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Visitation Rites : Mariners’ Lovullo Gets Old Familiar Feeling at Big A

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Torey Lovullo walked into familiar surroundings this week at Anaheim Stadium.

But instead of heading for the home team’s clubhouse, as he had so many times before, he went through the doors marked “Visitors.”

Once inside, he pulled on the gray pants and blue practice jersey of the Seattle Mariners, donned a cap with an “S” on it and headed to the field.

His work day was just beginning, but waves of emotion had already begun rolling over him. This was his first game back in the major leagues and his first day back at Anaheim Stadium.

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Lovullo, 29, was an Angel for only one season, but memories and friendships die hard. Heck, Prime Ticket almost nightly runs a tape of Lovullo hurling his batting helmet into the air after his hit beat the New York Yankees.

J.T. Snow, Lovullo’s best friend on the Angels and his roommate when they were members of the Yankee organization, is the enemy now, along with other buddies such as Gary DiSarcina and Chad Curtis.

“My best friends in the game are on that team,” Lovullo had earlier told a reporter. “It was hard. I had talked to J.T. on the phone. Now, seeing them all together, that was strange.

“I’m just glad to be back home in Anaheim. I’m excited. I want to stick it to (the Angels). I want to have the game on the line and do a number on them.”

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Lovullo, from Montclair Prep and UCLA, played in 116 major league games last year, a career high, batting .251 with six home runs and 30 runs batted in. They were modest numbers, but Lovullo’s impact extended beyond statistics.

Two clutch hits stand out in the Angels’ unexpectedly successful first half of ’93. Without those sorts of contributions, the Angels this season have fallen into what seems to be an emotional abyss.

The Angels released Lovullo during spring training, opting instead for Rex Hudler and Spike Owen as their utility infielders.

Lovullo was stung by the move but now says he had only himself to blame. After his first full season as a major league player, he said he eased up a little bit, and didn’t work as hard as usual over the winter.

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Perhaps he fooled himself with his success. There were reasons to be content as an Angel.

In an early 1993 game against Boston and Roger Clemens, Lovullo hit what turned out to be the game-winning homer in a 2-1 Angel victory.

The Angels’ postgame mood was joyous.

Then, on the day before the All-Star break, Lovullo’s bases-loaded single in the 14th inning gave the Angels a 3-2 victory over the Yankees. It also pulled the Angels within two games of first place in the American League West.

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You’ve probably seen the tape dozens of times by now, maybe without realizing what it was. Half-running, half-skipping, Lovullo rounded first base, tore off his helmet and chucked it skyward. In a flash, he was mobbed by teammates.

Sports, L.A. style.

If there was a defining moment of the Angels’ fast start, that was it. After the break, they faltered, unable to keep pace in the AL West. But Lovullo always hoped management would remember the good times of ’93.

Near the end of spring training, the Angels cut him.

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“I’ll fault myself for the rest of my life,” said Lovullo, who was claimed from the waiver wire by Seattle on April 1. “I wasn’t ready for spring training. I felt last year I would be ready without working the way I did before. I was kind of shocked. I knew they had to make a move, but (getting released) was the last thing on my mind.”

Time has passed, but Lovullo can’t forget his past as an Angel.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think a lot about last year,” he said. “It’s baseball. It’s a business. (But) I had an awfully good time here last year.”

This week proved to be another adventure in the business side of the game for Lovullo. Tuesday, he traded places with 19-year-old shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who was optioned to triple-A Calgary. It marks Lovullo’s third stint in the major leagues this season. In his first 30 games, he batted .213 with two homers and seven runs batted in.

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While searching for his niche with the Mariners, Lovullo still dwells on his heavenly days as an Angel.

“I miss the heck out of them,” he said of his former teammates. “But you have to move on. I think I need to get in the lineup and show how I can play the game.”


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