Thursday, February 7, 2013

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By Brian Waller, AngelsWin.com Writer --

Although it’s fun to see what former Angel greats like Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds, or Chuck Finley are up to these days, I actually enjoy following up on the lesser known players that once wore an Angel’s uniform; players who weren’t mega stars but still made key contributions to the big club. I tend to think back to the championship team from 2002 when doing these “where are they now” pieces. It was a team filled with role players and unsung heroes. It was a team without a superstar but it was a cohesive unit that took baseball by storm. A player I was always fond of was Shawn Wooten. He didn’t have huge pop or blazing speed but he had heart and was a blue collar player who was determined to play the game he loved at the highest level.


William Shawn Wooten was born on July 24, 1972, in Glendora, California. Wooten was originally drafted and signed by the Detroit Tigers in 1993 as a third baseman. He played a little over two years in the Tigers’ organization before being released midseason in 1995 after batting only .129 in 20 games with Detroit’s AA affiliate. Being released is always a tough pill to swallow, but rather than walk away from the game, Wooten chose to continue playing baseball signing with the independent Moose Jaw Diamond Dogs of the Prairie League. Wooten would play for a season and a half before being signed by the Angels for the 1997 season.

After signing with the Halos, Wooten was assigned to the Class-A Cedar Rapids Kernels where he began working behind the plate as a catcher for the first time in his career. In 1998, while with the Lake Elsinore Storm, Wooten was the club’s starting first baseman. Over the next 3 seasons Wooten became a jack of all trades, playing the outfield, first base, and catcher.  It was becoming clear that he was willing to play whatever position was needed to help the team and also to make it to the majors. In 2000, Wooten hit a sizzling .353 for the Triple-A Edmonton Trappers, earning a late season promotion to the big club. Wooten finally made it to the big leagues; the 27-year old was now sharing a clubhouse with Angel greats such as Tim Salmon, Darin Erstad, and Garret Anderson. He would make his major league debut for the Halos on August 19, 2000 and would play 7 games before the end of the season; getting 5 hits in only 9 at-bats.

Many Angel fans most likely remember Wooten from his rookie campaign when he set the league on fire with his bat. In 2001, he spent his first full season in the major leagues with the Angels after making the 25-man roster out of spring training. The stocky slugger caught many off guard by producing at a high level right out of the gate as he opened the season batting .385 (10-for-26) with 3 home runs (which led all rookies for the month of April) and 6 RBI’s. Wooten continued to rake, hitting .386 (17-for-44) in June and .328 (42-for-128) at the All-Star break, second only to Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki among AL rookies. Wooten ended the first half of the season hitting safely in 47 contests, including 17 multi-hit games.

Wooten’s red-hot rookie campaign came to an end in September however when doctors discovered torn cartilage in his left wrist. At the time he was hitting .312 (69-for-221) with 8 hr’s and 32 RBI’s in only 79 games played. Despite the injury, Wooten was selected for the Baseball Digest and Topps Major League Baseball rookie All-Star teams. At the time of the wrist injury, his .312 average was second among American League Rookies and was the highest on the Angels.

Wooten would appear in only 49 games for the Halos in 2002 but was still productive during his limited playing time. He hit .292 with 3 home runs and 19 RBI’s in only 121 plate appearances. In 2003 Wooten posted career highs in games (98), at-bats (272), runs (25) and walks (24). He would go on to hit .243 with 7 home runs and 32 RBI’s for the Angels. When he donned the catcher’s gear and was behind the plate for the Halos in 2003 the team had a 3.81 ERA. Despite setting career highs in multiple categories, Wooten suffered another injury, this time to his knee. Once recovered he was mainly used as a pinch hitter; his .350 pinch-average (7-for-20) was tied for 2nd best in the American League.

Wooten would become a free agent following the 2003 season and would eventually sign with the Philadelphia Phillies. He was used mostly as a pinch hitter and served as a back-up for slugging first baseman Jim Thome. The change from the AL to NL seemed like a difficult transition; Wooten batted only .184 for the Phillies and was sent to the minors in July of that year. He would return to the big club once rosters were expanded in September but was used very sparingly going 0-4 with 2 strikeouts to conclude his time in Philadelphia.

Wooten signed a minor league contract with the Red Sox prior to the 2005 season and was assigned to Pawtucket. After hitting .225 (34-151) with 7 home runs and 27 RBI’s in 39 games in Triple-A, he was called up due to the Sox placing back-up catcher Doug Mirabelli on the 15-day disabled list. Wooten would play in only one game for the Red Sox, replacing Jason Varitek in the late innings of a blowout against the Toronto Blue Jays on May 26; it would be Wooten’s last game played at the Major League level. Wooten would bounce around the next few years, making stops at the minor league affiliates of the Twins, Padres, and Mets before retiring at the end of the 2008 season.

After his playing career ended, the Southern California native joined the Padres organization as an instructor. In 2010 he served as the hitting coach for the Eugene Emeralds. He then went on to manage the Class-A Fort Wayne TinCaps of the Midwest League in 2011. On November 10, 2011 Wooten became the manager of the Lake Elsinore Storm of the California League.

At this point in his life, the former Halo had been enjoying his managerial career as well as his family. Wooten and his wife Marissa were expecting a son in the summer of 2012. Already having two beautiful daughters, the Wooten family was eager to welcome a little boy into the world, a boy they decided to name Nolan. Sadly, on the day of Nolan’s birth it was discovered he had a rare heart defect called “Transposition of the Great Arteries” (TGA). When TGA occurs the aorta and pulmonary artery are switched causing blood to be circulated though the body without oxygen. 

The newest edition to the Wooten clan endured several trying weeks of surgeries and tests. Little Nolan underwent an open-heart procedure known as an “arterial switch”. For approximately 7 hours the baby’s heart was stopped while machines kept Nolan alive. Like his dad had shown early in his career on the baseball field, Nolan was a fighter. In interviews with local media outlets Wooten understandably expressed sheer joy at the thought of finally taking the newest addition to the family home. Prior to Nolan’s birth Shawn Wooten dreamt of playing baseball with his son, the emotionally draining summer months with Nolan enduring surgery after surgery left him dreaming of simply leaving the hospital with a healthy baby boy. Soon, Nolan’s vitals grew stronger and stronger and after a hellish period of time he slowly began to put on weight. He was moved to the 6th floor recovery unit where, after several weeks, he became strong enough to head home with his parents in late July/early August. Nolan continued his recovery at home, being fed through his stomach with a tube.

Once home, the youngest Wooten continued to grow stronger and gain weight and was finally cleared by doctors to travel, just in time for the family to head to Southern California for the special 10th anniversary ceremony honoring the members of the 2002 World Series Championship team. It seemed as though Shawn Wooten’s life had come full circle in a way. Ten years earlier he was living his dream on the baseball diamond, winning a world series with his teammates. Now ten years later, he was living a whole new dream, one with a beautiful wife, daughters, and a healthy baby boy. Wooten will never be remembered for being a superstar but he will forever hold a special place in Angel fan’s hearts thanks in large part to his contributions to the 2002 club and his heart and determination.
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