We live in a free country, where people have the right to choose and pursue their own interests. And generally speaking, this has gone pretty well for us.
Of course, sometimes people make mistakes, which brings us to the topic of the popularity of a band like Nickelback.
These uncreative Canadians somehow seeped into the subconscious of radio playlist makers, who have taken it upon themselves to barrage us with Nickelback tunes -- each one indistinguishable from the one before -- an average of once every 15 minutes. And this has certainly helped spur sales of Nickelback's albums. Their latest, "All the Right Reasons," was named the "biggest rock album of the century so far" by Billboard Magazine, which doesn't bode well for rock, albums, the century, Billboard or the fate of mankind.
Even at Progressive Field, Nickelback found its niche. The band had two songs played consecutively in the Indians' batting practice music last season and early this year, prompting ... I wouldn't say suicidal, but certainly existential thoughts from this Tribe scribe.
Well, mercifully, on this last homestand, Nickelback, to my amazement, was nowhere to be found in the BP mix. So to the kind soul or souls responsible for this welcome development, I send out a public thank you. If I could, I'd shout it from a mountain. But to paraphrase Ron Burgundy, I don't have a mountain, I have a mailbag intro.
Let's get to your questions.
Has Travis Hafner lost it for good? I'm afraid we will never see the same Hafner again. -- Kevin B., Avon, Ohio
We've been waiting a year for the Pronk of old to return. He hasn't reached the "dead in absentia" mark of seven years, but, aside from the occasional spurt, he hasn't given us overwhelming reason to believe he'll reach his '06 form again.
Hafner had a strong April last season. But from May 1 of last year through April 30 of this year, he hit .246 with 22 homers, 100 RBIs, 95 walks, 121 strikeouts, an on-base percentage of .358 and slugging percentage of .418, for an OPS of .776.
These numbers would be more tolerable if the Indians had any concrete explanation for Hafner's struggles. On the physical side, Hafner said he's never felt healthier. On the fundamental side, two theories out there are that Hafner is standing too close to the plate and/or has an uppercut in his swing. On the mental side, it's all about plate discipline and reading opposing pitchers, and Hafner simply hasn't excelled in either area.
Has Hafner lost it for good? I really have no way of knowing for sure, Kevin. But he's still young and healthy enough to turn it around, and manager Eric Wedge did the right thing by moving Pronk down the lineup last week.
The Red Sox are on pace to break our record of 455 sellouts. First of all, this should not happen, because Fenway holds less than Progressive Field, we did it without winning a World Series, and Boston is much more populated. So if anyone asks the question of which record is better, it has to go to Cleveland and Indians fans. -- Aaron Y., Hampstead, N.H.
Records are filled with contingencies, for those who wish to look beyond the surface. The Fenway record, which will most likely be set Sept. 3, has some emotional asterisks, as you point out, Aaron. The record book will never indicate as much, but this is, at the least, fodder for you to take with you to some bar in Boston if you're looking for a good pub brawl. Hopefully it will be of the verbal variety.
What are the chances the Indians will let Rafael Betancourt permanently take over Joe Borowski's closer's role? It reminds me of a bad relationship. You dread telling the person that it's over, and you've been through some great times together, but it's time to move on. You've found someone else who makes you happier. -- Adam K., Boston
That's deep, Adam. But would the Indians and Borowski both have to consent to the breakup? Would Wedge have to have a closed-door meeting with Borowski in which he urges him, "Turn your key, Joe! Turn your key!"?
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Well, it's a moot point, because the Indians have every intention of giving Borowski his job back when he returns, presumably in the next two weeks. They've made that very clear.
Betancourt, by the way, hasn't exactly been lights-out this season or in the closer's role. He's struggled with command of his fastball and has already equaled his home runs allowed (four) from all of last season. I wonder if the career high in innings he logged in '07 is catching up with him.
