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The Bourn Catalyst

| On 31, Mar 2013

During Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and examine the coaches and players that make up and are vying to be part of the 2013 Cleveland Indians—A Team With A New Direction. Today, we examine one the player that player that may be the catalyst to new heights for the Indians.

Catalyst (cat-a-lyst) noun: a person or thing that precipitates an event or change.

The definition easily could have said Michael Bourn.

In a winter of changes that saw the hiring of Manager Terry Francona, a mega three-team deal and the largest free agent contract in Indians’ history given to Nick Swisher, the catalyst for hope and optimism in the 2013 season might have ignited when the Indians signed Bourn on Feb. 15 at the beginning of Spring Training.

Season ticket sales jumped 40 percent the next day. Merchandise sold faster. Two weeks later, Opening Day tickets sold out in six minutes when they became available to the public. There was suddenly a new feeling and expectation around the Indians after Bourn signed.

The Indians were unlikely suitors for Bourn, who is a two-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove recipient, because it appeared their free agent money was spent and the team had two capable center fielders already in Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs. But the Indians and Bourn surprised Major League Baseball when he signed a four-year, $48 million contract with a fifth year vesting option. The long free agency process for Bourn was complete, and he sees the Indians as a team ready to compete.

“Every team was on my radar when the process began,” Bourn said. “They are a team trying to compete. Any team trying to compete and get better, that’s what my father taught me, any team that is trying to get better is a team you want to be a part of.”

Bourn immediately becomes the Indians’ leadoff hitter, providing much more depth to the lineup. Someone like Brantley or second baseman Jason Kipnis, who would have been leadoff possibilities without Bourn, now can fill the third and fifth spots around Swisher, making the lineup much deeper. Defensively, Bourn shifts Brantley to left field and Stubbs to right field, creating as fast and defensive savvy outfield as any in baseball.

Last season, Bourn hit nine home runs, with 57 runs batted in, while hitting .274 and stealing 42 bases with the Atlanta Braves en route to a National League Wild Card spot. This season, he realizes his free agent signing was the sign of a new level of expectations for the Indians. Bourn will try to be the catalyst at the top of the order to start the game, but isn’t afraid of the pressure or being the centerpiece to those new heights.

“You can’t be afraid of it,” Bourn said. “You have to take it on and take on the responsibility. I’ve always been a leadoff hitter for the most part of my career. That part is nothing new to me. I just try to go out there and play baseball and hope to start this thing off the right way.”

Bourn will lead off the Indians’ season Tuesday evening in Toronto with high expectations for himself and his new teammates. The Indians have only 10 players on this year’s Opening Day roster who opened the season with the Indians a year ago. Cleveland and Toronto are the two most changed teams in the American League. Being the final piece to the Indians’ new puzzle, Bourn feels like the team has gelled well this spring. When most players are new, no one feels like an imposter to a roster.

“Our camaraderie has been good this spring training,” Bourn said. “We all try to welcome each other in as one, because a lot of us are new. We are coming together as a new team.”

With Bourn at the top, he will headline a lineup that will have speed from the top to bottom. Bourn has led the National League in stolen bases three times, plus Kipnis and Stubbs have the potential to steal 30 bases. Both offensively and defensively, the Indians look to utilize their team speed within the restraints of the game.

“The idea is to do it within the frame work of playing the game correctly,” Francona said. “There’s some games where, even though you have speed on, it’s not the right time to run. I’m just as hopeful we’ll go first to third—and push people into mistakes—as we will with stolen bases.”

As the catalyst to new expectations and a new lineup, Bourn, along with his teammates, are ready to start the season. The team flew to Toronto on Saturday evening, and will have an off day on Sunday before a team workout at the Rogers’ Centre on Monday afternoon. This last week of Spring Training has been a waiting game to a start of excitement for the new look Tribe.

“It’s like that last day of school,” Bourn said. “You don’t even want to go to class, but your momma made you go. You’re ready to go and get on with your summer. Now, we are ready to go enjoy our summer.”

Hopefully Bourn’s final grade in understanding catalysts and chemistry turns out to be an A.

Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer

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