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How Far We’ve Come

angels clinch

As you know, the Angels punched their postseason ticket Monday night thanks to an 11-0 walloping of the Texas Rangers.

This marks the 3rd consecutive year and 5th time in the last 6 seasons that the Angels have won the American League West division.

It has been the Angels’ division to run away with the past few years, mixed in with moderate competition from Oakland, Texas, and Seattle… but there never had been any doubt that the Angels were the clear-cut team to beat in the AL West.

This year started off the same way, but just 3 days and a handful of hours into the season… everything changed.

The Angels organization was rocked after receiving news of the sudden and unsuspected passing of young pitcher Nick Adenhart, a victim of a deadly drunk driving accident that killed 2 others in the car he was in and internally decapitated another.

The Angels went into a tailspin.

They started the season at 6-11, their worst start to a season in 7 years.

Vladimir Guerrero clearly wasn’t his normal slugging himself.

The Angels were without all-star starters John Lackey and Ervin Santana to begin the season.

Signs were beginning to point to the Angels having a long and disappointing season ahead of them.

Being the heavy favorites to win the AL West at the beginning of the year, the Angels had plenty of expectations heading into the ’09 campaign.

But being dealt an indescribable loss of a fellow teammate 3 games into the season just threw any expectations out the window.

Baseball became irrelevant.

It went from an everyday job to an afterthought.

It opened the eyes of many to what was really important in life… family.

Nick Adenhart was buried in his hometown of Williamsport, Maryland on April 17th, a service that drew a crowd of over 1,500 people, all remembering the fallen 22-year-old.

It was a moment that turned the surreal into the real.

The Angels had lost a teammate, but more importantly, the Adenhart family had lost a son.

From that point forward, the Angels were no longer a team.

They were no longer an organization.

They were a family.

A family that banded together, embodied resiliency, and rose above all obstacles to attain a common goal.

The 2009 Angels personify resilience.

Not only did they have to rise above the tragedy of Nick Adenhart to begin the season, but they also had to fill the voids of Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter being injured and missing a month’s worse of time simultaneously midway through the season (with Juan Rivera missing a week and half’s play during that time as well).

Did the Angels throw in the towel and cave in?

No way, no how.

The Angels would win 17 of 20 games with Vlad and Torii out of the lineup, a streak that spoke volumes of the depth and perseverance of the Angels’ organization as a whole.

It also spoke volumes of their manager, Mike Scioscia; the most level-headed manager in all of baseball who regardless of any scenario or situation, would always keep calm and remain on an even-keel.

The 2002 Angels will forever be remembered as the Comeback Kids.

But the 2009 Angels never quit. They had every reason in the world to quit, and no one could blame them for doing so.

They could have packed it up, threw in the towel, and called the ’09 season a wash.

I couldn’t have blamed them if they did. Not after a blow like that to the organization, no way I could even think of blaming them.

But despite all the adversity, they didn’t give up. Not once.

This is a team of heart.

This is a team of perseverance.

This is a team of champions.

From tragedy to triumph, regardless of how the Angels do this postseason, they’ve won it all in my mind.

Tonight, when I saw the entire team walk out to the image of Nick Adenhart on the center field wall (http://www.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=6901489 for video of that moment)… I realized why I’m an Angel fan.

The reason?

Because this team is a family… and I feel like I am a part of that family.

And family… is loved.

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Filed under Angel News, Angel Stories, September Game Recaps

Juan Fire!

Dodgers Angels BaseballThe Angels are on fire.

Now 7 wins in a row for the Halos, 7th Heaven if you will.

And there unarguably has not been one hotter Halo hitter than Juan Rivera during this stretch.

Over the Angels’ current 7-game winning streak, Juan has gone 11-29 (.380) with 4 home runs, 2 doubles, and 9 RBI.

Juan has been instant offense over the past 18 games, hitting at that same .380 mark (27-71 overall) with 6 homers, 8 doubles, and 20 RBI. Rivera has an RBI in 15 of his last 18 games he’s appeared in and also has recorded 9 games of 2 or more hits during those 18 contests.

Today’s game against the Dodgers where he blasted a tie-busting solo home run marked the 2nd straight contest where a ball off his bat helped score the go-ahead and eventual game-deciding run.

