but maybe it’s for the best.

The Cleveland organization has found itself in a unique situation at least twice during series at Target Field with COVID being the driving force in each.

During the COVID season of 2020, when MLB reduced the season to 60 games, the Indians came to Minneapolis in August just after the start of the season. But there had been a COVID outbreak during the previous series and the clubhouse staff in the visitor’s locker room at Target Field was in quarantine.

Members of the Indians’ front office, including Chris Antonetti, president of baseball operations, served as the clubhouse staff. They cleaned spikes, batting helmets and catchers’ gear. They did laundry, stocked the dugout and kitchen and made sure the players were fed.

Tony Amato, Cleveland’s clubhouse manager, said at the time, “They were awesome. It was all hands on deck. ”

Two years later COVID still will not let go of the world population or baseball. Wednesday in Chicago, when the Guardians were preparing to play the White Sox, a COVID outbreak among their coach staff and traveling party caused the game to be postponed. Manager Terry Francona, bench coach DeMarlo Hale, first base coach Sandy Alomar, third base coach Mike Sarbaugh, hitting coach Chris Valaika, assistant pitching coach Joe Torres and hitting analyst Justin Toole tested positive and did not make the trip to Minneapolis. On Thursday, Naylor tested positive in Minneapolis.

Antonetti and the rest of the front office, instead of picking up wet towels and dirty uniforms, scrambled to replace a big league coaching staff, Naylor and assemble a taxi squad in case more players tested positive. Given Wednesday’s postponement and Thursday’s off-day, they had 48 hours to do it.

John McDonald, the Guardians’ minor-league field coordinator, was with the Lake County Captains in Eastlake when he got the call to replace Alomar as the first-base coach. McDonald played 16 years in the big leagues with eight teams as a utility infielder. He is used to making quick changes.

“What we usually talk about in our organization is that you have to stay ready, stay fluid because things happen and you never know where you’re going to be needed and how you can help the organization,” McDonald said.

McDonald said the organization’s main concern is the players.

“In talking to Tito, Sandy, Mike Sarbaugh and Carl Willis (acting manager), the guys who have helped us prepare for the next few days, the main thing is to try to make these games as seemless as possible for the players,” said McDonald. “What do they like to do? How do they do it? We want to make it easy on the players. ”

McDonald said he coaches some first base in spring training and in the minors when a staff members needs time.

“It keeps you fresh,” McDonald said. “It lets you see the game from a different perspective. The difference is it’s a major league game with a slightly different thought process with all the information we have. “

Shane Bieber will start Saturday night’s game against the Twins. He said the last three years have taught him to adjust. First there was COVID. Then the 60-game sprint. The 2021 season was back to 162 games, but when it ended, the lockout put the game in a deep freeze and shortened spring training.

Now COVID is back.

“It’s been different, for sure,” said Bieber. “But I feel like myself and my teammates have been saying that for the last few years. It’s something we’ve grown accustomed to the last few years, dealing with what the country and the world is dealing with.

“The last 48 hours have definitely been a whirlwind. A lot of question marks. We’re just trying to move on with the rest of the seaon. “

That this is happening again at Target Field can not be a coincidence, right?

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