The Indians were his passion, but Jensen Lewis couldn't bring himself to step through the gates of Jacobs Field as a youngster. Until he was drafted by the club with the 102nd overall pick in the June 2005 First-Year Player Draft and was brought to the ballpark on the day he signed his first professional contract, Lewis had never set foot inside those gates. The reason was simple. Lewis was holding out for the best of offers.
"I would never come here until I was a player," Lewis said last week while standing in front of his locker in the Tribe's clubhouse. "It's kind of like the altar. You don't want to go up to it until you're called." His name was called July 13, when the Indians, in need of some relief depth with Aaron Fultz on the disabled list, purchased his contract from Triple-A Buffalo. Three days later, he made what he called a "storybook" big league debut. Called on to perform mop-up duty in a game the Indians were losing, 11-2, in the sixth inning, he pitched 1 1/3 innings of scoreless work, allowing the Tribe to get back into the ballgame. On top of that, he did so in front of his parents and grandparents -- on his father's birthday, no less. The experience of warming up for that outing was an out-of-body one for the 23-year-old Lewis. "I could tell you where I was," he said with a smile, "but I couldn't feel anything." Lewis felt a bit out of sorts on the mound, and it showed from time to time. He struggled with his control and walked three batters. But one of those walks should probably be classified as intentional. One of Lewis' favorite players growing up was Jim Thome. So when Thome stepped into the box in the seventh inning, Lewis had to take a second to collect himself. "When he was announced," Lewis said, "and I got back on the mound, I was like, 'Oh my God, I'm pitching against a guy I cheered for for so long.'" Four consecutive balls later, Thome was on first. The next day, Lewis introduced himself to Thome. "I told him, 'I just want you to know I unintentionally intentionally walked you, because I didn't want my first hit [allowed] to be from you," Lewis recalled with a laugh. "He was awesome. He said, 'Don't worry about it.'" Thome wasn't the only big leaguer Lewis had a pleasant first experience with. The guys who wear Chief Wahoo on their caps for a living were quite welcoming to the kid who grew up wearing the logo by choice. "The guys have been phenomenal," he said. "Every one of them has come up and said that if I have any questions or anything they can take care of, they're here to help. They keep you comfortable."
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Born in nearby Medina, Ohio, Lewis didn't have much time to get comfortable with northeast Ohio. His family moved to the Cincinnati area when he was in middle school. But he never lost his sporting ties to Cleveland. Becoming a Reds fan, he said, was never an option. "It's kind of like the Browns-Bengals thing," he said. "It's one or the other. I grew up on the good side." And to Lewis, pitching for the good side was a dream come true. "I played with the guys I've always wanted to play with in the city I've always wanted to play in," he said. "You really can't ask for anything more."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.