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ANGELS PLUS | DIANE PUCIN

Healthy Outlook

Anderson Remains a Constant in Lineup

May 18, 1999|DIANE PUCIN

Manny Alvarado was the rookie baseball coach at Kennedy High School in Granada Hills in 1989 when he was given a note from the varsity basketball coach.

The note said that two basketball players were interested in trying out for the baseball team. Would that be OK? Alvarado said, sure, but he had no idea who these kids were or if they could hold a bat properly much less swing one or if they could put on a baseball glove, much less catch a line drive or field a ground ball.

So imagine Alvarado's surprise when a shy and lanky 16-year-old with downcast eyes and the smooth, effortless walk of an athlete, grabbed a bat in his big hands and started whacking the ball around. The hits were going everywhere. Line drives, home runs. The ball, Alvarado said, was rocketing off the bat of this youngster.

"Who was this guy, that's what I was thinking," Alvarado says now, 10 years later, the day still fresh in his mind. "Here I was, the rookie coach and this kid just wanders in. Needless to say, he made the team."

This guy?

Garret Anderson.

As the Angels, clobbered again with incredibly fluke injuries and with a lineup filled with guys whose names you didn't know in March, struggle to stay within reasonable distance of first place in the American League West, it is the stoic, underappreciated Anderson who has been the constant.

"I'm pretty proud," Anderson says, "of the fact that I haven't been injured much in my pro career and that you can count on me. When a manager fills out a lineup card, he knows he can put my name on there. That makes me happy when I think about it."

Imagine. All last winter the rumors seemed much more certainty than gossip.

Anderson, the local kid, the guy who grew up in Los Angeles, playing Little League baseball for his father, also named Garret, and living with his mom, Lita, in Granada Hills, was spoken of nearly every day as trade bait. It would be Anderson, 26, just heading into the prime of his career, who would be offered around so the Angels could acquire another pitcher.

It was Anderson who was considered the fourth outfielder, the extraneous body now that Mo Vaughn had arrived to play first base and push Darin Erstad into an outfield that already included all-star Jim Edmonds and future all-star Tim Salmon. "Yeah, I heard all the talk," Anderson says. "All the time, every day. Did it bother me? Not really. Like my father told me, if you're good enough to be in a trade rumor, that means you're good enough that other people want you. So I chose to be flattered instead of upset."

And now, in the middle of May, Salmon and Edmonds are on the disabled list, victims, respectively, of a bad wrist and bad shoulder. Erstad is back playing first base because Vaughn badly sprained his ankle on opening day and has been the designated hitter to take some pressure off the swollen ankle.

Anderson? He leads the team in hits (45); is tied for the team lead in at-bats (156) and home runs (eight); is tied for second in doubles (nine); and is third in RBIs (23). Anderson is tied for third in the American League in multi-hit games (15); fifth in the league in at-bats; tied for second in games played (38) and tied for second in sacrifice flies (three).

Yet, on a Sunday afternoon when hundreds of Little Leaguers have come to Edison Field for hot dogs, Cracker Jack and autographs, you hardly hear anybody calling Anderson's name.

Mo, Darin, everybody wants their signature. Chuck Finley, Troy Glaus, Todd Greene. Kids screech their names. Anderson climbs the steps out of the dugout and there are a cluster of boys and girls holding bats, balls and pens. They lean over the railing but not one of the kids shouts Anderson's name. As Anderson grabs a bat and walks off to take batting practice, an usher asks the kids if they know who that was. "Um, the first base coach," one says.

Oops. Not quite. That would be 49-year-old George Hendrick. Well, OK, Anderson and Hendrick both have mustaches.

Garret Anderson the elder, if you can call 44 years old and still playing baseball every Sunday in a Los Angeles city league "old," says his son has always been quiet, has always been a supremely talented athlete and has always been overlooked.

"The first time Garret swung the bat," his father says, "the ball made a special sound coming off that bat. Everything he did was so smooth. It hardly looked like he was trying. Sometimes that's been a problem, I think."

Alvarado says the same thing. That Anderson's natural strength and speed and butter-soft hands, his long, easy running strides, his expressionless face, his wordlessness in the clubhouse or locker room, have been mistaken sometimes for laziness or lack of drive or missing desire.

"I could never figure it out," Alvarado says. "Major league scouts would come around Garret's senior year and tell me they thought the kid was lazy. They'd watch him play and say it didn't look like he was trying hard.

"I'd say, 'Hey, wait a minute. The kid practices hard, he plays hard. He just has that much talent.' "

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