Tagged: Gary Matthews Jr.

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.

Angels: Built to win

ANAHEIM – It’s great to be back in our park, back home. We got everything accomplished we needed to do in Arizona, and now it’s time to get ready for the real thing. We’re looking forward to seeing the Twins on Monday, so we can get this show started.

I know there’s been a lot of attention focused on the guys we lost this winter – Chone Figgins, John Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero, Darren Oliver, Gary Matthews Jr. But that’s the way the game is. Guys move on, and you adapt. We’ve made some great additions, and I’m really excited with the team we’ve put together here.

Of course, it hurts losing teammates who were friends. A guy like Figgy, he was a respected man in the clubhouse, a leadoff guy who scored more than 100 runs and saved a lot of runs with his glove. He played the game right. But he got a great deal in Seattle, just like I got a great deal here. I’m happy for Figgy, but he’s on the other side now, and we’ll compete against each other with everything we’ve got.

I’ve got a ton of confidence in Erick Aybar taking over as the leadoff man. He’s a young guy with tremendous talent coming off a big year. And he can fly. He’s going to be fun to watch on the bases. With another year of experience with his mentor, Bobby Abreu, Aybar should be even better.

Bobby’s one of the best leaders in the game, and I’m so happy he’s back. You could see his influence last year in how much Aybar and Kendry Morales and so many other guys improved during the season. Bobby even helped out veterans like Figgy and me in a big way by showing us how to be more disciplined and selective at the plate. Everyone learned from watching Bobby and listening to him.

Lackey was a bulldog, one of the reasons I wanted to come here, but he got a great deal in Boston. We signed Joel Pineiro to replace Lackey in the rotation, and I’m impressed with Pineiro. You’ve got to like a guy who throws strikes and keeps the ball down. He should get real deep in games with our defense behind him.

With Pineiro, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir, we’ve got five solid starters, five guys who will give us a chance to win every night. We’re built to win with that rotation and with a deep bullpen. We’ve got some big arms out there, and this is Brian Fuentes’ second year in the American League. That always helps, getting that first year to figure things out.
Hideki Matsui is the guy I call the Quiet Assassin. He’s as clutch as they come, in a quiet way. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Hideki does in our lineup. He’s a pro, like Bobby, and you can never have enough of those guys.

Morales was born to hit. I call him Captain Caveman and Bam-Bam. He’s solid, strong and he always wants to use that stick and hit. And he’s good down at first with the glove.

Hitting behind Aybar and Bobby, and in front of Hideki, Morales, Juan Rivera, Howard Kendrick, Brandon Wood, Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis, Maicer Izturis. That’s a lot of talent, a load of weapons.

Brandon Wood, his thing is to play defense and do his part. Let us have the pressure. That’s why they’re paying us. We just want him to relax and play. He’s got it in him to hit at least 20 homers, with 70-plus RBIs. If he does that, he helps the team tremendously. The way he’s played third base, he’s been impressive.

Everybody knows what Izturis can do – pretty much whatever you need. He’s versatile and clutch, the kind of guy every winning team needs. Kendrick is going to do some really big damage this year. He’s my pick to click. I definitely feel he’s one day going to win that batting title, if he can just stay healthy.

With the kind of talent we have in front of me and behind me, I should be in a good position to drive in runs and score a lot of runs. All I have to do is stay on the field.

I was on my way to my best season ever when I messed up my groin crashing into walls last year. I really feel good now – once I broke the scar tissue sliding this spring, I was good to go. I don’t even think about the sports hernia surgery I had last winter anymore. I’m ready to get after it.

I think we’re built to win the division. There’s a reason why the Angels have won the AL West three years in a row and five of the past six. These guys know how to compete, how to win. I thought we had a great year last season, considering everything we went through losing Nick Adenhart. We’ll never forget Nick, what he meant to us.

This team has a lot of heart. Our mission this season is to take it all the way. We can’t wait to get started.


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.

Dodgers, Angels project proud heritage

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. 

