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BASEBALL / DAILY REPORT : ANGELS : Flora’s Proves He Belongs in Lineup With Strong Play at Second Base

The first spring-training game was the worst, Angel second baseman Kevin Flora says. He woke up that day thinking about his late wife, looked into the stands envisioning she was there, and sat on the bench wondering if she were watching over him.

“That was my test,” said Flora, whose wife, MaryAnn, was killed last season in a car accident. “It was a bad day, a real bad day. But I knew I had to go in there or it would make the next one that much worse.”

Flora was able to survive emotionally that day, but two games later on March 6, wondered if his bid for a starting job was coming to a halt. He sustained a strained right quadriceps, and spent the past week feeling as if the job was slipping away.

Any lingering doubts of whom the Angels want as their starting second baseman ended Tuesday with Flora’s return in their 13-6 victory over the San Diego Padres. He was hitless in two at-bats, but hit a hard grounder and was superb in the field.

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“Kevin’s play woke up a few guys,” Angel Manager Buck Rodgers said. “You can really see the difference. He gives you that speed, that range, and he can run. There’s a big gap between him and the others, talent-wise.

“He’s the only guy we have who can be an everyday second baseman.”

Said Flora: “For the first time, I finally sense I belong here. Everything’s behind me. I really feel I can win the job.”

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The Angels placed catcher Mike Fitzgerald on waivers for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release, and optioned left fielder Garret Anderson to triple-A Vancouver.

Fitzgerald is expected to reject the Angels’ offer to be their backup catcher at triple-A Vancouver and instead is interested in pursuing a coaching career.

“I might have my agent send faxes out to every team to let them know I’m available,” Fitzgerald said, “but it looks like my career ended on a homer in Peoria (last week against Seattle). I wish I had it on tape.”

Fitzgerald, 33, who played 10 years in the major leagues--including 1992 with the Angels--knew he was no longer needed once Rodgers decided to employ only two catchers.

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“It’s funny how one pitch can change your whole life,” Fitzgerald said. “If not for the one wild pitch (in 1986) that snapped my finger, I could have made millions in this game.”

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While Fitzgerald’s baseball career probably is over, the Angels believe Anderson, 21, will be a star.

“I told Anderson we’re not grooming him to be the fourth outfielder,” Rodgers said. “If he keeps going about it the same way, there’s no reason he won’t be in camp competing for a starting outfield job next year. He’s got a chance to be a pretty good player.”

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Anderson, a graduate from Granada Hills Kennedy High School, certainly has few doubts that he’ll soon be in the big leagues.

“It’s doesn’t bother me at all that I’m going down,” said Anderson, “because I know I’ll be in the big leagues. They heard a lot about me, and now they know got to see it with their own eyes.”


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