The Brewers chose wisely. Ron Roenicke has the intelligence, background and inner strength to be a successful Major League manager. Given the right personnel resources, he’ll give Milwaukee fans a lot to cheer about, no doubt modeling his club in the image of the Angels at their best.
Roenicke’s philosophies mirror most of Mike Scioscia’s, but Roenicke is his own man. He will not be a Scioscia clone. When Scioscia, needing to replace Joe Maddon as his right-hand man with Maddon’s departure for Tampa Bay, asked Roenicke if he was interested, Roenicke’s response was telling.
“Sure,” he said. “But I’m not going to be a `yes’ man. I’ll tell you what I think.”
To which Scioscia replied, “Fine. That’s what I want.”
Their 2010 pratfall notwithstanding, it has been an era of excellence for the Angels. They have done things right. The past two years have been marred by a terrible tragedy (the death of Nick Adenhart) and the season-turning loss of Kendry Morales. But the Angels retain a lot of quality talent, and it was interesting how Rangers GM Jon Daniels responded on Monday a few hours before Texas was beaten in Game 5 of the World Series, touching off a wild San Francisco celebration.
Asked something to the effect about the Rangers now being in position to take over American League West control from the Angels, Daniels was deferential. He referred to the Angels’ 197 combined victories in 2008 and 2009 and pointed out that Texas “needs to get better.” His point was obvious: Daniels expects the Angels to come back with a vengeance in 2011.
Roenicke was a big part in those five division titles in six seasons. He has been Scioscia’s sounding board, and he has worked diligently with the outfielders, helping them refine skills and position themselves correctly.
Scioscia is as happy for Roenicke as he was when Maddon left to manage the Rays and pitching coach Buddy Black departed to handle the Padres’ reins. Their successes could not have hurt Roenicke’s chances, along with the endorsement of Scioscia, one of the game’s most respected voices.
So, now Ron Roenicke climbs into the hot seat. A challenging new life opens up for him. My sense is he’s about as prepared as a guy can be. On several occasions in recent seasons Roenicke has filled in during brief breaks by Scioscia to attend to family matters, and his command of the club in those circumstances has been impressive.
He’s also an insightful and articulate pregame and postgame interview, which will hearten my media friends in Milwaukee. Roenicke knows how to handle himself. The Brewers, it says here, are in good hands. – Lyle Spencer
Scott Kazmir came to camp with a right hamstring “tweak” that he sustained, he said, in early January in his workouts at home in Houston.
But he managed to get in three mound sessions before coming to Tempe for Spring Training, and the Angels’ talented southpaw made it through a five-minute bullpen on the mound on Sunday despite damp conditions at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
“It went well,” Kazmir said. “I’m feeling good. They’re being a little cautious with me, but it’s early. No reason to push anything.”
Kazmir, a two-time American League All-Star who turned 26 on Jan. 24, was 2-2 with a 1.73 ERA in six starts for the Angels after arriving in an Aug. 28 trade with Tampa Bay last season. He finished the season 10-9 overall with a 4.89 ERA, missing about five weeks in May and June with a right quadriceps strain.
“If all our starters go through their progressions,” manager Mike Scioscia said, “all five should be ready [for Opening Day].”
The Angels opened last season with John Lackey and Ervin Santana on the disabled list, and they were devastated by the death of Nick Adenhart in the first week.
Because of the damp grounds, Scioscia limited some activities, but overall he was content with the workout.
“As long as we get our bullpens in, we’re fine,” he said.
Matt Brown, who struggled at Triple-A Salt Lake in 2009 after a brilliant spring for the Angels, apparently has found new opportunity with the AL West rival Rangers.
A third baseman with some experience at first as well, Brown has signed a Minor League contract with Texas and will be invited to Spring Training, according to MLB.com colleague T.R. Sullivan.
The 27-year-old has a career Minor League line of .269/.349/.461 in parts of nine seasons.
Brown has 124 Minor League homers but did not launch one in 27 Major League at-bats, in 2007 and 2008 with the Angels. He was non-tendered this winter by the Angels, making him a free agent.
After crushing the ball all spring, Brown slumped to .245 in Salt Lake with 13 homers and 69 RBIs in 107 games. Teammates there felt he struggled heavily with the death of former teammate and friend Nick Adenhart on April 9.
