Hafner: The Good Humor Man

By STEVE HERRICK

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It’s a good thing Travis Hafner has a sense of humor.

 

His ability to find something to laugh about has helped him through the time tough times he’s experienced the last two seasons.

“I’ve blocked the last two years out,” Hafner said one day while showing his ever-present dry sense of humor. “I don’t think about them.”
 
Other than holding on to the hope his right shoulder stops aching long enough for him to stay in the lineup, Hafner isn’t asking for much as the Indians head into the 2010 season.

Hafner’s goal is simple. Any thought of numbers means nothing if his shoulder doesn’t go along with the plan.
 
“I want to stay as healthy as I can,” he said. “That’s a big deal. If you’re not healthy, there’s really nothing else you can do.”
 
The last two seasons haven’t produced many highlights for the Indians or Hafner. After coming within one win of reaching the World Series in 2007, the Tribe never contended in 2008 and lost 97 games last season.
 
Meanwhile Hafner, one of baseball’s most feared power hitters a few seasons ago, struggled just to remain on the field. And he knows that’s not a laughing matter.
 
“It’s been frustrating,” Hafner said. “The team hasn’t played well and I’ve been fighting the shoulder issues the best I could.”
 
Hafner realizes what people are saying about him. The shoulder injury has limited him to 151 games the last two seasons. Once among the best sluggers hitters in the American League, his numbers have significantly dropped.

Then there’s the not-so-small detail that he’s making $37.5 million over the next three seasons.
 
In the eyes of many, Hafner symbolizes all the bad things that have happened to the Indians since the ’07 season. The team has slumped on the field and ticket sales have dropped. His production has fallen off the charts. His contract has made him untradeable while the Indians have dealt many of their stars and other front-line players.
 
The fact his shoulder bothered him to the point where brushing his teeth and turning doorknobs, let alone hitting major league pitching, became painful endeavors, didn’t earn him much sympathy.  

Hafner hasn’t been blamed for the Cuyahoga River catching on fire in 1969 or the City of Cleveland going into bankruptcy 10 years later.
 
But wait. It’s still early.
 
Hafner knows the critics are there. He’s doing his best to not pay attention.
 
“I don’t care at all about it,” he said. “Pressure is all about what you put on yourself. Pressure is something that’s made up in your head. It’s all that you think it is. My focus needs to be on hitting. I keep it simple.”
 
Manager Manny Acta has only been on the job since October, but he knows how important a healthy and productive Hafner is to the Indians’ success.
 
“He’s key to us,” Acta said. “If he stays healthy, I think he’s going to have a very good year.”
 
Acta is a realist. He knows that is not a sure thing for a 32-year-old player who has been injured for two years. Hafner played in only 57 games and hit .197 with five homers and 24 RBIs in 2008. He had arthroscopic surgery after the season. Hafner’s numbers improved last season