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.
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.
ANAHEIM – I got my work in today, sitting out the final game of my suspension, and afterward at my locker I was telling the writers that I was serving out my sentence and had 24 hours to go before my release. I told them the first thing I was going to do was call my wife, then get a hamburger. They thought it was pretty funny.
The truth is, it’s been no fun at all sitting around watching my teammates bust their tails on TV, not being able to do anything. I’m a player, and not playing hurts as much as any injury. I never got used to it last year when I injured my groin running into walls and had to miss a chunk of the season. I’ll never get used to not playing until I’m retired, and that’s a long way off, I hope.
I told the media it’s probably a little blessing in disguise, giving me a little break, but I don’t ever like watching my team play knowing I could be doing something to help us win. I hate what happened in Detroit, the whole incident. I’m still frustrated, upset about that. I was heated, and I don’t like to be like that. But I have to let it go and move forward now, try not to think about it.
I’ve been asked a lot about making the move to right field to make room for young Peter Bourjos coming up to play center. The truth is, they didn’t come to me and say, “You’ve got to go to right field.’ They told me it was up to me. I had to think about it. I decided that if it made the team better, I was all for it. I had to think about the big picture, the long haul, and this could prolong my career, keep me on the field more. And that’s a good thing for everybody, I feel.
Bourjos is straight speed. That young man can fly. Watching him on the road trip run down some balls, even go after ones he didn’t get to, I was like, “Wow. That’s impressive.” As we play together more, I’ll know his range, what he can get to, and let him have it.
Right field is not center field. Center field is fun; you’ve got a lot of power out there. It’s a power trip, really. You can call off infielders, the left fielder, the right fielder. Anything you can get to, it’s yours. It’s not easy to give up something you love, whatever it is, and this isn’t easy for me. But if it makes the Angels better and helps us win, I’m all for it.
I’ve won nine Rawlings Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger, but I’ve never won a World Series championship ring. That’s what we’re all playing for, and I’ll do whatever I can to help move us in that direction.
The toughest part of playing right field so far has been playing the corner. It’s a totally different look in right, with a lot of top-spin on the ball, hook and spin. When the ball’s hopping around in that corner, you’re thinking, “What are you going to give up, a double or a triple?” It’s something new for me to learn, and that’s a good thing. A guy told me a long time ago that once you think you’ve got it all figured out, your career’s over. I’ve got more to learn, so I’ve got some time left.
Mike Scioscia came over after the media guys left, and we talked for a while. He played against the guy who made me want to be a baseball player, Andre Dawson, and we talked about how he made the transition from center to right and actually became a more productive hitter. It was easier on his legs, and as a hitter, everything starts there. I see that as a good sign. I think I’m getting better all the time as a hitter, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this takes me – and our team.
There’s a lot of season left, and I’m ready to get back out there and bang some balls around and have some fun.