Rookie third baseman George Arias will probably experience a wide range of emotions tonight--excitement, some nervousness, perhaps a touch of stage fright--when he makes his major league debut in the Angels' season opener against the Milwaukee Brewers.
The big guy on the Anaheim Stadium mound will know exactly what he's going through.
Long before left-hander Chuck Finley became the ace of the Angel pitching staff, the veteran clubhouse statesman, the $36-million man, he was a bright-eyed rookie making the transition from the county-fair atmosphere of the Midwest League to the high-wire act of a big league title race.
Arias, 24, hit .279 with 30 home runs and 104 runs batted in at double-A Midland (Texas) last season. He hopes to bypass the triple-A level, but Finley's flight to the major leagues might have been an even more dramatic jump.
Finley was 23 and had pitched only 41 professional innings when the Angels called him up from Class-A Quad Cities (Davenport, Iowa) on May 25, 1986. Like Arias, Finley joined a veteran-dominated team that was picked by many to win the division title in the American League West.
"I went from riding on a bus for 12 hours and walking into clubhouses the size of closets to coming in here with Reggie Jackson, Don Sutton, Bobby Grich, Bob Boone, and Gene Mauch as your manager," Finley said. "It was a pretty intimidating crowd."
Finley's goal--aside from trying to give the Angels some left-handed relief--was to be as inconspicuous as possible.
"I was pretty much to be seen and not heard," Finley said. "I sat there and tried to absorb everything."
What advice would Finley have for Arias?
"Probably the same thing my Class-A coach [Bruce Hines] told me when I got called up," Finley said. "He congratulated me and said, 'Take a deep breath, and don't ever look back. Don't let any person intimidate you, and don't be afraid to take chances.' "
A deep breath might come in handy for Arias tonight. But if his spring-training performance--and his Big A debut in Friday night's Freeway Series game against the Dodgers--are any indication, Finley believes Arias is capable of handling the physical and mental rigors of the major leagues.
Arias hit .415 with four homers and 15 RBIs in Cactus League play and won the third base job over Tim Wallach with some dazzling defense, which left Angel coaches wondering how Arias could have committed 29 errors last season.
Arias handled all his chances cleanly against the Dodgers on Friday--it was only the third time in his life the Tucson native had been in a major league stadium--and he also made one diving catch.
He has seemed almost shy in the Angel clubhouse but has not been reluctant to approach Angel veterans, especially Wallach, with questions about the game. He has even been given golf tips by pitcher Scott Sanderson.
"He seems very low-key, real friendly," Finley said. "The guys I worry about are the ones who come in here running their mouths and other stuff. They seem pretty fragile. But George seems to have a good grasp on it. He doesn't seem intimidated at all."
Arias believes the businesslike atmosphere in the Angel clubhouse might have brought out the best in him.
"You could tell the minute you walked into the locker room that they take this a lot more seriously than guys in the minor leagues," Arias said. "Up here, they have the attitude that what you do in practice, you do in games. That helped me concentrate more."
Though Arias steps into a key defensive position--with three left-handers in the rotation and opponents stacking their lineups with right-handed batters, he should get plenty of action at third--batting seventh in one of the league's most potent lineups should give him time to grow into his offensive role.
Arias will also be playing beside one of the league's best shortstops, Gary DiSarcina, and will have the benefit of throwing to Gold Glove first baseman J.T. Snow.
And if he ever needs a sympathetic ear, or some words of wisdom, he can turn to Finley and pitcher Jim Abbott, who went directly from college baseball to the big leagues.
"From the vibes I get, I think you'll see the same person whether George is doing great or so-so," Finley said. "He has a very strong character about him. And he won't be out there alone, because we all want him to succeed."