Gerut learned tough lessons with Tribe

Gerut learned tough lessons with Tribe

CLEVELAND -- Jody Gerut roamed the hallway with a puzzled look.

"I can't find anything in here," he said to nobody in particular. "Where's the water?"

Gerut had no idea where to look for a bottle of water -- not in the visitors' clubhouse, anyway. But he'd have known straightaway where to find bottled water on the other side of Progressive Field, a place he used to dress when he played for the Indians.

That time seems eons ago, and in the shelf life of a Major Leaguer, it is. Still, a player doesn't forget his roots, and Gerut, awkward as it all now seems, had roots planted firmly here when he broke into the bigs with a splash in 2003.

A lot, however, has changed since the '03 season -- with the town, the Indians and Gerut himself.

"It's nice to be back," said Gerut, who's in town this weekend with the Padres. "I walked through the city a little bit [Friday] just to smell the smells again, to see the sights."

It was also good, he said, to see his old teammates. In the Indians' clubhouse, Gerut has plenty of friends, men he grew into a Major Leaguer with.

"Everyone was young," he said. "That was the thing. The stadium wasn't filled, and we had to work a lot. We had infield practice all the time.

"We were essentially run like you would a young team. We worked a lot harder away from game time than most Major League teams were. I understand why, obviously."

Those boys of the '03 summer were prospects, as was Gerut. The Indians organization had been counting on them to be the foundation for future success. Those men had talent; they had plenty of it. But those men had far to go in learning the game. The field was their classroom.

Those lessons have mostly been learned, because these men who remain here aren't prospects any longer. That label has given way to experience.

Their objective today isn't to become a contender; it's to contend, Gerut said.

"It's cool to really see the way the team has grown and how they've blossomed into such a powerful group -- such a powerful force in the league, despite whatever the current performance of the team is," he said. "It's a good team."

Gerut, who started in center field Friday night, has continued to watch his former team grow. He's watched it as he's bounced around a bit since the Indians traded him to the Cubs in midway into the '05 season.

The trade was largely Gerut's doing.

He bumped heads with people inside the Indians' organization, and an injury to his right knee didn't help matters. He refused to have surgery on it, trying other ways to rehab the injury.

Nothing worked well, which helps explain why Gerut was unable to build on his rookie season.

"In retrospect, I probably would have done things differently," he said. "I probably would have taken all of 2005 off instead of trying to rush back, because it led to this."

Gerut pointed at his right knee. A couple of knee surgeries cost him two years of baseball.

He found meaningful lessons in the knee injury -- the kind of lessons that his admitted stubbornness had kept him from learning, lessons that only experience can teach a ballplayer, if he's willing to heed them.

Today, Gerut is. He's 30 now and back in the Majors. He's also married and is a couple of months away from fatherhood. He and his wife are expecting a boy, and they have kicked around names for him.

Experience has taught Gerut to look at his wife's pregnancy with cautious optimism, because he can't be sure what might ruin what he's hoping will be a glorious moment in his life.

So he's tempered his enthusiasm.

"I'm hedging my bets," he said. "I'm going to have to be holding it, hearing from the doctor and reading the report that everything is fine and healthy before I celebrate any victories in that respect. But it has been an interesting journey."

Indeed it has. The journey hasn't taken Jody Gerut full circle yet. It might never do that. For the home clubhouse in Progressive Field might forever just be one of his yesteryear's memories.

He might still be forging new memories here if not for, well ... his stubbornness.

He can only regret that now.

"Everybody has regrets -- everybody," said Gerut, having found his bottled water. "I've got regrets up and down baseball. There's a couple of 'big' mistakes that I've made in my career."

Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.