By Tim Salmon & Rob Goldman, AngelsWin.com Historical Writer -
David and Goliath
In the late ’90s, when the Yankees were in their heyday, most people would have been surprised to learn how many Christian believers were on that team. I was told that 15 to 20 guys attended team chapels regularly. On the road, the biggest stars on that team would have Bible studies in their hotel rooms after the game. They met for a daily devotion and a prayer before taking the field as well.
It was amazing to hear that such a great team was so reliant on God
to meet its daily needs, aligning its perspectives with God’s, and careful not to get too caught up in its own success. Our team, the 2002 Angels, were it a very similar group of guys. We always had great turnouts for chapels and Bible studies on the road. God’s hand was at work, doing amazing things in the lives of a lot of our players. And like most World Series Game 7s, this one fell on a Sunday, which meant we would have one last opportunity for chapel before the game. This was one chapel guys didn’t miss.
Chuck Obremski was a local pastor and chaplain for the team. A chaplain for over 15 years for the L.A. Rams before they left town, he had plenty of locker-room experience. Over the years he had developed a great rapport and deep friendships with the Angels players. We had plenty of trainers attending to our physical needs; Chuck saw to our spiritual, and sometimes emotional, needs. He encouraged us to keep perspective and reminded us that we could accomplish great things when we are aligned with God’s will. Meeting in one of the auxiliary locker rooms, Garret, Speez, Eck, and I were talking with Pastor Chuck in our makeshift chapel when starting pitcher John Lackey ambled in.
“What’s new, John?” Chuck asked with a wink. With the weight of the world on his shoulders, Lackey could only muster a half-hearted grin. “Hey, man,” Chuck said playfully, trying to lighten the mood, “It’s not like you’re pitching Game 7 of the World Series or anything.” Then he added earnestly, “It’s just a baseball game, so go ahead and have some fun.” Chuck liked to make wisecracks and jokes that drew him into the player’s world of typical locker-room banter. His message for us that morning was taken from Samuel 1:17: the story of David and Goliath. David was the young Israelite boy who slew the nine-foot tall Goliath with a mere slingshot. Displaying a confidence way beyond his youth, David did what the rest of the army was too terrified to do: stand up to the giant in the name of God and claim victory. The Angels were just like David, Chuck said, battling and slaying Goliaths all season long, against the tallest of odds. We had come out of nowhere to do amazing things, said Chuck, and more than anything else, we could all acknowledge it was by God’s grace that we stood there that morning on the brink of greatness.
“There’s not a primadonna in this room!” he exclaimed. “Every one of you, all year long, was willing to say, ‘If it’s in the best interest of the team, then I’m willing to do it.’ If that meant bunting or hitting behind the runner, you did it. You were more concerned about winning as a team than attaining individual acknowledgement.” Amen to that! Our teamwork was exactly the reason why we were now just one victory away from baseball’s ultimate prize. Now, just like David, we were being called upon to be brave and rely on God for the final outcome.
Chuck delivered to us just what we needed that last chapel Sunday. It was a message of inspiration for all those who were willing to trust in God when facing the giants in our lives. Each one of us carried a gut full of pressure and anxiety into that room, not the least of whom was rookie John Lackey, on whose arm we would rely that night. After Chuck’s message we bowed our heads, giving thanks to the God who makes all triumphs possible, and then loaded up our slingshots.
G.A.’s Our Man
It is a weird feeling to come to the ballpark knowing that today is the last game of the season. Tomorrow everyone goes home and the long season is officially over. Will I be a world champion at the end of the night? That question keeps running through my head. Parking my car in the players’ lot I can’t help but think, The next time I get in my car, I will be a world champion, or extremely disappointed.
We had every reason to feel good about our chances, though. The emotional high from Game 6 was a huge momentum change. Destiny seemed to be on our side. I was sure we would win the game that night. We had come too far that season to be denied. Then again, I’m sure the Giants shared the same sentiment.
Taking the field in a game for all the marbles, you could feel the tension in the air. We tried to stay loose by cracking a few jokes, but it was just a thin veil masking our anxieties. There was no getting
around the fact that after 178 games, our year came down to this. John Lackey, the 24-year-old rookie called up at the end of the season, took the hill. There was some talk within the media that we
were asking too much from the kid. Sosh and the staff felt he was our best option and that he could handle it. A standout quarterback in high school, John played in some big games in Lubbock, Texas, but that was nothing compared to this stage. If he won tonight, he would be the first rookie in 93 years to win a Game 7 in the World Series. It was truly uncharted territory.
Livan Hernandez was the starter chosen by Dusty Baker. Already the recipient of a World Series ring with the Florida Marlins, he clearly had experience weighing in his favor. Still, we were relieved; the arm we were hoping not to see was Jason Schmidt’s. In the second inning, Lackey experienced his first test. The Giants had runners on the corners with one out. After a sacrifice fly by Reggie Sanders pushed one run across, Lackey settled down to get the final out. All in all, it was pretty good damage control by the rookie. We answered right back for him. Benji Molina drove in Speez with a double off the top of the wall in left-center field in the bottom half of the inning.
Heading into the bottom of the third inning, Eck got things started with a leadoff single. Then Ersty followed with a liner to left to give us runners on first and second with no outs. I came to the plate looking to keep the inning going. Working the count to 2–2, Livan threw the next pitch high and tight to get me off the plate. Like a heat-seeking missile, the ball chased me and hit me on my top hand,
pinching the tip of my middle finger against the bat. I was pretty sure it was broken. Through my split batting glove I could see the finger swelling. After a few moments of discussion with our trainer Ned
Bergert and Sosh, I stayed in the game. It was only the third inning, and there was no way I was coming out of the game unless I couldn't swing the bat.
As I stood on first base feeling an unmistakable sense of destiny pour over me. Ersty was on second, Eckstein was on third, and coming to the plate was arguably the best hitter the Angels ever had. The stars are aligned perfectly, I thought. If you could pick any hitter in Angels history to come to the plate with the bases loaded in Game 7 of the World Series, Garret Anderson would be the man. The best hitter to ever wear an Angel uniform, we had our man when we needed him most. But that wasn't all. Outside of Eckstein, every Angels on the field was a homegrown talent. We had it in our
hands to accomplish everything the organization had set out to achieve.
G.A. lived up to his billing. With the count 1–1, he slammed a rocket right over my head and down the right-field line. As soon as he hit it I knew I was scoring. I’d hit in front of G.A. my whole
career; I must have scored 100 times from first on hits just like this one. I ran the bases in an extra gear that hadn’t existed in years. After crossing the plate and high-fiving Ersty and Eck, I looked back at second base to give G.A. a fist pump. In his typical fashion, he didn’t break so much as a smile, but he gave himself a nonchalant little golf clap, as if to say that there wasn’t much difference between the biggest hit of his life and an ordinary double he’d hit hundreds of times in his career. Still I knew from that small reaction that he was excited inside. G.A., the Double-Hitting Machine, had done it again, clearing the bases.
Fans can say what they want about his lack of enthusiasm on the field, but it doesn’t matter one bit to me. G.A. is a gamer! And in the biggest game in Angels history, with the world’s attention focused on baseball’s biggest stage, Garret slammed the clutch double that won us the World Series. I would have bet the farm on him in the situation.
And when he clapped his hands, it was for Garret an overwhelming display of emotion—almost as momentous as the hit that occasioned it.
© 2006 Always an Angel by Tim Salmon and Rob Goldman