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A Family Matter for Anderson

July 07, 2002|Ross Newhan

The father who was there only occasionally is going to the All-Star game with the son who yearned for family and learned from that youthful void to be more loving and attentive with his own children.

Garret Anderson, the Angels' left fielder, isn't taking his three young children on the red-eye to Milwaukee tonight, but he's taking his wife, Teresa, and the mother who raised him, Leita Smith.

He is also taking the father he was named for but has seen only intermittently.

And if Anderson's All-Star selection by Manager Joe Torre created a new level of national respect and recognition for a player, as Anderson put it, who has been looked on simply as "that West Coast guy who plays a lot of games," maybe the decision to invite Garret Sr. is an attempt to create a new level of respect and recognition for their relationship as well.

"It's pretty cool," Garret Jr. said. "He was my coach in Little League and saw me learn the game. He's a lot like me and doesn't show a lot of emotion, but I could tell when I called that he was proud and excited to be included."

Smith was 15 when she became a parent. She and Garret Sr., two years older, tried to build a life together but failed. Her son, she says, knew aunts, uncles and a grandmother, but there was no male presence in the house. Tough love was the prescription, she believed. They moved 11 times throughout the Los Angeles area, the television becoming her son's companion while she worked.

"I had a responsibility and took it seriously," Smith said. "I think that's what Garret saw. It was hard on him and hard on me. He wanted the closeness of a father and a big family, but there were long periods when his dad just wasn't too involved. It's unfortunate, and I've always prayed that Garret would accept what happened. He took on a lot of my character as far as not showing much emotion, but he's always had a lot of maturity. There were times I had to tell him to go out and play because he felt he needed to stay in and keep me company."

Her son now is the father of Brianne, 5, Bailey 3, and 1-year-old Trey, or Garret III. He and Teresa met in junior high school and were married in 1993. He was in his fourth year in the Angels' system, having passed on a Fresno State scholarship out of Granada Hills Kennedy High after being taken in the fourth round of the 1990 draft.

"I've come 180 degrees since high school," Anderson said. "All I could do then was hit. I took some bad raps in the minors because I simply didn't know how to play. I basically had to learn on my own, although I have to give a lot of credit to [former Angel instructors] Gene Richards and Lenny Sakata. They escalated my development, taught me how to think and act like a major leaguer."

Anderson learned he was an All-Star on his 30th birthday. He is in his eighth season. His first-half pace projects to 30 home runs and 120 runs batted in, a virtual replay of 2001 (28 homers, 123 RBI) and 2000 (35, 117).

Consistency is his hallmark.

Derek Jeter is the only major leaguer with more hits in the last five years. The only American Leaguer to have played more games since the start of the 1997 season is Rafael Palmeiro.

Of his new recognition (the All-Star selection gives him a $25,000 bonus and increases his $5-million salary next year by $350,000), Anderson said:

"I didn't deserve it the first five years because I hadn't put up the numbers. The last two ... well, they can say, 'Everybody can have one year,' but then I had a second and now I'm doing it again, and it had started to bother me. When you start putting up 100-plus RBIs and 30-plus homers, that's when the recognition comes, and I knew it would if I continued doing it. It's not that I was looking for anything special, just what I deserved."

Batting .295 through Friday, Anderson was listed among league leaders in RBIs, doubles, total bases, extra base hits and several other categories.

Coming up to his prime years, with those eight years of experience, Anderson said he should be ranked "at the top or in the upper third" of AL outfielders and "I feel that I still have room in my ceiling to move up to another level."

In the process, the stoicism he inherited from his mom and dad has tended to mask his intelligence and determination. As a public figure, he said, his wife has been working on him to become more open, and he has shown a willingness, more often at least recognizing his responsibilities as a veteran leader behind clubhouse doors.

Still, as Darin Erstad risks life and limb in center field, Anderson continues to take hits for that unemotional demeanor. Critics on the fringe see it as uncaring, citing his refusal to dive in the outfield as one example.

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