What is an Angel? A heavenly soldier sent down to protect the every-man from his own sinful plight? A storybook figure exaggerated to help children with fears of what’s under the bed sleep at night? An every day person doing good for others at the expense of their own self interest?
A professional baseball player diving horizontally to save a struggling pitcher from being embarrassed on Pinterest? Is it a word that like a familiar story simply causes positive vibes? Can it be interpreted or does its very meaning decompress a fight? Is there a meaning that is accepted as right?
Becoming Kole Calhoun.
Now this is a story, all about how,
Kole Calhoun became a Lord playing in California South,
Now I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there,
I’ll tell you how he became the true Baron of red air.
From West Arizona, born and raised,
On the diamond is where he spent most of his days,
Tracking flies from the sunny line drives,
Working on his craft like an Angel so divine,
When a couple of scouts who were pretty dang good,
Started making headway in his neighborhood,
He got into one local college and so they got scared,
Until he was drafted by LAA becoming the Baron of red air.
The opening Chapter should start at the end. Baron; the original definition was a member of the lowest order of the British nobility. The term “Baron” is not used as a form of address in Britain, with Barons usually being referred to as “Lords”.
Nowadays a Baron is an important or powerful person in a specified business or industry. Someone who sets the bar at their position (RF). In a place called Buckeye, Arizona back in the 87th year of the 1900’s, on exactly the 4th day of October- the definition became forever altered. And considerably red.
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Chapter 2 arrives in the 8th Round of the 2010 Draft, more specifically out of Arizona State University, not far from where it all started. A Sun Devil graduating into his full Lord title; The Red Baron. But what it started as was not its final destination. Co-West Valley High School player of the year with Sammy Solis in 2005, Kole would prevail through Buckeye Union High School and Yavapai College(Prescott, AZ) before turning up at ASU(Tempe, AZ).
It was well before he hit .252 through six years in Major League Baseball. And certainly before he left a royal mark on the right side of the outfield in Anaheim. 2012 was the call up year, but he only played in 21 games. It was still understated; in the realm of many other September call-up’s who never make permanent imprints on ML rosters.
Chapter 3 became explosive. The burning red magma was rising through the cracks in the surface from Arizona’s heated desert to a subtle breeze through Southern California palms. Playing 58 games in 2013 batting .282 with pressure building at every turn, more and more every game that passed. In 2014, finally, all that pressure erupted.
Especially covered in fiery lava when calculated with the team’s AL West crown and playoff birth. In a way that could never be extinguished. The magma jolted out to 127 games with 17 homers and 58 RBI’s. Every-man? More like MLB starter in, of all positions, right field. All the pent up aggression, all the training, all the situations and throws… too much to contain.
158 games in 2015 at .256 was still solid as a rock, because his home run total steamed to 26, with 83 RBI’s (630 plate appearances). Smoking in the back of his subconscious while playing next to the best player in the game. Meanwhile, in the field burnt footprints marked his smoldering paths and full body chalk outlines from saved runs.
So says me, and the Gold Glove he brought home a few months later. His outfield fielding percentage was 98.9%. He had 11 assists and only four errors in 342 opportunities. Do me a favor, reread the last sentence. Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth.
Chapter 4 finds us in 2016. An established Starter, Gold Glover, and emerging hitter protected in the lineup by two of the best hitters of all-time. His 28 year old season he played 154 games with 306 balls hit his way. I know, his fielding fell to a luke-warm 98.4% behind his 9 assists and 5 errors.
Keep in mind that Kole Calhoun isn’t out there jogging to balls to make routine outs every time. He is the definition of hustle. Reading, sprinting, laying out, and believe it or not, helping Mike Trout recover on the few balls he misreads to right-center. People who think Trout would be the same or better without Kole in right don’t understand why the lowest level of royalty is still royalty.
It’s like people who say Jordan could have won without Pippen. Calhoun’s defense allows Trout’s offense to be more impactful. If you are down by 6, what does the last shot even mean? It’s still impressive today, but it isn’t lasting. At worst, Kole Calhoun is the tab in the file that helps you get to the archive of Mike Trout.
At best, he’s much more than that. His batting average in 16′ was .271, accompanied by 18 home runs, 35 doubles, 161 hits, and 75 RBI’s. 2017 saw his fielding at a career high of 98.8% with only 4 errors to 10 assists (312 chances). At 29, he wrapped up this Chapter in 17′ with 155 games, a .244 average, 71 walks, 139 hits, but 134 strike outs in 569 plate appearances.
Chapter 5 is intriguing, because it involves a Mike Scioscia exit- Kole’s skipper and biggest advocate through offensive woes. Mike would glow at ress conferences when Calhoun made a big play and Mike tried to shrug as if he was the only one not surprised that the play decided the game.
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The last of such pressers saw Mike cite Calhoun’s grit and determination as one of the lasting memories he will hold dear from his 19 season rosters. In the moment it always seemed so normal, until 2018 started, and Kole was off to his worst career start through three solid months. Plagued by lingering nagging injuries his Average was a career low hovering well under .200.
The LA Angels went from surprise early contender, to injury prone with two aces on the shelf, to plummeting into an AL West abyss as the World Champion Astros treaded water well above .500, then turned on the jets for an attempted repeat.
Meanwhile, in Oakland Billy Beane maniacally rubbed his hands together like a Simpsons villain as more Moneyball discard’s and metric mea-culpa’s made his Athletics viable once again via statistical anomaly career years.
Down years by Seattle and Texas only made the reality of contending worse as the Angels on paper still looked better than 4th. Kole recovered the last 3 months of the season to impressively rebound for a 2018 total average of .208 with 19 home runs, 57 RBI’s, and a job quite possibly saved after dangling on life support.
Exit Mike Scioscia. Enter Brad Ausmus. Both former Major League Catchers. One would look at modern stats, grin and toss them in a round plastic can. The other is younger, more modern, and rebuilding an analytics department well behind the MLB norm. More irony arrives in the last year of a contract at 10.5 million which makes Calhoun a prime trade target for other teams looking to expedite shedding payroll after 2019.
Even if he started hot on offense, his defense could still make playoff contenders entice the Angels with prospects to sell high on Calhoun, and save money for a replacement and Trout extension. Also, Kole has something he has not had to worry about in years- competition. The Angels brought back Peter Bourjas as a 4th Outfielder- but one who once impressed so much he forced Mike Trout into Left Field. And there’s Jo Adell, a 19 year old Top MLB Outfield prospect; a nice side effect of post Dipoto GM Billy Eppler’s direction in actually building a Farm System. Jo has been impressing at every level, and is widely expectedly to be Major League ready by 2020.
The Final Chapter has yet to be written. And at ages 30-31, Kole Calhoun, assuming production, could be several Chapters from his swan song. A 2019 rebound with a career best offensive year with his standard defensive prowess could extend a career in Anaheim, and keep Adell at bay, or up as only a 4th option.
Or it could be the last year of the Red Baron in Orange County. If it is, let this be a lasting part of his LA Angels album. Grit, determination, perseverance, a workman mentality, defense first, smart play, less Errors than Assists to his teammates… the title of Baron isn’t temporary just because new royalty moves in.
They are forever a Lord and symbol of what it means to represent the Country. To carry the torch no matter what they go on to do; it is recognized as the title they earned. Kole Calhoun has become more than just an impressive Every-Man, Right Fielder, Defensive Specialist, or Lefty in the Lineup- he is now an Angel. The meaning of Angel. The Red Baron.
Sources: ESPN.com, baseball-reference.com, MLB.com / Angels Baseball Addicts