That catch is for you, Mom

I called my mom today to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. I said, “I’m going to try to hit a home run for you, Mom.” I didn’t do that, but I took one away.

I’m pretty sure she’ll be happy with that.

Making a catch like that is a feeling that’s so good, so awesome, it’s hard to describe. I thought I had a chance when Miguel Olivo got into that ball, but I had a lot of ground to cover, because I was shading him over toward right center. He’s got some serious power.

There’s a lot that goes into making a play like that. You have to get to the wall, but not too close, and you have to time it just right. After the game, I went and watched the replay in the video room with Justin Speier, and he said I had some serious hang time on it.

I felt like I could have dunked, two hands, over Shaq. I felt like a wide receiver did a slant, and I took him out.

Man, that was awesome. It’s a very special win, coming back the way we did with three runs in the seventh, the bullpen doing a great job. Something like that can do a lot for a team.

When the game ended, Bobby Abreu and Gary Matthews Jr. came over and I was expecting the usual high-fives, but they both threw themselves into me and we had a three-way hug out there. It was just an expression of how great it felt, for all of us.

That’s the kind of moment you live for as an athlete, to challenge yourself and make a play like that, with so much on the line — and then to celebrate with your teammates.

I’ve made my share of catches like that, and this one ranks pretty high. But the best is the one on Barry Bonds in the 2002 All-Star Game in Milwaukee, when I took one away from him. That was on the big stage, my first All-Star Game, and it was an incredible feeling.

I take great pride in playing center field at a high level. I’m aware of some of the stat guys who are saying I’ve lost something, I’m not as good as I once was. Well, I just wanted to let you know I’m still me. I still can play the game. I know how to play center field. I still feel like I’m one of the best.

That’s not being cocky. That’s confidence.

People ask me what it takes to make a play like that, and it’s hard to describe. It’s just something that’s in you. You have to have the athletic ability, first, and then instincts come into play. I try to teach my sons how to do it, and they get a little frustrated. Maybe they’ll catch on.

It’s like when Torii Jr. just missed a home run, the ball bouncing off the top of the fence. I told him to be patient, that he’ll be getting stronger as he gets older, and those balls will start flying over the fence. 

There were some great signs for us this weekend. We swept a really good club in the Royals. I like what they’re doing. They play the game hard, and they play it right. Coco Crisp was a great pickup for them in center field, and they’ve got a lot of talent there. Big Olivo, he’s something to watch. He’s got a cannon for an arm, he can run, and he can put a charge in a ball.

He just hit that one in the wrong place today — and I was able to get there.

There was another play I made earlier in the game that was unusual. They had a man on first, Mike Jacobs, and Alberto Callaspo hit a sinking line drive. I came up and played it on a hop and got rid of it as quickly as I could, and we got the force out at second.

There’s an art to that. It takes a lot of practice. I threw that one three-quarters, and sometimes, if necessary, I’ll come sidearm with a throw to get it there in a hurry.

I grew up playing shortstop, and that’s how I play center field — like a shortstop. I love making throws on the run, holding guys from taking an extra base. After the catch, they had a man on first and Coco hit a single to center, and I was able to keep the guy at second by getting to the ball and getting it back in as fast as I could.

There are so many elements to playing center field. It’s my position, and I love everything about it.

Today was a great day to be in center field — and to be an Angel. 

Chills and fever

That pretty much describes what I was feeling this afternoon. I was having lunch, and all of a sudden I got light-headed and felt sick to my stomach. I was sweating, feeling like I was going to pass out.

I’m still not sure what it is — maybe a virus of some kind, maybe food poisoning from something I ate the night before. I know I was dehydrated, and that’s never a good thing.

I’m going to be the designated hitter tonight. We’ve got a lot of good outfielders on this team, and Gary Matthews Jr. is one of the best center fielders. I’m drinking a lot of water, trying to get better. This is just weird, man, having something like that just hit you out of the blue.

