Unpacking the bags in Winter Haven

Unpacking the bags in Winter Haven

Ryan Garko has only had one Major League at-bat, yet he's still quickly becoming a household name among Indians fans who are looking forward to seeing his career with the Tribe blossom.

A former catching prospect who has recently converted to first base and is expected to join the Major league club by the end of the 2006 season, the 22-year-old Garko is in big-league camp fine-tuning his game before reporting to Triple-A Buffalo. He's agreed to take MLB.com readers along for the ride in this weekly journal, which will run each Wednesday during Spring Training.

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Hello, my name is Ryan Garko, and I am excited to be taking the time to share some of my experiences this spring with you. First of all, I think it would be appropriate to give myself a little introduction and explain how I have ended up here in Winter Haven, Fla.

I was born in Pittsburgh, moved to California when I was 3. From 2000 to 2003, I attended Stanford University, and the Indians drafted me in the third round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. I have spent the last few seasons playing with their Minor League affiliates in Mahoning Valley, Kinston, Akron and Buffalo. I received my first Major League callup last September, and I made my Major League debut against the Royals later that month.

That introduction pretty much brings me to this spring, and it is definitely an exciting time to be an Indian. A new season always holds a great deal of promise. Stats and records don't carry over from one season to the next, so a new year brings with it the chance to do something great and have a special year.

Another one of my favorite things about arriving in Winter Haven is all of the new equipment that is waiting for us when we arrive. New bats, gloves, cleats and any other piece of equipment you could need to play ball are waiting in front of every guy's locker, and it feels like Christmas in February when you get to open all of it. All of the shiny new equipment definitely gets you fired up to start working out again.

Speaking of working out, pitchers and catchers had our first practice last Saturday. Our schedule pretty much goes like this: We stretch, play catch, do some individual work (catchers block balls, throw to the bases, etc.), catch bullpens and then hit. We follow that up with some conditioning and the weight room. The days right now are pretty short, but they are very important. Getting all of our pitchers ready to go is probably the most important part of Spring Training, and we definitely want to make sure that nobody gets hurt.

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As for the rest of my day, there is really not too much else that goes on. Most of us stay at a hotel right by the Chain of Lakes complex, and there is not too much to do but play some video games, watch movies and go out to dinner. If you like Chili's, Applebee's and the Outback, then Winter Haven is the place to be. Other than that ... well, Opening Day is only 38 days away.

I look forward to doing this each week during the spring and hope that I can offer Indians fans, especially young ones, some insight and interesting stories about the experiences of a young ballplayer. If you have any questions about life in Spring Training, send me an e-mail. I'll try to answer a couple questions in this space each week.

Until next week, goodbye and take care.

Ryan Garko is a Cleveland Indians prospect who was drafted in the third round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.