Senior staff writer
Cal Burleson has seen a lot in his four decades in the front office with the Indianapolis Indians.
Like thousands of Indians fans, the former Southsider has seen hundreds of Indians called up to the majors with the Tribe’s affiliations with Cincinnati, Montreal and Milwaukee since he was hired in 1975 as ticket manager.
Burleson is beginning his third year as vice president of baseball operations for the Indians, which means that he is also in constant contact with Pittsburgh’s front office.
“The Pirates have treated us very well; they’ve given us a lot of outstanding players,” Burleson said. “A lot of them have gone on to play with the Pirates. We’re very happy with the talent that the Pirates provide us.”
Twelve players who have worn the Indians uniform are now playing for Pittsburgh, including the best outfield in the majors with Starling Marte, Andrew McCutcheon and Gregory Polanco, and infielders Josh Harrison and Jody Mercer plus seven pitchers.
The Indians are the only team in the International League that has played above .500 for five consecutive years, all under veteran manager Dean Treanor.
Burleson moved with the Tribe from Bush Stadium on West 16th Street to Victory Field 20 years ago.
“Indianapolis is certainly one of the great sports cities in the country,” Burleson said. “We’re in the same environment with the Pacers and the Colts and auto racing. One of the things about great competition is that we perform at a higher level and we do a reasonably good job of putting the fans first.”
The Tribe has set attendance records for two consecutive seasons; 662,536 last season to surpass 660,289 spectators in 2014, a growing result of marketing of special nights.
On selected dates, Indians fans can enjoy: Monday dollar menus, two-for-one Tuesdays, Wednesday day games at 1:35 p.m., Thursday craft beer nights, Friday fireworks, signature Saturdays with a line-up of super heroes and kids (14 and under) eat free Sundays. Knot Hole Gang members also get to run the bases on Sundays. Call 269-3545 or visit indyindians.com for more information.
Coming off an 83-61 season and reaching the finals of the playoffs, the Indians have so much talent that Treanor scoffed at the idea they are the fifth-best team in minor league baseball preseason rankings.
“You mean we are that low,” Treanor grinned at the Indians’ First Pitch Party. “We have a very talented team; you will see a very, very exciting team.”
Pitchers Wilfredo Bosco (10-3 last year), who threw a shutout for six innings Thursday in the Tribe’s home opening 6-1 win against Columbus, Brandon Cumpton (5-4), Casey Sadler (6-5), Nick Kingham (1-2) and Jameson Taillon, who missed last season with an arm injury, are back.
Returning hitters include first baseman Josh Bell (.347), third baseman Dan Gamache (.257), shortstops Allen Hanson (.263) and Gift Ngoepe (.246) plus outfielders Antoan Richardson (.246) and Mel Rojas Jr. (.263). Jason Rogers, who was in 86 games for Milwaukee last year, joins the Tribe.
Treanor has guided the Indians to a .557 winning percentage in his five years here, and he envisions more success.
As a manager he has no qualms about his duties.
“It’s all about getting these guys ready to play for Pittsburgh, and you have to develop winning too. When you win, you develop; so you can do both. … They are used to winning here, and they are winning up there.”
The Indians, 4-4 through Sunday, are home against Norfolk, April 29-May 1; Durham, May 2-4; and Louisville May 6-8.