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Francona keeps things loose with DJ, hoops

Indians manager wants players to have fun this weekend
MLB.com @MLBastian

KANSAS CITY -- Music was blaring inside the visitors' clubhouse as Indians players arrived at Kauffman Stadium on Friday afternoon. The handful who made their way to the park early were gathered around a Pop-A-Shot basketball hoop, and were engaged in a heated competition hours before their game against the Royals.

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KANSAS CITY -- Music was blaring inside the visitors' clubhouse as Indians players arrived at Kauffman Stadium on Friday afternoon. The handful who made their way to the park early were gathered around a Pop-A-Shot basketball hoop, and were engaged in a heated competition hours before their game against the Royals.

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"It's just fun," rookie Bradley Zimmer said with a smile. "At first, I was like, 'What is going on?' But I think it's a great idea."

Indians manager Terry Francona was the man behind the loose pregame environment, which will continue on throughout the weekend series. On the final leg of a four-city, 11-game road trip -- one that included a doubleheader on Thursday night at Target Field -- the goal was to inject some energy into the room.

Francona said he came up with the plan to hire a DJ for the clubhouse, and to add the arcade-style hoop, during a conversation with bench coach Brad Mills in the second game of Thursday's twin bill.

"We were all getting a little tired," Francona said. "It's just kind of our way of showing them that, one, we acknowledge the fact that they're out there playing so much, but also that we care. ... The game is the most important thing, and that's where you want your energy. But in the meantime, I don't think it hurts to have a little bit of fun."

Zimmer, who is 6-foot-5 and has a wingspan built for basketball, looked like he had an advantage over his teammates. The outfielder could practically reach the hoop as he flipped basketball after basketball through the net.

"I'm trying to hustle them over there," Zimmer quipped.

The players were holding a competition to see who could sink the most shots in a certain amount of time, and pitcher Trevor Bauer toyed with the hoop's counter to make sure it was keeping an accurate score. Joked Francona: "My guess is Trevor will play until he wins."

Francona, who got in on the action as well, noted that pitcher Danny Salazar was surprisingly good.

"I don't know how Danny got what he got," Francona said with a laugh. "I couldn't even shoot that many times. That was funny to see kind of everybody get involved."

Zimmer said the pregame additions were just the latest example of Francona's ability to create a great environment for his players.

"His reputation kind of speaks for itself," Zimmer said. "He's done such a great job. Everyone thinks very highly of him, including myself. As a manager, just being around him in the clubhouse, as a friend almost, he's been awesome to play for."

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.

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