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Pronk: From returning hero to invading rat

Against his former ballclub, Travis Hafner finished with a homer, RBI single, two walks and 4 RBI. David Richard/USA TODAY Sports

CLEVELAND -- The fans at Progressive Field loved Travis Hafner for much of Monday afternoon. They loved him during batting practice. They cheered him at the pregame introductions. They even applauded when he came to bat in the first inning in his unfamiliar-looking road-gray Yankees uniform.

But the lovefest came to a screeching halt the moment Hafner jumped on a 2-0 fastball from Ubaldo Jimenez and sent it screaming into the right-center-field seats for a three-run home run that let all the air out of their home-opener balloon.

"Not a bad plan," Hafner said, smiling, in the Yankees' clubhouse after his new team had crushed his old team, 11-6.

And he certainly was not upset either by the initial reception, or the sudden change in the weather after he enjoyed his best game as a Yankee -- he also had an RBI single, two walks and 4 RBI -- at the expense of the team he played for the previous 10 seasons.

"They’re passionate fans here," he said. "I knew that me playing for the Yankees, that this wouldn’t go on too long."

Hafner was signed as a free-agent to a one-year, $2 million deal, and despite getting off to a slow start in the spring, now looks as if he might turn out to be the best acquisition the Yankees made all winter. Told to report to camp without a fielder's glove -- but plenty of batting gloves -- Hafner's only job is to hit. And so far, he is doing that, hitting .391 through seven games as the DH, with two home runs and a team-leading six RBIs.

"With veteran guys you don’t make too much of spring training, because you can get fooled by it," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You figure that, for veterans, their track record is going to take over and I think that’s what’s happening here."

Hafner had his big day in front of his wife and a bunch of friends from the Cleveland area, where he still lives year-round. He also noticed a lot of fans wearing Indians jerseys with his name on the back. "That was great to see, but it was kinda strange coming into this clubhouse and this dugout, things like that," he said. "So it was a little weird, but overall it was special. It was a great ovation, I just want to thank the fans, it was awesome, and something I’ll never forget."

Neither will the fans, although I suspect not as fondly as Hafner will.