Sunday, August 12, 2007

Put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today


Baseball is such an interesting game. Maybe it's a metaphor for life in general, hell, I don't know. But it's as full of drama as any other human activity without bloodshed, and just a great example of the human spirit: to try harder, to go beyond one's self, to excel.

Being an Angels fan isn't always easy. 2002 World Series aside, they often take a bad rap: too much small ball, not enough sluggers, no "big players".

As far as I'm concerned, big players come in all sizes. From today's LATimes:
Since 2002, Chone Figgins has been an Angel in Anaheim. He was doing well, and he was ready. This would be his breakout season. Instead, what he got was a nightmare.

. . . In June? He hit safely almost half the time.

Some players climb out like this, then quickly tumble back into their slump. But Figgins got hot and stayed hot.

July? Hot.

Now, in August? The Angels are leading their division, poised for big things. And Figgins keeps spraying the field, one shot after another.

"He's just as locked in as you can possibly be," says Mickey Hatcher, the Angels' batting coach. He compares what Figgins, now hitting .339, is feeling at the plate with what Tony Gwynn must have felt during his whole career.

Right now, other than all-world outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, you can make a case that Figgins is the most important Angel. Batting second, stealing runs, covering third base, he has emerged as a quiet, dependable leader. And the guy with the hottest bat.

Watching him play has become one of the best things about a team that wins the hard way and doesn't always get its due.

The Angels don't pound opponents with home runs. They simply don't have the muscle. They win with speed and smarts and crisply hit singles -- many of them off the bat of Figgins.

Want to see how this turnaround started?

Easy. Before a game, head to Angel Stadium and watch batting practice.

Notice the bigger, taller players taking their swings, often loose, sometimes wild, blasting baseballs all over the yard. Often, it's just show.

Then watch Figgins, No. 9. Standing next to the outfielders, he's the one who looks like a kid.

But notice, there's no fanciness.

As he approaches the plate, he loses his smile. He crouches. He narrows his eyes and blocks out everything that's swirling around him.

For a moment, the bat rests on his shoulder.

The ball comes. He swings. His black-and-beige bat is a rhythmic pendulum.

Crack . . . crack . . . crack . . . crack.

Figgins keeps going, using the same, simple swing that he'll use later in the game.

Steady, contained, simple. Again and again.

There's something to learn from that.


Indeed. Something pretty special about watching a guy play his ass off, when the cards are stacked against him. And then be successful. My pick (at this time) for team MVP.

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