Indians Hoping To Mimic Patriots' Path To Super Bowl

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) - Mark Shapiro has been wearing a New England Patriots baseball cap around the ballpark this spring.

Don't accuse the Indians' general manager of jumping on the Super Bowl champions' bandwagon, though.

Shapiro was a big fan long before Adam Vinatieri kicked his game-winning field goal.

"The Patriots are a good lesson for everyone," said Shapiro, Cleveland's rookie GM. "They are an affirmation of everything we're trying to do here."

Team first.

That's the message Shapiro and Indians manager Charlie Manuel have been preaching to Cleveland's players for weeks. Sacrifice personal success for the good of the team and watch what happens.

And if you don't believe it, they say, just look what it did for the Patriots.

Less talented than many other NFL teams, New England won it all anyway.

And it wasn't just their dramatic win over the St. Louis Rams that impressed Shapiro.

Instead of being introduced one by one before the Super Bowl, the Patriots came out as a group.

"When they said, 'The New England Patriots are being introduced as a team', I had goose bumps," Shapiro said. "That said so much about them. I want us to feel that way."

Shapiro didn't know the Patriots would come out on the field en masses, but once they did, he wasn't surprised.

Scott Pioli, the Patriots' director of player personnel, has been a friend of Shapiro's for more than 10 years. The two became close when Pioli was beginning his career with the Cleveland Browns in the early '90s and Shapiro was starting in baseball operations with the Indians.

While watching games together at old Municipal Stadium, the future big-league executives shared philosophies, values and thoughts about sports.

"We would always talk about the way we would do things if we would have a club," Shapiro said.

So a few weeks ago, Shapiro invited Pioli to Cleveland's camp to talk to the Indians. Before his speech, Pioli showed the players a highlight film of the Patriots, which began with their group pregame Super Bowl introduction.

Pioli then took two polls. First, he asked how many Indians had played on All-Star teams. Several hands shot up. Then, he asked how many had won a World Series.

Only two hands were raised. One was reliever Mark Wohlers, who was on the mound when the Atlanta Braves beat the Indians in 1995. The other was hitting coach Eddie Murray, who then spoke about how winning the Series in 1983 with Baltimore was the highlight of his career.

Shapiro has been reshaping the Indians on and off the field.

Under orders to trim the club's payroll, he traded All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar to the New York Mets this winter and then passed on re-signing outfielder Juan Gonzalez.

They've been replaced by Ricky Gutierrez and Matt Lawton, lesser players but better clubhouse guys and the kind the Indians want to find more of.

"When we add a player, we want to bring a person of character with strong moral values and not just a talent," Shapiro said.

Chemistry is underrated he believes, and it all begins with the right mix of players -- just like the Patriots had.

"They made a statement with how they won, and with the type of players they had," Shapiro said.

Manuel said Pioli's presentation was well received by the Indians.

"He gave a good talk," Manuel said. "He said a lot of what I like to talk about." Manuel enjoyed Pioli's film, too. Edited or not.

"The Patriots were hitting pretty hard," he said. "But they didn't show that play (quarterback Tom Brady's fumble) against the Raiders that got them there."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)