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.
For a couple of years now, people have been talking about the decline of the African-American player in Major League Baseball. The sport has made it a priority to get inner-city kids interested and involved in the game again, and the players have also done their part. I have the Torii Hunter Project, CC Sabathia has his, Jimmy Rollins has his thing going, Derrek Lee. Guys are doing what they can to get inner-city kids back into the game.
This is important to us, because it’s our heritage. Back in the days of the Negro Leagues, baseball was huge for African-Americans. They played in front of 20,000, 30,000 fans. Everybody was all dressed up, men in suits, women in dresses, everybody looking fine and having a great time.
The last 10 years we’ve seen a decline in African-Americans in the Majors, but there are signs it’s coming back around. Two years ago it was on its way to 7 percent African-American representation in the Major Leagues, but now it’s up to 10, 11 percent. That’s encouraging. It tells me these programs and projects are starting to work.
This series with the Dodgers is especially exciting for me. I’m always into the game — I don’t hide my love of playing baseball — but this Interleague series is definitely special. I look over at the other side of the field and see Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, Orlando Hudson, James Loney, Juan Pierre, Cory Wade. And Xavier Paul just went on the disabled list. That’s a lot of African-Americans on one team.
Over in our clubhouse, we’ve got Chone Figgins, Howard Kendrick, Darren Oliver, Gary Matthews Jr. and myself. It really feels good to see African-Americans playing the game and showing kids how they can have long, productive careers — and make a lot of money in this sport.
Like anything worthwhile, it’s never easy. It takes a lot of mental toughness. It’s a humbling game with a lot of failure involved. But it’s worth all the time and effort, believe me. I signed when I was 17, and I’m signed through 37 years old. That means I’ll have 20 years in the game, at least. How many guys do that in the NFL and NBA?
Last year it was the Angels, Rays and Brewers who had the highest percentage of African-Americans, but it looks to me like it’s the Dodgers and Angels now. Two L.A. teams, playing an exciting brand of baseball — old-school style. We go first to third, run the bases hard, play great defense. We compete..
I will have a big smile on my face tonight. I feel a lot of pride in what I’m seeing. I want inner-city kids to understand how great this game is, how you don’t have to have a 40-inch vertical leap or be able to run through a building to play baseball. You need desire, a strong work ethic, and you have to know how to handle failure and adversity.
The game is getting back to speed, moving away from all the focus being on power. You see how important the stolen base is again, with guys like Carl Crawford and Figgy. Heck, I’ve even got eight bags. Bobby Abreu is stealing bases.
This is the game our grandparents and their parents grew up loving. Knowing everything the Dodgers have represented for bringing Jackie Robinson and Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella into the game and breaking down that color barrier, I’m so happy to see the team they’re putting on the field now.
I’m always excited to play the game and never take for granted how fortunate I am. This is going to be a great weekend of baseball.