Autographs, bats, home runs and a Cleveland rout over the Mudcats

Jason Donald, who spent a lot of time signing autographs before the game, and who was introduced by the PA announcer as “Luke Donald,” drove in a pair of runs with a single and added a three-run homer as the Cleveland Indians defeated the Carolina Mudcats 13-0 Tuesday afternoon in Zebulon.

This is the first year that the Mudcats have been an Indians affiliate and the first year the Mudcats have been a High-A ball club (coming over from Kinston). The Cleveland bigwigs got a chance to see some of the club’s biggest prospects who will be playing for the Mudcats – including shortstop Ronny Rodriguez, third baseman Giovanny Urshela, second baseman Tony Wolters, first baseman Jesus Aguilar, right fielder Carlos Moncrief and catcher Jake Lowery.

“They are not only talented, but they know how to play the game,” Mudcats manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “The Cleveland Indians have a lot of talent in the lower levels.”

Indians manager Manny Acta said he is enthusiastic about the talent in Zebulon. “Some guys who have come through our system have done well, and some more who are coming through are good, too,” Acta said. “We already know some of the talent we have here [in Zebulon]. Some of those kids, we are familiar with them. None of them are going to surprise us, especially some of the starters.”

In watching the game today with my active five-year-old son, he showed little interest in watching the game but was extremely interested in talking to the players and getting autographs. Go figure. He got about seven or eight autographs on a baseball, and even lucked into getting a non-broken bat from one of the players (we believe it was Beau Mills who will start the year in Columbus at the Triple-A Clippers). A former first-round pick, Mills is the son of Astros manager Brad Mills. If indeed it was him (his number was covered by a warm-up jacket and I didn’t recognize him), Mills said, “I hope you can get more hits out of it than I could.” My son showed the bat to anybody who would pay attention to him. I told him that he should be excited and that I only got a broken bat when I was a kid and it came from a Single-A game.

Again, Mills didn’t make the opening roster in Cleveland but he or Matt LaPorta will likely get a chance with the big club sooner rather than later, especially with the injury of Grady Sizemore.

To their credit, the Indians started their regulars and played them for four innings. Former Red Sox and Brave Derek Lowe started and retired nine of the 10 batters he faced, striking out three of them and walking none. Unfortunately for autograph seekers, most of the regulars waited out the rest of the game behind the scenes. As for the starters, Asdrubal Cabrera, the second batter of the game, rapped a home run and, later, outfielder Shelley Duncan banged a no-doubter in a blast over the left field wall all the way to the trees – probably the longest home run I’ve ever seen in that stadium.

“It takes us all back a bunch of years,” Duncan said about playing at a minor league stadium. “We’ve got some jokes going around, some laughs.”

After spending time in the clubhouse, a small shed behind the outfield wall, Travis Hafner, the elder statesman of the team, said it brought back memories of coming up through the minors. “It’s a nice ballpark, and the people here have been great,” he said. “It’s been a fun experience.” During the game, Hafner, the DH, lofted a double but it fell only because the outfielder (Delvi Cid) lost the ball in the sun. Still, Hafner is healthier than he has been in at least three seasons and has had a good spring, probably second only to Duncan.

Indians manager Acta played on the first Mudcats team in 1989 but the team was in Georgia at the time. Indians first-base coach Tom Wiedenbauer was the manager of that team.

“I was on the first-ever Mudcat team, so I thought it was funny when we got an agreement with the club here in Zebulon,” Acta said. “We loved the logo back then in 1989, and we continue to love it. We’ve got some souvenirs with us to take home.”