WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Conversations stopped. Sandwiches were put down. Cameras and notepads were picked up.
Lunch was officially over for the Korean media members crammed into the tiny working press facility at Chain of Lakes Park.
Shin-Soo Choo was ready for his closeup. This was the scene on a sunny, picturesque Friday afternoon here, as about 20 Korean reporters and cameramen descended upon an unsuspecting Indians camp to get the latest scoop on their countryman. Shortly before holding his impromptu press conference, of sorts, Choo was asked what it's like to be a bona fide celebrity. "No, no," he shyly responded. "They just love Major League Baseball. Not too many people from Korea have played here before." Choo, of course, has played in the big leagues, getting his first real chance to break out with the Indians last July, when the Tribe acquired him from the Mariners for Ben Broussard. He hit .295 with three homers and 22 RBIs in 45 games and was solid in right field. But the offseason acquisition of Trot Nixon will most likely bump Choo to Triple-A Buffalo for the outset of '07. Still, the 24-year-old Choo is undeterred. "A lot of people ask me about Trot Nixon," he said. "I don't care. It's just more that I have to prove. It's OK. It's a business, and we're a better team this year." Choo knows if he's going to be a part of that team he has to lean his thinking to the left -- i.e., improving his performance against left-handed pitching and in left field. Being able to play both corner outfield spots would increase his value, and being able to hit lefties would better his chances of someday becoming an everyday player. During Spring Training, Choo is working on both areas. In these early days of camp, he's solely faced lefties during live batting practice. "If I have to go to Buffalo, I'll still keep working," he said. "I'll try to stay positive." Regardless of what the Nixon signing might imply, the Indians still have a positive view of Choo. "We're really high on him," manager Eric Wedge said. "He's still young and learning. He did a good job for us last year, and he's going to make an impact on us this year at some point in time." And when he does, you can bet the Korean media will be whipped up into a frenzy once again. Bargain bin: The waiver wire is baseball's equivalent of the department store clearance rack. One must sort through the inevitable selection of shirts missing buttons and pants with broken zippers to get to the true bargains.
It's hard to say what, exactly, the Indians got when they rummaged through this rack and plucked out Mike Rouse last fall, but the team is obviously hoping it stumbled upon a winner. General manager Mark Shapiro has said he's interested in seeing what Rouse, who was claimed off outright waivers from the A's last September, has to offer as a potential utility infielder. And the 26-year-old Rouse, who is battling Hector Luna, Joe Inglett, Keith Ginter and Luis Rivas for the job, is just as interested in showing him. "All I can do is go out and show I can play," Rouse said. "I'm going to work hard and do my best for them." Rouse was a career Minor Leaguer until the A's called him up last June and put him in their starting lineup at second base, against Randy Johnson. All Rouse did in his debut was go 3-for-3 with a double, a walk, a stolen base and two runs scored. Over the course of his eight-game stint with the club before being optioned back down to Triple-A Sacramento, Rouse hit .292 with three doubles and two RBIs. Those offensive numbers are intriguing, but the Indians are more interested in Rouse from a defensive standpoint. He made just eight errors in 98 games at shortstop for Sacramento. "I've always played shortstop, and that [position] would be my tendency," he said. "But I feel I can play everywhere in the infield. I'm a very versatile player." Making it work: Third-base coach Joel Skinner is still amazed he was able to play nine seasons in the big leagues with the swing he had. "I remember telling [former Indians manager Mike Hargrove]," Skinner recalled with a laugh, "'Do you realize how good my hand-eye coordination must be? These young guys are coming up with these beautiful swings, and I'm up there cutting and slashing and juking and jiving.' I did a lot of things wrong." Skinner played with the Indians from 1989-91. Tribe tidbits: The Indians will use platoons at both corner outfield spots (David Dellucci and Jason Michaels in left, Trot Nixon and Casey Blake in right) and first base (Casey Blake, Victor Martinez and Ryan Garko) at the outset of the season. Wedge is hoping that doesn't change as the season progresses. "We want to play out as is, because, if it does, that means it's working," Wedge said. "The only upside for us to not have those two or three platoons means one of those guys just takes off and earns everyday at-bats. If that happens, we'll make the adjustment." ... Paul Byrd had been held back from throwing Thursday because of some stiffness in his back, but he was back on the mound, throwing a live bullpen session, on Friday. "No red flags," Wedge reported. "Everything looked OK." ... When Wedge sat down for his session with the Korean media, he gave them one stipulation. "We can talk about anybody but Choo," Wedge joked.
Anthonoy Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.