It might have something to do with the quality of the team assembled around him. Or the fact that he's entering his fifth season as manager of the Indians and is no longer a fresh face. Or, perhaps it's simply the knowledge that he has an 11-month-old baby girl waiting at home, and he's discovered there's more to life than baseball.
Whatever the reason, Eric Wedge is a more relaxed man this spring. Forget the fact that the Indians hold the keys to his future, in the form of a two-year option on his contract for 2008 and '09, and that an inability to drastically improve on last year's fourth-place finish could hurt his standing with the organization. Wedge has looked more comfortable than ever, be it the way he carries himself in the clubhouse in his interactions with players or the jokes he cracks near-daily with the media. MLB.com caught up with Wedge for a few minutes toward the end of Spring Training to discuss his newfound looseness, as well as the 2007 season that looms ahead. MLB.com: How has fatherhood changed you? Wedge: I think it changes everybody, and I'm no different, probably moreso from the fact that it's a little girl. With a life change like that, you don't know how it's going to affect you or how you're going to react to it. I'm intense, I'm emotional, but, then again, I'm an even-keel personality when it comes to handling things. What [fatherhood] does is bring that out of you all the more. I try not to take myself too seriously, and this gives you even more perspective when it comes to the game and life. So it's all good. I've always had a great respect for the coaches and their families and, for me, all the players who started their families before I did. I've always tried to be very understanding and very flexible with them when things come up with their families. MLB.com: Maybe this plays off that, but you seem more relaxed this spring. Do you feel that way? Wedge: I feel more relaxed. I don't know how much fatherhood has to do with that. But I have a tremendous amount of confidence in the players in that locker room. Nobody knows how things are going to play out this year, but I feel good about going out with these guys every day. I think it's important to clean the windshield a little bit, slow things down and let things play out. Last year was such a rush, and that's not my personality. I'm hoping [a more patient approach] will help us this year. MLB.com: You've said before that you learned more from last year than any other as a manager, aside from your first season. Was that simply a product of all the adversity you guys endured? Wedge: Yeah, it's because of everything we went through. You heard the phrase "moving target" a lot last year, which is somewhat cliché, but it was true. It just makes it all the more of a challenge. But I think the same can be said for a lot of the players out there, too, which in turn should help us. MLB.com: Is that the nature of the game? As soon as you think you have something figured out, it changes on you? Wedge: I don't think we thought we had it figured it, but we probably felt we were further along than we really were. We went through a lot of things last year that any team has to go through in order to ultimately be what you're going to be. You hear me talking about having a foundation and it being real? Well, I think it's more foundation-based and more real this year, without a doubt. MLB.com: How so?
Wedge: Just because of what we had not gone through, going into last year. We may have thought we had gone through some adversity in August of '04 or the last week or '05 or everything we went through in that first year of '03. But true adversity is what you saw last year. MLB.com: Over the last four seasons, how have you evolved as a manager? Wedge: A lot of it is getting familiar with myself at this level. I continue to work hard to understand players of today and just walk that line. It's a push-pull line. That's why they call it a manager. It's not a "head coach." You're a manager of people. It's every single day. It's not 16 games or one game, it's every single day. And what you do before a game and after a game is so much more important than what you do during a game. MLB.com: Having been through the grind a few years, was this camp run any different than others? Wedge: We've always run good camps. We're organized, and we do the work and our kids do a good job of preparing and getting after it. This year, it's been more relaxed. These guys are more at peace. They have a better understanding of what lies ahead and a better understanding of what we have to do to be there at the end. MLB.com: When you look ahead to this season, what excites you most about this club? Wedge: The possibilities. Just being able to take all that we've been through the last three or four years and being able to go out there and run with it and see what happens. MLB.com: Is it more of a challenge for you, personally, with all the lineups you'll use and the interchangeable parts? Wedge: Oh yeah. It will be a challenge, but it should be a lot of fun. I've always enjoyed Interleague and playing the National League game. And I've always enjoyed just being able to get players in there, and I think we'll be able to do that this year. MLB.com: Your division had three 90-win teams last year. What is it about your club that makes you think it can stack up against those teams? Wedge: Well, I just think if you talk to those clubs or talk to our club, we know each other so well in our division now, we respect and we know how well we stack up. We know we're right there with everybody in our division. And I think everybody in our division feels the same way, just because we play each other 19 times and we go year after year and get to know each other's strengths and weaknesses and how we match up. We're right there. We're as good as anybody.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.