Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

‘The Dog’ is flashing its teeth

Sometimes you’ve got to shake it up to wake them up. I didn’t have any plan or anything when I said what I said in Boston, about how we needed to forget all this Boston talk and just play our game. I was reacting emotionally to what was going on – I was upset, and I let it be known.

I don’t think it hurt, judging by the way we responded in that last game and then here in Texas on Friday night after a long trip on Thursday night. People don’t realize we got into Texas around 3 in the morning, then when we got to our hotel, there was no air conditioning, so some guys weren’t getting to sleep until about 5 in the morning.

That can make you less than on top of your game, and it might have had something to do with my error, the first one I’ve made in a long time – 265 regular-season games. I was making an aggressive play trying to keep a man at first, but it sailed and I got the error. Hey, nobody’s perfect, right?

As for what I said after that loss on Wednesday night in Boston when we didn’t get those calls at the end of the game, I really meant it. It shouldn’t have come down to those calls. We didn’t make plays earlier in the game, and we paid for it.

That wasn’t like us, making mistakes like that, and I let it be known that’s not us. We have to play the game the way we always do and forget about all the Boston hype, the Boston media talking about history and all that. It was a regular-season game, and we made some mistakes and got beat.

The next night, we came back and played much better and won a game. It was a good experience, as a whole, because we showed we know how to respond after a rough night. And they don’t come much rougher than that 9-8 game we lost.

We were facing one of the best in the game, Josh Beckett, the next night, and we got it done. We battled and battled and battled. Next thing we knew, we came up with a win. That was a big win. I’m really proud of our guys, the way we responded. It shows what we’re all about and how good this team can be.

One thing I didn’t do and will never do is call out a guy, an individual. I always say us or we. I’ve never done that, put the blame on one guy. When I said what I said, it was to get some of the guys to kind of check themselves, look in the mirror – whether it was me or anybody. It was to say, hey, I’m not playing the game I love the way I should play it. That was the point, and I hope it did some good.

This has not been an easy trip. We fly cross country, to New York, for one game, then go up to Boston for three, play a night game and fly to Texas, get in at 3 in the morning, get to sleep at 4, 5, and get up and play the next day.

I was really impressed with Scott Kazmir, the way he handled himself. He got through six scoreless innings without much of a breaking ball or changeup, putting his fastball in good spots and showing how tough he is. I think he is really going to be big for us.

There’s a mental toughness I’m seeing in this team now. We’re getting that “dog” I’ve been looking for, that mentality. We talked about it last year during the playoffs. Once you’ve done it, you know you can do it. That’s the dog I’ve been looking for, and I’m starting to see it.

I have so much faith in this ballclub. We’ve been through a lot this year. I really have a good feeling about where we are right now – and where we’re going.  

 

Thrilled to be up for Aaron, Clemente awards

I’ve been told I’m up for a couple of prestigious awards, named after two of the greatest players ever, Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente. Just being mentioned in the same sentence with these two men is enough of a reward, never mind winning.

The Hank Aaron Award is for all-around offensive contribution. Hank Aaron, he’s done a lot in this game — the 755 home runs, everything he went through to break Babe Ruth’s record of 714 for a career, including death threats. He’s a great man, a quiet man who is a symbol of having integrity, doing things right.

Being nominated for this award along with my teammates, Bobby Abreu and Kendry Morales, is a thrill for me. I’m pretty sure it’s my first time, and I’m thankful to be recognized like this.

It is a little bittersweet, the season I’ve had. I was on my way to career highs in just about every category – from walks to RBIs, batting average, slugging, on-base – when I just happened to get knocked down by a groin injury. I ran into two walls too many, I guess. I’ve never been out five weeks in a season like this, except for 2005 when I fractured my ankle and was out from July 30 to the end of the season.

Coming back after missing all that time, I’m now trying to fight back using straight athletic ability – not a great feeling.

As for the Roberto Clemente Award, it’s given out every year to a player for making generous contributions to society. I’ve been up for this before. To be singled out for helping out, that’s an honor. This guy died helping others, flying relief goods into Nicaragua after an earthquake. He’s a big inspiration.

