Angels center fielder Peter Bourjos is congratulated by teammates after… (Darron Cummings / Associated…)
Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. -- Spring training is a home game for the Angels' Peter Bourjos.
The fast-track center fielder went to Notre Dame High of Scottsdale, just down the road from Tempe Diablo Stadium, and that may have been the best break of his athletic life. Notre Dame High's graduating class in Bourjos' senior year was 65. Everything was small, including the number of sports offered.
"Nope. No thoughts of being a sprinter," Bourjos says. "We didn't even have a track team."
Bourjos' speed, needing an outlet, found it on the basepaths. He was enough of a blur in the outfield and on the bases to get the attention of the Angels, who drafted him in the 10th round.
"I wasn't sure," Bourjos said. "I wanted enough money to make it worth it to me not to go to college. I wanted to stay around here, maybe go to Grand Canyon or Chandler-Gilbert."
But Bourjos says the Angels came up with "late third-round money," and so he signed.
Now, that late third-round money has become six figures, $500,000 this season.
Half a million is unimaginable when you are 24 (he will turn 25 on March 31), but paltry by Major League Baseball's current standards. If things continue as they have for Bourjos, the proverbial pot of gold will soon be in his bank account, not at the end of a rainbow.
He starts his second full year as the starting center fielder on a team that is on everybody's short list of likely World Series participants. He is also perfectly positioned to grow quietly into a star player, without daily spotlight pressure. He is surrounded by veterans, big bombers and attention-getters. In locker room interview situations, he is well below the first option.
There is this Albert Pujols guy who is probably in the Hall of Fame if he never gets another hit. Then there is Torii Hunter, as good an interview as there is and a dependable player and team leader. Add to that list the recovering Kendrys Morales, the position-changing Mark Trumbo, the trying-to-get-his-mojo-back Vernon Wells and at least four of the best starting pitchers money can buy and the American League has seen in Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson and Ervin Santana.
That makes Bourjos, for the moment, a kid along for the joy ride.
"It's surreal, just being in this clubhouse," Bourjos says. "When I'm 50 or 60 and I look back, I won't believe I played with a guy like Albert Pujols."
With 10 years to go on his Angels contract, Pujols should be around long enough to gain a certain appreciation of Bourjos too. That is, if the lines on Bourjos' chart keeping moving up. His start has been impressive. His numbers in his first full season included a .271 batting average, 26 doubles, 12 home runs and a league-leading 11 triples among 136 hits. He also had 22 stolen bases in 31 tries.
"To see the adjustments he has made, both on offense and defense," says Manager Mike Scioscia, "is eye-popping."
Bourjos dashes around center field between two excellent but aging outfielders in Hunter and Wells. With the smaller chunk of outfield each is left to patrol now — they have a clothed streaker playing between them — another year or two has probably been added to their careers.
Bourjos was so good last year that there was talk of an American League Gold Glove award. That went to Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox, who went through the entire season without an error.
"I had four," Bourjos says. "The goal this year is to have zero."
That's a different goal than he had for 2011.
"I was aiming to play good defense," he says, "and hit well enough to stay in the lineup."
Actually, his .271 was fifth best on the team, and Alberto Callaspo's leading .288 was within reach.
The only dark cloud for Bourjos is a constantly sore right hip, which sounds ominous for somebody whose effectiveness is built on speed. He goes first to third faster than you can say it. His doubles are everybody else's singles.
"The hip is not something I can't handle," he says, "nor does it bother me when I'm playing. The worst time I've had with it is this off-season, playing golf."
Bourjos says his pain is controlled with anti-inflammatory medicine that he stops taking during the off-season; thus the golfing pain. He says he is likely to get it fixed with surgery after the season.
"It's pretty much bone on bone," he says. "I don't want to deal with that my entire career, and I hope that's 10-15 years. I guess they go in and scope it, kind of clean it out. I am told a lot of older golfers have the same thing and have the same surgery."
Of course, any thoughts of similarity between Bourjos and old golfers is silly. Like Bourjos, those thoughts should be gone in a flash.