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This Team is What Baseball is About, and I Love It

They trot out 162 times a year, and they manage to give it all each and every time.

Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Legend says the smile is still there. To this day.
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Every year, stories swirl around in the MLB, reporters wear down players, and individuals are questioned on their commitment to the game of baseball. At 162 games a year, that’s already 44% of the year, half of it away from home, not counting Spring Training, off days, and potential playoff games. The questions of what a professional sports player “owes” a fan and how lucky they should consider themselves to be playing a game for a living have been debated constantly, and there is no right answer. Just recently, tennis player Bernard Tomic was rebuked for his remarks concerning tennis, stating that he didn’t give 100% and there was no need to.

For every one of these very public stories, 100+ kids use a glove, bat, and/or ball in their backyard to get up to some summer mayhem. They may have many friends, or they may have dragged out their younger sibling to be a prop. They may have broken windows, and they may have run away before they could be convicted of the crime. They dream up scenarios in their minds, imaging themselves to be heroes, coming up in the clutch, and delivering...

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the minor leagues are graveyards for those dreams. Just at Salt Lake City, you have Mike Trout, who raced on by. Then there’s Kaleb Cowart, who tiptoed along the sidewalk, twisting and turning, but who appears to be out of the bog for now. And you have dozens of those kids like Brandon Wood and Dallas McPherson, those who simply get lost in the quagmire and never make it out. And there’s also Double-A and Single-A and rookie ball and all those freaking levels that are designed for that kid to fail and that just complicate things on the maze to the big leagues.

Taylor Featherston is not someone who should be playing at the major league level. Selected in the 5th round in 2011, one of 1,530 selected that year, he got the call when the Angels picked him in the Rule 5 draft. Maybe 100 from his draft class made the majors. His dream may not have worked out the way he wanted it to, but he got there. He made The Show.

Ramon Flores is the current example. He’s hitting .311 in SLC right now, and maybe he’ll get 10 at-bats for the Angels this year. He’s wasted a lot of them...grounding out this way and flying out that way and yet...he doggone sprinted down to first base that first PA he had. That’s the first impression I had of him. I didn’t care that he made an out (okay, maybe I cared a little, because he made nothing but outs after that). He shouldn’t be in the big leagues. But here he is, making the most of his opportunity, hustling, and caring. Do you think he wants to take those disastrous routes to the ball he has thus far in right? In some ways, he’s a microcosm for these 2017 Angels: not good enough to be moving onto the next level, but he’s here anyway, and he’ll be damned if he doesn’t give his all to see if the ball can bounce his way a couple times.

Yes, this team shouldn’t be in the playoffs. It shouldn’t be anywhere near the playoffs. The offense sputters because the black holes suck up all the outs. If the starters have a “quality start,” it’s a cause for celebration because 6 innings is 3 more outs than we’re usually getting and 3 runs means that the opponent knocked 5 balls out of the park against Ricky Nolasco and decided not to touch the plate for two of them.

But we’re here. And we’re flying.

The Angels are, quite obviously, led by Mike Trout, who plays the game with such infectious joy that he is the perfect team leader. Someone can talk the talk, but only Mike Trout walks the walk. Dallas Keuchel of the Astros criticized the team the other day for not making a move at the deadline (essentially saying that his team was not talented enough to get over the hump by themselves) and followed it up by hanging a loss in Tampa Bay. Trout’s over there in the corner, smiling, signing autographs, loving the game. Just think: If playing next to Josh Hamilton didn’t suck the love of the game from Trout, can anything? In the 9th inning yesterday, as Bud Norris was trying to slay his demons and Ben Revere was busy getting his feet crossed up on a routine fly ball, Trout went over there and tapped Revere on the shoulder. With a smile. It was a show of solidarity. That kid in Little League who the coach sent out to the outfield because he wanted to get him as far away from the play as possible. Getting your feet crossed up is funny. If it happened in Little League, kids would laugh. And now Trout is over there, laughing along with Revere. This team shouldn’t be where it is.

But we’re here. And we’re flying.

