Saying “Goodbye” to my hero: a letter to Chone Figgins

Dear Chone,

I know you will never read this. However, this is something I need to do to cope with the news that came yesterday.  24 hours ago, you announced that you will be retiring after signing a one-day contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the team that you spent the majority of your incredible career with.  As a lifelong fan, this is news I was expecting for a few years.  Alas, that does not begin to dull the pain.

The first time I saw you play was in April of 1999 when you were the starting shortstop for my hometown Salem Avalanche.  As a 4-year-old, there were 2 primary reasons why you were my favorite player, 1) Chone Figgins is a fun name to say, and 2) I loved your walk-up song (I used to do this thing I called the “booty dance” every time it came on.  Thank goodness camera phones weren’t a thing then.)  From there, my fandom only grew.  Every now and then my parents would take me down to the dugout and wait for you to go out and stretch so I could get an autograph or two.  You always obliged.

As a young kid, I didn’t quite understand how the minor league system worked and, in 2001, I was absolutely devastated to learn that you had been called up to AA.  My dad reassured me that it was a great thing and that it meant I had a better chance of seeing you play for many years to come.  Thankfully, that was the case.

I have many fond memories of your playing career.  You leading the Majors with 62 stolen bases in 2005 and hitting for the cycle in 2006 were special.  I only got to see you play in the Majors once, against the Nationals in 2008.  You had a bunt base hit that day.  I’ll never forget that.  Another special moment was watching you come up to bat for the Dodgers for the first time in 2014.  I was devastated when the Marlins let you go at the beginning of the previous season and I was terrified that was it.  Watching you come up to bat again was an incredible feeling.

However, my favorite moment in sports history is when you made the AL All-Star team in 2009.  Every now and then, I think back on hearing your name being called in the introductions and it brings a tear to my eye.  You loved the game and it was on full display.  I have the card of that moment on my desk right next to me as I type this.  Last semester I even wrote a paper about it.  We were asked, “What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from sports?”  The lesson I learned from you is to love what you do.  Whenever you stepped foot on a diamond you had a smile on your face, even when times were tough in Seattle.  That is what I will always remember about you.

I remember the moment I became an Angels fan.  I was at an Avalanche game in 2003 and went to the team store to buy a pack of baseball cards.  I chose the 2003 Donruss pack with Sammy Sosa on the cover.  My brother suggested I get another pack that had more cards in it, but I told him no, “I want the Sammy Sosa pack.”  I opened it up and flipped through the cards.  The very last one was your Rated Rookie card and that’s when I learned you had been traded to Anaheim.  I was so excited to get the card that I sprinted back to our seats to show my grandpa.  He always loved how you played the game and I wanted to share that moment with him.

My grandpa died from dementia in 2012.  Tragically, it got to a point where he really couldn’t remember much.  Outside of his room at the nursing home was a shadow box.  In it were a lot of items that meant something to him and were there to try and help him remember things.  In the box was that card.  One day I was helping him walk around and he stopped at his shadow box.  He pointed and said, “Chone Figgins.  He was great.  Remember him?”  I looked at him, smiled, and said, “Yeah, Pop.  I remember him.”  You were my hero growing up and your career has always meant the world to me.  But now knowing what you meant to my Poppy, that makes your career even more special.

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Seeing your passion for the game made me develop a passion for it too.  I was never any good but I’ve always loved the game.  In fact, I’m devoting my life to it.  Today is my first day as a Ticket & Sales Intern for the Washington Nationals.  Without you and your love for the sport I would not be in this position.

Today you retire after signing a one-day contract with the Angels.  I guess it’s somewhat fitting that the day your baseball career ends, mine begins.

However, I hope this is not the end.  Whether it be as a little league coach or a Major League scout, I hope you stay in baseball.  It doesn’t matter in what capacity, the game is just better with you in it.

Looking back on your career and what it meant to me and my Poppy, I, unashamed, write this with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face.

It was a good ride, Chone, and I thank you for it.

Signed,

A fan.

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Wild, Wild AL West: Our 2016 AL West Predictions

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1st) Houston Astros – 94-68

The future of baseball is located in Houston, Texas.  The Astros are easily the most exciting team in the game and it’s due to their young stars Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer and reigning Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel.  They have a young, powerful lineup that is only getting better, an incredible rotation which just got even deeper with the addition of Doug Fister (hi, dad!) and a bullpen headlined by veteran Luke Gregerson, Tony Sipp and Will Harris who both had a sub-2 ERA last season, and the newly acquired closer Ken Giles.  This is the best team in baseball and they are only getting better.  They had a real chance of winning the World Series last year (they should have won the ALDS vs Kansas City but Correa missed an easy ball that led to KC tying the series).  Dethroning the Royals is tough, but Houston has the star-power to do it.

