The Associated Press
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - Scanning the list of the Grapefruit League's leading hitters, many of the same names likely to be there during the regular season are already there.
It's the usual suspects: Ramirez, Bos., .553; Sweeney, K.C., .500; E. Martinez, Sea, .471.
However, one name jumps out, and so does his batting average: Blake, Cle., .477.
"Something doesn't look right here," said Casey Blake, pretending to hold up a newspaper. "Who's this guy Blake?"
Blake, who has spent his career stuck behind bigger names elsewhere, came to spring training hoping to win a starting job at third base.
And in the midst of having a monstrous training camp, the Cleveland Indians had no choice but to give it to him.
Blake will open the season as the Indians' everyday third baseman. He'll stay there until Ricky Gutierrez, currently recovering from offseason neck surgery, returns in late April.
Blake, though, could make third his permanent home if he keeps hitting like he has been.
Through Sunday, Blake was batting .477 (21-of-41) with seven doubles, two triples, two homers and 10 RBI in 17 games.
Casey at the bat, indeed.
"Hitting is a lot of luck," he said. "I've been feeling pretty good for a while and hopefully it will continue. I've never broken camp with a team before so this is pretty cool."
Blake was signed in December as a minor league free agent by the Indians, who needed some insurance at third.
The 29-year-old had spent the past two seasons playing at Triple A Edmonton in Minnesota's organization. The Twins had no room for Blake because they already have Corey Koskie.
When Blake arrived at the Indians' training complex last month, someone had taped a baseball card of Koskie on Blake's locker as a good-natured joke.
"Corey's actually one of my good friends," Blake said. "He's a great player."
Blake had a similar experience with Toronto in 2000. He was possibly in line to win the Blue Jays' starting job at third when the club decided to switch Tony Batista from shortstop to third.
"It was tough," he said. "It gets to the point where you start to wonder, 'Am I ever going to be the guy?' "
The Indians scouted Blake most of last season, thinking he could be a good fit as a starter or backup. He batted .309 with 19 homers and 58 RBIs with Edmonton. He also had 24 steals.
Blake got the news he had won the starting job from Indians manager Eric Wedge on Sunday, just before the team traveled to Sarasota to play the Cincinnati Reds.
"I tried to stay calm, but it was hard," Blake said. "Everybody knew how much this meant to me. I wasn't fooling anyone."
He then called his wife, Abbie, who passed along the news to Blake's parents, who were in Florida to check on Casey and another son, Pete, who pitches in the Twins' organization.
As Blake was stretching before the game, he saw his parents and could see the pride in his father's eyes.
"It was pretty emotional," said Blake, who is from Des Moines, Iowa. "When I was growing up, he put in a lot of hours helping me. He wondered if I was ever going to get a chance."
Indians vs. Reds
What: Exhibition games Friday and Saturday.
Where: Great American Ball Park.
Time: 7:10 p.m. Friday; 1:05 p.m. Saturday.
TV: Fox Sports Net, Saturday only.
REDS / BASEBALL
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RHP Wilson makes progress
Rijo making sixth comeback, not about to quit
Given an opportunity, Blake makes it count
Big Unit receives $33M extension
BENGALS / NFL
Bengals harbor renewed attitude
Rackers says he has room to get better
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Davis out of line blaming his players
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Irish seem out of place with other teams in West
Hard-to-please Izzo impressed with Spartans
Coach K unable to pace his young team
Terps use experience, bench in NCAA tournament
A Ford drives top-seeded Texas to San Antonio
Lute Olson is the Poker Face of college hoops
Calhoun: a builder and now a survivor
Basketball players lag in graduation rates
NCAA Men's Tournament at a glance
UNC will face Hoyas in NIT quarters
WOMEN'S TOURNAMENT - (SPECIAL SECTION)
Rivalry reborn as Arkansas set to battle Texas
Teammates for USA are opponents tonight
Purdue wallops Va. Tech, advances to Sweet 16
NCAA Women's Tournament at a glance
Champs savor the moments
NATIONAL SPORTS HEADLINES
PGA: Woods looking like the 2000 version
NBA: Knicks win, keep playoff hopes alive
NHL: O'Connell wins home debut
TENNIS: Venus Williams upset by Shaughnessy
PLAN YOUR DAY
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