While Los Angeles Angels legend Darin Erstad was on a three-game rehab stint at Franklin Covey Field with AAA Salt Lake, his trademark grit and raw leadership style brought veteran intensity into the young Stingers (Bees) clubhouse.
A yellow duct tape line divided the home clubhouse, the media was permitted to roam throughout the locker area—asking questions and securing quotes. Whereas the far side of the yellow line was exclusive to team and staff—where they could eat, shower, meet with coaches, or simply slump deeply into well-worn couches to watch baseball and play Xbox.
Like a fly on a wall, it was fascinating to literally toe the line and watch, as Erstad, the hard-charging Angels great and Nebraska native provided a “tough-love” teaching moment to his real-life big leagues teammate, Ben Weber, the quirky Angels reliever.
Some inconsistent defense messed with Weber’s relief outing, and appeared to seek a sympathetic ear in order to vent frustration and pass blame. Erstad unflinchingly rejected the attempt with quick and firm language, telling Weber that he wasn’t interested in his blame game; he could be positive and own his play, or talk a walk. Weber shook his head, and chose to sit quietly.
In a don’t blink or you’ll miss it type of moment, Erstad personified what it meant to be an LA Angel in the early to mid-2000s.
Scioscia’s team of hard-charging, line-drive hitting, base stealing, first-to-third rolling and always on the move—the Angels way to play baseball. It was incredible to watch on the field, and a core memory to observe being taught in real-time in that minor league clubhouse.
This experience came to mind while closely watching the first two series against Oakland and Seattle, as characteristics of past great Angel teams bubbled quietly towards the surface.
Surely this team hears the pundits, the jokes, the ridicule, and the mocking comparisons. Anecdotally, perhaps it is fueling their drive to win. “We keep coming at you,” said manager Phil Nevin.
“I love the fact that we’re just flying under the radar. That we’re just going to do our thing and we want to be on top at the end of the year. We want to surprise a lot of people,” said Anthony Rendon.
From their aggressive “attacking” at-bats, to no-look catches, to speed on the bases and maybe even the inadvisably calling out of an unruly fan —these Angels, from Trout to Ohtani to O’Hoppe on down the lineup, may have a chip and intensity that hasn’t been since the days that Darin Erstad was dolling out hard-earned wisdom.
It’s intriguing to maybe finally be seeing, what I know many longtime fans crave, a potential rebirth of the Angels brand of Baseball. If it is here to stay, welcome back.