Angels aren't shying away from 'difficult conversations' about social injustice
The team-wide video conference calls that the Angels held during baseball’s three-month shutdown were not limited to training regimens, practice schedules and tips for avoiding the coronavirus.
While negotiations between players and owners dragged on, the May 25 death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis sparked weeks of protests and unrest throughout the world over racial injustice and police brutality.
Baseball might feel insular at times, but the subjects dominating the news — the Black Lives Matter movement, systemic racism, police misconduct — forced their way into the consciousness of players.
“These are difficult conversations, and a lot of people don’t feel comfortable or really confident in their own ability to find the right words, so that can be intimidating,” Angels second baseman Tommy La Stella said on a video conference call Sunday. “But as long as we continue to engage and share ideas and learn from each other, it can only benefit us.
“This has kind of started that. This is not a new thing. A lot of people feel this should have been handled in the 1960s and early 1970s. Certainly, the momentum was set in place, and a lot of people are really hoping we can finish this out in a way that’s satisfying and right for everybody.”
Angels manager Joe Maddon is 66, old enough to remember the civil rights movement of half a century ago and experienced enough to offer some perspective for his players.
“We are going through a very significant time in history, something we went through back in the 1960s and '70s, and I was kind of ashamed of myself that I didn’t participate enough,” Maddon said. “I didn’t think it through deeply enough.
“I told these guys not to miss it, to really stay in tune, to understand what is going on and be part of the solution.
"I think that’s what the young people of our country need to do — stay active, stay involved and understand exactly what’s going on so this never reoccurs.”
Shaking off the rust
La Stella returned to make two late September starts as a designated hitter, so when the Angels open an abbreviated 60-game season July 24, he will have played twice in the last year. But he’s not worried about being rusty.
“We’ve played this game for a while, so a lot of times, getting back into it is kind of like riding a bike,” he said. “I was fortunate to get back at the end of the season, to get the visual of being back on the field, and take that into the offseason, so it doesn’t feel like that much of a layoff.”
Maddon, who managed La Stella for four seasons in Chicago, believes La Stella’s experience as one of the National League’s best pinch-hitters will aid his return.
“Tommy has been such a good bench player — he’s done well in spite of inactivity,” Maddon said. “And if you’ve watched him, there’s a tension-free method to his hitting. … He knows where the barrel is. He’s never in a panic at the plate. You can’t throw it hard enough to get by him.
“I think the training he’s had to this point gives him the confidence that even though he hasn’t been playing, he knows he can go out there and get comfortable. That’s what I anticipate.”