Angels’ Polonia Feeling More at Home Every Day : Baseball: Last season, outfielder said he hoped to rejoin the Yankees someday. This year, he’s singing a different tune.
Even after enjoying his finest moment with the Angels, a game-winning inside-the-park home run against his former New York Yankee teammates last August, Luis Polonia was emotionally torn.
Moments after gloating about defeating the team that traded him, Polonia admitted that he hoped to rejoin the Yankees someday.
But playing 120 games (109 with the Angels) helped dim his desire to wear pin stripes again, and the promise of playing left field every day this season could make him abandon all his dreams of future Yankee glory.
“I still feel a little bit that way, but it went away a little,” Polonia said Thursday of his affection for the Yankees. “I feel I have a home here. I came to New York thinking I could have a home there, but things were so crazy there. Here, I can see how much they love me and want me.
“After this year, I’m sure we’re going to work something out so I can play here for a long time. Playing for Doug Rader is something. I would love to die playing for him.”
Polonia needn’t go to that extreme to please his manager. His verve and .335 batting average already have earned Rader’s approval, and given Polonia the opportunity to face left-handed pitchers regularly.
“I’ve never been in this situation before, knowing I’m going to have a job every day. It’s more relaxing this way,” said Polonia, who hit .294 (15 for 51) against left-handers last season and a league-leading .341 (120 for 352) against right-handers.
“There’s no pressure. I can just go out and do my thing. This year, I’m shooting for .336 because I want to improve on what I did last year.”
His work with Bruce Hines, the club’s first base coach and defensive instructor, has already paid off.
“He’s making every attempt to be a better-than-average left fielder,” Rader said. “His throwing is 100% better. He has the instinct and physical ability to be very good in left field. As far as being able to hit left-handed pitching, I think he needs to be given the chance to play every day.”
Polonia plans to make the most of his chance.
“I know I can hit,” he said. “I want people to say, ‘Luis is as good a fielder as he is a hitter.’ All I ask is for 500 at-bats and a chance to play against left-handed pitchers. I want to (chase) every doubt people have had about me.”
Persistent rain forced Rader to end Thursday’s workouts about noon, before pitchers could throw to hitters. Should the rain continue, as predicted, Rader fears falling behind in his schedule.
“It’s going to affect our running program a little bit, and the rest of it we’ll have to piece together,” he said. “I don’t like the idea of doubling up (Friday). There’s not a whole lot of time to get these things done.”
Scott Boras, who represents pitcher Jim Abbott, said his contract talks with the Angels are continuing “on a good-faith basis.” Abbott has until Tuesday to reach an agreement or have his contract renewed unilaterally. The Angels renewed his contract last year, raising his salary from $68,000 to $185,000.
He’s sure to get a raise, but nothing that will put him near his fellow starters. Mark Langston will receive $3.25 million this season, followed by Chuck Finley at $2.5 million, Kirk McCaskill at $2.1 million and Bert Blyleven at $1.75 million.
“We’re discussing the parameters of the market,” Boras said. “There’s a lot of unsigned players, players who have exceeded Jim’s performance and some who haven’t, which makes it difficult to determine his exact value.”
Curiously, the sides haven’t discussed salary, Angel Senior Vice President Dan O’Brien said.
“There’s been nothing specific,” he said. “It’s (Boras’) view at the moment that he wants to see where the market’s going. We’ll continue to talk and check in with each other to see where it’s going.”
Eleven other Angels remain unsigned, but O’Brien said he has been in touch with each player’s agent. He plans to speak today with Tom Tanzer, who represents outfielder Dante Bichette.
Blyleven threw on the side and continues to improve progress in his recovery from right shoulder surgery.
“I’m not worried about location, just about strength,” he said. “I’m very happy with the way things are coming along. There are no doubts in my mind that I’m going to be fine.”
Rader cautioned against reading anything into Lee Stevens’ working out with the outfielders instead of the infielders, but Stevens thinks it signals a move from first base to the outfield.
That would be fine with Stevens, who was promoted from triple-A Edmonton last July after Wally Joyner injured his right knee.