Everything I do comes from having certain values instilled in me by my mother and grandmother. They always taught me to treat others the way I want to be treated, and that’s something I’ve always done. I’ve been blessed to be able to help others not as fortunate, not just in baseball but in life. I’ll be doing this until I die. It’s something I feel strongly about.

If you’re blessed and work hard, treat yourself, don’t cheat yourself. But be smart about it. I’m not an extravagant person. I get a lot of pleasure out of helping people through The Torii Hunter Project and in other ways. I’d like to see more players do a lot more as far as helping out the community, whatever they can.

You don’t hear a lot about guys doing that, but maybe that’s because the media focus is on more negative things or whatever. I’d like to think a lot of guys are quietly doing things to share with others not as blessed. I think we all should carry the spirit of Roberto Clemente with us and do whatever we can to help a community, to lift it any way we can.

My message to everyone is what my mother and grandmother instilled in me: Always treat people like you want to be treated, and you can never go wrong. That great feeling you get after helping somebody is a feeling you want for the rest of your life.

These are great awards, and I’m truly honored to be considered for them – for what I do on the field and off the field. My focus, 100 percent, is on a World Series ring. Right now it’s winning our division, the first big step. Our main focus right now is winning the AL West and getting to the playoffs. That gives you a shot at going all the way, and that’s our goal.

Emulating the great Ken Griffey Jr.

We’re in Seattle, facing the Mariners, and it always takes me back to 1999, my second year in the bigs with the Twins when I finally got to play against a man I admired so much – the great Ken Griffey Jr.

My first at-bat that day at the old Kingdome, I struck out to end the inning. As I was running out on the field, he was running off. He kind of came toward me and said, “Hey, man, keep working hard and have fun with it. Enjoy the game.” That really stuck with me. He was giving me a message. I was impressed that he did that. It really meant a lot to me. And still does.

That’s what Ken Griffey Jr. brought to the game, that ability to have a good time while putting on a show with his incredible talent. He had his cap on backwards and was always laughing, enjoying himself. Kirby Puckett was like that, too, and that’s what I wanted to be like.

I took on that same kind of personality, showing my emotions and expressing how much I enjoy what I’m doing. I’ve carried it with me through my career. It’s a game we’re playing, and I think people want to see us enjoying ourselves. Ken Griffey Jr. showed how to do it. He was always a bright light out there.

I patterned my game and my personality after those two guys, Junior and Kirby. It was one of the smartest things I ever did.

Griffey always had the most beautiful swing in all of baseball. There was nothing like it. Everybody wanted to be Ken Griffey Jr. When I was in the Minor Leagues and struggling, I tried taking his swing over to the right side. It didn’t work quite as well, of course. But it was fun, trying to use that Griffey swing.

When you think about what he’s done – 625 home runs, the highlight plays with the glove, and think about all the time he’s missed with injuries – he’s one of the greats of all time.

I’ve tried to follow in the footsteps of Ken Griffey and Kirby Puckett in center field, and now maybe there are young guys watching me and wanting to play the way I do. If that’s the case, it’s an honor to carry on that tradition.

When I was a young guy, I used to watch everything Griffey did, especially in center field. He was The Man. We had video of him, and I studied how he’d take straight angles to the ball – A to B, not A to C. I wanted to do everything the way he did, because he was the master out there.

I never took a homer away from him – he usually gave you no chance with those monster drives he’d hit. He’d usually pull the ball, too. I did rob him of a few hits, doubles and triples. He’d just stand there and look at me. You know I loved that. The respect I have for that guy is huge.

Any time I had a chance, I asked him questions, just like I always did with Kirby. That’s how you learn. Ask questions. I always tell the younger players not to be shy, to ask me anything they want. That’s what I’m here for, to help out. In this game, you can never have enough information.

There are a lot of really talented young center fielders now, and it’s great to see. Adam Jones in Baltimore, he calls me every week. We talk about the game, life outside the game, anything he wants. He’s playing the game the way I did at 24, and when he’s 34, he’ll be playing like I am now.

