Casey Kotchman: “I’m in the corner, the best place for me to be.”
Sitting quietly at his locker, located immediately adjacent to the clubhouse entrance, Indians first baseman Casey Kotchman continues to wait for his young teammates to seek his guidance.
Kotchman, 29, signed with the Indians as a free agent after playing a huge role in Tampa Bay’s comeback season last year. The Rays carried a 48-41 record into the All-Star break and wound up tied with Boston for the American League wild card with just one game remaining in the 2011 regular season.
Rays infielder Evan Longoria and Kotchman each collected two hits in the final game, leading Tampa Bay to an 8-7 victory in 12 innings over the New York Yankees and a spot in the postseason.
The Rays eventually fell 3-1 to Texas in the American League Division Series, and Kotchman began searching for a club with interest in signing him.
Reflecting on his experience last season, Kotchman, sitting next to former Rays outfielder Johnny Damon, said he sees many similarities between the Rays and Indians.
“Being down nine games to start September and being able to get to the playoffs when everything’s not in your favor is nice,” he said. “That’s the fun part about being here with this group in Cleveland is that you always have a chance. No matter how far out you get, you always have a chance.”
The Tribe currently owns a 44-41 record at the All-Star break, and Kotchman promises to be a key to the second half.
Kotchman, a former first-round draft pick, is batting .311 in 22 games since June 15.
“A big part of [winning] is trying to stay even-keel and not [letting] anything good or great or success get you too high,” he said. “If you exalt yourself, you’ll be humbled. This game and life can humble you really quickly; it’s better to just humble yourself.”
Kotchman has surely humbled himself in the Indians clubhouse. Not only does he sit in the corner of the locker room, but he also does his best to stay out of the way of his teammates.
“I’m in the corner, the best place for me to be,” he said. “If anybody ever needs anything, I’d like them to know that I’m there to listen or help out. Other than that, everybody’s good about going about their business here the right way to prepare themselves, so you don’t ever want to get in their way.
“Everybody’s doing their own thing; that’s what they did to get here. The younger players, they got to the big leagues based upon their talent, their work ethic, their desire, their preparation, so you don’t want to do anything to deviate from what’s made them successful.”
If any of Kotchman’s teammates do happen to seek advice from the veteran in the corner, he is prepared to remind them that success on the field stems from good team chemistry.
“It’s been nice so far as we head into the All-Star break to be right in the thick of it,” he said. “I think it’s a day-to-day, breath-to-breath type scenario, where you just want to have fun. You come to the field for a game for a living. [We] put on a costume for a living. It’s supposed to be fun, and that’s the best way to play.”
-Megan Golden, TribeVibe contributor