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Published: Tuesday, 5/24/2005

Baseball good call for Sizemore

CLEVELAND - Five years ago, Cleveland Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore was all set to pass on a baseball career.

The all-state quarterback from Cascade High School in Seattle had signed a letter of intent to play football for the University of Washington.

Sizemore shunned scholarship offers from Arizona State, Clemson, California and Washington State.

He was only interested in barking out signals for his home-state Huskies.

In June of 2000, Sizemore called an audible after the Montreal Expos drafted him in the third round.

Not only was Sizemore a highly sought-after football star, he was a diamond dandy.

The Expos knew it, and offered Sizemore a $2 million signing bonus.

He quickly reversed his earlier decision, trading in his football shoes for baseball cleats.

"I was all set to play football in college," Sizemore said. "I didn't expect the baseball thing to work out. But when the Expos drafted me as high as they did, I figured that was the right way to go.

"I can't complain. Baseball has worked out pretty good for me."

Two years after signing his first pro contract at the age of 17, Sizemore was part of the six-player, blockbuster trade involving Bartolo Colon.

Sizemore quickly became one of the Indians' prized prospects.

He played well, leading Double-A Akron and Triple-A Buffalo to league championships in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

After a slow start with Buffalo last year, Sizemore hit .320 in his final 62 games and was promoted to the majors.

In two stints with the Indians, he stumbled, hitting just .246 with four home runs and 24 RBIs in 43 games.

Yet, the Indians led him to believe that he would be their starting center fielder this season.

But that decision was made before the Tribe signed injury-prone, veteran free-agent slugger Juan Gonzalez in January.

Gonzalez edged out Sizemore for the final roster spot in spring training. With Gonzalez penciled in as the right fielder, Coco Crisp moved from left to center, leaving Sizemore without a job.

Sizemore, 22, was miffed about being sent back to Triple-A Buffalo.

But Gonzalez came up lame three days later, and Sizemore rejoined the Indians in time for opening day.

He never really had any time to sulk.

No one ever questioned Sizemore's talent or intensity. Most just felt he needed time to get comfortable with big-league pitching.

Sizemore struggled early, hitting .237 in the first 24 games.

Lately, his swing has been sweet.

He has been getting good results while batting primarily from the leadoff spot for the American's League's worst offensive team.

Sizemore carried a .324 batting average in the month of May into last night's AL Central game against the Minnesota Twins. He had hit safely in 15 of his last 20 games and his 11 RBIs this month were a team high.

"Grady has a great deal of ability, and he plays the game the right way," manager Eric Wedge said. "He approaches the game with vigor. He figures things out, and he finds ways to make adjustments."

Forget football.

Sizemore is a star-in-the-making in baseball.

He is quickly proving that he belongs in the big leagues.



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