Dream Team

Walt Laveen can easily name the most productive Cleveland baseball players of all time (it’s not who you think). This North Ridgeville teacher’s passion for a statistics-driven game makes your fantasy baseball league look like kid stuff.
It’s 55 degrees but sunny with a right-to-left wind blowing in at 11 mph as Cleveland Buckeyes center fielder Grady Sizemore chases down a ball hit into League Park’s left-center gap. Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe slides safely into second base, prompting first baseman Mike Hargrove to move near the foul line for the next batter ... Kirk Gibson.

Time, ump! What in the name ofField of Dreamsis going on here?

This is Walt Laveen’s team. The North Ridgeville baseball beatnik and high school social studies teacher runs his version of the Cleveland Buckeyes in the custom-made Hall of Fame Baseball League.

We’re not talking about guys dressed up in vintage uniforms. No, these games are “played” via a throwback text-based computer program called Diamond Mind. In some ways more rudimentary and in other ways far more complex than the newest Major League Baseball video games, leagues such as Laveen’s are a statistician and hard-core baseball fan’s dream.

Games unfold with detailed in-game descriptions and scrolling play-by-play in a box reminiscent of chat-room dialogue. Lineup cards, updated stats, a weather report and the field’s dimensions hover like a gyroball around the play-by-play on the screen.

Owned by California’s Imagine Sports, Diamond Mind allows players to field a team with a mix of legendary bashers (Babe Ruth), curious side-armers (Dennis Eckersley), strikeout kings (Nolan Ryan) and one-year wonders (Brady Anderson) from throughout baseball history.

The company provides statistics for each season back to 1927 (and yearly update discs), but fans of the game have added detailed rosters to account for the rest of baseball history, including Negro League and Japanese League players.

“When it first came out, it just intrigued me,” Laveen recalls. “So I purchased the game, and ever since, I’ve been hooked.”

Laveen, 61, currently plays in Washington D.C. resident Aidan Shealy’s custom Hall of Fame League. In it, the software recreates spring training, the regular season and playoffs in three different leagues (major, minor and independent) by way of the league’s Web site.

“Every day, you get a box score,” Shealy says of the 40-plus “owners” who, along with Laveen, field a team in the league. “The only thing you don’t control is how much the hot dogs cost.”

Laveen dedicates an hour to an hour and a half a day on the game during the season. In the off-season that total rises, thanks to meticulous research for free-agent drafts and simulations to see how certain players perform. Laveen’s wife, Barb, a high school math teacher in North Ridgeville, tolerates (and sometimes supports) her husband’s hobby, according to Walt.

“Sometimes she’ll inquire about what’s going on with the team,” he says. “I originally wanted to get season tickets for the Indians’ 81 home games. She said, ‘That’s kind of expensive.’ Well, I went this route. It’s a little cheaper.”

Walt Laveen breaks down his choices for the best Cleveland Indians players for Diamond Mind play. (The year next to each player represents his best season.)

Cy Young, SP, 1903
Addie Joss
, SP, 1903
Luis Tiant
, SP, 1968
Why: “Their key is avoiding walks and keeping the ball in the park. Surprisingly, Bob Feller doesn’t pitch well because of too many walks.”

Johnny Romano, 1961
Ray Fosse
, 1970
Why: “They’re both good at defense. They tend not to strike out a large amount, and they do hit for a little power. Sandy Alomar Jr. is only so-so, while Victor Martinez has not played well — so far — in simulations I’ve seen.”Infielders

Bobby Avila, 2B, 1954
Lou Boudreau
, SS, 1948
Ken Keltner
, 3B, 1948
Nap Lajoie, 2B, 1901
Al Rosen
, 3B, 1953
Why: “All play excellent defense and have either a high [on-base percentage], hit for power or both.”

Albert Belle, RF, 1995
Rocky Colavito
, RF, 1958
Manny Ramirez
, RF, 2000
Tris Speaker
, CF, 1912
Joe Jackson, LF, 1911
Why: “What the right fielders lack in defense, they make up for by crushing around 35 to 45 home runs. Speaker and Jackson are two great [on-base percentage] players who consistently hit .320-plus.”
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