By Kevin Schneider
As Shelley Duncan trotted around the outfield alone Tuesday before an exhibition game, he said he felt like a little kid again anticipating Opening Day.
“Nothing really preps you for the adrenaline rush you get from the introductions and running onto the field,” said Duncan, 32.
The 6-foot-5 outfielder looked around in awe at the checker Ed Green grass, the baseball-shaped Mudcats water tower beyond left field, and the American flag in center field waving briskly. Donning a red Louisville Slugger T-Shirt, Duncan said his baseball experiences have helped him keep his emotions in check as he prepares to break camp with the Indians.
“It’s never a business, just less rattling,” he said.
Duncan bounced up and down with the Cleveland Indians and Columbus Clippers last season before finishing with 11 homers, 47 RBIs, and a .260 batting average in Cleveland; he also smacked 11 homers with the Tribe in 2010.
Before Tuesday’s game in Zebulon against their new high-A affiliate Carolina Mudcats, Duncan said he didn’t know if he would start on Opening Day but cracked a smile thinking about the possibility. It would mark his first Opening Day start with a Major League team.
“It’d probably be pretty awesome,” he said.
Rumors have circulated that the Tribe has been searching for a power-hitting outfielder, but Indians General Manager Chris Antonneti has said the team doesn’t comment on rumors.
Acta, Indians officials, and teammates have praised Duncan’s contributions this spring, though. On Twitter Tuesday, Tribe President Mark Shapiro tweeted the team always explores chances to improve the team but looks forward to seeing what Duncan does with this opportunity.
Some Indians talked on their cell phones or joked with teammates before batting practice started Tuesday for the Mudcats and Indians. Duncan seemed a bit more serious.
Since 2001, Duncan has spent all or parts of 11 seasons in the minor leagues. He sounded reminiscent and appreciative as he walked toward the cramped Indians clubhouse, a shed just past the right-field fence.
“It takes us back a couple of years,” to our time in the minor leagues, Duncan said. “It’s a lot of fun for us.”
Duncan spent parts of three years with the Yankees before joining the Indians in 2010.
Acta said Duncan could provide a needed right-handed power hitter in the Indians lineup. The left fielder hit another homer in Tuesday’s exhibition game, not included in spring-training stats. Overall this spring, Duncan has hit .161, with 6 homers and 19 RBIs.
After signing autographs before Tuesday’s game, closer Chris Perez called Duncan “one of my guys” and said his dedication to the team matters.
“Duncan would run through a wall for his teammates,” Perez said.
Duncan probably would be fine with that scenario, as long as he didn’t miss any time with an injury. An emerging clubhouse leader for the Indians, Duncan declared the team ready to play for real.
He said, “We’ve been itching to go for a couple of weeks now.”
Photo: Associated Press