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ANGELS : Curtis Spends Lifetime Dealing With Doubters

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Chad Curtis knows the critics and skeptics are out there. He sees the scouts in the stands, hears his teammates in the clubhouse and senses their apprehension.

Curtis proved in his rookie season that he can play left field and survived 32 games in center, but no one knows how he will perform as the Angels’ everyday center fielder. After all, the Angels were 7-25 in games he started in center last season.

“I guess it’s natural for people to have a legitimate concern,” said Curtis, who led the league with 16 assists. “But I really don’t have any doubts that I’ll be able to do the job because of my work habits.

“I mean, if I didn’t have my work ethic, I wouldn’t be in the major leagues today. I’ve never been blessed with much talent, and so I’ve had to work harder than everybody else for what I’ve attained.”

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Curtis never attracted interest from college baseball recruiters, much less pro scouts. He paid his own way to junior college and three years later was drafted in the 45th round. Today, he is considered one of the Angels’ greatest finds, having batted .259 with 10 homers and 46 runs batted in last season.

Just how dedicated is Curtis to the game?

He got married in 1990 in his baseball uniform and played 30 minutes later in Davenport, Iowa.

“He made so many adjustments to get where he is today,” Manager Buck Rodgers said. “I don’t foresee a problem.”

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The Angels will file a protest with the American League next week that will include a request for compensation from the Toronto Blue Jays, said Dan O’Brien, Angel vice president for operations.

The Angels will ask the Blue Jays to pay third baseman Kelly Gruber’s salary--about $383,333 a month--for as long as he remains on the disabled list.

Gruber, who was acquired for infielder Luis Sojo, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder two weeks ago. He figures to be sidelined at least until May and possibly for the season if additional surgery is required.

Sojo also is injured, with “instability” of the left wrist. He injured the wrist playing winter ball in Venezuela, Sojo said, and not with the Angels.

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So who was designated as the front-seat passenger on the Angels’ three-hour bus ride Thursday afternoon to Yuma, Ariz.?

“Don’t look at me,” Rodgers said. “After what happened last year, I’m through with that seat.”

Rodgers, who had been sitting in the front seat, suffered multiple injuries and missed much of last season after the Angels’ team bus crashed in New Jersey on the way from New York to Baltimore.

Outfielder Jerome Walton will miss the two-game series against the San Diego Padres beginning today because of calcium deposits in his left hand. Walton, hit in the hand during Wednesday’s intrasquad game, aggravated a previous injury. . . . Outfielder Ty Van Burkleo, a 29-year-old rookie who spent 4 1/2 seasons in the Japanese League, hit a three-run homer off John Farrell in Thursday’s intrasquad game after contributing a run-scoring double Wednesday.

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