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Playing Under the Radar

With the World Series opener, perhaps fewer East Coast fans will sleep on hard-working, yet under-recognized West Coast players.

October 20, 2002|From Associated Press

To J.T. Snow, it was almost a routine play. To many others, it was much more -- and that made the San Francisco first baseman laugh.

Snow made a nice, backhanded stop on Chipper Jones' grounder to start a double play that ended the first round of the playoffs. The next day, Snow woke up to hear people all over raving about his defense.

"Not to be rude or anything, but I've made about a thousand plays better than that in my career," the six-time Gold Glover said. "It was almost like people had never seen me.

"But it's that West Coast vs. East Coast thing. When our games start, half the country is already asleep."

Starting Saturday night, everyone will be wide awake when Snow and the Giants take on the Anaheim Angels in Game 1 of the World Series.

The timing is just right for a lot of guys. Because beyond Barry Bonds, there are a lot of deserving players here still waiting to make big names for themselves.

Garret Anderson, Troy Glaus and Darin Erstad all have done huge things for Anaheim. But really, it's a good bet that some fans are more aware of Shane Spencer, simply because he plays for the Yankees and always seems to show up in October.

"I live in L.A., and three weeks ago, I didn't know any of the Angels," said Michael Weisman, coordinating producer of Fox's baseball coverage.

All it takes is one clutch hit or one key play to change that.

Or maybe one memorable game on the mound. If that happens, even casual fans will be able to tell Russ Ortiz from Ramon Ortiz. The two, who aren't related, could start against each other in the next few days.

"Some people have gotten us confused," said Russ, whose 14 victories tied for the Giants' lead. "They'll say, 'Oh, you're the one who pitches for the Angels.' "

Jarrod Washburn will start the opener for Anaheim. At 18-6 with a 3.15 ERA, he was excellent this year. He also exemplifies these wild-card Angels -- successful and unheralded.

"I mean, we were under the radar all season long and it didn't bother us. We kind of like being the unknown team," Washburn said. "I think we kind of all thought that if we just go out there and do what we know we're capable of doing, pretty soon everyone's going to know about us."

Anderson posted another big year, hitting .306 with 56 doubles, 29 homers and 123 RBIs. Yet because he's not whistling those balls into the upper deck at Yankee Stadium, a lot of people still aren't sure how to spell his first name -- one "t" or two?

Glaus has averaged 37 homers for the last four years, and led the American League with 47 in 2000. If he'd been hitting those shots over the Green Monster, fans in Boston and beyond would know a lot more about him.

Erstad got a whopping 240 hits in 2000 and became the first leadoff man in history to have 100 RBIs. Like Glaus and Anderson, he does not seek publicity. Even so, if he'd been doing that on the East Coast, playing every night for Atlanta on a superstation, he'd be a much bigger star.

Could happen for Scott Spiezio. He hit .375 with two home runs and 11 RBIs in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Besides, he's hard to miss now -- he's put Angel red streaks in his hair and goatee.

"Every question about Spiezio now is, 'Is he deserving of a Gold Glove?' " Angels outfielder Tim Salmon said. "Well, they're getting to see him now. They're getting to see what he can do with the glove and what he can do with the bat. Being a West Coast club, we don't get that national recognition and exposure, so this is good for those guys."

Spiezio's family is thrilled by the prospects. His father, Ed, was a backup for the St. Louis Cardinals and went 1-for-2 lifetime in series play.

"My mom keeps saying, 'I can't believe you're in the World Series.' I said, 'Why not? Dad was in three,' " Spiezio said Thursday. "She said, 'But you're playing.' "

Snow, who played four years for the Angels and six with the Giants, also is enthused that his teammates might get some attention.

"When this is all over, people might be saying, 'Hey, Rich Aurilia is pretty good hitting shortstop' or, 'You know, that David Bell plays a nice third base,' " Snow said.

"But guys don't just turn it on in the postseason," he said. "The thing is, if I make a nice play against Montreal at Olympic Stadium in the middle of the season, no one sees it and no one notices."

Of course, there are other ways to noticed at this time of year.

Angels reliever Ben Weber is probably better known for his grimaces and ugly goggles than his pitches. That's fine with him.

"I hope I'm a positive figure in a positive way. I mean, I don't want to do what Byung-Hyun Kim did last year," he said. "I felt so bad for that kid, but they ended up winning, so that's all that mattered.

"We haven't had the exposure all year and we'd like to keep it that way. We kind of want to keep it low-key, because every time a reliever gets in the news, it's usually something bad," he said. "So as long as we're not in the news, I think that's better for us."

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