Crafty starters bond through Mini Indians

Carrasco, Bauer the main architects of fashioning teammates out of baseballs

Crafty starters bond through Mini Indians

CLEVELAND -- Carlos Carrasco grabbed a baseball, examined it and then retrieved a pair of scissors from the trainer's equipment box inside the Indians' dugout. With the Indians holding a substantial lead over the Dodgers on that sunny afternoon in June, the pitcher countered his boredom with creativity.

"I'm going to make Jose Ramirez," Carrasco told teammate Trevor Bauer.

"You're going to do what?" Bauer inquired.

"Watch," Carrasco replied.

Carrasco began snipping at the ball's leather cover, before peeling it back, revealing the tightly wound white strings that form the first layer. The pitcher cut into the baseball even more and began pulling out the black strings that fill the second layer. Carrasco kept pulling and shaping and cutting until the little bits of thread protruded from the ball, resembling the choppy locks that rest atop Ramirez's head.

That is how the 2017 Mini Indians were born.

Full coverage of the 2017 Mini Indians

The American League Central champions have plenty of star power, but now most of the players on the roster also have a miniature version of themselves produced by the team's rotation members. Bauer is the artist, putting pen to leather to create immediately recognizable facial features. Carrasco is in charge of the accessories that leave no doubt as to which player is being portrayed. Mike Clevinger, Corey Kluber and the other starters have contributed with ideas, critiques and details.

"It's fun," Clevinger said. "You get to find out more and more about each other, especially when it comes to roasting teammates. You see another side to certain guys."

Yes, the joke is often on the baseball's subject.

The in-game craft projects have helped strengthen the bond between the starting pitchers, but it has also turned them into pranksters. Mini Jason Kipnis has a bald spot on the back. Mini Yandy Diaz has huge biceps and stick legs. Mini Cody Allen has a tiny suitcase with a sign that reads, "Rookies carry the bag!!" Mini Lonnie Chisenhall is in a wheelchair -- a playful jab based on his list of injury setbacks this year.

Mini-Carrasco watches the game

The starters make sure to make fun of themselves, too.

Mini Kluber has red eyes and the nickname "Klubot" on the back. Mini Josh Tomlin has four scraps of hair under a cowboy hat. Mini Carrasco's chin beard was made exceptionally long. It is no secret that Bauer enjoys building and flying drones -- a hobby that famously led to a sliced pinkie finger during last year's playoff run. Well, Mini Bauer has a mini drone on top of his hat. Bauer even drew an angry expression on the baseball for the face.

Game Date Results Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 5 CLE 4, NYY 0 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 6 CLE 9, NYY 8 (13) Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 8 NYY 1, CLE 0 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 9 NYY 7, CLE 3 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 11 NYY 5, CLE 2 Watch

"I know that I'm known for my furrowed brow and being serious -- kind of a mad look," Bauer said. "So I tried to accent that in the face, and they made all the accessories. I also made the hat, but they made the other stuff to stick all over it."

One of the season's final additions was Mini Tito, because obviously the tiny Tribe needed a manager. The rendering of Terry Francona is complete with glasses and a miniature gum bucket, and the players placed gum and seeds around the bottom of the ball.

A few rules have been established for making the Mini Tribe.

First, the pitchers agreed that the team must have a lead in the game -- preferably by a run or two -- before they start working on one of the baseballs. Next, when they decide a ball is done, it is done. There is no going back and making changes later on. One more rule: All materials must be from the trainer's box or clubhouse. Nothing can be brought from home.

"I feel like that's the key to this whole thing," Clevinger said. "You have to use some ingenuity."

Brandon Guyer is known for getting hit by pitches, so Mini Guyer has mini baseballs hitting him, while he grimaces in pain. For the tiny baseballs, Carrasco used candy that he "painted" with glue and the chalk used on the field. Edwin Encarnacion is known for "walking the parrot" around the bases after home runs. Clevinger used tape and sunflower seeds for Mini Edwin's mini parrot.

Carrasco is especially proud of the Cy Young Award he made for Mini Kluber and the tiny Silver Slugger Awards for Mini Michael Brantley and Mini Yan Gomes. Those were made in part from razors wrapped in tape. That catcher's mask on Gomes? Tape and paperclips. All the hats are made from paper cups -- cut, shaped and covered in tape and pre-wrap. The drone blades came from emery boards. Ramirez's chain? The little beaded chain that was attached to the trainer's fingernail clippers.

"We kind of scavenge around and find stuff everywhere," Bauer said.

For the hair and beards, the pitchers were initially limited to using the white and black string inside the baseball. Then a light bulb went off. They started using iodine to dye the white string yellow. Then blond or reddish locks were possible.

The reveal is a lot of fun for the starting pitchers.

"That's great," Bauer said. "Most everyone really laughs about it and really gets into it. That's the best part of it, is seeing the guys react, because each of the balls is kind of making fun of someone in a way. So when they start laughing about it and get into it and see the humor in it, it makes it worth it."

It might seem like this is just fun and games, but there is an underlying importance to it all, too.

Early in the season, the rotation was struggling. During a trip to Houston in May, the starting pitchers held a meeting, during which one of the issues addressed was the lack of communication between the pitchers. They needed to find ways to spend more time together -- not only to be more productive, but to just have a little more fun.

"One of the things that was brought up in that meeting," Bauer said, "was that the 'pen guys sit down there in their little birdcage all game long and they sit there and they talk. The starters didn't have anything like that. … So we were trying to find a way to create some of that."

No, making tiny baseball versions of their teammates was not an idea mentioned in that meeting. That was just a happy accident. But the result was a strengthening of that bond between the pitchers.

"We started doing the baseballs and we came closer," Carrasco said.

And with each one, the faces drawn by Bauer get better and better.

"I think he's turning into a semi-professional cartoonist," Clevinger said. "Each ball, you can see the progress. He's just getting better at drawing. I feel like he's practicing at home with baseballs. He's a Picasso."

The players have enjoyed seeing the Mini Indians take on a life of their own. During autograph sessions, fans have asked Carrasco who is next on their to-do list. Fans have sent them photos on social media of baseballs they have made at home.

When Carrasco began making the Ramirez ball back in June, he had no idea what he had started.

"We didn't realize it was going to become like this," Carrasco said with a smile. "It's been a lot of fun."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.