CLEVELAND -- Perhaps he's bound for another bar crawl, another brilliantly bearded, shirt-deprived lark with the locals in the aftermath of a World Series clinch.That's how they remember Mike Napoli in Boston, his legacy forever secure among the beer-swillers on Boylston Street because of a post-parade party that got a
CLEVELAND -- Perhaps he's bound for another bar crawl, another brilliantly bearded, shirt-deprived lark with the locals in the aftermath of a World Series clinch.
That's how they remember Mike Napoli in Boston, his legacy forever secure among the beer-swillers on Boylston Street because of a post-parade party that got a lot of love in the social-media stratosphere. And that's how they hope to remember him here in Northeast Ohio, a region still reveling in its first professional sports parade of any sort in more than 50 years and one very much in love with Napoli's power production.
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So there's a certain fluidity to the fact that if Napoli is going to slug the Indians to the Promised Land, he's going to have to do so at the expense of the Sox. And for that matter, there's a not-small chance he'd have to get through his old team in Texas in the American League Championship Series round, too.
But first things first: Napoli vs. Boston is one of many satisfying subplots to the Division Series that begins here Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TBS).
"I had a great three years there," Napoli said of the Back Bay. "I still own a place in Boston. It was something special to be able to win a World Series in that town. They're fanatics. It was fun playing in front of them for three years."
Fun, though, has a way of following Napoli around.
Earlier this year, a Tribe season-ticket holder named Nate Crowe unwittingly created a theme/meme/whatever when he held aloft a sign bearing the phrase "Party at Napoli's." It took off. T-shirts were produced by a company called 108 Stitches, and they've been sold with a portion of the proceeds going to Cleveland Clinic Children's. You'll see plenty of them in the stands these next two nights.
Of course, a T-shirt alone is not enough to make a man a fan favorite. Napoli's career-high 34 homers helped, too.
Napoli stoked that total by making Progressive Field his personal party place on a team that had a glaring need for right-handed power. He had a .281/.392/.566 slash with 22 homers at home, versus a .198/.275/.367 slash with 12 homers elsewhere -- one of many reasons why the Indians felt the final-weekend fight for home-field advantage in this series was so important.
The numbers only tell part of the tale: Napoli has done truly bizarre things in this ballpark.
On July 8, he hit a Statcast-measured 460-foot shot that crashed into the top row of the bleachers, ricocheting off the scoreboard and darn near decapitating famous Tribe fan/drummer boy John Adams.
On Sept. 8, he hit a foul ball that cleared the left-field home run porch and landed in neighboring Gateway Plaza. The ball was retrieved by a woman out for a walk on her lunch break.
And on Sept. 17, Napoli, with the help of Justin Upton, hit what is believed to be the only ground-rule double to clear the 19-foot wall in left field.
"I really can't explain it," Napoli said of his Progressive panache. "I have a really good routine at home. It's different than the road. But I wish I could explain it, because if I knew it, I'd try to do it on the road. I'll take it. Hopefully we're playing at home a lot [in the postseason]."
Napoli's home has become a subject of great interest in the game. He came to the Tribe on a low-key, one-year contract with a $7 million base and $3 million worth of playing time bonuses. Napoli wound up maxing out those bonuses, but that was no given coming into the year given past issues with his hips.
His old mates, though, weren't terribly surprised.
"He is a smart baseball player," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "He was probably one of our best baserunners, despite the foot speed, when he was with us in Boston. He's become a damn good first baseman defensively. … I think he sees the most pitches of anybody in baseball. That's going to have an effect on the guys around him in the lineup. So to see the power numbers he's put up, not surprised one bit."
Napoli posted up for a career-high 150 games at first base and DH, and, more than a year removed from an invasive procedure to address sleep apnea issues, didn't battle the fatigue of years past.
"I wasn't able to do things before that I am able to do now, as in working out all the time, hitting more, doing all kinds of different things," he said. "And being able to work with this training staff, too -- all the recovery things that they do and have for you. The whole hydration thing here. I've got water coming out of my ears. Pedialyte, hydration tablets. It's a combination of a lot of things. It's been a fun year."
Napoli, who turns 35 on Halloween, raves about what goes on behind the scenes on this club. Yes, he's developed a special relationship with manager Terry Francona (the two are traditionally the first two seated in the Tribe dugout prior to first pitch) and he's become a valuable veteran voice in the clubhouse, but it goes deeper than that. The training staff, the team chef, the communicative front office. Napoli has found a comfort in Cleveland, and he said he hopes to find a way to stay here in his pending free agency.
"Man," he said, "the opportunity they gave me here to be able to revamp myself? I just love it here."
But look, we know how the dollars and cents can impact a decision. And it's hard not to speculate about that pending void in the Red Sox lineup when David Ortiz departs and where Dave Dombrowski and Co. might look to fill it.
It's not a stretch to suggest Napoli and Boston could one day be linked again.
For now, though, they are foes, and it's an interesting arrangement given how much Napoli once meant to Boston.
Three years ago, the party was on Boylston. This month, will the party be at Napoli's?
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.