The Lake Erie Crushers are a team in in Frontier League of independent baseball.
Based in Avon, Ohio a suburb of Cleveland, the Crushers have had success on the field winning the championship in 2009 and have had seven winning seasons in their nine-year existence.
On May 2nd. Co-owner Tom Kramig announced that long time Cleveland Indians star Travis Hafner would play one game for the team on June 16th against the River City Rascals a team based in suburban St. Louis.
The man called “Pronk” played 10 seasons for the Indians coming over in the off-season of 2002 from the Texas Rangers in a deal that sent catcher Einar Diaz and pitcher Ryan Drese to the southwest.
When asked about the opportunity again to play baseball, though be it for one game, Hafner said “I am just going out there and have fun with it.”
Kramig came up with the idea after seeing another team in the league, the Normal Cornbelters, signed former Major Leaguer Jose Canseco to play three-games with them during the season.
“He (Hafner) has been first class with the whole thing” Kramig said. No matter what happens (on Saturday) this has been a success.”
Hafner is 41 years old. The Frontier League has an age limit of 27. The Crushers had to get permission from Frontier League Commissioner Bill Lee to allow Hafner to play. Once it was agreed to, everything was set.
He played 10 seasons for the Indians (2003-12) playing 1078 games hitting .278 with 200 homers (which is currently eighth on the Indians all-time list) and 688 RBI. He was part of the 2007 American League Central Division Championship team that defeated the defending World Champion New York Yankees in the AL Division Series before losing to the eventual World Champion Boston Red Sox in the AL Championship Series in seven games.
When he finished his playing career in 2013 with New York, Hafner’s roots remained in Northeast Ohio. Living in the Cleveland suburbs and being a coach on his son’s little league teams. He said preparing for the game was not hard as he was swinging at bat helping them and their teams get ready for their games.
When the day arrived, the Crushers proclaimed the game as “Travis Hafner Day” His oldest son Blake was the Crushers bat boy on the evening while his two youngest sons had the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitches.
The fans turned out at Sprenger Health Care Stadium to the tune of 4,091 the largest of the season.
There was number 48 in the pinstriped uniform of the Crushers with purple letters and numerals. His first time he came to the plate, he was given a rousing ovation.
In the game itself, Hafner was the designated hitter going 0-for-2 with a walk. He reached base on a throwing error and scored an insurance run in the 5-3 win. A victory that helped the Crushers end a four-game home losing streak.
After playing six innings, Hafner left the game staying to sign autographs for the fans including programs, baseballs, bates, pictures of him in his time with the Tribe amongst other memorabilia. He said “I had a good time out there.” “You want to do well, It is still you against the pitcher you want to do your best out there.”
One thing Hafner wanted to do in this event was not only give back to the community, also to help Little League baseball in the area. The proceeds went to the Avon Little League
For one summer evening, the Mayor of ‘Pronkville’, which was an area in the right field mezzanine at Progressive Field, was back at the plate giving fans excitement.