Cleveland manager Eric Wedge rewarded for his faith in young Indians

The Indians are one win away from their first trip to the World Series since 1997.

>CLEVELAND (AP) – It was not, by any stretch of the imagination, the most enticing of job offers.

He’d be managing a team essentially being rebuilt from scratch, relying on a roster of kids from Buffalo, Akron and that baseball hotbed, Mahoning Valley. The payroll would be meager, the All-Stars were long gone and the only big-name free agents he’d see were on other teams. The losses would be frequent and probably lopsided.

Oh, and all of this would be for a passionate fan base hardened by decades of disappointment.

A real dream job, that one. And yet Eric Wedge signed on as the Cleveland Indians’ manager anyway.

“I was actually excited about it,” he said. “Obviously you knew what was going to be ahead. I knew it was going to take a lot of toughness from a lot of people to be able to handle that. I just tried to surround myself with the best people I could, stay as consistent as we could with the players – which is extremely important – and just stay true to the path.

“And you have to be patient. You can’t take shortcuts. There’s no secret ingredient to doing it outside of consistency, having a plan and everybody staying on the same page.”

Five years after Wedge took over the Indians, they’re a game away from the World Series. They lead the Boston Red Sox 3-1 in the AL championship series, with Game 5 on Thursday night at Jacobs Field.

It’s a remarkable yet largely unsung turnaround, and there’s no telling where Cleveland would be had general manager Mark Shapiro hired anyone but Wedge.

A former catcher who spent parts of four seasons in the majors with Boston and Colorado, Wedge isn’t flashy or overbearing. He’s straightforward, focused and patient, and he holds tight to the lessons he learned from his parents about the value of hard work (when Wedge was introduced as Cleveland’s manager, his parents missed the news conference because it was a work day).

But his imprint is on every inch of the Indians clubhouse.

“I was just left with the underlying sense that this guy’s going to be the right partner for me,” Shapiro said. “That he was going to be someone that’s going to care as much as I care, work as hard as I work and, if there was any way for him to ensure that we succeeded, he was going to find that path.”

And “Wedgie” was the perfect fit.

Though only 34 when he was hired, he seemed – on the surface, at least – to be a no-nonsense, old-school manager. This, after all, is a guy who counts Bob Knight as a role model, and has a John Wayne calendar in his office.

Yet he also has an uncanny ability to see what his team and players need, and adapt. When the Indians clubhouse was full of kids, Wedge kept a tight rein, operating as if he was still in the minors. But as the team has gotten older and more mature, Wedge has mellowed, too.

“These players have evolved and I’ve evolved right with them,” said Wedge, who’s also become a father since taking over the Indians. “You have to work off the team, it’s not the other way around.”