We’re going through some rough times right now, and I neeed to be there for my team. You’re not always going to be 100 percent. Over the long season, there are going to be nights when you’re not feeling good, not feeling strong, but you gut it out and do the best you can. I’ve always had that football mentality, going back to high school. I love to compete. When those lights come on . . .  it’s like Friday Night Lights. You feel like going out there and competing, making something happen.

I’m sure a lot of fans are worried about us, how we’ve been playing, how we’ve been trying to cope with the loss of Nick Adenhart. All I can ask is that everybody has some patience and understanding. Sure, we’re professionals, well-paid professionals, but we’re also human beings — and this hit everybody in this clubhouse like a thunderbolt. Until you’ve gone through something like that, I don’t see how you can understand what it’s like.

There have been moments since it happened that you feel like you’re in a dream state. Everything just feels unreal. It’s a terrible tragedy for Nick’s family, to lose someone like that, so young and talented, such a great kid. How can it not hit his teammates like a ton of bricks?

We just have to go through it, take it day by day. Time does heal. We’ll get better. We’ll get back to being what we are: a championship-caliber team loaded with high-character guys. We’re good. We’ll show it. Please, just try to be patient and give us some time to get through this.  

Assessing the Matthews situation

I know a lot of people are criticizing Gary Matthews Jr. for taking the stand he’s taking, wanting to play every day. People wonder how a guy making the kind of money he’s making can act like he’s not happy. I hear that all the time. You’re making all that money, how can you complain? What’s your problem? Well, that’s not fair at all, if you understand the mindset of an athlete. We’re competitors by nature, and we all want to be part of something special.

I understand perfectly how Gary feels. Gary’s an athlete. He grew up loving the game and playing for nothing. That’s what got him where he is, that passion he has for the game. The fact he’s now making a lot of money doesn’t change that. He feels he can play at a high level — and I agree with him.

We play the same position, and I know what it takes to get it done. Gary’s a terrific center fielder, and he can also play left and right. But we’ve got a lot of talent everywhere in this clubhouse, and even though that’s great for the organization, it’s not so great for some of the players.

You can’t expect a guy who loves the game to sit on the bench and be happy about it. I’ve always felt older guys who are near the end of their careers make the best bench guys, because they know what they can do and how to respond to situations. Younger guys just want to get out and play. Gary’s not a kid — he’s 34. But he’s not an old guy, either. He’s healthy again, and he wants to get out and show the world what he can do. How can you blame him for that?

Bobby Abreu is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Because of the economy in baseball now, he had to take an $11 million cut this year, down to $5 million, to come play for us. He did it because he loves the game and wants to play baseball. He’s here every day, cracking us up with jokes, laughing, having a great time. I knew he was a great player, but seeing him every day now, i can see he’s a great teammate, too. He’s going to be good for this club in the clubhouse as well as on the field. Bobby’s a real pro. 

I know what it’s like to be frustrated with your situation. I was the same way back with Minnesota. I’d be hitting like .450 in the spring, but they had Otis Nixon in center field in ’97 and ’98, and I couldn’t make the team, no matter what I did. It kind of messes with your mind when you’re young.

That’s why I’m always talking to Brandon Wood, Matt Brown, Sean Rodriguez, all these young dudes who can play but have established veterans in front of them. I tell them to be patient, that their time will come. I know how frustrating it is, but you have to keep working, keep improving — and be ready when your opportunity arrives. I tell them it’s the same game up here. That doesn’t change. What changes is the hype, the fans. It’s the spotlight, and how you handle it.

The talent level on this club is really amazing. Man, I look around and shake my head. We’ve got athletes all over the place. That’s why I feel for Gary. This guy is a premier athlete. I know it’s tough on him emotionally. It doesn’t matter if you’re making $500 million — you want to play. That’s true of 99 percent of the guys in the Major Leagues. Manny Ramirez is playing because he loves the game, loves to hit. I know Manny, and he lives for the game, the competition.

Gary is no different. He just wants to play. That doesn’t make him a bad guy, by any means. It makes him an athlete.