WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- A smile creeps across the face of Ben Francisco whenever the topic comes up. June 29, 2007. A 1-1 game between the Indians and Rays at the ballpark formerly known as Jacobs Field. Francisco, making his first big league start, steps up to bat to lead off the bottom of the ninth against Shawn Camp.
A 2-2 slider, a swing of the bat, a ball sent hurtling into the left-field bleachers and, just like that, a memory Francisco will carry with him forever. In an '07 season filled with feel-good moments, Francisco's walkoff blast that night was right up near the top of the list. "Every time somebody brings it up, I smile," Francisco said. "You dream about that, but for it to come to realization ... for my family, for my friends, for myself, it was a great day." Francisco stops smiling when another subject comes up: His potential immediate future with the Tribe. The Indians already have four outfielders -- Grady Sizemore, Franklin Gutierrez, David Dellucci and Jason Michaels -- headed for the Opening Day roster. They have no intention of carrying a fifth. To make matters worse, Shin-Soo Choo, by virtue of being out of Minor League options, will also be ahead of Francisco in the pecking order when he comes back from elbow surgery in May. So Francisco, barring an unexpected change in circumstances, appears headed for his third season in Buffalo. First off, let's be clear about one thing. The 26-year-old Francisco has nothing against the city of Buffalo. "It's a great place to play," he said. "Great fans, they treat you nice there. I can't say anything bad about the place." But let's be clear about one other matter. If Francisco never sees the city again, he'll be a happy man. No players Francisco's age are finished products. He's the first to acknowledge that. Still, coming off a season in which he was the International League batting champ with a .318 average, 28 doubles, 12 homers, 51 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 95 games, he doesn't have a heck of a lot to prove at that level. Going back, then, would hardly be Francisco's preference. "If it happens that way, it will be frustrating," he said. "But right now, I'm going to control what I can control and go out there with something to prove. I'm going about every day like I'm going to make this team."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.