It has been a very rough year for those of us who spend most of our days and nights in the company of Angels.
It began with the Jan. 13, 2009 death of Preston Gomez, the game’s classiest ambassador. He was 86 and lived a full, rich life, but it cut to the core nonetheless. To know Preston was to love him — and respect his wisdom and insights.
Then came the unimaginable Nick Adenhart tragedy in the early hours of April 9. Nick was 22 with everything in front of him. This was one of those blows from which some people — myself included — never fully recover. Nick was a gem, pure and simple, and a light went out with his passing.
Now it’s Rory Markas, a sweetheart of a man, only 54 when he left us last night. We’ve known each other for years, going back to his days calling Clippers games. He enlightened and entertained from behind the mike and was a pleasure to be around on the road, smart and quick with a one-liner, as his good buddy and boothmate Terry Smith pointed out in a heartfelt conversation this morning.
Rory and Terry were a team within a team. The Sunshine Boys of Baseball. You could always count on both men for a kind word, a smile or a comforting shoulder if you were having a bad day. They don’t make them any better than Rory. Or Terry, for that matter.
Like so many SoCal kids, Rory grew up in the San Fernando Valley wanting to be a sportscaster. With their magic over the airwaves, Vin Scully and Chick Hearn and Dick Enberg did that to so many of us, by the hundreds. I veered off in another path, following the words of Jim Murray and Melvin Durslag into print, while Rory chased his dream and nailed it.
He was good at what he did, and he loved the life. He is gone much too soon, leaving yet another major gap in those lives he enriched.
There are so many things to respect and admire about the Angels. Here are some that leap to mind in the afterglow of one of the franchise’s greatest triumphs:
The tireless commitment of Torii Hunter, who represents every day, in every way. A guy couldn’t have a better teammate. When you play with Torii, you know he’s got your back, without hesitation, no questions asked.
The quiet assurance and endearing presence of Bobby Abreu, who walked into a new room and won it over from day one with his style, elegance, humor and wisdom. I had no idea he was this good a player and this brand of leader. If the Angels can’t keep him, they’ll be losing much more than hits, walks, RBIs, runs and steals. They’ll be losing a whole lot of class.
The unique greatness of Vladimir Guerrero. He seems oddly undervalued and underappreciated in this era where so much value is attached to working counts. Sure, he takes some wild swings. But he has been one of the most feared and productive hitters of this or any era, and it was so sweet to see him deliver at the big moment on Sunday – right after Abreu, a clutch hitter with few peers, came through.
The astounding athleticism of Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar on the left side of the infield. It doesn’t get any better than this. Figgins and Aybar have more range and stronger arms than any left-side combo in the past 35 years.
That’s how long I’ve been covering the sport – too long, some would say – and I’ve never seen a better third-base coach than Dino Ebel. He does his homework, knows every outfield arm in the game, stays on top of every possibility and rarely makes a bad decision.
The way Figgins keeps improving, simply by being so dedicated. He is totally immersed in the game, driven to succeed. He struggled finding hits against the Red Sox – Jacoby Ellsbury robbed him of what would have been an inside-the-park homer – but Figgy worked a huge walk against Jonathan Papelbon during the big rally and has a history of delivering in New York. As with Abreu, Figgins’ many gifts would be hard to replace as he ventures into free agency.
Jered Weaver’s emergence as a sturdy, dependable top-of-the-rotation starter, smart, resourceful and – most of all – extremely tough under duress. He learned his lessons well from John Lackey, his mentor.
Lackey’s true grit.
The style and competitive natures of lefties Joe Saunders and Scott Kazmir. Kazmir’s arrival on Aug. 28 from Tampa Bay made this team complete. He’s a keeper.
The very real and productive mutual respect catchers Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli continue to display. In another environment, this could be a toxic situation, but these guys have been so close for so long, nothing could pull them apart – not even competition over who catches which pitcher and how often.
Along those same lines, the way Maicer Izturis and Howard Kendrick have handled their second-base platoon with such uncommon grace. Both are everyday players and know it, but they’ve created not a single ripple of discontent over sharing a job.
