Three hours before game time on a recent rainy afternoon in
Cleveland, Marty Cordova was told that the weather would keep the
Indians from taking batting practice outdoors. Cordova, a
31-year-old outfielder, had already taken 15 minutes' worth of
cuts at Jacobs Field's indoor cage, but he grilled the bearer of
the bad news. "Are you certain?" Cordova asked. "You're 100
percent sure? Who told you?"
Assured that Cleveland manager Charlie Manuel was the source,
Cordova's normally expressionless mug sagged. "When I was at
Triple A Salt Lake [in 1994], I'd take extra batting practice in
the middle of the desert when it was 110[degrees]," he said. "At
spring training this year I'd hit in the morning before games,
at night after games, whenever I got the chance."
Cordova has resumed the work habits he had gotten away from in
the recent past. By cutting back on weightlifting and dropping 20
pounds during the off-season, Cordova has bucked the
bigger-is-better trend that has seen Punch-and-Judy hitters pump
up like Hans and Franz. At 205 pounds, the 6-foot Cordova weighs
almost the same as he did when he won the 1995 AL Rookie of the
Year award with the Twins. Instead of pounding protein shakes,
he's back to taking extra batting practice after a 2000 season
during which, he acknowledges, his work ethic flagged. Through
Sunday he was hitting .339 with nine home runs and 35 RBIs in 177
at bats as the Indians' fourth outfielder and occasional DH.
The righthanded-hitting Cordova's lighter frame and improved bat
speed have enabled him to pull inside fastballs with power and
cut down on strikeouts. (He's averaging one for every 6.8 at
bats, down from one in every 4.4 over the past four years.) Those
statistics indicate quite a turnaround, considering that Cordova
went to spring training as a nonroster invitee. It was a humbling
experience, but he batted .442 to make the Indians.
Following his impressive rookie year, in which he hit .277 with
24 homers and 84 RBIs, Cordova had an even better season in 1996,
batting .309 with 16 homers and 111 RBIs. Then foot and neck
injuries limited his production over the next two years. After
the '99 season, in which Cordova batted .285 and led Minnesota
with 70 RBIs, the Twins declined to exercise a $3.75 million
option to keep him, and he signed a nonguaranteed deal with the
Red Sox worth $2.5 million for 2000 and '01.
Cordova asked for his release after Boston let the deadline pass
for picking up that deal and it became clear he wasn't going to
be an every-day player. The Red Sox let him go at the end of
spring training. He was picked up by the Blue Jays, who used him
sparingly. He hit a career-low .245 with 18 RBIs in 62 games. "In
Toronto I would come to the field not always prepared," Cordova
says. "I was frustrated because I wasn't playing, and when I did
play, I wasn't successful because I wasn't working hard."
A free agent again after last season, he accepted a one-year,
$600,000 offer from Cleveland, and when injuries to Travis Fryman
and Kenny Lofton created an opportunity for him, he capitalized
with a torrid start and a 22-game hitting streak, the second
longest in the majors this year. Still, with Lofton, who came off
the DL on June 1, and Juan Gonzalez fixtures in center and right,
respectively, and with three other good-hitting outfielders--Wil
Cordero, Ellis Burks and Russell Branyan--vying for time in left,
Cordova isn't guaranteed regular duty.
Determined not to let the uncertainty throw him off this time, he
just keeps swinging. "Last year I bulked up like crazy, and my
attitude was that I was going to prove to the Twins that I could
accomplish more than they expected," he says. "That mind-set hurt
me. Now I'm only trying to prove that I'm good enough to be in
the major leagues."
COLOR PHOTO: RICK STEWART/ALLSPORT