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07/13/08 5:02 PM ET
Tribe prospects suit up in Futures Game
Pals, roommates LaPorta, Hodges reunited by Sabathia trade
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- The guys at Double-A Akron laugh about the rock-star treatment given to their new teammate, Matt LaPorta. "That guy is the mayor of Akron," third baseman Wes Hodges joked. "When the rest of us strike out, we get booed. When he strikes out, he gets golf claps. It's definitely been funny to see the fans' reactions."
This isn't the way it's always been, of course. LaPorta jumped atop the fans' radar when he became the Indians' prized acquisition in last week's CC Sabathia trade with the Brewers. But LaPorta has been on Hodges' radar for a while now. The two were teammates on the U.S. national team in 2005 and have remained friends ever since. When the Sabathia trade was going down and LaPorta's name found its way into the rumor mill, Hodges wanted to check up on him. "I called him to see what was going on," Hodges said, "but his phone broke. I was waiting for him to call me back." That was just par for the course for LaPorta's whirlwind week. Not only did his phone break, but his luggage was lost en route to Akron. And those losses paled in comparison to what happened Friday, when LaPorta's grandfather, Clark Cornett, died in Florida after a bout with lung cancer. "It's been crazy," LaPorta said. "It's been a roller-coaster ride, up and down." The craziness continued into the weekend, when LaPorta traveled to New York City and represented the Indians on the U.S. squad for the XM All-Star Futures Game. And his buddy, Hodges, was right alongside him. "It was a great experience to be out there in Yankee Stadium," LaPorta said. "My last at-bat, I was trying to take it all in, because this could be my last time playing in Yankee Stadium. Well, this Yankee Stadium." Yes, LaPorta's talent leads one to believe he'll be playing with the Indians in the new Yankee Stadium someday soon -- possibly as early as next year. And Hodges might be alongside him when that day comes, too. When LaPorta, who started and played all nine innings in the Futures Game, and Hodges, who entered the game in the sixth, took the field at first and third base, respectively, it might very well have been a preview of the Indians' future corner-infield setup. "I'd like to think so," Hodges said of that notion. "It would be awesome." Hodges' name might not be on the lips of fans quite the way LaPorta's is, but he's certainly putting up notable numbers. Through 91 games at Akron, he's batting .315 with 10 homers, 18 doubles and 72 RBIs. But he's made 17 errors in the field, so there are questions about his glove. "Everything I learned last year, I've applied to this year," Hodges said. "I feel like I've handled it better. From figuring out how to play every day to my approach in situational hitting, there's a lot of things I've learned. It's funny how I'm 23 years old and I feel like I know a lot about this game, but I'm still learning every day." LaPorta, of course, is still learning, too. The Indians, following the lead of the Brewers, have him playing in the outfield for now. But a move back to first base, where he is a stronger defender, is a possibility. It's also a possibility that LaPorta and Hodges won't be in Akron for long. Both have made their cases for a promotion to Triple-A Buffalo. If that happens, they'll have to make new living arrangements. At the moment, the arrangement is simple: LaPorta is crashing on Hodges' couch in an Akron apartment. So, who pays the rent? "He's taking all the rent," Hodges said with a big laugh. "Whoever got the biggest bonus in the place can take it." Yes, there's no special treatment for the so-called mayor of Akron. LaPorta might have newfound fame as a result of his involvement of a blockbuster trade, but his old buddy, Hodges, keeps him humble. "Wes was joking with me about that the other day," LaPorta said. "He said, 'You're the same dude you were a week ago. Nothing's changed, except you got traded. Now, everybody knows who you are.'"
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.