"Wedgie" back in Cleveland with Mariners
His mustache is slightly longer and definitely grayer. His hair's a little thinner, and the uniform is definitely new.
Now a visitor, Eric Wedge seemed oddly out of place and right where he belonged.
Across the field from the dugout where he experienced seven seasons of highs and lows as manager, ''Wedgie'' spent a few minutes before Friday's series opener between his Seattle Mariners and the Indians reflecting on his time managing in Cleveland.
He helped the Indians rebuild. He took them to 93 wins in 2005, just missing the playoffs. He guided them to within one win of the World Series in 2007. There was one AL Central title and more than a few sleepless nights as his patience was tested by young teams.
But what Wedge remembers most, and gives him the most pride about his time in Cleveland, was the journey.
''It's the way we did it, that's what I think about more than anything,'' he said. ''It's very similar to what we're going to do in Seattle. You build a foundation. You do it the right way and for the right reasons, and ultimately you build a winner.''
It takes time. That's one of the lessons Wedge learned while in Cleveland. Young teams, like the one he has now, need discipline. They also need reassurance that if they stick to the plan, and play the game with respect, their hard work will one day be rewarded.
''It's the only way,'' Wedge said. ''It's the only way I know.''
Wedge is excited about his new opportunity with the Mariners, who hired him in October after he had been strongly pursued by Baltimore, the Chicago Cubs and several other teams. The 43-year-old spent most of last year enjoying family life before getting serious about offers and settling on the Mariners.
''Seattle stood up and above the rest,'' he said.
Wedge said it felt ''a little different'' walking back into Progressive Field with his coaching staff, which includes former Indians coaches Jeff Datz, Robby Thompson and Carl Willis. Before Friday night's game, several well-wishers dropped into his office to say hello.
''It was like a revolving door,'' he said. ''A lot of people came by.''
Wedge said his time in Cleveland made him a better manager.
''All the experiences I had here - good and bad - it's what I'm about today,'' he said. ''I'm a firm believer that you learn more from the bad than the good. I had plenty of time to reflect last year and see the game from a new perspective, which was great.''
As he began considering a return, Wedge watched games on TV to study teams and prepare for possible job interviews. He realized how different the game is for an outsider.
''I know one (darn) thing, I turned down the volume all the time,'' he said, laughing. ''I couldn't listen to those guys. They were too smart for me - all of them.''