Curtis Granderson in Detroit, we’ve gotten close. He’s my guy. Grady Sizemore is cool, and a great talent. Matt Kemp with the Dodgers, I love that guy. I like being like a big brother to all these guys.

It kind of runs from Griffey and Kirby through me and now through all these young guys coming up. We’re all connected in that way. It’s always been an honor to be on the same field with Ken Griffey Jr.

It might be winding down for him now, but you still see that smile, that love of being in the uniform and being on the field.

The man is a legend, and I’m definitely a better player and person for wanting to be like him.

AL West is best

A lot of people around the game aren’t noticing how good our division, the AL West, is this season. If you look at the records, it’s the best of the six divisions – and it’s not even close.

I’m finally back now, playing again, but I’ve had a lot of time lately to watch games and study things, missing five weeks with the adductor strain on my right side. One thing I’ve seen is that our whole division has been playing some great baseball, whether the media recognizes it or not.

Check it out. After Sunday’s games, the AL West’s four teams are a combined 35 games over .500. The next closest is the AL East, 25 games over .500. That’s a 10-game gap.

Our Angels are 26 over, Texas is 17 over, and Seattle is four over. Oakland is 12 under .500.

The only way you can judge a division is how it does outside its own division, since you’re going to end up .500 playing each other. We’ve beaten up on the AL East, and I think that says a lot about how tough our division has been. We’re 21 games over .500 against the East. Boston is 11-20 against the West, and Tampa Bay is 8-17.

To be 35 games above .500 overall, that’s a division winning percentage of .537. Take all of our games outside the division, and our winning percentage is .553.

After the AL East, the next strongest division is the NL West, 12 games over .500. What that tells me is there’s great baseball being played all over the West. Look at Colorado and San Francisco, leading Florida and Atlanta in the Wild Card race, and Texas taking the lead from Boston for the AL Wild Card.

The NL East is nine games under .500, and the two Centrals are way down. The NL Central is 26 games under .500, and the AL Central is 37 games below .500.

The Yankees and Red Sox get most of the national publicity and attention, but if you put their records together, they’re 140-96. The Angels and Rangers combined are 138-95. That’s close to a dead heat.

I remember watching ESPN last year, hearing guys say that the Los Angeles Angels have the best record in baseball, but it’s because they beat up on a weak division. We beat up on everybody last year, not just the West.

To say we benefit from playing in a weak division, that’s just not true – especially this year. Our record in the division is not good. We’re 15-19. But we’re 23-10 against the AL East, 19-12 against the Central and 14-4 in Interleague Play.

The Rangers, look what they’re doing. Those guys can play. Seattle is hanging tough and still playing well, and Oakland’s playing good baseball with all the young players it has.

West Coast teams just get no respect. Why? I guess because everybody’s asleep in the East when we’re doing our thing.

I’m not in the AL Central any more, with the Twins, so I can tell you that the West is a lot better than people think. And I’m not even bringing up the travel factor, how our teams have to spend so much more time in the air and how that can wear on you over a long season.

The West is for real. Don’t sleep on us. And there’s a ton of great young talent coming up in both West divisions, so it should be wild out West for a long time to come.       

Test cancels homecoming

This has been a rough day. I was all psyched to go home to Arkansas, to Little Rock, and play for the Travelers there this weekend in rehab games. But today I didn’t pass a strength test after a strenuous workout on the field, and it looks like I have to change my plans.

I know everyone in Little Rock was excited about me coming back to play, and I was excited, too. It would have been great. But the resistance test the training staff put me through showed that my right side, where I have the adductor muscle strain, is still not as strong as the left side. They want me to be close to 100 percent when I come back, and I’m probably between 85 and 90 right now.

I’ve never been 100 percent my whole career, so I don’t even know what that feels like. I’m used to playing no matter what, which is why, in a way, I’m in this situation now. Looking back, I should have taken more time off after I ran into the wall in San Francisco on June 15. I played two days later, and it was too soon. If I could do it all over again, I would have asked for more time off, but it’s too late now.

