NEW YORK – It’s been a long, bumpy ride through the first half for our Angels, and the All-Star Game was an awesome experience in every way. But now it’s strictly baseball. It’s about catching the Rangers, and they’re hotter than a firecracker.
They’ve got the best offensive numbers in Major League Baseball, and they added Cliff Lee to a strong pitching staff. They’ve also got Tommy Hunter, who’s 7-0 after getting sent down. There’s something about T-Hunters. That’s a little joke, you know.
Going to Texas, home for me, after we finish up with the Yankees, we know what we have to do. We have to play well, play consistent baseball. Everybody has to step up, play smart and tough baseball. We’ve got to bunt guys over, hit-and-run. We’ve got to come out of the bullpen throwing strikes, make all the plays.
In the past, we were the team everyone was chasing. Now we’re the ones trying to catch up, so we can’t afford to be making mistakes. Sometimes teams with a lead can get comfortable, but they know they can’t get too comfortable. They know what we’ve done before, and what we’re capable of doing. We’re the team that’s been winning for a long time, that has history. We’re playing well, but they’ve been playing better. We have to change that.
The first half, to sum it up, you have to say it was a bumpy road. In April, we didn’t play the way we were capable of playing. The offense, defense and pitching were all subpar. Then we got to May and June and started playing our style of baseball – great defense, hitting the ball pretty hard, pitching well. It seemed like we didn’t have any flaws.
Then the last week before the All-Star Game, we ran into the hottest team in the game, the White Sox, and they swept us four straight in Chicago. We had those rain delays and then the long flight to Oakland, getting in at 5 a.m. That kind of carried over to Oakland, and we didn’t play well there.
The All-Star break was good for the guys, I think. They were able to go to the beach, relax, not even think about the game. It refreshed the guys. For myself and Jered Weaver, it was a little different. We were involved in all the All-Star Game and all the activities. It was awesome, don’t get me wrong. But it was also a little exhausting.
I had 25 to 30 family members come in, and I was entertaining them, Angel fans, MLB fans and some of the players, too. From 7 a.m. all the way through the way, I was on the move, attending the Fanfest, events, talking to people. It was an amazing experience. The color fed was everywhere I went. It gave me a real sense of how big the Angels are now, how loyal the fan base is. It was a great experience. It was for the fans, and they had a great time. So it was well worth it in every respect.
Now it’s all baseball. It’s time to go to work. I’m excited to get Maicer Izturis back, because he’s one of the best clutch hitters around, .326 in his career with runners in scoring position, and a tremendous all-around player. He’s going to help a lot – he already has, driving in those big runs in our win last night over the Yankees.
With Izzy getting back in it, with Mike Napoli tearing it up and playing good first base, and with Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Juan Rivera and all the other veterans firing on all cylinders, we know we’re capable of playing great baseball. It’s time to go. Let’s do it.
This is a special weekend for me. Family members and friends from my hometown of Pine Bluff, Ark., are coming up to St. Louis to watch me. My mom, uncles and cousins, they’re all coming. Some people who haven’t seen me in a long time are here. Even the doctor who did my arthroscopic knee surgery when I was 16 from football, back in 1992, is going to be here: Dr. John Lytle. It’s great knowing all these people who mean so much to me can see me play.
The Cardinals were my team growing up. My granddad loved the Cardinals, and we’d watch them on TV every chance we got. They were the team everyone in Pine Bluff pulled for, being the closest to us and also for being so good and exciting.
I grew up watching Ozzie Smith and Vince Coleman, Willie McGee and Tommy Herr, all those guys. The Runnin’ Redbirds. They were fun to watch, flying around the bases the way they did. Everywhere you looked in Pine Bluff you saw those red Cardinal caps and T-shirts. I’m wearing a different shade of red now with the Angels, but the Cardinals are a big part of my past.
I’ve always enjoyed Interleague Play and has some success against the National League. It’s fun being in a different environment, playing against guys you didn’t see all the time. Our natural rival with the Twins was Milwaukee, so we saw the Brewers every season.
The last time I played in St. Louis was in the old ballpark in 2001. That series didn’t turn out too well. We got swept in three games. My first trip here, in 1999, was a lot more fun. We won two out of three, and I had hits in all three games, a couple of doubles, an RBI.
Playing here is a thrill when you think about all the Cardinals history. They’ve had some great center fielders, from Curt Flood to Willie McGee, who was one of my favorites, to Ray Lankford to Jim Edmonds. Flood is one of the real historical figures of the game from a player’s standpoint. Because of his impact on free agency, he helped create a whole new world of opportunities for guys like myself who came along behind him. On top of that, he was a tremendous center fielder, one of the best ever.
Now the big man here is Albert Pujols. I have to admit I’m looking forward to watching him play. He doesn’t know it, but I’ll be studying everything he does. He’s one of the greatest hitters of our time — of all-time, actually.
I hang out with him during the offseason with his work for the fight against juvenile diabetes, and I like the guy. Even though we’re rivals now, trying to beat each other, I get a chance to watch him hit. No matter how long you play this game, you can pick up things from different guys – and he’s one of the best to study. That man knows how to hit.
Time to go to work now. We won two in Chicago against the White Sox, and we’re trying to build some momentum, get this thing going in the right direction. I’m hoping we can put on a good show for everybody this weekend – especially my mom and family, of course.