ANAHEIM, Calif. -- This might sound funny, but the fact that Grady Sizemore has hit so well since returning to the Indians lineup on April 17 is almost a bonus. What Cleveland was celebrating upon first welcoming back the three-time All-Star was simply what he brings with him into the clubhouse.
Sizemore is one of a handful of elite players in the majors whose mere presence makes everyone around him better.
"You see the way he plays the game, the way he runs out every ground ball, the way he's diving all over the place," designated hitter Travis Hafner says. "He's the first one here every day. Him and Shin-Soo Choo are our two best players, and when they play that way, it just sets the tone."
Maybe something like a team's best talent always hustling should be taken for granted, but anybody who's watched Detroit's Miguel Cabrera "run" to first at times knows that the tone can be set in the wrong direction, too.
"Obviously, what he's done speaks for itself," outfielder Austin Kearns says. "But just his presence every day, how he goes about his business, how he plays the game ... it's the way it's supposed to be done."
Though the Indians dropped Sunday's series finale in Anaheim 6-5, they still earned a split on their West Coast trip (3-3) and have won nine of 12, and Sizemore on Sunday went 3 for 5 (including a homer and a double) and continued to spark the Tribe after a tough, tough year.
Micro-fracture surgery is not a first choice if you're an athlete facing the knife. It's a nasty injury with a long, tedious rehabilitation. Sizemore had the surgery on his left knee last June and hadn't played since last May 16 [aside, of course, from a minor-league injury rehab assignment just before being activated in mid-April].
Sizemore says, as Tom Petty once did, the waiting was the hardest part.
"I think just the time away from the team while you're rehabbing, it's frustrating," says Sizemore, 28. "The amount of time it takes.
"Every case is different. I didn’t really have a set program. You're really going month-to-month. We had a general outline, and I was constantly going back to the doctor to get re-examined and see where I'm at."
How many times? Too many to count, Sizemore says. But it was every five or six weeks for the past year.
Baseball-wise, the most difficult part of coming back after missing so much time, Sizemore says, is, "it's all difficult. The hardest part was probably stuff you can't simulate in games -- balls in the gap, rounding the bases hard, having to come to a complete stop when you're running."
Of course, by roaring off to a 10-4 start before Sizemore's return, the Indians didn't make it any easier on the poor guy.
"It was fun to watch, but it made the time I had left to return that much harder," Sizemore says, smiling.
But now, it makes things that much easier -- except, perhaps, where the outfielder's future is involved. In the final season of a six-year, $23.45 million contract, the Indians hold an $8.5 million option on him for 2012 (with a $500,000 buyout), though that becomes a player option if he's traded.
Though his long-term future in Cleveland seems doubtful, at this point, he's probably safe from any stealth July deals.
"I'm just trying to get through the weeks right now," Sizemore says. "It's the furthest thing from my ming right now. My biggest thing was to get back on the field, and not look past tomorrow."
Likes: Hitting streaks. ... Derek Jeter passing Cal Ripken Jr. for most games played at shortstop with one team. And after his two homers Sunday and boosting his average up to .276, maybe now he's earned another grace period. ... Rookie phenom debuts, and Eric Hosmer's mother, father, brother, aunt and uncle all flying into Kansas City from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for his debut on Friday night. ... Tom Hamilton, now in his 22nd season as the radio voice of the Cleveland Indians. Always great fun talking with Tom. ... Friday Night Lights back on television. Four shows into its final season and I'm still debating whether to just pick up the entire season on DVD. If I get the DVDs, I can rip through all 15 episodes. But not having the DVDs slows down the process and forces me to savor each episode for just a little longer. It's such a great show.
Dislikes: Awful, awful stuff in post-tornado Alabama. Here's a list of ways you can help.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
"And they've been known to pick a song or two
"Lord they get me off so much
"They pick me up when I'm feeling blue
"Now how about you?
-- Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sweet Home Alabama