As our resident anguish-stricken Cleveland sportswriter has pointed out
, the man we once revered as Pronk is beginning to look a lot like Paul Sorrento. Which is frustrating, because if you study old photos of Municipal Stadium, you’ll notice there’s no seating section called Sorrentoville.
Travis Hafner is well aware of his struggles. On Tuesday afternoon before the game against Seattle, he sat by his locker, wearing an ancient Wrestlemania t-shirt, and chatted about his woes. As is always the case with baseball slumps, the hitter provided few answers.
“I’m seeing the ball good; my swing feels good,” he insisted. “I think it’s just a matter of time.”
Told of an ESPN report quoting scouts saying both he and David Ortiz had lost bat speed, Hafner pursed his lips thoughtfully, as if he hadn’t yet considered that, but then shot the suggestion down: “No, I feel as good physically now as I have at any time in my career. Physically, I feel great. That’s not the issue.”
“I feel as if I’ve hit the ball with the barrel of the bat a lot this year,” he continued, “but it’s just a matter of hitting line drives.”
And he says he feels worlds better than last year, when the ghost of Sorrento first entered Hafner, causing his slugging percentage to drop more than 200 points from 2006. His struggle this year, he says, is simply the same early-season slowness that’s got Ichiro batting .261: “It’s a part of April baseball. It’s cold, and balls are not going anywhere … You’ll have a game where you feel like you’ve hammered the ball a couple of times, and you have nothing to show for it.”
But Hafner says he’s learned to separate his job from his personal life, which is probably why he hasn’t burned down his Westlake mansion just yet.
"I guess it’s just maturing, and stuff like that," he said. "When I was younger, I'd think about baseball all the time. It was driving me nuts. Now ... I mean, you're going to think about it some. But you need to enjoy life, watch some movies, have a life away from the park."
Around then, none of the reporters that had gathered could think of anything to keep him talking, and began to disperse. But Hafner added, by way of a closing statement, “I’m putting a good swing on ‘em.”
Hafner trotted out there and went 0-4. Guess our little talk didn’t help much after all. – Gus Garcia-Roberts