Seven days, something like that, is what I needed. That’s what they’re fighting right now – my ego and pride. They’re telling me to set it aside and let this heal completely. We’re winning, so there’s no need for me to force it or rush it. I understand that. But I’m an athlete, and athletes burn to compete.

The plan now is for me to go back to Anaheim and continue my rehab there this weekend. It’s not really a setback. But it’s disappointing for me, because I want to get out there. I wanted to go to Arkansas and play there, but it looks like they’ll be on the road when it’s time for me to play some rehab games.

I actually had a good workout today. I ran the bases well, first to third, and ran out of the batter’s box. I felt good. But the test showed I’m still a little weaker on the right side than the left.

Since we’ve been winning, and Gary Matthews Jr. has been solid – better than solid, really – in center field, they can afford to be extra careful with me. Gary’s a terrific athlete and is getting a chance to show what he can do. I’m happy for him. It’s not easy to sit around, not playing every day, and then to go out and do it, and he’s been getting the job done in center field for us.

What makes it so hard is that I was swinging the bat so well. I was having my best season offensively, and I was better defensively, too. You hate to come out when you’re going good, which is why I kept playing even though the adductor was bothering me.

It finally hit me that Saturday in Arizona, 12 days after I hit the wall in San Francisco, that I just couldn’t go any more. I sat at my locker after that game and couldn’t move. I remember talking to Lyle Spencer of MLB.com, and him telling me that I wasn’t right, that something was wrong with me. I knew it. I was just in a daze, I was in so much pain.

I’m doing a lot better now, but I guess I’m not quite ready to get on the field. I’m trying to look at this in a positive way, that when I do come back, I’ll be stronger than ever and able to carry it all the way to the finish. That’s the way I have to evaluate it. It’s all about how you finish, not how you start. I love this team, and I want to be there for these guys when it really counts.
  

Shooting for a ring — and a trip to D.C.

I’m known for having good timing, especially in center field, but it let me down for once when I got hurt and couldn’t go to St. Louis to play in the All-Star Game. That was terrible timing.

I was so excited when I was selected to the American League All-Star team. Unfortunately, my body just didn’t hold up for me after I ran into those walls at Dodger Stadium and San Francisco. I remember the day when it finally got to me, and I knew I was in trouble. It was after that game in Arizona on June 27 when I sat at my locker for the longest time, in a daze. I couldn’t move. My groin was killing me. That was the day it blew up on me. I tried to play on, but it never really was right after that.

There were several reasons why it was so disappointing not to be in St. Louis. First of all, I appreciated all the fans voting for me when I came in fourth in the balloting, just missing out on the starting lineup. And I really felt good when my fellow players put me on the team by giving me the second most votes of all the American League outfielders, behind Jason Bay. In fact, I got the fourth most votes of all the players in the league. That was tremendous, feeling all that respect from my peers.

As for the All-Star Game, the presence of Barack Obama, our first African-American President, made it something really special to me. He was in the clubhouse shaking everybody’s hand, and I was home with my family in Texas – not that there was anything wrong with that. It’s always good to have some time with the family. But I hated that I missed out on meeting Barack Obama.

When I was growing up in Arkansas, we’d be out messing around and you’d hear a kid say, “I want to grow up to be the President.” And we’d say, “Hey, you’re black. No way you’re going to be President. Are you out of your mind?”

Now here it is, happening in our lifetime. It’s an amazing thing to see. And I was supposed to be there in St. Louis, playing in front of the President and meeting him. But it didn’t happen.

I’m getting better with this adductor strain on my right side. What this does, as I recover, is make me want to get to the World Series and win it even more than ever, if that’s possible.

Now I have a double goal: win the World Series and go to the White House with my team and meet the President there. We could talk some hoops, maybe play “horse,” shoot around a little. I know basketball is his game, and I could play the game in my time.

