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BASEBALL

Family matters to Yankees' Mark Teixeira

The first baseman enjoyed his time with the Angels, but when he became a free agent he decided to play near his home.

July 10, 2009|Kevin Baxter

NEW YORK — Two and a half million dollars a season.

That was the difference between what the Angels offered Mark Teixeira last winter to stay in Anaheim and what the New York Yankees paid him to move to the Bronx.

Chump change in baseball's high-rent district, where Teixeira lives. He'll pay three times that much just in taxes.

In reality, however, the two sides were much further apart. Like 2,100 miles apart.

Because if Teixeira had stayed with the Angels, that's how much farther he would have been from his family in Maryland. So while the cash is nice, this decision was less about dollars than it was about sense.

"It was 99% family," Teixeira said. "I gave the Angels an opportunity. But they were the only West Coast team that I even considered.

"My family is very important to me, and playing in New York I get to see my family a lot more."

Teixeira returns to Angel Stadium tonight for the first time since October, when he cleaned out his locker after the Angels' early exit from the playoffs. It was a run to the postseason Teixeira helped fuel by hitting .358 with 13 home runs and 43 runs batted in in 54 games after being acquired from the Atlanta Braves in late July.

But he's not sure what kind of homecoming he'll get coming back for the three-game series in Yankees gray.

"I hope it's good," Teixeira said, sitting in front of his cubicle in the plush new clubhouse at Yankee Stadium earlier this week. "I loved playing in Los Angeles. I loved playing for those fans.

"I'm sure there's a lot of people who are disappointed that I didn't re-sign with the Angels. But hopefully it's not too bad."

The man who used to write Teixeira's name on his lineup card said the first baseman earned the right to move.

"Tex has done what guys have done for 30 years since free agency: have an opportunity to lay roots in a place where you feel that you're going to get the best deal, the best playing environment for you, the best city to live in," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He made decisions along those guidelines. I'm disappointed that we didn't sign him. I'm sure the fans are a little disappointed.

"But it's certainly not a personal thing. He did what any player in the same situation would do: see where they feel is the best place for him to play. And he thought it was in New York."

When the Angels traded for Teixeira, parting with first baseman Casey Kotchman and right-hander Steve Marek, they knew he would probably be just a rental -- he was two months shy of free agency and he would cost a fortune to re-sign.

But after winning three of the last four American League West titles, then going 4-12 in the playoffs, adding Teixeira's bat would be worth the gamble if he took the Angels deep in the postseason.

It didn't work out that way, of course, with the Angels bowing out in the division series again, even though Teixeira hit a team-best .467 in his first postseason series. The team then made a franchise-record $160-million pitch to keep him, only to see the Yankees offer eight years and $180 million, the richest free-agent contract of the winter.

"Last year, just having Tex in the lineup . . . he was a threat," said the Angels' Torii Hunter, who spurned the Minnesota Twins after 11 seasons to sign a lucrative free-agent contract with the Angels before the 2008 season. "Guys know when they're free agents they get to shop around. We kind of understand. We would have loved to have him back. But at the same time he has to make his own decision that's good for him and his family."

But for Teixeira, all wasn't well at first in New York. Closer-to-home cooking didn't help much in his first six weeks as a Yankee, with the switch-hitter batting only .191 with 17 RBIs after 29 games. He has been on a tear since then, though, hitting .313 and driving in 46 runs, leaving him fifth in the American League with 63 RBIs entering the final weekend before the All-Star break. And when he homered Thursday in Minnesota, it not only ended a 23-game, 96 at-bat home run drought, but it moved him into a tie for second in the league with 21.

Once Teixeira heated up, so did the Yankees, going from two games under .500 to 36-17 in their last 53 games, winning 13 of their last 15 and nine in a row on the road.

"He's some kind of player," pitcher Brett Tomko said. "To see him every day has been pleasantly surprising. He's a tremendous player. He's the total package. He's a tremendous fielder and a tremendous presence in the middle of the lineup."

Which is why fans voted him into the AL's starting lineup at first base for next week's All-Star game. That's not likely to win him much of a place in Yankees lore, though, something he understood before deciding to move east.

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