Tagged: Denard Span

Humbling year comes to a close

ARLINGTON – This is where the long season ends, today, much too soon for us. It’s been a trying year. I’ve been humbled, and we’ve been humbled as a team. Nobody saw this coming, and we’re not going to let it happen again. When we get together for Spring Training, I want us all to remember how bad this felt. That will make us that much hungrier.

Looking back, we got beat down, starting in Spring Training. There was a lot of turnover, a lot of change. Four core guys left: Vladimir Guerrero, Chone Figgins, John Lackey and Darren Oliver. That’s a good piece of the club. And Gary Matthews Jr., too. He was an important role player for us.

It never really came together for us, other than that one stretch we put together in June where we played like us. The rest of the year, that wasn’t us at all. It was somebody else. We weren’t letting our talents flow. We were pressing, trying to do too much, trying to win games by ourselves.

When I signed here, I expected us to be dominant every year. We have to get that feeling back. One thing you can’t expect is injuries, and we had some big ones: Kendry Morales, Maicer Izturis, Jeff Mathis, Joel Pineiro, Jason Bulger. We lost key guys, and I think it kind of knocked us off balance because we didn’t have as much depth as in the past.

This is the first time in my career since 2000, when I was 24 years old, that I played on a team that didn’t have a winning record. With the Twins, we were always in contention. In 2005 I broke my ankle and we didn’t make the postseason, and we didn’t make it in 2007 even though we were fighting for it and got close. Then we made it my first two years here and were two wins away from the World Series last season.

This is a humbling season for me. Sometimes you have to be humbled. You get spoiled sometimes with winning. I have been slapped in the face and the team’s been slapped in the face. I’ve been winning my whole career, and I’m not used to this feeling.

Things don’t always work out the way you plan. I had sports hernia surgery on Nov. 27, and it took me time to get to where I could do my rehab. When I got to Spring Training, it was like I had to learn to run the bases with it again. I had a lot of catching up to do, and the truth is, I didn’t feel the same, like myself, until recently, in August and September.

It all went back to May of 2009 at Dodger Stadium when I crashed into the wall making a catch on Matt Kemp. Then I hit the wall hard in San Francisco a few weeks later, and my groin got really bad. I always try to play through injuries – that’s just who I am – but this was bad. I had to sit a long time, and when I came back I wasn’t right but I gave it my best shot.

Playing center field requires a lot of running, and it seems like I was doing even more than normal this season. My old explosion wasn’t there. I didn’t feel like myself going after balls. I could still make plays, but it wasn’t me. That was something that really hurt me. I always told myself I would retire if I couldn’t play center field, but life is about revising things. It’s like when I said I wasn’t going to get married until I was 25, and I got married when I was 21. Life happens, as they say.

Anyway, I always thought I loved center field more than the game itself. When the decision was made to move me to right field and play Peter Bourjos in center, I found out I loved the game more than center field. That was big. It was hard for me to give up center field, but I knew I had to do it. It improved our defense. Peter is showing what he can do out there. He’s not a finished product, and that’s what’s scary – seeing how good he is already and knowing that he can get so much better.

When Pete got here, I liked that he asked me questions. That let me know he really wanted it. He’s into the game and understands the game offensively and defensively. I wouldn’t put too much on him too soon – let him play and learn and grow. This is just the beginning for him, and I know what that’s like. When I started out in Minnesota, I had guys like Kirby Puckett and Shane Mack to show me things. Now I can do that with Peter, like I did with Denard Span while I was still with the Twins. Now he’s playing some good center field.

It’s funny, it wasn’t until the end of August, the beginning of September, that my legs started feeling a lot better. I felt like I had some burst again, and I was getting down the line better. I think that moving to right actually did help me save wear on my legs. In the long run, that can be a really good thing. Next Spring Training, I’m going to be primed.

We learned a lot this season through the humbling we took. Now we have to turn it back around and be the Angels. That’s all. Just be the Angels, who we are. That will be enough. I’m excited about coming back and getting back to the top, where we belong.

You can catch me on MLB Network with some commentary during the postseason, and I’ll try to be enthusiastic and upbeat. But you know me: I’d rather be on that field, helping drive the Angels toward our ultimate goal. Wait’ll next year.

Saluting my man Andre Dawson

ARLINGTON – This was a big day for one of my early heroes. Andre Dawson was the guy I wanted to be like when I was a kid growing up in Pine Bluff, Ark. My granddad and I would watch games on WGN, and “The Hawk” was killing the ball and making great plays in right field for the Cubs. He ran the bases hard and he had a cannon, I remember that.

Andre had a huge influence on me with the way he played the game, his aggressive, all-out style. You could tell the man loved to play and was a fierce competitor, and that’s how I’ve always tried to be. I even copied his batting stance when I was a kid, before I found my own.

