Thursday, March 1, 2012
Let the bonding begin
By Mark Saxon
Mike Trout is spending Thursday afternoon shopping in a nearby toy story.
No, Trout isn't that young. The 20-year-old outfielder's task this spring is to collect money from players to go toy shopping for older players' children. The toys that are left over -- most of them -- go to a local homeless shelter.
By stopping by the locker of every player in the clubhouse, including sidling up to Albert Pujols, Trout -- clipboard and pen in hand -- raised $4,000 for toys. He also talked to a whole lot of people he might otherwise never have approached.
That's just one of the many chores players have to go through during team-building exercises in the Angels' morning meetings, which have now became a famous part of the spring routine around here. At about 10 a.m. every morning, reporters standing outside the metal doors to the clubhouse typically hear loud peals of laughter coming from inside.
For newcomers, it can be a surprising part of camp.
"With the Cardinals, we had meetings every day, but they were all about baseball, none of this kind of stuff," new reliever Jason Isringhausen said. "[Mike] Scioscia and Tony [LaRussa] aren't quite the same manager, but I know they say when the season starts, Scioscia ain't like this."
Scioscia began the daily meetings in the spring of 2000, shortly after he was hired, but they have gradually become well known around baseball. One spring, players brought a live ostrich into the clubhouse, prompting pitcher Ramon Ortiz to hop in his locker in fear of the "pollo grande," or giant chicken.
The meetings are closed to everyone other than team members, Angels staff and coaches. One of the purposes of them is to break up cliques, which can disrupt a team's chemistry during the long season.
"Those are the teams that usually don't do so well," Isringhausen said. "Team chemistry is all about winning. When you win everybody gets along. When you lose, nobody does. But I think teams that have more fun, laugh a little bit more, pull for each other more. They become friends and want each other to do well."
Trout, viewed by many as the top prospect in baseball, would seem to be one of the players who could gain from most from the meetings. He's in his second spring with the Angels and spent most of the final two months in the big leagues, but is still getting to know many of his teammates. When Pujols broke into the majors in 2001, Trout was still playing with toys.
"I think it’s important for the young guys," Scioscia said. "Albert knows everybody in that room. C.J. [Wilson] knows everybody in that room. I think the young guys just coming in, it takes some of those barriers away that, for example, a young outfielder coming into camp might see between himself and Torii Hunter or between himself and Vernon Wells. It bridges that because they realize they were in your shoes 10 years ago."