To be there with my teammates, after winning a World Series, that would top meeting Barack Obama at the All-Star Game. That would be so cool, for all of us. So I’m looking at it as an added incentive to go out and win a World Series. That would be the best of both worlds. We win the World Series, and meet Barack Obama at the White House.

Hey, it can happen. We’ve got a ton of talent on this team. Watching how our offense came through without Vladimir Guerrero and me in the lineup, against the Yankees and in the first game after the break against the A’s, that’s impressive. We’ve got a lot of guys who can swing the bat, and if our pitching comes together the way it can . . . look out.

The Angels could rock all the way through October, to Washington, D.C. and the house of President Obama and the First Lady.

Missing All-Star Game a real pain in the adductor

Man, this really hurts. And I’m not just talking about the adductor strain, which I’m learning all about from our medical staff. The timing of it really hurts. There’s no good time to get injured, of course, but I was really looking forward to playing in the All-Star Game in St. Louis. Nobody would have had a better time than me and my family and friends. 

Where I grew up, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, the Cardinals were everybody’s team. I learned the game from my granddad, who watched baseball every day. I had family and friends coming to St. Louis to enjoy the whole show with me, and now I can’t play. It’s disappointing. Very disappointing. I still have the tickets, and they can go to all the functions if they want, but it won’t be the same.

I really wanted to be in my first All-Star Game representing the Angels, representing Arkansas, and I’m on the DL. That was not my plan at all. I’m just very sorry this happened the way it did. I appreciate all the votes, all the fans who wanted me to play in the game. That means a lot to me.

I knew I had a problem on Tuesday night when I couldn’t beat out a throw on a double play ball. I just couldn’t get a burst down the line. I came in after the game and was feeling bad, and finally told the trainers. It’s been bothering me for a while. Remember a while back, when we were in Arizona, and I sat at my locker for the longest time after the game, kind of daydreaming? My leg was killing me that day.

On Wednesday they wanted to put me on the DL right away, but I was fighting it. I was hoping it would come around quickly, but this morning it was still pretty sore. Every time the trainers touch it, it’s sore.

That’s just not in my DNA, going on the DL. It took a broken ankle in 2005 to get me on it with the Twins. We haven’t talked yet about the rehab plan, but I might have to stay here during the break and have it worked on. We’ll see how that goes. The big thing, the most important thing, is being healthy for the final two months. I don’t want to miss a game, an inning, down the stretch. We’re in a race for this division, and that’s what matters most to all of us.

The timeline for coming back is two to three weeks. Hopefully, it’s not that long.

I know I have to be smarter sometimes about going after balls and running into walls, but it’s in my blood. I’m a competitor. I’ve run into a wall in a 10-zero game. The one in San Francisco on June 15, when we were leading 8-zero, I probably should have played that one off the wall. But the one at Dodger Stadium on May 22, I had no regrets about that one. I caught that ball, and we won a close game. It goes with the turf. Besides, I know how to protect myself, how to cushion the blow. I’ve gone into enough walls by now.

It will be tough watching us play, along with big Vladimir Guerrero, who’s also out for a while with the muscle strain behind his left knee. But this team has a lot of heart. We battle. Most of the time, no matter how far down we are, we’re going to come back. We’ve had a lot of late-inning comebacks, rallies. That’s one thing about this club — we’re going to keep battling, keep banging.

Once again, before I sign off, I want to thank all the people out there who voted for me for the All-Star Game. I’ve been blessed to play for some great fans, and I value that relationship tremendously.

I’ll be back, ready to go. There’s still a lot of season left, and we plan to make it memorable.

 

    

 

Meet me in St. Loo, Chone — and flip, Wizard style

I’ll be heading off to St. Louis for my third All-Star Game, and it’s something that means a lot to me. I’m so happy for the guys who are going for the first time, guys like Curtis Granderson, Edwin Jackson, Andrew Bailey, Tim Wakefield. I know what that feeling is like. I really hope Chone Figgins wins the Final Vote on MLB.com and makes it, too, because he is deserving.

