March Madness hits Indians' clubhouse
Players turn to bracketology to pass time as baseball season approaches
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Players in the Indians' clubhouse are sizing each other up, but not on the baseball field -- on their brackets.
It's the middle of March, and that means the NCAA men's basketball tournament is about to be in full swing. On Tuesday, more than a handful of Tribe players sat at tables in the clubhouse filling out brackets for multiple pools going on around the facility.
"This is always a fun time of year, especially as you get to the end of Spring Training," outfielder Jeff Francoeur said.
The days start to drag along as the players await the beginning of the regular season, and March Madness takes their minds off of it all, according to Francoeur.
"I like college basketball," he said. "I'll watch it if it's on, but for me, a game in December or January just doesn't mean much. So this is when it gets a lot of fun."
In the past, Francoeur has spearheaded bracket competitions for a couple of his previous teams. This year, however, is his first season with Cleveland, so he is just gauging the "lay of the land and trying to blend in."
"But I will be in all of the pools," Francoeur said with a laugh.
Filling out March Madness brackets has quickly become an American pastime. Even President Obama has an official bracket.
"I'm filling out like five or six brackets," said pitcher Trevor Bauer.
There are "contenders and pretenders" when it comes to the bracket challenge, according to Bauer. For him, college basketball does not begin in March like it does for thousands of those pretenders around the nation.
"I'm a huge college basketball fan," added Bauer, who grew up rooting for the Duke Blue Devils. "What's not to like about it? It's fun to watch the level of play, the energy and the enthusiasm and stuff like that. Especially watching the underdogs play. Everything about it is fun."
Bauer said he won the Diamondbacks' bracket challenge two years ago when he was with the club, but he had terrible picks last year in his first spring with Cleveland. This year, he is back for revenge. Bauer said there is a lot of banter going back and forth between the handful of guys in the Indians' clubhouse that are devoted to the basketball scene.
Take veteran outfielder Bryan LaHair, for instance.
"I'm not guaranteeing anything here, but I have a pretty good feel on what teams are pretty good and who can handle who," LaHair said. "But that can also be thrown out the window this time of year."
No matter how confident a person may be with a bracket, sometimes it just comes down to luck. Over the years, Francoeur has figured out what it takes to be atop the leaderboard once all is said and done.
"You've got to pick the three or four teams that get to the Elite Eight and Final Four," Francoeur said. "If you get that with the winner going in, you have got a good shot. That's the key. As accurate as you've been up to that point, you have got to get your Final Four teams in."
Bauer and LaHair picked No. 1 overall seed Florida and defending champion Louisville to be the teams fighting for the crown on April 7, while Francoeur was still undecided.
"I don't like to be rushed," he said. "A lot of people fill them out in the first 45 minutes and they're done. I watched Bracketology last night for two hours to get some ins and outs. I'll be ready."
Ross Dunham is a junior majoring in journalism at Arizona State University. This story is part of a Cactus League partnership between MLB.com and Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.