When he was a senior at Sykeston (N.Dak.) High, Travis Hafner's
guidance counselor asked the eight students in the graduating
class to write down their desired career choices. Hafner wrote
professional baseball player. "The counselor asked if I had a
Number 2 choice," Hafner says. "I said baseball was my Number 1
and Number 2 choice."
Hafner, as it turned out, didn't need a backup. In his second
full year in the majors Cleveland's big-swinging, 27-year-old
designated hitter-first baseman is having a breakout season,
batting .325 with 17 home runs and 75 RBIs for the surprising
Indians, who at week's end were 50-49 and 4 1/2 games behind the
Twins in the American League Central.
As a rookie last year, the 6'3", 240-pound Hafner had to fill the
vacancy left at first by Jim Thome, a popular player in Cleveland
who hit 334 homers in 12 seasons before signing as a free agent
with the Phillies in December 2002. Thome was one of Hafner's
favorite players growing up. "Everyone made a big deal of me
replacing him," says Hafner, who hit .254 with 14 homers and 40
RBIs in '03. "I know that you can't replace a guy like that. I
was just focused on establishing myself as a major leaguer."
There wasn't a baseball team at Sykeston High, so Hafner ran
track in the spring and then played American Legion ball in the
summer before leading Cowley County (Kans.) Community College to
a juco national title in 1997. A year earlier Hafner had been
drafted in the 31st round by the Rangers. He spent six seasons in
the minors and 23 games in the big leagues with Texas in '02
before he was traded to the Indians three days after Thome's
"There are a bunch of guys in this clubhouse who were in the same
boat as me last year," says Hafner, who was one of five Cleveland
regulars who began last season with fewer than 50 games of big
league experience. "Now we're paying close attention to what the
White Sox, Twins and Tigers are doing. We're here to win this
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (HAFNER) Hafner is growing into Thome's old role as Cleveland's bigbopper.