Chone is a guy who just loves the game of baseball, everything about it. Everybody knows Ozzie Smith was one of his favorite players, and Chone would love to go out on that field in St. Louis and do a back flip like Ozzie. I think the fans would go crazy watching that. This guy can do those back flips — I’ve seen him.

Maybe that will help him get the votes he needs to get on the team. I definitely want to see him there on the American League team, with Brian Fuentes and myself, because he’s having a great year.

He has become a Gold Glove third baseman, and he’s the guy who makes our team go. The last month and a half, he’s been carrying us — getting on base, scoring runs, making plays in the field. He could play anywhere on the field if they need him to. I’ve never seen anybody more versatile than Chone, or anybody who loves the game more and works at it any harder.

If he does win the vote, I hope his first All-Star Game is as memorable as mine. That would be pretty hard to match, I have to admit.

I was voted into the starting lineup in 2002 when I was with the Twins. The game was in Milwaukee, and when I went out to take the field, I was a little nervous, feeling the butterflies. Your first All-Star Game, that’s a thrill. You’re just trying to stay calm, stay in the moment.

As luck would have it, Barry Bonds gets up and hits a shot to center. I’m thinking it’s gone. But then as I’m going back, I’m thinking maybe I’ve got a shot at it. I saw the ball dying and jumped up with everything I had — and caught it. It was one of those moments you dream about. My first inning of my first All-Star Game, and I take a home run away from Barry Bonds, the greatest hitter I’ve ever seen with my two eyes.

Of course, Barry came out and picked me up and put me on his shoulders. That was a show. I’m 26 years old, and here’s this guy Barry Bonds carrying me on his shoulders in the All-Star Game.

We have a DVD of that game, that catch, and I’ll be playing it for my grandkids when I’m an old man. What’s funny about that is that, in a way, I made that game a tie and that caused all that controversy.

My second All-Star Game was in San Francisco in 2007. The best part of that was meeting Willie Mays when he was honored before the game. What’s so amazing about the All-Star Game is all the players you hang around with and the great stars you meet, people you’ve admired since you were a kid. It’s an exciting time, and I’m honored to be going back.

I just hope Chone Figgins comes with me. He’ll flip if he makes it, I promise you.

A needed break before a showdown

I’ve banged into some walls lately, but I hit a different kind of wall after we beat the Diamondbacks, 2-1, in Saturday’s game when big Mike Napoli hit that bomb to center field. I came out of the shower, wrapped a towel around my waist and sat there at my locker for, I don’t know, maybe 30 minutes. Didn’t move. Couldn’t move. My legs were killing me.

If anybody came up and talked to me, I don’t even remember. That must be what a marathoner goes through. I was in a different place mentally, just sitting there for the longest time, daydreaming.

The fatigue ran through my whole body, but I felt it most in my legs. Mike Scioscia gave me today off, so I could get ready for the big series in Texas and play this team we need to run away from.

Winning the first two games here in Arizona made it easier for me to take a day. Plus, we’ve got Gary Matthews Jr. to take over in center, and he’s one of the best out there.

I’ve hit walls three or four times recently, and I’ve been feeling it. But I’m getting better. There’s a difference between soreness and hurting. I’m not really hurting. But my legs were definitely sore yesterday.

Our goal right now is to win series. You can’t win them all, I know, but that’s what we’re trying to do. I want to get my time off now and then before the All-Star break, like today, because I plan on playing the whole second half. We’ve got business to take care of, and I want to give it everything I’ve got.
 
We’re playing well, feeling good now. There’s a nice vibe in the clubhouse. It’s coming together. We’re playing the way we can – great defense, timely hitting, good pitching. We’re running the bases aggressively. Man, Erick Aybar was flying around the bases when he scored on that bunt yesterday. What’s more exciting than that?

I’m seeing speed come back to the game, and it’s great to see. We went through that period from 1997 to 2007, I’d say, where it was all about power. The whole focus was on home runs in the so-called steroid era. Now I can see it changing, with more focus on speed. You even see it on the highlight shows, Carl Crawford stealing six bases in a game, Dexter Fowler getting five. There are some guys coming into the game who can fly, like Fowler, Adam Jones in Baltimore. I love that.

