By PAUL SINGER, Associated Press Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - Utilityman Jolbert Cabrera of the Cleveland Indians says he is lucky to be alive.
Cabrera, shot in the backside in a robbery attempt Dec. 21 in his home town of Cartagena, Colombia, said Wednesday it has changed his outlook on life.
"You are here right now, but you can be gone," Cabrera said, snapping his fingers, "like this, for any reason."
Cabrera was back in Cleveland on Wednesday for a checkup by the team. He plans to report to spring training in Florida on Feb. 19, but does not expect to be back to full strength by then.
Cabrera had intended to return to Colombia this week, but the team's doctors have asked him to remain in Cleveland for rehabilitation for several weeks.
"I still have a little bit of swelling on the right side of the leg," he said. "I'm having a little bit of trouble walking because it's still swollen, but hopefully I'll be about 80 percent for spring training."
Cabrera said his wife was in the driver's seat and he was sitting in the back with his two daughters when two men with guns knocked on the driver's side window. Cabrera, thinking they were being carjacked, climbed into the front and went out the passenger door, pulling his wife with him.
The gunmen fled, but as Cabrera turned to get his daughters from the car, one of the intruders stopped and fired.
"A shotgun went off and I felt real hot on my back," he said. "I told my wife, 'Get in the car, because I got shot. But I'm OK, let's get to the hospital.'"
Three days later, Cabrera had surgery to remove the bullet that struck him in the right buttock.
"The bullet went all the way through and stopped right by the bone, by the head of the femur," he said. "Actually, the bone stopped the bullet."
Cabrera said doctors told him that his good physical condition prevented the damage from being worse.
"The doctor said that if it would have been somebody else who's not in sports or something like that -- somebody not healthy -- they would have gotten messed up," he said.
Indians spokesman Bart Swain said X-rays and an MRI on Wednesday showed no damage other than inflammation in Cabrera's hip.
Ironically, Cabrera was on his way to the hospital at the time of the shooting. His brother-in-law had complained of chest pain, and the family was going to the hospital to meet him there.
Instead, Cabrera was rushed into the emergency room. His brother-in-law turned out not to need treatment.
Cabrera, 29, is one of baseball's most versatile players. The Indians used him in 141 games at six different positions last season. He played 89 games in the outfield, 28 at second base, 27 at third base and 14 at shortstop.
He batted .261 with one homer, 38 RBIs and 10 steals in his first full major league season.
Cabrera could have a much more prominent role with the Indians this season. He is expected to compete for the starting center fielder's job this spring along with 23-year-old Milton Bradley.
Cabrera said he is not afraid to return to Colombia where police have assigned two undercover bodyguards to follow him wherever he goes.
"It's a shocking experience," he said. But it all turned out well. "My wife is OK, my girls are OK and nothing really serious happened."
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)