Tracking the Bear
Like Tiger Woods, pitching prospect Bear Bay bears (or should it be tigers?) no resemblence to his nickname.
Though some golf fans may say Woods stalks his opponents in Tiger-like fashion before going in for the kill to win a tournament, Bay doesn't display any bear-like qualities. To date, he has not been known to hibernate, show an affinity for honey or do even a bit of growling.
"Me and my dad have the same name, Ronald," said Bay, a slender 6-foot-2, 160 -pound 22-year-old. "I'm a junior. My grandpa basically said we can't be calling him Little Ronnie his whole life so he gave me the nickname Bear. My dad liked it and it stuck.
"So I had nothing to do with the nickname, but it's OK with me. I'm used to it."
It was Indians general manager Mark Shapiro and his scouts who went stalking Bay. Cleveland liked what they saw of him while pitching in the 2003 Arizona Fall League, followed his progress, and traded left-hander Cliff Bartosh to the Chicago Cubs for the right-hander just before the start of the 2005 season.
"We think he has a good feel to pitch," Shapiro said. "Obviously he needs to put some weight and strength on his frame. But he's a good command and control guy who doesn't walk people and has the ability to strike people out. Those are things to like."
Bay came to the Indians after going 11-9 with a 3.10 ERA at low Class A Lansing in the Midwest League in 2004. In 168 innings, he struck out 130 and walked only 30.
"We pushed a little bit harder and probably got a little bit better a player than they wanted to give up," Shapiro said. "These so-called 'little' trades, if you work hard on them, you're going to get some young player who somewhere down the line is going to impact your big league team."
Player development director John Farrell said the Indians are always on the prowl for pitching and were eager to acquire Bay.
"He's a very competitive right-hander who has a very successful track record," Farrell said. "Our scouts saw something they liked. Bear Bay, Tom Mastny and Matt Miller are guys who were found in that regard."
Miller has pitched for the Indians the past two years while Mastny, acquired from Toronto in a trade for infielder John McDonald after the 2004 season, and Bay are considered quality prospects with big-league futures.
Bay, drafted by the Cubs in the 25th round of the 2002 draft out of Angelina Junior College in Texas, said he was eager to turn being traded into a positive experience.
"The Cubs were looking to make their big-league team better and the Indians obviously wanted me, so that's just the business of baseball," he said. "I was shocked when I heard I'd been traded. In the Cubs organization, they don't tell you much. I didn't even know I was good enough to be traded.
"So I was not expecting it. But I took it and ran with it. I did well last year and hope to continue that."
He opened the 2005 season in Kinston's starting rotation and went 6-5 with a 3.38 ERA. In 15 starts covering 85 1/3 innings, he allowed 82 hits, but struck out 85 while walking only 15. Promoted to Class AA Akron, he went 3-3 with a 4.76 ERA in eight starts, again displaying good command. In 45 1/3 innings, he yielded 45 hits while fanning 40 and walking only 13.
Not bad for a guy who hardly pitched until college.
"When I was younger, I wasn't really a pitcher," Bay explained. "I was a shortstop and went to college as a backup infielder and told them, 'Well, I can pitch, too.'
"I had pitched some in high school and summer leagues, but nothing mainstream. Turns out I was a little bit better at it than I thought, I guess."
Bay has steadily progressed as a pitcher.
"He's got quality stuff and the intangibles to go out there and be in attack mode all the time,'' said Torey Lovullo, who managed Bay at Akron.
The translation there is that Bay never will be confused with hard-throwers like C.C. Sabathia or Adam Miller, but would do well to pay attention to veterans like Paul Byrd and Jake Westbrook -- two pitchers who have been successful without knocking the bat out of opponents' hands.
Bay knows his strongpoint is strike-zone command and wants to pound the zone with all of his pitches.
"I've always had good location, so I guess that has been the thing to build upon," he said. "When you are growing up, that's what everybody harps on and I showed they could depend on me to get the job done in that area. I've always tried to make sure my mechanics are sound.
He's also added a new pitch to his arsenal without getting rid of any.
"I've got a forkball now that is one of my better pitches," he said. "But I didn't really develop that until fairly recently. I threw it a little bit in college, but my coach didn't really like me doing that.
"I have a fastball, curveball, the forkball and a changeup. When I am ahead in the count, I like to go to the forkball to try and strike people out or get a ground ball.I've developed it pretty well.
"My dad played some college ball in Texas and he showed me the pitch when I was 10 years old. So using that grip really doesn't bother me. With a lot of people, it really bothers them and it takes them a long time to get used to it. It seems pretty natural to me."
Cleveland's cold weather wasn't as good a fit for Bay in January when he participated in the Indians' winter development program.
"It's a little cold in Cleveland," he said. "It's a good city and I enjoyed it, but it was cold."
When told that this past January actually was much milder than usual, Bay replied, "That's what everybody told me, but I found it hard to believe."
So much for him being a Polar Bear.
"I get a lot of jokes about my nickname sometimes, but I don't mind," Bay said.
Maybe he would if grandpa had simply called him, "E".
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