By David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Columnist
At the beginning of this year, I wrote an article entitled “In Search of a New Angels Team Identity”. You can read that article here.
In the article I wrote:
One of the beauties of a team sport is watching a group perform at a level that
exceeds the sum of the individuals on the team. Championship caliber teams
regularly do this. They play with heart. They walk with swagger. They have an
identity. They beat the teams that they should beat (the weaker opponents).
They win against their divisional rivals, taking the series against each of them.
They play over .500 against the best the league has to offer.
Last year, the Angels did not play with that swagger or identity. They did their job, but they didn’t play with the passion. At times, it did not appear that the players were having fun, and it reflected in their play.
At the start of this year’s season, the Angels were playing with trepidation. Although they had done well in Spring Training, they still had to answer the question: Could they post a winning record in April? It was no small task as they were up against plenty of good teams.
Never one to miss an opportunity, Mr. Murphy decided to play his cards and make the month more challenging. First Josh Hamilton went down with an injury. Then Kole Calhoun went down with another. And, to further complicate things, the bullpen got off to a rocky start.
But then something happened. Against the A’s, the Angels played a tough series. They lost the first two games, each by 1 run. But, in the last game of the series the Angels came back in the 12th and won the game on a walk-off homerun by Chris Iannetta. In the post-game interview, Iannetta’s teammates did what they had to do—gave Chris the well-deserved Gatorade shower.
The following week, Albert Pujols accomplished a truly amazing feat: He hit his 499th and 500th homerun in the same game. Baseball players being baseball players, did what they had to do again: They gave Albert Pujols a Gatorade shower.
On May 3rd, C. J. Cron made his Major League debut, and collected 3 hits, including the game winner. In his post-game interview, he too got treated to the Gatorade shower. And in so doing, a tradition was born.
There’s nothing like a Gatorade shower. It’s a way for a team to show respect to a player. It’s character. It’s fun. It’s team-building. In short, it’s a way to form a team identity. And an identity is one of the key things that the 2014 team needs in order to win.
Since that first Gatorade shower to Iannetta the Angels have gone 17-11. That’s not an accident. They’ve played tough teams in that time, but something has clearly changed within the team. They are playing with swagger. They are playing with passion. They are having fun while playing. They are starting to gel as a unit, and it’s showing in their record.
Having a team identity is critical for a team. As we have seen with the Angels, all teams will need to bring in replacement players for injuries or to fill in the cracks while players are struggling. When a team has an identity, it sets the tone for the replacement players and created an environment in which they can succeed.
Look at how players like Cron, Green, Jimenez, Morin, and Navarro are succeeding this year. Last year, Even though the lineup is missing several players (Calhoun, Freese, and Hamilton), the 2014 team’s identity is helping them to succeed. The veteran presence in the clubhouse, coming both from the players that they have added and the coaching staff, are helping this team play at a higher level than they otherwise would have played.
Now, the Angels are giving Gatorade showers for things that typically don’t merit it, and as a fan, I like it. After Albert Pujols hit two homeruns against the Rays on Sunday, he got a Gatorade shower from his teammates. Many players have hit two homeruns in a game and didn’t get a Gatorade shower. But as a fan of this team, it was great to see Pujols get one because it is part of the team’s identity. It’s the part of the character that makes this team different from all others. As Jose Mota said to Albert after seeing him get doused, “You’ve got to expect it by now.”
The difference between the 2014 Angels and the 2013 team is night and day. Not only is there a difference in the standings, there is a difference in how the team is playing The 2014 team is starting to get its groove, and is much more fun to watch. They are expecting players to step up and do the things to propel them to win. They are reveling in their success. And, because of that identity, they are succeeding.