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Pronk returns healthy, strong

AP Photo Cleveland Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner watches his two-run home run off Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Brandon League in the eighth inning Sunday.

FARGO -- Travis Hafner's 412-foot home run Sunday never looked so good to Cleveland Indians manager Eric Wedge. "If he's hit one harder than that, I don't remember when," Wedge was quoted as saying after Cleveland's 8-4 win over Toronto.

The 14,216 Indians fans at Progressive Field not only felt relieved about Cleveland's first win of the season, they felt better about Hafner's swing.

So did Hafner, the 31-year-old slugger from Sykeston, N.D., who is showing signs of recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound power hitter nicknamed "Pronk" homered in three straight games through Sunday.

"Everything feels good," Hafner said during a Monday phone interview. "It just feels good to be productive again."

Up until this recent home run flurry, Hafner hasn't looked much like the slugger who had 127 homers and 424 RBIs from 2004 through 2007 for Cleveland.

By May 26 of last season, Hafner was placed on the disabled list with a sore shoulder and a paltry .217 batting average and only four homers and 17 RBIs.

The pain got so bad, he had trouble lifting a forkful of food. He tried rehabbing all summer, came back in September and hit .122 in 11 games.

Finally, on Oct. 14, Hafner underwent shoulder surgery in which Dr. James Andrews -- known as the surgeon of the stars -- cleaned out "some things" that were causing the pain.

"The muscles in the shoulder just deteriorated over time and just shut down," said Hafner, who endured rehabilitating exercises all winter. "I was able to get a lot of at-bats in spring training. Everything feels good now."

That was far from the case last summer. Sidelined with his injury, Hafner also had to deal with the death of his father.

At the age of 64, Terry Hafner died from prostate cancer on July 26 in a Carrington hospital.

"That was the toughest thing that I had to go through," Hafner said. "He was just a great man. He would do anything for anybody. He always worked so hard on the farm."

It was on the 3,000-acre farm located near Sykeston where Hafner said he learned the value of hard work.

It was that philosophy Hafner relied on to get him through his five-homer, 24-RBIs, .197 hitting slump he went through in 57 games last season.

He had MVP-like numbers in 2006 with 42 homers, 117 RBIs and a .305 average. After last season, Indian fans were wondering if the left-handed-hitting Hafner was worth the $8 million contract Cleveland was paying for a designated hitter.

"Life is 10 percent of what happens to you and 90 percent of how you react to it," Hafner said. "You have to accept the fact that things in life will happen which will be difficult.

"The important thing is facing that by working hard and knowing if you do that, good things will happen."

So far this young season, good things have happened. In addition to his three homers, Hafner has a .300 average, six RBIs, one double and four runs.

And a healthy shoulder.

"I'll take some days off early in the season so we're not putting too much of a workload on it," Hafner said. "Right now, I'm pretty comfortable. After awhile, I can be an everyday player again."

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