Key pitcher to watch: Doug Fister.  He was a Cy Young candidate two seasons ago but really struggled to find himself last year.  Being in a new city and having the ability to test free agency after this season, we expect Fister to bounce back to his old form.

Key hitter to watch: Carlos Gomez.  Acquired in a money dump at the trade deadline, Gomez failed to produce the MVP type numbers we’d grown used to.  Chalk it up to injuries or is it a sign of a rapid decline?  We think (and the Astros hope) it’s the former.

2nd) Texas Rangers – 89-73

Texas barely edged out the Angels and Astros in the final days of the regular season last year.  While they have gotten better (they will have Cole Hamels for a full season and Yu Darvish potentially returning in June), the Rangers will have to settle for a Wild Card berth.  The rotation after Hamels isn’t great but we expect Texas to score a lot of runs early and have their solid bullpen closedown tight games.  Prince Fielder bounced back strong from his 2014 injury and we think he’ll pair nicely with future All-Star Rougned Odor, Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland.  Expect Texas to out-slug the rest of the division on their way to a Wild Card appearance.

Key pitcher to watch:  Colby Lewis.  Texas needs Lewis to step up for the first few months while Yu Darvish is out.  They’re praying he reverts to his 2010 self and becomes a solid #2 behind Hamels.

Key hitter to watch: Ian Desmond.  Coming off a very disappointing season with the Nationals (perhaps turning down a $107 million contract offer lingered in the back of his mind) Desmond is starting completely over.  New contract.  New team.  New position.  Both Desmond and the Rangers hope all of these changes help him stop his skid and revert back to the 25 home run threat he once was.  Ian will also be playing for a 2017 contract and money is a pretty good motivator.

3rd) Seattle Mariners – 84-78

It seems like baseball writers always try to be edgy when they make their preseason picks and pick the Mariners to win the West.  Usually that’s a really stupid prediction.  This year, well, it’s still pretty stupid but that’s just because Houston and Texas are very, very good.  Don’t get me wrong, Seattle has the potential to be an 89 win team.  They added some nice pieces in the offseason (Adam Lind, Nori Aoki, Joaquin Benoit) to an already impressive roster and have one of the best lineup combinations in the game (Seager/Cruz/Cano).  If Robinson Cano can continue his second half surge from last season, and if Felix Hernandez can return to form, there’s no reason Seattle can’t be a playoff-bound team.

Key pitcher to watch: Taijuan Walker.  Is it weird that one of the best pitching prospects has a minor league career ERA of 4.04?  Yeah, it probably is, but Walker seems to be the real deal.  He’s only 23 years old and is going to need to step up in order for the Mariners to make their first postseason since 2001.

Key hitter to watch: Ketel Marte.  At only 22, Marte has found himself as Seattle’s starting shortstop.  He hit .321 in the minors this past season and .283 in 57 Major League games.  He’s quick and exciting and should hold down the shortstop position in Seattle for years to come.

4th) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 80-82

Despite having some of the biggest names (and payrolls) in baseball, the Angels are an average team at best.  Anaheim finished just one game away from the playoffs last year, losing on the last day to Texas, and yet they have done nothing to significantly improve their roster.  The Angels’ left fielders produced one of the worst combined seasons in Major League history and their response was to bring in Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry, lifelong backups.  They then traded their entire farm system and fan-favorite shortstop Erick Aybar to the Braves for Andrelton Simmons, a defensive wizard who usually looks lost at the plate.  Then, instead of resigning David Freese for only $3 million, they traded young stud reliever Trevor Gott to the Nationals in exchange for Yunel Escobar who, in reality, might not be better than Freese.  Sure young studs like Mike Trout (who is already the best player in the world), Kole Cahloun and Garrett Richards are still getting better, a scary thought, but players like Albert Pujols and Jered Weaver are now shells of their former selves.  The Angels are one of those rare teams that has the potential to both win and lose 90 games.  We think it’s somewhere in between.

Key pitcher to watch: Matt Shoemaker.  In 2014, he went an impressive 16-4 (yes we know that wins and losses are team dependent stats, but sometimes they do accurately show how good a pitcher was) and posted an equally impressive 3.04 ERA.  Last year was a completely different story.  7-10 with a 4.46 ERA and 135 hits in 135.1 innings.  If he can revert back to his 2014 self the Angels have a better chance of being that 90 win team.

Key hitter to watch: C.J. Cron.  A first round pick in 2011, Cron has the potential to be a serious threat behind Trout.  The Angels would like it if he drew more walks (17 in 404 plate appearances last year) but I’m sure they’ll settle for 25 home runs.