Juan’s the type of home run hitter who will hit home runs in bunches of games, which is frequently followed by a long power outage of sorts until his next blast. But no doubt, his power is surging at this point of the season.

His average is now up to .316 on the season, the 3rd best mark on the team behind leadoff man Chone Figgins (.324) and the Halos’ Superman of the 1st half in Torii Hunter (.321). He’s also tied with Kendry Morales for 2nd on the Halos for home runs with 10.

Juan has been thriving in his starting role this season, but things have not always been so sweet during his season-by-season rollercoaster tenure in Anaheim.

Juan Rivera came over to the Angels along with current 2nd baseman Maicer Izturis in a deal that sent outfielder Jose Guillen from the Angels to the then-Montreal Expos back in November of 2004.

He would appear in 106 games in his first year as an Angel in 2005, hitting .271 with 15 home runs and 59 RBI on the season.

’06 would be a career year for Juan, where in 124 games, he would post career highs in batting average (.310), hits (139), runs scored (65), doubles (27), home runs (23), and runs batted in (85). Rivera would be an impressive mainstay in Scioscia’s lineup that year, and made the Angels look like geniuses for trading away Jose Guillen after his most impressive offensive year in 2004.

However, toward the end of 2006, his fortunes would change.

While playing Winter League ball in Venezuela, he would need a rod and screws inserted into his tibia bone after he broke his leg in a game.

His prolonged absence prompted the Angels to bring in a new outfielder, lassoing in center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. from the Texas Rangers, who made the All-Star team the year before.

He would only appear in 14 games that year, mustering up 12 hits in 43 at-bats with 2 long-balls and 8 RBI.

His return to an everyday role in the outfield and lineup would take another turn for the worst (for him at least), as the Angels shocked the baseball world by bringing in another center fielder in Torii Hunter, who had spent his whole career in Minnesota prior to the signing.

2008 marked a year where the Angels had an absolute logjam in the outfield with guys like Hunter, Matthews, Vladimir Guerrero, left field mainstay Garret Anderson, and even Reggie Willits who was coming off of a great 2007 rookie year. That put Juan as outfielder #5/maybe even #6 on the depth chart, meaning that in a matter of just about 12 months, he had gone from being an everyday player to even lesser of a situational player. And trust me, it’s not easy for a productive player like him to swallow a situation like that.

But he took it all in stride during the ’08 campaign, getting situational starts in the outfield or DH duty from time to time, appearing in 89 games altogether, his lowest total in the past 4 full years he was able to play. He’d hit at a disappointing career-low .246 mark on the season, while tallying 12 home runs and driving in 45 runs.

I give Juan a lot of credit because he could have gone off and been a baby like Jose Guillen and thrown a tantrum about his playing time, but he didn’t. He stayed within himself and knew that Mike Scioscia and the Angels would give him his chance to be back as an everyday player for the ball club. He took it all in stride like a true professional while trying to make the most out of each opportunity that he was given, knowing that if he continued to work at the level that he had been working at, all while keeping a level head, a bigger and better opportunity would come his way.

2009 would be that opportunity.

Gary Matthews Jr. struggled mightily with the bat in 2008 which carried into Spring Training.

Garret Anderson, who had spent his whole 15-year MLB career in Anaheim with the Angels (he was a member of the Angels when they were referred to as the California Angels, Anaheim Angels and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, so you know he’d been a Halo for quite some time), was not picked up and ended up signing with the Atlanta Braves.

The door opened up for him, and he made sure he seized the opportunity.

Juan landed the Opening Day role for the Halos in 2009, and has been a productive and consistent hitter for the Angels all year long.

It’s been a long time coming since that career year of 2006, but he’s on pace to surpass those numbers as he tries to guide the Halos back in to 1st place in the American League West division and hopefully capture 1 of the 4 available playoff spots in the American League.

After Friday night’s game-deciding solo blast, the fans were in a frenzy, begging Juan to take the curtain call for his late-game heroics.

But I can imagine that at that moment, it was much more than one home run in one brief moment to him. It was years of hard work and sacrifice, mixed in with his fair share of flourishing moments and hardships; going from a nearly indispensable player one year to an almost forgotten player the next.

And as he went to make his way up those steps, I sure hope he felt that he earned the right to bask in that brief moment of glory.

Take your curtain call, Juan, you’ve earned it.

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Filed under Angel Stories, June Game Recaps