For Chone Figgins, his reunion with the Angels in the Freeway Series will mark a triumph.
Games against his former team used to a be painful reminder of what he left behind. Over the next three days, when the Dodgers and Angels face each other in their annual exhibition series, they will be a testament to his perseverance.
Figgins is on the Dodgers' major league roster, a minor miracle considering how he has spent the last several years. He went into spring training on a minor league contract. He didn't play at all last year because no team wanted him. The three years before that were with the Seattle Mariners, where his production and playing time steadily diminished.
Figgins, 36, is long removed from his days as an All-Star leadoff hitter with the Angels. He will be a utilityman for the Dodgers, pinch-hitting here, picking up a start there.
Unglamorous as that might seem, Figgins cherishes the opportunity. He learned he made the team last week, on the night the Dodgers traveled to Australia for their season-opening series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"It's almost more gratifying than getting called up to the big leagues," he said. "To go through what I've been through the last four years was hard. To get that call was huge. I wouldn't say it's a life-changer, but it makes you appreciate hard work and stuff like that."
He was particularly grateful that his wife was with him when his agent called to deliver the news.
"I think it's harder on your spouse," Figgins said. "She has to see you come home every night and watch video or not get to play. For her to see me smile again every day, I think it takes a lot off her shoulders, too."
Figgins batted only .167 in spring training, but drew a team-high nine walks in 46 plate appearances. The Dodgers think he can offer cover at second and third base, shortstop, as well as in the outfield.
The day after he made the team, Figgins said he was congratulated by General Manager Ned Colletti.
"Thank you very much for the opportunity but the goal still isn't finished," Figgins said he told Colletti. "The goal is to win now."
Colletti told him, "Keep doing what you do. Try to do one thing to help the team win every day."
The words came as a relief to Figgins, who said he lost himself as he tried to do too much while he was in Seattle.
"He's not asking you to do too much in the role that you're in," Figgins said.
Still, Figgins is aiming to be an everyday player again.
"Of course I want to play every day," he said. "If I don't think that way, then I'm going to settle for that. I can't allow myself to do that. I've never been like that."
While this Freeway Series might have sentimental meaning for Figgins, it also serves a practical purpose. Whereas the Angels continued their routine of Cactus League games in Arizona, the Dodgers played two regular-season games in Australia last weekend and won't play their next one until Sunday in San Diego. These games will offer them a chance to remain sharp as they reacclimate their bodies to a time zone that is 18 hours behind Sydney.
Manager Don Mattingly said he plans to get his starting position players three or four at-bats in the first two games of the Freeway Series, which will be played Thursday and Friday at Dodger Stadium. Presumably, the team's reserves and minor league players will get a significant portion of the playing time in the series finale in Anaheim on Saturday.
Zack Greinke is scheduled to start for the Dodgers on Thursday, which would line him up to pitch the second game in the San Diego series. Greinke missed the trip to Australia with a strained calf muscle.
The Angels are expected to start Hector Santiago.
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