Angels one tight-knit group

4/9/2003 - Anaheim Angels

Here's a revelation for you: The Angels are still having fun.

Over the past couple of years, Mike Scioscia and his coaches have been handing out goofy assignments to players during spring training. Paging Don Fehr, right? Wrong. The Angels love it.

Pitcher John Lackey, a Texan, had to list every guy on the team who played minor-league ball in the Lone Star State. Rookie pitcher Chris Bootcheck, an avid follower of the PGA Tour, had to visit a local golf-club factory, then bring in a club and explain to the team how it was made.

"It's a way to open up lines of communication between players,'' Scioscia says. "It gives a young player self-confidence to stand up and talk in front of the veterans. It humanizes everyone in the room."

World Series pressure had nothing on this.

"It's nerve-wracking," says David Eckstein. "If you screw up, Scioscia will get all over you. But when John Lackey and Frankie Rodriguez were called up late last year, we said to ourselves, 'We know those guys.' "

First baseman Scott Spiezio was given the word "erudite" to research.

"He got all mixed up and researched 'hermaphrodite,' " says Scioscia. "So he's up there talking about all this sexual stuff, and everyone in the room is laughing. I've learned a lot of new words."

Show-and-tell sometimes spawned satire.

"I flew with the Blue Angels this spring, and I threw up in the plane," said veteran Tim Salmon. "The guys made a spoof of that, a Top Gun kind of thing."

Some reports can be educational. Eckstein, in his first Angels camp, was assigned to research restraining gear in stock cars following the February 2001 death of Dale Earnhardt.

"David got up and gave a 10-minute oration, one of the best we've ever had," says Scioscia.

The Angels mostly keep it light. Pitcher Jarrod Washburn was once assigned to "cover" a local ostrich festival. For $150 and a couple of autographed balls, Washburn got the keepers to bring an ostrich to the clubhouse.

Says Washburn, "I told them, 'The team meeting is at 9:30, make sure you're there.' At 9:30, in they walked with the ostrich. It was chaos. Guys were screaming with laughter."

Scioscia was one of them.

"Ramon Ortiz jumped in his locker," says Scioscia. "He was holding on to the walls and yelling, in Spanish, 'Get that big chicken away from me!' "

Says Washburn, "I don't think anything we do will top the ostrich."

Well, maybe another World Series.

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Baseball Tonight. E-mail tim.kurkjian@espnmag.com.