CLEVELAND — You see them huddled around a small table in the clubhouse, eyes concentrating on the board in front of them. At times, they seem transfixed, so intense is their focus. They are chess players, Indians chess players.

Traditionally, chess is a game for eggheads and nerds. Raise your hand if you're an egghead or a nerd: Cliff Lee, David Dellucci, Paul Byrd; how about you, Sal Fasano?

When Fasano was traded from the Atlanta Braves to the Indians last month, he brought his chess set with him. Suddenly, it was game on in the clubhouse.

Big leaguers playing chess is nothing new, but it also isn't the norm. Ted Simmons probably was the leader of the Milwaukee Brewers' chess bunch, and that was back in 1982. Former Indians starter Rick Waits, after being dealt to the Brewers, was a member of Simmons' chess group.

"I used to play in the minors," Fasano said. "There was one guy I played with at Wichita in 1995. Guy named Doug Strange. I must have played him 200 times and never beat him."

Fasano thinks chess can help some players become more proficient.

"I think it's good for pitchers," he said. "It gets them to think ahead and plan strategy."

Being a catcher, Fasano knows something about pitchers.

Paul Byrd has joined the assemblage of Tribe chess players.

"I've been off the circuit for two years," Byrd kidded. "But I used to play when I was with the New York Mets. Jerry Dipoto was one of the guys who played. And I remember Curt Schilling playing when I was over at Philadelphia."

Dipoto is a former Indians pitcher who is the director of scouting and player personnel for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

It didn't take long for Lee to come on board as a clubhouse chess player.

"I taught myself how to play," he said. "I play on my computer all the time. Sal probably is better than me; he's pretty good. He'll beat me six out of 10 times."

Lee used to play with Baltimore Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie, when he was with the Tribe.

"Cliff can beat me," Fasano said. "I need to work on my openings. Opening moves are very important. If I make the right opening move, I can checkmate you in four moves."

Sounds like a challenge.


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