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ND native Hafner MLB career most likely finished

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FARGO — Opening day took place for most Major League Baseball teams on Monday. And for the first time in a long time, Travis Hafner, 36, was enjoying the action from his home instead of from a dugout.

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Hafner, a 12-year veteran of the big leagues from Sykeston, N.D., remains a free agent while still trying to recover from right shoulder soreness that has nagged him since last season. He realizes his playing career is likely over.

“Going into this offseason when the offseason started, I was only playing if my shoulder felt 100 percent healthy,” Hafner said from his home in Tampa, Fla.. “I’ll see how it feels next offseason or a couple months down the road. But there’s probably a pretty good chance I’ll be retired though.”

Hafner broke into the Major Leagues in 2001 with the Texas Rangers and was traded prior to 2002 to the Cleveland Indians.

In Cleveland, his career took off. Hafner — serving as the team’s designated hitter — averaged 32 homers and 108 RBIs per season from 2004 to 2007, helping the Indians reach the AL Championship Series in 2007. He finished in the top eight in AL MVP voting in 2005 and 2006, and his 213 career homers and 731 career RBIs are the most by a North Dakota-born player in major league history.

In 2008, Hafner strained his right shoulder and underwent surgery the following offseason. Problems with that shoulder occurred from time to time for the rest of his career. After 10 years with the Indians, Hafner played last season with the New York Yankees, hitting just .202 in 82 games.

“Last year I got hit by a pitch just right below the shoulder,” he said. “A couple days later it started bothering me a lot. I got it checked out, had some cortisone shots in it. It was never the same. It’s one of those things. If that lead shoulder is having weakness and pain, it’s really tough to compete at that level.”

Hafner thanked North Dakotans for their years of support and said he is looking forward to spending more time in the state. He and his wife, Amy, currently have homes in Cleveland and Tampa and are raising two sons — 4-year-old Blake and 1-year-old Trip. He said in the past he usually only made it back to North Dakota for Christmas.

“Now we’ll probably be able to head back in the summer,” Hafner said. “It will be a really good time to go and hang out and do some outdoors stuff. Usually we go back around Christmas and run into some pretty brutal weather.”

If this is the end of his playing career, Hafner said he would eventually like to work for a major league organization in some capacity. But right now, his focus is on family. He said much of the last couple of months have been filled by trips to Walt Disney World or spring-training games.

“It’s been a long career and I’m getting up there in terms of baseball age,” Hafner said. “If that is it, then I’m really happy with how things have gone.”

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