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.
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.
I’ll be heading off to St. Louis for my third All-Star Game, and it’s something that means a lot to me. I’m so happy for the guys who are going for the first time, guys like Curtis Granderson, Edwin Jackson, Andrew Bailey, Tim Wakefield. I know what that feeling is like. I really hope Chone Figgins wins the Final Vote on MLB.com and makes it, too, because he is deserving.
Chone is a guy who just loves the game of baseball, everything about it. Everybody knows Ozzie Smith was one of his favorite players, and Chone would love to go out on that field in St. Louis and do a back flip like Ozzie. I think the fans would go crazy watching that. This guy can do those back flips — I’ve seen him.
Maybe that will help him get the votes he needs to get on the team. I definitely want to see him there on the American League team, with Brian Fuentes and myself, because he’s having a great year.
He has become a Gold Glove third baseman, and he’s the guy who makes our team go. The last month and a half, he’s been carrying us — getting on base, scoring runs, making plays in the field. He could play anywhere on the field if they need him to. I’ve never seen anybody more versatile than Chone, or anybody who loves the game more and works at it any harder.
If he does win the vote, I hope his first All-Star Game is as memorable as mine. That would be pretty hard to match, I have to admit.
I was voted into the starting lineup in 2002 when I was with the Twins. The game was in Milwaukee, and when I went out to take the field, I was a little nervous, feeling the butterflies. Your first All-Star Game, that’s a thrill. You’re just trying to stay calm, stay in the moment.
As luck would have it, Barry Bonds gets up and hits a shot to center. I’m thinking it’s gone. But then as I’m going back, I’m thinking maybe I’ve got a shot at it. I saw the ball dying and jumped up with everything I had — and caught it. It was one of those moments you dream about. My first inning of my first All-Star Game, and I take a home run away from Barry Bonds, the greatest hitter I’ve ever seen with my two eyes.
Of course, Barry came out and picked me up and put me on his shoulders. That was a show. I’m 26 years old, and here’s this guy Barry Bonds carrying me on his shoulders in the All-Star Game.
We have a DVD of that game, that catch, and I’ll be playing it for my grandkids when I’m an old man. What’s funny about that is that, in a way, I made that game a tie and that caused all that controversy.
My second All-Star Game was in San Francisco in 2007. The best part of that was meeting Willie Mays when he was honored before the game. What’s so amazing about the All-Star Game is all the players you hang around with and the great stars you meet, people you’ve admired since you were a kid. It’s an exciting time, and I’m honored to be going back.
I just hope Chone Figgins comes with me. He’ll flip if he makes it, I promise you.