Back then was a diamond in the rough
Growing up invisible, my life was sure tough
These are the words that open one of the rap songs Bauer recorded, along with high school pal Connor Garelick, and revealed to the ever-critical eye of the Internet last summer
. And while the clearly amateur effort leaves plenty to be desired from a poetic perspective ("I'm gold now, because I shine in all I do/Like a 24-carat diamond ring for your boo") and Bauer himself concedes "I'm not good at it," we can read quite a bit from those words. For rare is the professional ballplayer for whom feelings of isolation strike such a raw nerve.
This is, after all, a team sport. One in which the kind of raw talent Bauer possesses can elevate you to a supreme stature at a remarkably young age.
For Bauer, though, the baseball talent that came so naturally to him stands in stark contrast to the social and interpersonal skills that have often eluded him.
"I didn't have a lot of friends growing up," said the soon-to-be 22-year-old native of North Hollywood. "I had a lot of free time. Instead of going to the movies with friends, I'd be up at the park working out. Everybody would be talking about the movie they saw. Well, I couldn't be a part of that conversation."
This is the fundamental foundation point you must understand about Bauer, one of the most hyped, most scrutinized and perhaps most misunderstood prospects in the game. For this is a man apart from all convention, be it baseball's time-worn training methods or basic clubhouse interaction.
A man apart is a man critiqued, a man questioned. And the questions that arose out of Bauer's short and altogether unsuccessful stay in the Arizona organization have followed him to his new Major League home in Cleveland.
Shake off your catcher in the moment leading up to your first Major League pitch? Yeah, that'll ruffle some feathers in a game so deeply devoted to an often-unwritten code of conduct.
Toss the ball more than 400 feet, from outfield corner to outfield corner, as a regular part of your pregame warmup routine? Sure, you'll become a circus-like curiosity.
Summon your inner Eminem and the let the world in on it? Oh, man, you're going to get crushed in the Twitterverse.
And if you're traded a year and a half after a team took you with the No. 3 overall pick in the Draft and gave you a big league contract and a $3.4 million signing bonus, well, suffice to say it doesn't do wonders for your rep.
But for Bauer, this arrival to the Indians, who acquired him in last month's three-team, nine-player swap with the D-backs and Reds, presents a new opportunity. It is here, he hopes, where, to paraphrase a line from Bob Dylan, his shyness won't be mistaken for aloofness and his silence for snobbery. It is here, he hopes, where his unique routine will be embraced with open arms.
Already, things are looking up, for the Indians are genuinely open minded about Bauer, his program, his intellectual approach and his effort to become a better teammate. They wouldn't have swung this trade if they weren't willing to embrace Bauer, in all his forms.
General manager Chris Antonetti and manager Terry Francona visited Bauer earlier this week, observing his throwing program at Ron Wolforth's Texas Baseball Ranch and his conditioning routine at Dynamic Sports Training. They came away convinced, in Antonetti's words, that Bauer "works very hard and is committed to being the best pitcher that he can be." And the Indians are going into this relationship committed to letting Bauer do his thing -- even if his thing differs from the norm.
"If he aggravated somebody else on another team," Francona said, "I don't care."
Bauer caused consternation in Arizona. The words "stubborn" and "uncoachable" have been attached to his name, and these are not words to be taken lightly. Bauer had command issues both at the Triple-A (61 walks in 130 1/3 innings) and Major League (13 walks in 16 1/3 innings) levels, and perhaps because he relies so much on his lower half, this was attributable to the groin injury that hounded him much of the year.
But the baseball stuff aside, those same issues Bauer had in high school -- that struggle with the interactions that come so naturally to so many others -- followed him to the big leagues. When he was traded, he certainly wasn't barraged with texts from his former mates, wishing him well. Truth is, Bauer had once again been unable to secure meaningful friendships.
"I'm still learning how to fit into a social setting," he said. "I'm not comfortable in large groups of people. It's tough in baseball, because you walk into a clubhouse and there's a large group. How do I fit in? I didn't learn that in high school. I'm still trying to learn it. It's something I need to improve on."
That's one reason why Bauer is here, taking part in the Indians' winter development program, an acclimation environment for some of their prized Minor Leaguers. That's why he reached out to several of his D-backs teammates at season's end, asking where he went wrong.
Bauer's athletic skill and standing have already introduced him to a wealth of money and opportunity. But Bauer still counts his close friends (including Garelick, who he met his junior year of high school) on a single hand. And he is still, in many ways, that kid off on his own, tossing baseballs in the park.
"It's a lot easier to make friends now that I'm ... something," Bauer said. "But I still only have three or four really close friends in the world."
The irony is that Bauer's first impression with the Cleveland media could not have been stronger. He came off comfortable in his own skin, comfortable discussing his quirks in both personality and profession. Bauer was well-spoken, open and approachable.
If Bauer applies those traits to the Cleveland clubhouse, he'll fit in just fine. And if the more bizarre elements of his preparation are accompanied by success in the Tribe's starting rotation, he'll never have to worry about people trying to pull him out of his comfort zone.
It's a fresh start for Bauer. The balls have been re-racked. The diamond in the rough has a new chance to shine.