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03/07/10 4:34 PM ET
Grudzielanek trying to make it with Tribe
Second baseman didn't play in the Major Leagues in 2009
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The game of baseball didn't necessarily pass Mark Grudzielanek by, but its business side did. In the winter after the '08 season, Grudzielanek was a 14-year Major League veteran coming off six straight seasons in which he was a starter at second base and batted at or around .300. Sure, a sprained right ankle and a torn deltoid ligament in his shoulder had prevented Grudzielanek from playing the last two months of the previous season with the Royals. But he still expected to attract interest on the open market. So when the first two offers for his services came in December and they didn't promise him the playing time and/or the dollars he was looking for, Grudzielanek passed. Alas, 28 other teams passed on him. The '09 season started, and Grudzielanek was still unemployed. "I had been in a position where I've been the man and starting since my second year in the league," he said. "It was strange to get a couple offers in December and then nothing up to [the] '09 [season]. I looked at it like it was a message for me to get my stuff together, get healthy and enjoy my time at home with my two boys." There was a slight detour during the downtime, as the Twins signed Grudzielanek to a Minor League deal at midseason and told him to get ready. They said they were going to need him in the big leagues to augment their infield in about three weeks. Those three weeks passed, and the Twins told Grudzielanek, who appeared in 11 Minor League games, thanks, but no thanks. They were sticking with the guys they had. "It's in the past, and I really don't want to get into it," Grudzielanek said. "I don't want to start dropping bombs or getting mad at anybody. I'm in a new situation with a positive outlook, and that's all that matters."His new situation is here in Indians camp, where Grudzielanek is a non-roster invitee brought in on a Minor League deal with no guarantees, other than that he'll compete with Luis Rodriguez, Jason Donald and Brian Bixler to be a right-handed utility man at second and third base. And at 39 years old, with what he has to consider a wasted year behind him, Grudzielanek couldn't be happier to be here. There is, however, a difference between a "happy to be here" mentality and a truly competitive one. Grudzielanek clearly possesses the latter, because he doesn't even talk about vying for a utility job with the Tribe. He wants the starting second-base gig that currently belongs to Luis Valbuena. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't," Grudzielanek said. "If I didn't feel I could play every day and start, I wouldn't be here." Manager Manny Acta has said the second-base job is the 24-year-old Valbuena's to lose. But he sees that competitive fire in Grudzielanek and chalks it up as a plus. "There's nothing wrong with that," Acta said. "Every player that suits up has to believe he's competing for a spot. That's the right attitude, and he's had it his whole life. If it doesn't happen, the question is whether he can make the adjustment to become a backup infielder." If nothing else, you have to admire Grudzielanek's grit. And if the Indians can have an Opening Day starter who hasn't pitched in the big leagues in 22 months, why can't they have an Opening Day second baseman who hasn't played in 20 months? Even if Valbuena remains the regular starter, the Indians might still sit him against the bulk of left-handed pitchers. So that could open a decent amount of playing time for a guy like Grudzielanek, similar to how Jamey Carroll played more than the average backup in 2008 and '09. No matter the role, Grudzielanek appears ready to compete. "Age is just a number," Acta said. "You can tell he's in great shape." He's not in that shape by accident. Though he essentially had a year off, he didn't take a year off. "I played a lot of basketball, which is a great sport for cardio," Grudzielanek said. "Then when it got closer to Spring Training, after I did sign with Cleveland, I hired a track guy and hired a doctor to get my back worked out to find out if there's anything serious going on and what we need to do. I just got myself structurally centered to come here and do what I can." Though a Cactus League game isn't all that much of a barometer, Grudzielanek showed no signs of rust in his debut Saturday, going 2-for-2 with an RBI double against the Reds. "It was the first day out," he said, "so I was just trying to go out there and make contact. It turned out pretty well." Making contact has been Grudzielanek's strong suit in his career. A veteran of the Expos, Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Royals, he's a lifetime .290 hitter with 90 homers, 391 doubles, 36 triples and 629 RBIs. In his last season in Kansas City, he was batting .299 with 24 doubles and 24 RBIs when a collision on the field caused the injuries that landed him on the disabled list. On a ballclub loaded with youth and inexperience, Grudzielanek could be a beneficial clubhouse asset, if he sticks. "The game is all about preparation," he said. "A lot of these young kids could use a little help in that direction. I've been through a lot, experienced a lot, and the last few years, I've learned a lot." And what transpired last year has only made him hungrier to compete.
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Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.