For me, personally, this has probably been the worst first half of my career. It’s a combination of things. Every time I’ve started to feel good, something has happened, little setbacks. As a team, we struggled the first couple of months, but our pitching kept us alive.
I can’t give enough credit to our pitching staff, especially Jered Weaver and Dan Haren. Both those guys deserve to be in the All-Star Game – and Jered deserves to start. When you’ve got two guys like that, they keep you out of losing streaks and add on to winning streaks. There aren’t many teams that have starting pitching like ours, and it all starts with those two guys. Ervin Santana, Joel Pineiro and the young guy, Tyler Chatwood, all have pitched well, too. And the bullpen has done the job with the new lefties, Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi, giving us balance.
Once we got the breaking news that Kendrys Morales was not returning this season, as a team we kind of folded for about 10 games. That was a very frustrating time for the team, the coaching staff and the front office. It took us about two weeks to realize he’s not going to come back and be with us. We had to come together. We did that, and you can see now that we’re back to playing Angels baseball.
This is the team Mike Scioscia pulled out of Spring Training, the team we thought we were going to be. Vernon Wells is hot, and I’m starting to swing pretty well. We know how much this team needs us to be productive, and we’re determined to do our part. Bobby Abreu is Bobby Abreu. He plays the game right every day. Our infield has been playing great, from All-Star Howard Kendrick to Maicer Izturis, Erick Aybar, Alberto Callaspo and the kid at first, Mark Trumbo.
The key for us now is staying healthy. If we can do that, I really believe this team is capable of going to the World Series.
With all that we went through in the first half – the Morales news, injuries to a lot of guys, including Vernon and myself – it’s amazing to think we’re tied for first place in the American League West right now. That tells me how strong we are and how good we can be.
I have a saying: Don’t let a setback hold you back. Prepare for a comeback. That’s what all the guys have done. While we were struggling, we were preparing for a comeback. We’ve got a lot of strong individuals on this team, and that’s what it takes to get through hard times. We made adjustments and made progress. We don’t give up. We never give up.
I can’t say enough about what all our young guys have done. They’ve been thrown out there with a lot of pressure on them, and they’ve performed.
Look at Hank Conger, our young catcher. That’s a tough position, with a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. You’ve got to command everything, calm pitchers down, call the right pitches, block the plate, block pitches. There’s so much to that job, and Hank has come a long way for a guy in his first full year. We’re in good shape behind the plate with Hank, Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson. That’s great depth at an important position.
Then you look at Mark Trumbo at first base. He’s holding it down. He knew he was under pressure because of Kendrys not being here, and he has come through for us in a big way. Around the league first base is known for power, and he’s been holding his own. It’s not easy when you don’t know the pitchers or the league. The guy has tremendous power and he wants to be good. He works at it. For a first year guy, he’s doing a great job defensively, I think.
Peter Bourjos in center field, what can you say? The guy has been unbelievable. He’s playing Gold Glove defense and growing in confidence at the plate and on the bases. I love to work with a guy with that kind of speed, and the great thing about Pete is, he doesn’t think he knows everything. He really wants to learn. He’s very humble, but he’s also tough when he steps between the lines. He was a football player in high school, catching touchdowns and running back kicks for touchdowns. That sport toughens you up. Only the strong survive. I played football. So did Vernon and Jeff Mathis. You need that kind of intensity and toughness on a team.
Jordan Walden is another kid who’s been put in an important role, closing games, and what he’s done is very impressive. He’s got great stuff and a good attitude. He’s not afraid, either. None of our young guys are. That’s why I think their upside is so great. It’s kind of scary when you think what all these kids are capable of doing when they settle in.
As a team, we’ve struggled, and we’ve fought back. I really like where the Angels are right now. I’m really looking forward to what’s ahead of us.
Ah, Opening Day. There’s nothing quite like it. I remember my first one, in 1999 with the Twins. You’re out there on the line, next to home plate, and standing there it kind of hits you. This is really happening. You’re in the big leagues getting to start on Opening Day.
This is my 13th Opening Day, so it’s something I’ve gotten kind of used to now. It’s really all about the young guys, getting their first taste of it. The Angels have some great kids. Peter Bourjos, Jordan Walden, Mark Trumbo, Michael Kohn, Hank Conger . . . this first one is something you’ll never forget.
It’s like the first day of the rest of their career, even though they’ve been here later in the season for some games. This is different. You’ve got the stands full, all the excitement. You know a plane’s going to fly overhead. In 10 years you’ll remember what it felt like standing on that line, all the anxiety you felt.
It’s good to have a nice blend of older guys and young guys, and that’s what we have here. Bobby Abreu, Vernon Wells, myself, some of the pitchers, we can kind of guide and lead all these younger guys. I really like our team, the chemistry we have here. These guys want to get this thing going and show what we can do.
Getting that first game out of the way reminds me of playing football in high school, when I’d come to the line of scrimmage for the first time – the cadence, taking the snap, taking off on an option, getting drilled by a linebacker. Then, after that, it was on. That first hit took away all the butterflies and it was time to compete.
That’s how it is with this first game. You want ideally to get a hit that first at-bat, so you can settle in and just play. You don’t want to be fighting for that first hit one too long. As you get older, you know everything eventually takes care of itself. But when you’re a young guy, everything is heightened, all of your senses. You want to succeed so much.
All right, time to get my game face on now. It’s cold out there, but it’s time to go to work. We’ve got a goal, a mission. This is the first of 162. It’s on.