No one is a million years could have predicted this offensive season for Andrelton Simmons. He’s supposed to be the grounder vacuum, and maybe he can knock one out of the park every once in a while, but maybe not with the Marine Layer active. He’s the kid after practice trying to do those backflips and frontflips and gloveflips and whatever other flips you can do with the ball, and he’s the guy who just has a lot of fun doing the routine pickle drills. And somewhere along the way, he found his bat, crushing the high pitches. Trout picks up the low ones, and maybe between them they have an unstoppable player. Still, at his core, he’s a defender. He’ll try those impossible plays not only because he can, but because they’re so fun when they work. That Middleton inning the other day? Yeah, Simmons decided to try to backpick a runner at second; it didn’t work, and Simmons couldn’t throw the guy out at first. But it was an instinctual move, the kind of stuff that Simba loves doing. It should’ve backfired.

But we’re here. And we’re flying.

We’ve written a lot about the bullpen coming out of nowhere and Blake Parker being cut before we realized that no one else wanted him and maybe we might want him a little and Bud Norris going to the pen and then becoming the closer and Cam Bedrosian conquering his issues. And there’s hothead Keynan Middleton who was fired up when he struck out Bellinger and silent but stealthy Yusmeiro Petit. And maybe lump in Parker Bridwell, who was just looking for his shot, Jesse Chavez, wanting one more season to start in the majors, Alex Meyer, who the Twins gave up on, and those countless injured pitchers in our system who we’ve probably given up on too. But they’re not giving up. They want to be out there.

But we’re here. And we’re flying.

There’s CJ Cron, hitting over .350 since his latest call-up, just hanging around there, waiting for his shot, and Kole Calhoun, who was always an underrated prospect, but when he made it, he never relinquished his hold. Ben Revere and Cameron Maybin and Eric Young Jr. (I don’t need to share for whom he plays), the triple speedsters who hope that their bats come to life enough to justify playing their speed. Kaleb Cowart, the guy the Angels liked so much they decided to fix his swing the very first day they had him. When that didn’t work, he was left out to dry, but still there, biding his time, waiting to strike, believing in himself, just like that young kid in the backyard. Had he followed a normal progression path, he shouldn’t be here.

But we’re here. And we’re flying.

Now we get into the tricky guys a bit. Luis Valbuena, the guy who took $16 million from the Angels. Well, what were you expecting him to do? Eppler dangled a piece of paper in front of him, this .229 career hitter, and he took it. You can’t expect him to be anything he’s not. The 2017 OPS is only .060 points off his career average. He swings for the fences, and most times it doesn’t work, but when he starts jacking them, the smile comes out. There’s Albert Pujols, the albatross. The one who makes faces every time an ump jobs him. The one who insists he’s better than his slumps. The one who looks like he’s having the opposite of fun every time he gets up to the plate. But he’s also the one who has had to prove himself his entire career. The 402nd overall pick. Almost not signing. Starting for the Cardinals. Deserving the contract. People talk a lot about hubris being the reasons behind a lot of athletes refusing to admit their struggles, but maybe, just maybe, there’s something else too. Fear. Proving you belong on the field, day in and day out. Striving to be the best, just like in the backyards. These two are not anywhere near where they could be when they’re at their best.

But we’re here. And we’re flying.

Yunel Escobar tries his best. Not at baseball. At making people smile. There’s the safe symbols and the constant “no’s” at the plate and the whole casual attitude towards the game that somehow makes me smile because he’s pretty good at the game, too.

Yes, the media talks a lot about the Dodgers and the Astros and the Nationals and whatnot. How can you not win with a rotation of Kershaw-Darvish-Wood? How can you not win with Carlos Beltran or Josh Reddick sitting the bench? How can you not win with a deadly lineup that can field six .900+ OPS hitters in a row (Harper, Murphy, Zimmerman, Lind, Rendon, Kendrick)? You sit around and you expect to win and then what? Is that baseball? Did those Little League boys go into games knowing they were better than everyone else and the games would be slaughterfests?

No, we’re a real baseball team. The one made up of a few stalwarts and some journeymen trying to stay in The Show and a lot of youngsters attempting to navigate the waters. And it’s one thing for the journeymen and the youngsters to give 110%, but the stalwarts, they’re loving every second of the game too. Wins are exciting, because they’re unexpected. Deficits are exciting too, because they might turn into wins at any moment. No quit, because everyone loves the game. When everyone loves the game, everyone cares. That’s what baseball is about, and I love it.

We’re here. And we’re flying.