CLEVELAND -- Throughout the course of his 11 years in Major League Baseball, Cleveland Indians infielder Mike Napoli has been in clubhouses with all of kinds of personalities, but when he reported to spring training in Goodyear, Arizona, in February, there was something different.
To Napoli, the Indians were focused on team goals and were willing to put individual accolades and successes aside for the good of the organization, and that has Cleveland back in the American League Division Series for the first time since 2007.
“We’ve come together as a group,” Napoli said. “We’re able to go out there and have fun with each other and overcome a lot of things. For people to come in and step in and contribute in the ways that they have, it’s why we’re in the position we are today.
“Everybody has to have the attitude of checking your ego at the door and be able to play for each other and come together as a team,” Napoli said. “We’re all able to do that. We have a fun time here, and it’s fun to play with each other.
“I think that’s what it takes. I’ve been pretty fortunate to be on a lot of winning teams. Every team that we’ve had success with and other teams that have been able to do that, it has a lot to do with why we’re good.”
Although the Indians find themselves in the Division Series for the first time in nearly a decade because of the team-first concept, Napoli credited veteran manager Terry Francona for helping the players navigate through several obstacles during the season.
The Indians made it back to the postseason without the services of outfielder Michael Brantley, who has been out of the lineup because of shoulder issues since May, catcher Yan Gomes for much of the second half of the year because of a dislocated shoulder and a rotation that saw starters Carlos Carrasco (broken bone in right hand) and Danny Salazar (elbow fatigue) miss the stretch run toward the American League Central Division championship.
“You can definitely bounce things off of him and be able to talk to him,” Napoli said. “He’s been amazing. To come in on a daily basis and interact with him every day, it’s been special for me. He has a lot of knowledge and he definitely helps a lot of people around here on a daily basis.”
In order to reward Francona for that leadership, Napoli and the Indians know it comes down to embracing the moment, not being overwhelmed by the pressure that comes with playing in the postseason.
“Everyone’s going to go out there and everyone’s going to have butterflies for both teams,” Napoli said. “That’s just how it is. You’re on the biggest stage. A lot more people are watching, a lot more media. You’ve just got to slow it down.
“Once the first inning’s over, you kind of settle in and you go and play the game. It’s almost like you’re in a bubble. You don’t really hear the fans. You’re going out there and letting your talent go out there and work. It’s going to be a fun time, a time that not a lot of people have been there before, but it should be fun to experience it with them.”