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Salmon Gets Warm Reception

Veteran slugger earns a roster spot with a big spring comeback. Anaheim and Dodgers play to a scoreless, 10-inning tie.

April 02, 2006|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

When the Angels won the 2002 World Series, Tim Salmon tossed a cowboy hat to the sky. Four years later, to the delight of the Angels and their fans, Salmon will embark on one last roundup.

The last season of his distinguished career begins Monday, to the thrill of the Angel Stadium faithful. On Saturday, as the Angels officially announced one of the most popular players in club history had capped an improbable comeback by winning a spot on the roster, Salmon drew two standing ovations, once when announced as a pinch-hitter and another after lining out.

"I'm like a rookie," he said. "I get nervous and uptight, and it will be like that for a while."

The Dodgers and Angels played to a scoreless tie over 10 innings Saturday, the second consecutive tie in the Freeway Series. Kelvim Escobar pitched six shutout innings for the Angels. Chad Billingsley, the Dodgers' top pitching prospect, threw five shutout innings en route to his opening-day start at triple-A Las Vegas.

The Angels had all but written Salmon off after he sat out last season, recovering from operations on his shoulder and knee. They extended him a courtesy invitation to spring training, and the club's all-time home run leader hit his way onto the team.

Sentiment played no role in the Angels' decision, but Angel Stadium ought to be dripping with sentiment today, when Salmon is expected to start at designated hitter. He got rousing ovations in virtually every game in the Cactus League, and today should be no different.

"When you're away from the game for a year and a half the way I've been, you almost feel like you're not part of the team any more," Salmon said. "So, to come back and get excited like that, it makes me feel like I'm a part of this team again.

"It's almost a new lease on life. I'm able to experience it again and cherish these moments along the way."

It is, he says, a one-year lease on his baseball life. At 37, his knee too fragile to allow him to play regularly in the outfield, he devoted the past year to earning the chance to go out on his own terms, to retire on the field rather than on the disabled list.

"I'm just trying to get through the day right now. To get through the season is a great goal," Salmon said. "If I can come back and feel I've been productive in helping the team win and, geez, if we could walk off with a World Series championship, what a way to ride off.

"My knee, I don't think, is going to get any better.... I don't want to amp this thing up and really hurt it. If it all worked out in one year, that would be great. I don't see it going beyond this year."

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