Kendry Morales’ intelligence. By wisely taking advice from his elders (Abreu, Mickey Hatcher) and controlling his aggression, he turned all that potential into production and accomplished the impossible in making fans get over Mark Teixeira’s loss.
Young relievers Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen holding up under a heavy workload and holding it together in front of Brian Fuentes.
Fuentes: 50 saves. How can you not appreciate that? He might not be a prototypical closer with premium gas, but the guy gets outs, and that’s the whole idea, right?
The strength and consistency of Juan Rivera, a rock-solid left fielder, and the manner in which Gary Matthews Jr. handled his very difficult role – and came through repeatedly in the clutch.
The enduring cool of Darren Oliver. Nothing rattles this guy. A pro’s pro.
The way Ervin Santana retained his humor while searching for the right stuff to come back after elbow issues made for some long nights.
The big, good-natured manner of Matt Palmer, who came out of nowhere to deliver much-needed innings and wins and went so respectfully to the bullpen, embracing any role handed him. Nobody appreciates wearing a big-league uniform more than this guy.
The willingness of Robb Quinlan, Reggie Willits, Brandon Wood and Bobby Wilson to do whatever is needed to bring their team closer to a win. Even if it’s not something that will show up in a boxscore.
Shane Loux, Dustin Moseley, Kelvim Escobar and Justin Speier, who did their part until they parted, and and all the young pitchers who helped stitch this crazy-quilt pitching staff together over the long haul.
The inner strength of Mike Scioscia, who navigated the most turbulent of waters this season with remarkable calm. Manager of the Year, no doubt. Manager of the Decade? Absolutely.
The dedication of coaches Hatcher, Ron Roenicke, Mike Butcher, Alfredo Griffin, Ebel, Orlando Mercado and Steve Soliz. Wise is the manager who surrounds himself with strong, independent thinkers willing to put in long hours for the greater good.
The way everyone mourned respectfully and continually honored the memory of Nick Adenhart, one of the best and brightest, gone much, much too soon.
Scott Kazmir was throwing the longest pre-game toss I’ve ever seen a few minutes ago, from the warning track in left center at Fenway Park all the way across the outfield to a spot about 40 feet from the right-field foul line.
Finishing his long toss, Kazmir threw some flat-ground deliveries and headed for the bullpen, casually tossing a ball into the crowd on his way.
The Angels’ southpaw looked like a kid in the park, having a good time, which is how I would expect him to be. He loves this type of challenge, pitching on the big stage. If the Red Sox beat him in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, it won’t have anything to do with Kazmir being intimidated by the crowd or the moment.
He’s a pure-bred athlete, a former high school QB in Houston who simply loves to compete.
Among the many things I’ve grown to like about Kazmir is that he reminds me so much of Nick Adenhart. I was thinking about this on the long flight from LA to Boston. Those quiet moments alone are when I generally start thinking about Adenhart and the tragedy. I knew him and cared deeply about him, and it still hurts every day.
Kazmir didn’t get to know Adenhart, which is a shame, because I’m sure they’d have become fast friends. On the other hand, it’s possible Kazmir wouldn’t be here if a drunken driver hadn’t killed Adenhart, Courtney Stewart and Henry Pearson in the early hours of April 9.
It is entirely possible Adenhart, if not for that act of criminal insanity, would have been pitching Game 3 of this series.
Having uncovered some missing ingredients in his delivery, and recovering his confidence, which had sagged in 2008, Nick was just getting started in what would have been a breakout season when his life ended so prematurely at 22.
That’s not just my opinion, that Adenhart had stardom in his future. Those who knew him best – teammates and especially catchers – are convinced he’d have had a big year, and then many more.
Kazmir is right there with you, in the moment, when you’re talking with him. He’s not somewhere else. He has that cool, easy manner that Nick embodied, an effortless grace that marks the premier athletes. Adenhart studied video of past greats and loved hearing stories about pitchers from previous eras. He laughed as I told him stories about some I’ve covered through the years, especially former Dodgers and A’s star Bobby Welch. Welch was so much like Adenhart, and now we have Kazmir, too. It’s comforting.
Kazmir’s arrival on Aug. 28 changed the season for the Angels. It gave them a sense that they had everything they needed now. Veterans privately expressed shock that Tampa Bay would let a talent like this get away, and that the Angels would be lucky enough to land him through a waiver deal.