We’ll find out soon how the All-Star Game voting turns out. It would be a great honor to be there in St. Louis, with all the great players. Even if I’m not voted in, I think I have a pretty good shot at making it as a reserve. I’m having a good year, and I honestly think I’m getting better.

What people don’t realize is I was raw when I came into professional baseball. I didn’t even know what a slider was. I was also a late bloomer physically. In some ways, I’m just coming into my own. Having Bobby Abreu here has been big for me. I’m more disciplined at the plate than I’ve ever been, and I can thank Bobby for that. He’s a master up there, and he’s a great guy to play with, because he’s so willing to share his knowledge. He’s also a really funny guy, helping keep things loose.

I live in Texas in the off-season, but I’m going to be Torii unplugged the next few days during our series with the Rangers. I can’t be dealing with all those outside distractions, so I’ll unplug all the phones and turn off the lights and just get my rest.

It’s time for us to take care of our business.

 

 
 

Thinking about the ‘Say Hey Kid’

When you come to San Francisco, you’re in Willie Mays country. This is his turf. You go by the statue of him outside AT&T Park, and it really hits home. This is where he played some of his greatest baseball, one of the all-time best.

It’s almost like he invented the position I play. He was the master of center field, no quesiton about it.It’s his position, and I’m honored to follow in his footsteps.

I had the good fortune to meet him once. It was at the 2007 All-Star Game here. He was The Man that day, walking out on the red carpet, getting that great ovation from the people. It was emotional for everybody. Seeing Willie Mays walk on that field, a tear in his eye, that really got to me. He is loved here, that’s for sure.

When we all huddled around him on the field before the game that day, I shook his hand. He had a tear in his eye, and I remember how thrilled I was when he told me that he liked the way I play the game. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me, coming from where I did in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, a football player who became a baseball player. Hearing the great Willie Mays tell me that, it blew me away.

All I could think of watching him that day was the film of that classic catch he made in the 1954 World Series, his back to the infield, whirling and making that throw. He was known as the “Say Hey Kid” when he was young, and he played center field the way I’ve always wanted to play it, dreamed of playing it. He threw his whole body and soul into the game. I think that’s why he’s always been so admired — that attitude he brought to the game along with his incredible tools.

People always focus on a guy’s power, his offense, but Willie could beat you running the bases, making great catches and throws, doing it all. He had amazing instincts. When you have a five-tool guy like that, you don’t let him go. You keep him, work with him, help him grow into the player he can be.

I just wish I could have seen him play live. Everybody I’ve talked to who saw him says he was the best, that the brought so much energy and passion to the game that it had an impact on everybody. That’s what I try to do, play the game aggressively, without fear of failure. A young guy like Sean Rodriguez comes up and sees the way I play, hopefully that shows him that you should play aggressively, go first to third, not worry about making a mistake. You have to be bold and believe in yourself to succeed in this game.

I got to know Preston Gomez after I signed with the Angels, and he’s someone we all miss, like Nick Adenhart. Preston was in the game for about 60 years, and he always said Willie Mays was the greatest player of them all.

One of the best compliments I’ve gotten was when Preston told Lyle Spencer of MLB.com, just before he had that accident after leaving Spring Training in 2008, that I reminded him of Willie Mays in some ways. He told Lyle that it was not just the way I played center field and hit with power and ran the bases, but the way I work at my game, trying always to get better. I’m learning new things all the time, and I think I’m better now than I’ve ever been, because of the knowledge I’ve been able to pick up and apply to my game.

One thing Preston told Lyle that I especially appreciate is that I have a positive impact on my teammates. He said I was one of the best leaders, and it would show in the work ethic of my teammates. If that is the case, it’s something I’m tremendously proud of, because nothing is more important to me than playing the game right and being an example for the younger guys coming up.

When you think about it, being compared to Willie Mays in any way is an honor. Coming from a great and respected baseball man like Preston Gomez, that is something I’ll always cherish. 

    

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