I heard about how great he was in Montreal, and how that artificial turf in the Expos’ park he played in for 10 years messed up his knees. Lyle Spencer, who covers us for MLB.com, has told me how much the Dodgers respected Andre back in the day when he was covering them. He thought The Hawk was the best player in the National League when he was a young center fielder covering ground, throwing guys out and hitting bombs for the Expos.

I can relate to what he went through, now that I’ve moved from the artificial turf in Minnesota to the natural surface, God’s green grass, in Southern California with the Angels. It makes a huge difference over the course of the season. I used to feel so beat up playing on that carpet. I’m really happy for the young Twins like my protégé Denard Span, who won’t have to go through what I did, and what Kirby Puckett went through playing center field on that hard turf.

It tells you a lot about Andre Dawson that he was able to get through that, get to Wrigley Field as a free agent, and show his stuff when he won the NL MVP award in 1987. If anybody had any doubts about him being a Hall of Fame player, that should have taken care of them. He led the league with 49 homers and 137 RBIs. That man could rake.

This is a great day for a great player and a good man. I also want to congratulate the other Hall of Famers who were enshrined today – Whitey Herzog, Doug Harvey, Jon Miller and Bill Madden. It’s the biggest honor in the game, and I’m sure they’re all having the time of their lives in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Whitey Herzog managed the Cardinals when they were my favorite team in the ’80s, with Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee, all those burners. Herzog turned out some great teams, and he’s very deserving. I’m sure he’s happy to go in with an umpire like Harvey, an announcer like Miller and a writer like Madden – along with The Hawk, of course.

Time to get ready for the series finale with the Rangers. We’ve got some work today.   

Dream season continues


This is what I hoped for, what I envisioned when I signed my free-agent contract with the Angels last winter. We’re in the postseason, with a good shot at getting to the World Series and winning it all. But that’s not the whole story.

As thrilled as I am to be a part of this team, I couldn’t be any happier with what the Twins have done since I left Minnesota.

I’ve got a lot of friends there, a lot of people I truly love. That’s why it was so hard on a personal level to leave. Everything I know about the game — how to play it right, how to develop chemistry, how to get everything you can out of the talent you have — comes from that organization. We’ve achieved a lot here with the Angels this year, and so have the Twins.

Really, it couldn’t have worked out any better for everybody concerned.

One of the positives to come out of me leaving Minnesota was that Denard Span got a chance to show what he can do. Denard was my protégé. He came to Texas to work out with me in the offseason, and we talked all the time about the life of baseball. To see him get that opportunity and come through the way he has is just awesome for me.

That’s really amazing, what they’ve done. I mean, Johan Santana is one of the best pitchers in the game, and they also lost Carlos Silva to the Mariners. That’s where their pitching philosophy came through for them. They teach their guys to pound the strike zone, and that’s what they do. They catch the ball and run the bases hard. And they’re smart; you rarely see them beat themselves. I have tremendous respect for that organization, the way they teach guys to play the right way all through the organization.

Everything I brought here with me, I learned there. I am indebted to the Twins for that. I’ll always have a connection to that organization and the city. It was a great time in my life. But the time came where it was best for me to make a move — and this is where I definitely wanted to be.

Going all the way back to 2002 when the Angels beat us in the ALCS, I’ve admired the way they play the game. They do all the things the Twins do. When I became a free agent, I was a scout. I talked to eight or nine teams, and the Angels were right at the top — with the Twins.

You can’t explain it to fans, but getting off the artificial turf was a big deal for me. I didn’t want to be like so many guys who played the outfield on carpets and had to leave the game too soon, before their time, because of the beating their bodies took on it. It’s a long list, and I didn’t want to be on it.

I want to play this game as long as I can, because I love everything about it. That’s one of the things that made the Angels so appealing to me from the start. On top of playing the game the right way, like the Twins, they played outside — on grass. And in front of great fans, like we had in Minnesota.

Early in the free-agent process, it didn’t look like the Angels were going to get involved. When they did, kind of out of the blue, I knew that’s where I wanted to be. It came together fast, like a dream. And like I keep saying, it couldn’t have worked out any better.

I’ve had no problems with my body this year. I go in for a massage, but that’s about it. Playing on a hard turf, by the end of the season you’re all beat up. My body is feeling great. 

This team has so much talent, it’s unbelievable. And some great guys, too. I’ve tried to open up a few of them with my jokes and attitude, and I think I’ve done that. If you’re having a good time, it makes the season more enjoyable — and it can be a long season if you’re not having a good time.

Rolling around on the floor in the clubhouse, wearing those goggles, swimming and dancing during our celebration after winning the division title, that was about as good as it gets. I loved seeing the guys cut loose and really have some fun together. That’s part of building camaraderie, chemistry. You’re all in it together — literally, in that case.

Now it’s time to go out and take care of business. These guys know what they have to do. It’s all about playing the game with feeling, playing from your heart and executing with your head, hands and feet.