“This guy is really, really good,” Bobby Abreu said that day. “I love that we got him. I’ve faced him – I know how tough he is. He is really going to help us.”
John Lackey and Jered Weaver were brilliant in Anaheim, but this, of course, is a different venue. The Red Sox will feel the energy of the crowd, and if they regain their confidence, they can be dangerous.
The Angels have a cushion, but they are advised to do everything possible to finish off Boston today. You don’t want the Red Sox gaining momentum and feeling good about themselves again.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia believes criticism of the team’s celebration after its American League West title-clinching on Monday night at Angel Stadium is unwarranted.
By dousing the late Nick Adenhart’s jersey with beer and champagne and making a trip to the center field wall to touch his memorial, players brought the memory of their former teammate into the celebration. Adenhart was killed in an April 9 car crash by an intoxicated motorist charged with multiple murders of the pitcher and companions Courtney Stewart and Henry Pearson.
Those who would contend the manner of celebration was inappropriate, given the conditions under which Adenhart lost his life, are off base in Scioscia’s judgment. He felt it was an honor and a tribute by the Angels players with respect to Adenhart, a 22-year-old right-hander who shut out the Athletics in six innings hours before he was killed in his only start of the season.
“You have to understand these players and the tribute it really means to pour champagne on them,” Scioscia said. “It’s not the alcohol. It’s like a whipped cream pie in the face.
“The whole thing with Nick was an extraordinary time for all of us. It was very sincere and special, and it was meaningful to the clubhouse.
“Last night was helpful maybe to a lot of players, being able to be at peace with it in honoring Nick in a special way. It will be a part of everybody here who experienced it.”
Scioscia said pitching coach Mike Butcher was in contact with Adenhart’s father, Jim, after the title clinching and was told the celebration was “very touching.”
The word is out that the Blue Jays are listening to proposals for Roy Halladay, who has few peers among starting pitchers. No team values starters more highly than the Angels. They have made inquiries, knowing how much Halladay’s talent and endurance would mean in a rotation that has been patched together all season as a result of injuries and tragedy in the form of the death of Nick Adenhart.
The obvious question is this: How high can, or would, they go to import a dominant starter at the top of his game, signed through next season? He’s making $14.25 million this season, $15.75 next year.
The Blue Jays reportedly would want a quality shortstop — the Angels are loaded there — and young pitching talent in exchange for a man who gives you seven to nine innings of high-level work every fifth day.
Probably the only commodity the Angels value as highly as starting pitching is young talent, and therein lines the rub.
Staying healthy for the first time, Erick Aybar has established himself this season as one of the premier young shortstops in the game. He could be featured in an attractive package. If the Blue Jays prefer power, Brandon Wood is one of the elite young mashers in the game, just waiting for his opportunity in Triple-A Salt Lake to show he’s the real deal.
The Angels are rich in young talent. They have youthful pitching (Sean O’Sullivan, Jordan Walden, Trevor Reckling, among others) that would have to appeal to Toronto. It’s conceivable but unlikely they would consider moving one of their established starters — Ervin Santana or Joe Saunders, most likely — in a Halladay deal.
The Jays are in a position of strength and don’t have to do anything. But they’re in a top-heavy division, chasing the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays in the AL East, and as great as Halladay is, it’s highly doubtful Toronto can put together a surge to catch them.
The Phillies are seen as the leading candidates to land Halladay, if he is moved. They have the youthful talent to get it done and clearly are in need of a front-line starter. The level of the Angels’ need is not as high as Philadelphia’s, but as they showed last July with Mark Teixeira, they’re not averse to making the big, bold move.
The Angels have a lot of decisions to make this winter, with Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu, Kelvim Escobar, Robb Quinlan and Darren Oliver all eligible for free agency. Taking on Halladay’s contract would be no issue with so much payroll potentially coming off the books.
When the Padres’ Jake Peavy was available over the winter, the Angels gave it serious consideration but never made a big pitch. There were concerns about how his shoulder and elbow would hold up over the long haul. With Halladay, who has been as durable as they come with superior mechanics, that is not an issue.
