Monday, August 22, 2011

By David Saltzer, Senior Writer

Sometimes a player comes along and you know that he will be special. It's not just the numbers that he puts up, it's the way the ball sounds as it hits the bat or smacks into the catcher's glove. It's the way the ball attacks the batter or the way he stands at the plate.

In all the years that I've followed the Amateur Draft, there have only been two players that I have coveted. These were players that I saw play in college and hoped—dreamed—that the Angels would draft, knowing that the odds against it were very high.

When the Angels had the 12th pick overall in 2004, one of those two players was available: Jered Weaver. I wanted the Angels to pick him more than any other player that they had taken in years. That's because while he was in college, I watched a game in which he struck out the first 10 batters in a game—a feat he accomplished twice in his college career. He made mincemeat of the opposition and I knew that he would be something special. I thought that with a pitcher like that, the Angels could win another World Series.

With the 12th pick overall that year, the chances of the Angels drafting Jered seemed remote. He was the best pitching talent available. Although there were rumors that he would drop in the draft because of signability issues, I couldn’t imagine that he’d drop that far. Still I tuned in to follow the draft.

To my surprise, somehow, the Angels managed to sign him. After 2002, signing Vlad and Escobar, that was just icing on the cake!

In 2006, I’ll never forget the buzz of the start to his career. When he won his first 3 games in a row, he was electric. When the Angels sent him back down the Minors, the controversy was huge. When he came back up and kept on winning, his fans and supporters were vindicated. Ultimately, he tied the American League record for the most wins to start a career with 9 consecutive wins.

Over the years watching Weaver, there have been many poignant moments. I will never forget the game he pitched after Nick Adenhart was killed. Facing Boston, the Angels’ eternal nemesis, Weaver pitched with such poise and dignity that it was as if he grew up on the mound that night. Watching him continue to write the initials “NA” on the mound before every start since then reminds me that Nick still lives on in the memory of his teammate.

One of the ongoing discussions that I’ve had with Dennis Kuhl, Chairman of the Angels, is a question that he has always posed to me: What players would I pay to go see play? In all our discussions, we’ve talked about the joy of watching players develop in the Minors and make it with the Angels in the Majors, but rarely have talked about specific players.

Dennis and I have talked about the importance of watching homegrown talent and that sticks together to win it all. In our discussions, I have said that I would pay to see players that I know and that I have followed throughout their entire careers as they win it all rather than a collection of free agents from other teams. There’s something special about following Bourjos from the Minors to a highlight reel catch or Mike Trout, the kid, hitting his first Major League homerun.

But, more than any other player, the one player that I have consistently maintained that I would pay to see play is Jered Weaver. When he takes the mound, there’s a different feeling in the crowd. It’s the feeling that the he’s going to shut down the opposition and the Angels are going to win. Weaver is the best pitcher the Angels have had or produced in a generation.

When word broke Sunday that the Angels signed Jered to a 5 year/$85 million dollar extension, the message board on lit up. Up until that point, there had been a strong debate all year long about whether or not the Angels should trade him to maximize their return because with Boras as his agent, the odds of the Angels resigning him were slim at best.

With news of his 5-year extension, all of that debate became moot. The subtext of possibly seeing Weaver in his last full year with the Angels simply vanished. Hundreds of posts flooded the board as fans poured out cheers of excitement. For many fans, the thought that the Angels will have Jered Weaver around for another 5 years may be the best part of the 2011 season to date.

As the response on the message board proves, I am not the only one who thinks Jered Weaver is worth the price of admission. In a typical Angels’ move, coming out of left field, signing Jered Weaver to an extension was an incredible feat for the Angels’ front office. No matter how the remainder of this season goes, the fact that they kept Weaver in the family is a win for Angels baseball.
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