TEMPE, Ariz. – There's this thing about spring training where, unless you've been anesthetized by Dr. Andrews in the past six months or struck out looking at a fastball to end the previous October, the past is generally ignored.
The past has its place, of course. It sends you to work in a 7-series BMW instead of a Kia rental. It puts you in a prime locker location when you get there. It registers as No. 32 on your back instead of 89.
Beyond that, the past can get you coming and going.
As Oscar Wilde once said, presumably after losing his arbitration hearing, "No man is rich enough to buy back his past."
And some old hardball poet answered, "My past is everything I failed to be."
So, really, there's not much sense going there. Not in February, not when a real at-bat is six weeks away, and certainly not if your team trains in, say, Mesa.
The past guarantees nothing other than it is not today, unless it's the other way around, and see how this kind of self-analysis would only serve to foul up stretching and wind sprints?
Anyway, the Los Angeles Angels weren't so proud of their recent past, so they spent some money over the winter (as well as the previous winter, but forget about that, it’s the past), and on Thursday afternoon lined up Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols in a conference room.
Hamilton said he loved Texas, but wasn't really thinking about that anymore, because he's an Angel now.
Trout said he was proud of his rookie season and wasn't really thinking about that anymore, because, sure enough, there's another season to play.
And Pujols said he wasn't terribly pleased with the way he started last season, but he wasn't really thinking about that anymore because he's got knee surgery from which to recover, and that'll be fine. Besides he's concentrating on being ready for opening day.
These are the conversations taking place over 30 camps, and yet the Angels bring a special urgency to their moving on. They've underachieved three years running. Unless your past comes with a banner, it has a nasty way of pine-tarring itself to everything you do, and how the world views what you do, and whether your organization can ever solve its bullpen problems.
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On the day before full-squad workouts began, the men charged with carrying the first (Trout), third (Pujols) and fourth (Hamilton) spots in the Angels' batting order were doing a fine job of emphasizing the future. The team can be great. The offense can be the best in the league. They'll, you know, show up every day and try hard and have fun and cover each other's backs. All that.
Yes, Hamilton is down 20 pounds from a year ago, thanks to bouts of insomnia and apparently a very convincing "juicer lady" infomercial. Yes, Trout has grown into a sturdy 240 pounds at 9 (9!) percent body fat. Yes, Pujols looks to be his same old rugged horse.
Yes, they're all paddling away from something, whether that's a lost season or a knee procedure or the pull of complacency or whatever. Instead, there are only green fields and tireless batting practice pitchers. And what can be better than that?
Well, funny thing. Somebody asked Pujols, now that camp had started, about getting to know Hamilton. Pujols pointed out they'd known each other a long time, even dating to their teen years when they were preparing for the same amateur draft. In 1999, they were in St. Petersburg, Fla. at a talent showcase where Pujols was told Hamilton likely would be the first pick in the draft.
Pujols inspected a bony Hamilton and thought, "Yeah, right."
Then the wispy kid got in the cage.
Hamilton went first in the draft to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Pujols went 401 picks later to the St. Louis Cardinals.
[Watch: Top picks for fantasy drafts]
Asked about that meeting, Hamilton shook his head.
"I don't remember anything, man," he said, grinning. "I took a little different route than Albert did."
The room laughed with him.
"I forgot a few things along the way," he continued. "But we're here now."
A few minutes later, Trout jumped in, about how he'd gotten to know Hamilton a little at the All-Star Game in Kansas City last summer.
"Josh was actually my catch partner," he said.
He looked over at Hamilton.
"It wasn't that long ago," he said. "The short-term memory is still OK."
There's a lesson in there somewhere, something about spring and baseball and Oscar Wilde's WAR comps. And this is where the Angels are, wedged between the lessons of the past three seasons and the wish to bury them out in right field, where they'd be forgotten forever. Chances are, Josh already has.
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