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.
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.