Do you know what happened to Minor League catcher Matt McBride? Baseball America has him listed as our No. 13 prospect, and he is not on any rosters. Where did he go? -- Nathan K., Cleveland
McBride was dealing with a shoulder issue at the time the Indians drafted him in 2006, and that issue was firmly addressed over the winter, when he had surgery performed. He is rehabbing in extended Spring Training camp, and farm director Ross Atkins said he's expected back in July. McBride will probably start out in Class A Kinston.
How is Shin-Soo Choo's rehab coming? All those Choo mailbag puns are just aching to be told. -- James E., Charlotte, N.C.
Big League Choo is basically on schedule down in extended Spring Training camp after September elbow ligament replacement surgery. He recently began playing in the outfield and was up to about six innings of work per game this past week. Once Choo proves he can handle a nine-inning workload (he'll get his first chance this week), he'll be ready for a rehab assignment.
It's likely Choo's rehab will take place at Triple-A Buffalo. Rehabbing position players can remain with the Minor League clubs for 20 days before the team must make a move. Because he is out of Minor League options, Choo is expected to join the Indians when the rehab is over. It's looking like early June.
I'm not knocking Grady Sizemore, because the man is baseball. But I watched him throw a ball from center field as hard as he could, and it one-hopped to the cutoff guy. Couldn't this have been worked on by now? -- David H., Canton, Ohio
When it comes to position players, a bad arm is a bad arm. It's no secret that Sizemore's arm is his biggest weakness in the field. The accuracy of an outfielder's throws can certainly be addressed, as can the need for an outfielder to use his momentum of running down a ball down in his favor as he fires it back to the infield. But when it comes to the distance of throws and the velocity on those throws, a guy like Sizemore simply has to work with what he's got.
Is there any particular reason Victor Martinez has replaced Kelly Shoppach in catching for Paul Byrd? -- Dustin W., Canton, Ohio
I wouldn't say Martinez has replaced Shoppach. He's only caught two of Byrd's first six outings. But I understand your question.
The Byrd-Shoppach battery worked very well last season, no doubt about it. Wedge, though, said he didn't want to be handcuffed by it this year. He feels it's important that both of his catchers are able to work with all the starters, and he also doesn't want to remove Ryan Garko or Victor Martinez from the lineup merely to keep the "Shoppach Shuffle" alive.
What qualifications does a player have to meet in order to be considered for the All-Star ballot? It's obvious why Sizemore is on the ballot for outfield, but why David Dellucci over Jason Michaels? -- Valerie S., New Philadelphia, Ohio
Clubs submit their entries for the ballot during Spring Training. So when a guy gets injured or loses his job late in camp or early in April and still shows up on the ballot, that's why. Dellucci is on there because he is, for all intents and purposes, the starting left fielder. He starts against right-handed pitching, and roughly 75 percent of starters are right-handed.
What happened with the Tribe's quest to sign young shortstop phenom Edward Salcedo in the Dominican Republic? Has Salcedo signed with anyone? -- Gary M., Brunswick, Ohio
Salcedo hasn't signed with anybody yet. I've written before that Salcedo has become something of a mythical figure. As it turns out, the real myth might be his age. Last I heard through the good folks at Baseball America, MLB was investigating whether Salcedo really is 16 years old. He might be several years older, which would make him less of a purported phenom, obviously.
Because he trains at the Indians' Dominican Academy, Salcedo has always been linked to the Tribe. But given his affiliation with Scott Boras and this latest age wrinkle, it's possible the Indians have elected to drop out of the running. The international scouting picture is very muddy and therefore difficult to predict. The coverage of the Salcedo situation proves as much.
And finally...I know we don't miss him on the field, but how badly does this team miss Trot Nixon in the clubhouse? The guys don't seem to be having the fun they had last year. -- Kevin N., Endwell, N.Y.
If I lived in Endwell, N.Y., I'd end every piece of correspondence by writing, "All's well in Endwell." But that's just because I'm an extremely lame person.
As for your question, I don't know what to tell you, Kevin. The team was 14-17 entering Monday. If the players don't look like they're having as much fun, that's why. Yes, they loved having Nixon as a teammate, but this team's problems can't be erased by a pie in the face.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.