Bull Pennings: Bourn adapts to new identity, if not free-agent supremacy

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- He didn’t get the $100 million deal and he didn’t land where he thought he might.

But fleet center fielder Michael Bourn, proud owner of a new (signed last week) four-year, $48-million deal in Cleveland, smiles broadly throughout each day and mixes in with his new teammates as if they’re long-lost friends.

His free agency was a grinding journey, but he feels like he’s home now.

“You hear everybody say they’re interested in you, and after awhile you get tired of that and want to know who’s really interested,” Bourn said. “I had a long process. Some days were up, and some days were down.”

Traded to Atlanta from Houston two summers ago and granted free agency after hitting .274 with nine homers, 57 RBI and 42 thefts for the Braves last summer, Bourn was one of a small handful of top-shelf players in a down market this winter.

In the end last week, it came down to the Indians and Mets.

No small part of what pushed Bourn’s timetable for signing all the way to spring training came last December, when the Minnesota Twins, of all teams, closed a couple of doors to Bourn by trading two center fielders within a week.

The Twins shipped Denard Span to the Nationals last Nov. 30 for right-hander Alex Meyer.

Then they dealt Ben Revere to the Phillies last Dec. 6 for right-handers Vance Worley and Trevor May.

When the winter began, both the Nationals and Phillies were in dire need of a center fielder, and many in the industry pegged them to be players for Bourn.

For a time, it was as if the Twins, who badly needed to stockpile young pitchers, were on a one-team mission to ruin his winter.

“How many times does that happen?” Bourn asked, grinning and shaking his head. “Two center fielders from the same team get traded?

“I was looking at that like, ‘Man, are you serious?’ Those were two teams I pretty much thought would be fighting for me.

“When Atlanta signed B.J. Upton, I knew they were out the door. But when that happened, that was totally different.”

Different, as in, the temperature dropped sharply and Bourn knew his entire winter had changed. He was going to have to strap on the ol’ seat belt and have patience.

“You never know what people are going to do,” Bourn said. “I heard Minnesota was stacked with center fielders, even in the minor leagues. They did what they did. Luckily, a couple of teams were still interested in me.

“It was a long process, but a good process. You learn from it. It teaches you a lot about the game. It can be tough on you, because you don’t know where you’re going to be.

“It’s a life-changing experience for your family. But I didn’t lose any sleep.”

In only a week’s time, Bourn said, the Indians have “welcomed me with open arms. They’re trying to give me whatever I need.

“I like being here. I know there’s tradition here. In the ‘90s, they were a real stacked team. Winning is everything in this sport. Whatever team is trying to win, you commend them for that.”

In Cleveland, Bourn feels like he’s found that place.

Sunblock Day? Yes, but deteriorating rapidly as we speak. The temp barely got into the 70s today, and a stiff breeze made it seem much cooler. Worse, that stiff breeze is blowing in rain and highs in the 50s on Wednesday. Brrr.

Likes: Francona: The Red Sox Years, the new book coauthored by Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe. Excellent stuff with tremendous behind-the-scenes perspective from one of the more riveting eras in Red Sox history. It's on the New York Times bestseller list -- it was No. 2 last week -- and it is well worth the read. ... Ran into longtime baseball man Bob Cluck, former pitching coach in Houston, Oakland and Detroit (among many other positions), in the hotel over breakfast. Cluck is now scouting for the Tampa Bay Rays and raves about working with manager Joe Maddon and GM Andrew Friedman (easy to rave about those two). … Sandy Koufax working in Dodgers camp as a special instructor. Great to see him back working with the Dodgers. … Delux Burger in Phoenix. Absolutely tremendous burger advertised as coming from vegetarian-fed meat with no antibiotics and no hormones and topped with a “signature infusion” of carmelized onions, small bits of applewood smoked bacon and a blend of gruyere and bleu cheeses served on a handcrafted demi-baguette. Melt-in-your-mouth good.

Dislikes: USA Today enlisted Zagat’s to compile the best burgers in 25 cities and I’ve only eaten two of them? Le Tub in Hollywood, Fla., and In-N-Out in San Diego. The list is clipped and saved for reference (and for burger eating on future road trips).

Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Day:

“I don’t know where we’re going

“I don’t know if I care

“As long as it’s with you

“I’ll go anywhere

“We’re going to need each other

“So I’ll drive while you sleep

“And when I get too tired

“You can take the wheel from me”

-- Steve Azar, Hard Road

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