5)Oakland Athletics – 71-91

They finished in last at 68-94 in 2015 and 88-74 the year before.  You just never know what they’re going to do.  They’ll either lose 90+ games or win the division by 6.  Honestly, your guess is as good as mine.

Key pitcher to watch: Jesse Hahn.  The 26 year old has flashed some talent in his 2 Major League seasons but is yet to rack up 100 innings in a season due to injuries.  Hahn believes throwing sliders is what caused his arm to act up last season and has vowed to quit throwing them in hopes to pitch a full season.

Key hitter to watch: Danny Valencia.  We here at The Batter’s Eye have long been fans of Valencia.  After jumping around for a few years, Valencia has hopefully found a home in Oakland after signing a one-year extension.  If he is able to play 150 games, we believe Valencia could hit 25+ home runs and potentially become an All-Star.

 

What do you think the AL West will look like? Sound off in the comments section!

No Halo in Hall of Fame Heaven

andersonI promise that not every other article will be about Hall of Fame snubs (however, we do have 2 more lined up that are Hall of Fame related).  Today I make the case for the greatest Angel of all-time, Garret Anderson.

After an impressive 17 year career that featured 2,529 hits, 522 doubles, 1,365 RBI and 8 consecutive seasons with 150+ games played, Garret Anderson received one Hall of Fame vote.  Honestly, it was one more than I thought he was going to get.  Still, I’d like to see him enshrined in Cooperstown.

Growing up an Angels fan, it was hard not to love Garret.  He was the model of consistency and played the game “the right way”.  I felt comfortable about our chances of winning each day knowing #16 was going to be out in left field.

As mentioned earlier, Anderson is the greatest Angel of all-time.  Well, that is until Mike Trout shatters all of his records with both hands tied behind his back (that’s the only way to make it fair at this point).  As of now, Garret is the franchise’s all-time leader in games played, at-bats, hits, singles, doubles, total bases, extra-bases, runs and RBIs.  He also made it to 3 All-Star Games (including 2003 when he won the All-Star Game MVP and Home Run Derby, a feat only matched by Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr.)  and won 2 Silver Sluggers towards the end of the ‘Steroid Era’.

However, it will be for Game 7 of the 2002 World Series that Anderson will be most remembered.  At-bat with the bases loaded in the 3rd inning of a 1-1 game, Garret ripped a double down the right field line that scored all 3 runners.  With young stud John Lackey on the mound, that’s all the Angels would need to secure their first and only World Series title in franchise history.

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However, there are two big knocks against Garret’s career: 1) due to the likes of Troy Glaus and Vladimir Guerrero, he was never really considered to be the best player on the team and 2) he had zero plate discipline.  You know how Vladimir Guerrero swung at almost everything?  Well Garret swung at literally everything.  In his 17 year career he only averaged a measly 25 walks per season.  This led to Garret owning a slightly above average .324 on-base percentage.  (This is also a common knock against Ichiro, however, he is a Hall of Fame lock.)

I will admit, my longing for Garret Anderson to make the Hall of Fame is rooted in my fandom, but come on, literally no one enshrined in Cooperstown is wearing an Angels’ hat.  That might change next year with Vladimir Guerrero who is a likely first ballot Hall of Famer and is deciding between the Angels and the Expos.  If not, we’re going to have to wait another 20 some years for Mike Trout, assuming he doesn’t leave for somewhere like New York or Philadelphia (which he definitely will.)  Ugh.

My Baseball Experience

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Ever since I was a little boy, baseball has been my true love.  I grew up going to Salem Avalanche games and watching/idolizing players like Chone Figgins, Choo Freeman and Matt Holliday among many others.  I was absolutely terrible with a bat in my hand so, thankfully, I was able to live vicariously through them.

In 2003, I opened a pack of baseball cards and received my first Major League Chone Figgins card (pictured above).  That’s when I learned he had been traded to the Angels and, thus, I became an Angels fan.

The release of MVP Baseball 2005 on GameCube only strengthened my love for the game and that Angels team.  That 2005 team still holds a very special place in my heart. Chone Figgins, Big Bad Vlad Guerrero, Garret Anderson, K-Rod, two-thirds of the Molina brothers…

I digress.  In 2014 I took a minimum wage job selling concessions with the Salem Red Sox (formerly the Avalanche).  It’s not a glamorous job but I loved it because I got to work for a baseball team.  Walking into a baseball stadium every day is the best job there is.

I have since made it my goal to be a baseball lifer.  The dream is to work in some capacity for a Major League front office. It’s going to be quite the adventure. To quote  Adam the Woo, “Join me, shall you?”