Albert Belle stuns Indians with visit

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GOODYEAR, ARIZ. (AP) - The hair and beard are mostly gray. The scowl is gone, a smile in its place.

Albert Belle still casts a formidable shadow over the Cleveland Indians, and Tuesday the contentious slugger _ who was once the most intimidating hitter in baseball _ made a surprise visit to the team he left 16 years ago and had disconnected with completely.

Laughing easily, Belle leaned against a wall as the morning sun began to burn through above the Indians‘ complex, and along with former teammates Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Sandy Alomar Jr. and manager Mike Hargrove, reminisced about those days in the when the Indians ruled the AL.

They talked about the comeback wins, about the time Belle famously looked at Boston’s bench and flexed his biceps after hitting a playoff homer, and about getting Cleveland back to the World Series after a 41-year wait.

For a few moments, it felt like 1995 again.

“I came to see the guys,” the 45-year-old Belle said. “It’s good to see them again.”

Shortly after arriving, Belle visited the clubhouse and was introduced to some of Cleveland’s young players who couldn’t wait to meet a player many of them had only known through TV highlights.

“He was my favorite hitter,” said closer Chris Perez, showing off a ball that Belle signed for him on the sweet spot. “Him and Frank Thomas.”

With Lofton and Baerga serving as escorts, Belle was then introduced to infielder Jason Donald, who did a perfect imitation of Belle’s batting stance he perfected while playing wiffle ball as a little kid.

“He thought it was a good one,” Donald said later. “He liked it I wanted to meet him. He was such a good player and such a big part of this organization.”

Back outside, Belle posed for pictures with his former teammates and Hargrove.

“Murderer’s row,” Lofton yelled.

It was Baerga’s persistence and urging that convinced Belle to drive over from his home in Paradise Valley, where the man whose presence in the batter’s box once rattled pitchers nerves, is now a stay-at-home dad raising four daughters.

“Mr. Mom,” he said.

Funny thought, a domesticated Belle.

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