CLEVELAND – Few players have an impact on a team as large as Mike Napoli’s contributions to the Cleveland Indians.
From the Party at Napoli’s campaign to a career-best season in the batter’s box, nobody came close to matching the lively, championship attitude Napoli brought to Cleveland.
“What he did for not just the team, but the organization, the people,” said manager Terry Francona. “I know he's going to get his ring. I'm looking forward to that a lot. He knows we want him to strike out every time he hits. That's part of being competitive. But it doesn't take away the fondness or the admiration that we have for him.”
Napoli batted .239/.335/.465 (.800 OPS) with career-highs in runs (92), hits (133), home runs (34), RBIs (101) and walks (78) in 2016, arguably the best of his 12-year big league tenure. With a World Series title on the Red Sox in 2013, it seemed fitting that the 35-year-old veteran spearheaded the charge to the Tribe’s first American League pennant since 1997.
“It was a special year and it’ll be something I can hopefully tell my kids someday,” Napoli said. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”
One of the key components to last season’s storybook run was leadership, something Napoli demonstrated to each one of his teammates.
“I just come in and be myself,” said Napoli. “Any time I’m around people, people that know me know that I genuinely care about who’s around me. It doesn’t matter who you are, I like being around you and treating you like family. You create relationships that are special and I was just in there being myself and trying to bring people together that genuinely care about each other so when we go on the field we play as a team and we were able to do that.”
The buzzing sports town also supported Napoli off the field by purchasing his Party at Napoli’s apparel, a brand designed to raise funds for the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital. Not only did his contagious personality lift the spirits of a team lacking postseason experience, but he also put the city on his back in the charitable effort.
“Well everyone just looks at the baseball part, and it was a special year or me on the baseball field,” Napoli said. “But the relationships I created on and off the field, being able to do the charity stuff, the whole Party at Napoli’s thing was unbelievable with how the fans took to it and to raise all that money. Overall, it was a special year and it’ll be something I can hopefully tell me kids someday about. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
In conjunction with Nate Crowe’s (@HipsterTito) creative tee-shirt idea, Napoli raised over $150,000 for the children and young adults who needed it the most.
“It’s an unbelievable thing that happened, being able to turn it into something special to raise money for kids,” said Napoli. “Any time I can try to give back, it’s what I want to try to do. We’re in a situation where we can. Any opportunity that comes is what I want to do. It turned out unbelievable. Any time I see people with shirts on, it brings a special memory to me and something that was huge for the Cleveland Clinic hospitals. I love it.”
The first baseman bid farewell to the Indians organization after free-agent Edwin Encarnacion signed a record-breaking contract in January, taking over as the new face of an emerging franchise. He elected for free agency and eventually landed a deal with the Rangers this past February.
“It was a tough offseason for me,” Napoli said. “What we went through and everything that happened, it was almost like unfinished business. Obviously wanting to be back here, it's part of the game. The player they got is one of the best hitters in the game. They were trying to get better and they had the opportunity to sign somebody, so I had to go somewhere else. It's the way the sport is these days. Obviously, I would've loved to come back and play here, but it's just the way it worked out.”
Nevertheless, Napoli’s legacy lives on forever in Cleveland, the place where he resurrected his career to an unprecedented level of performance.
“What happened last year was so special and what we were able to accomplish was unbelievable,” said Napoli. “Coming back here, it's weird being on this side and not be able to go into the home clubhouse. It was a special year for me. I made a lot of great relationships and it's something that I'll never forget.”
“Overall, the way my year went last year, to have a career year, coming here and making it to the World Series, it couldn't have gone any better.”
Francona awarded Napoli with his ALCS ring on Monday at Progressive Field, a relationship that set the tone for an unforgettable season.
“[That is] one of the biggest honors I think I’ve ever had," Francona said.
"[It's a] special moment for me," said Napoli. "We created and built a pretty strong relationship last year. He’ll always be someone special to me. He’ll be a friend for life. I don’t think we’ll ever lose contact with each other."