Thursday, January 7, 2010

By Eric Denton - Senior Writer

It has not been an easy year for the Angels organization nor its fans.

A year ago this week the Angels lost Preston Gomez, who had worked within the organization in some form or another since 1981, due to injuries suffered when he was struck by an automobile during Spring Training in 2008. Gomez was a valued member of the Angels brain trust, consulting owner Arte Moreno, manager Mike Scioscia and general managers Bill Stoneman and Tony Reagins. Gomez was credited with helping turn fellow Cuban Kendry Morales from talented prospect into one of the most productive hitters in the Angels lineup. He had a hand in helping the Latin American players in the Angels system develop into professionals and adjust to their new surroundings and environment in the United States.

April 8, 2009, Nick Adenhart took the mound, making his debut in what everyone thought was going to be his breakout season as a big leaguer. Having pitched very well in spring training and with John Lackey and Ervin Santana on the disabled list, Adenhart was going to get an extended opportunity in the rotation to show the Angels brass that he had put a rough 2008 behind him and was ready to show that he was a big leaguer for good. After six shutout innings against the A's, Adenhart went out with a group of friends — Courtney Stewart, Henry Pearson and Jon Wilhite — and the automobile in which they were traveling was struck by an alleged drunk driver. Only Wilhite survived.

The horrible news of the death of the 22 year old rocked the organization and the fans. Players and fans mourned Adenhart all season with a makeshift shrine that sprung up outside Angel Stadium. Adenhart's death affected most everyone who came to watch an Angels game last year. Parents would hug their children a little tighter outside the stadium, players and fans of opposing teams would stop to pay their respects to a life snuffed out far too soon. The Angels were able to rebound and have a successful season, ending up only two wins short of the World Series. Obviously fans were disappointed the Halos weren't able to win for Nick, but the season ended with general positive feelings and memories.

While certainly not in the same class as the losses of Gomez and Adenhart, on Nov. 25, 2009, Angels fans found out that their long time television broadcast team of Steve Physioc and Rex Hudler would not be back for another season. After 14 years a change was being made. No matter how poorly the Angels played during the first few seasons "Phys" and "Hud" called, the high of the 2002 World Championship year and the stand out years that followed, it was Physioc and Hudler who were there, leading the way and telling us the story of those baseball campaigns. A business decision was made and the fans again felt a loss.

Chone Figgins, John Lackey and Vladimir Guerrero, arguably the three biggest reasons for the Angels success over the past eight seasons, are all now former Angels — Figgins to division rival Seattle Mariners, Lackey to the dreaded Boston Red Sox and Guerrero a free agent. The trio leaves three significant holes on the roster and it's unclear if the Angels will be able to withstand their loss. Brandon Wood has the minor league pedigree to replace Figgins, but the team is without a lead off hitter of his caliber. Reagins has, as of this writing, not replaced Lackey, making Jered Weaver the de facto "ace" of the rotation and leaving the Angels pitching staff with question marks at the very least in the fifth man's spot.

While new Angel Hideki Matsui will likely put up some productive numbers at the plate, he's not Vladimir Guerrero. Guerrero was the Angels for six seasons; he was the player the casual fans came to watch and he was the player the children loved.

While the Angels have let many free agents go over the seasons — Troy Percival, Bengie Molina, Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson and Francisco Rodriguez in particular — they all left year by year, never in just a couple weeks span of time. The fans sense of loss and anger over these roster changes was pretty intense here at and on the airwaves on the Angels flagship station, AM 830 KLAA. We have all come to accept that baseball is a business, but that still doesn't make it any easier to say goodbye to your favorite players. In the big picture, losing them just means they live in another city now and have a different hat on. We'll see them again down the road when the Angels call to put them into their Hall of Fame and we can tell our children or grandchildren "I was at Game 7 where John Lackey pitched and Garret Anderson knocked in the winning runs in the World Series."

The holidays were past and the new year got underway; bowl games were nearly finished and the NFL season was beginning to wrap up. Fans started to think about spring training and speculate on the fate of the 2010 Los Angeles Angels. Then, in the same manner as 2009 had started, 2010 has unfortunately begun under the same dark cloud.

"Erstad says he's got it ... Erstad makes the catch! The Anaheim Angels are the champions of baseball."

This was THE greatest call in the history of Angels baseball. Every time I heard it before the news of the passing of Rory Markas I'd get a little emotional. Every time. Now, the man who made it and who would end the majority of his Angels broadcasts with the catchphrase "Just another halo victory" is no longer with us. Another heartbreaking loss for the fans and the organization.

Pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training in about a month. Hopefully Markas' passing will be the last loss Angel fans and the organization will have to endure for quite some time.
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