This is about as tempting as it gets. For Halladay, who has made it clear he wants to pitch for a winner if he leaves Toronto, the interest would have to be mutual. The Angels offer pretty much everything a player can want. Just ask Torii Hunter. He’ll talk all day about that.
The Angels assembled on Thursday at 11 a.m. near home plate at Angel Stadium for a private organization-wide memorial tribute to Nick Adenhart. The 22-year-old pitcher was killed on April 9 in Fullerton, Calif., along with companions Courtney Stewart and Henry Pearson when their car was struck by hit-and-run motorist Andrew Thomas Gallo, who was charged with three counts of murder along with other felony counts, including driving with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit.
“It was a very good service, something I’m personally glad we were able to do,” Angels catcher Jeff Mathis said. “This was private, just for us, the players, coaches, front office . . . everybody. It was important for the guys who didn’t get to go to the [funeral] service for Nick in Maryland. Some people got up and spoke. It was very meaningful for us.”
With games scheduled in Seattle, only a handful of players were able to attend the services for Adenhart in his native Maryland along with manager Mike Scioscia and front-office personnel.
In Seattle now with the Angels, feeling their pain and unimaginable sense of desolation over the loss of Nick Adenhart, I am trying to carry on, but I still am numb, disoriented, not entirely here. My coping abilities clearly have limits.
It’s been six days. Six decades won’t be long enough to get over this.
This is essentially what Shane Loux was saying yesterday after a remarkable performance against the Mariners on a frigid day at Safeco Field in front of a packed house that had come to welcome Ken Griffey Jr. back to his original baseball home. We use the word courage much too often in sports, but I feel it’s a courageous effort for the Angels to just take the field at this time, let alone play the game at a high level.
Loux expressed a sentiment shared, I’m sure, by every Angels player, coach, manager Mike Scioscia and the entire organizational staff when he said Nick was in his thoughts all day long – and hasn’t left his thoughts since the horrible news came on Thursday morning.
The reader response to my post on Nick was heartwarming, but it also served to drive home the enormity of this loss. He was just getting started. I can’t seem to get past that right now, how it was all in front of him.
Friends have called, expressing various reactions, and one question I’m asked over and over is this: How good would Nick Adenhart have been if his career had played itself out?
My response generally goes something like this: “He’d have been great. How great, obviously, we’ll never know.” And that’s just tragic beyond words. He should have been allowed to fulfill his destiny.
When I first started watching Nick seriously, in 2008 in Arizona during Spring Training, I saw a remarkable resemblance in manner to Bobby Welch in his early days with the Dodgers. I recall writing something about that and then discussing it with Nick. I was drawn to his easy, laid-back manner, how he was so interested in everything I had to say about the game he loved. A lot of young people are preoccupied, quite naturally, with their own lives, but I sensed that Nick really enjoyed hearing about players from earlier times, what made them tick.
I also told him all about Don Sutton, another pitcher I covered who made it to the Hall of Fame with tools very similar to those of Nick Adenhart. Sutton wasn’t overpowering, but he could put his fastball where he wanted it and had a big, over-the-top curveball that complemented it beautifully. Sutton was a serious student of the game as a young man, absorbing everything he could, and that went a long way in making him the durable craftsman he became across two decades.
Sutton, I decided, was the type of pitcher Adenhart could become. Nick also had a dynamic changeup to go with the 92-94 mph heater and the 12-to-6 curve, and he had the burning desire to be great. It was concealed by a relaxed, almost nonchalant personal style, but I saw it in his eyes and felt it when we talked.
I’ll cherish for the rest of my days those conversations we had over the past two springs, how thrilled I was to watch him in his final performance against the Athletics. He pitched his way through trouble like a veteran that night, confident and in command.
Before the game, I was talking with Chone Figgins and Howard Kendrick when Nick walked past on his way to the training room. We’d talked about how he’d matured, how ready he was – and he gave me a look and a grin that told me everything I wanted to know.
He was ready for the challenge, fully prepared for the challenges awaiting him. He had found all the answers he’d been searching for, and now it was his time.
So, here’s my answer: I think he could have joined Don Sutton in the Hall of Fame someday. That’s how talented, how driven, Nick Adenhart was as a baseball player. As a person, he was a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, about as good as it gets.