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NO END IN SIGHT

Times Staff Writer

Tim Salmon’s four-year, $40-million contract will expire after the 2005 season, and if the Angel outfielder returns in 2006, it will probably be for less than the commission his agent makes in one year of Salmon’s current deal.

And that’s perfectly fine with Salmon, the 36-year-old veteran who is looking more for a happy ending to a long and productive career than one final payday in the game he has played professionally for 17 years, all in the Angel organization.

“I tell you what, in the situation I’m in I probably don’t need an agent except to knock on some doors,” said Salmon, who will sit out most of this season while he recovers from knee and shoulder surgery.

“I’m at a point where it’s more important to finish on a good note. If there’s still an opportunity, a place on a team for me, the issue won’t be money. It’s what can I bring to a club? What can I contribute?”

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Salmon would prefer that opportunity come with the Angels, but after watching longtime teammates Troy Percival and Troy Glaus and fan favorite David Eckstein depart over the winter, Salmon knows sentiment won’t play any part in the Angels’ decision.

The Angels need production from their designated hitter and reserve outfielders, and if Salmon is to have any shot at finishing his career in Anaheim -- on his terms -- he will have to show by September or next winter that he is completely recovered from the injuries that limited him to a career-low 60 games and 186 at-bats last season.

To that end, Salmon is going through grueling physical therapy sessions three times a week, five hours a day, in Arizona, rehabilitating his left shoulder and left knee, and checking in at Angel camp once or twice a week to stay connected.

“I want to play,” Salmon said. “I could go to rehab one day a week, slack off and live my life, but I want to give myself a shot to go out on better terms. Going out with injuries leaves a bitter taste. I want to contribute, to be healthy, to have options. I want to leave the game gracefully.”

But if this is it -- if that flyball to right field in the sixth inning against Kansas City on Aug. 23 is his last major-league at-bat, if that bloop single to left in the fifth inning in Angel Stadium that night was his last big league hit -- that bitter taste won’t linger for long. How could it?

Salmon will have made almost $70 million during a 13-year major league career, he owns franchise records for home runs (290), runs batted in (989), extra-base hits (643), total bases (2,854), walks (941) and runs scored (956), and he’s been a pillar in an Orange County community that still refers to him as “Mr. Angel.”

He was the American League comeback player of the year in 2002, a magical season that ended with Salmon leading a victory lap around Angel Stadium, the World Series trophy held over his head after the Game 7 victory over San Francisco.

“You recognize that this is not going to last forever, and you realize you’re really blessed to do this,” Salmon said. “I keep using the term ‘reflection.’ Ever since last July, when I tried to play hurt, I’ve been reflecting on the game, my career. I don’t know.... Hopefully, I can look back on this two years from now, be healthy and playing, and see that it was good to go through this.”

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In the meantime, Salmon will make the best of a difficult situation. As tough as it will be to see the Angels break camp March 31, return to Southern California and start the season without him, there is a flip side to that frustration: Salmon will continue his therapy in Arizona and remain in his Scottsdale home with his wife, Marci, and four children, Callie, Jacob, Katelyn and Ryan.

“The silver lining in this is it’s kind of a sabbatical,” Salmon said. “The kids don’t have to be pulled out of school, they can play Little League and I can actually help out. The next six months would be miserable if I didn’t have my family to occupy my time.”

This stay-at-home-dad thing will take some getting used to, though.

“Once the season starts, I’ll have weekends to go to Little League games, run the kids to the lake.... I don’t know, what do you do with kids on a weekend in the summer?” Salmon said. “I’ve never had free weekends with the kids in the summer.

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“There are some things to break up the monotony. I’m taking a night class one night a week. I figure I’ve got 10 months -- let’s do something productive.”

Once the season starts and Salmon is ready to begin swinging a bat, he plans to join the Angels for a few homestands. He’s not going to be the next Mo Vaughn, the former Angel first baseman who virtually disappeared while rehabilitating from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for all of 2001.

“I want to feel like I’m still a part of it,” Salmon said. “I don’t want to disappear because I remember what happened when Mo was hurt and he was never around. If they have a locker for you, you should show up once in a while.”

Salmon’s goal is to begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment by August -- 10 months after rotator cuff surgery on his left shoulder -- and return to the Angels by September.

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If he’s confident enough to play in 2006, he’d probably be willing to sign a contract for something near the major league minimum of $316,000, preferably with the Angels.

If the only offers he gets are from East Coast or Midwest teams that would force him to uproot his family, Salmon will strongly consider retirement.

“I have so much connection with the Angels, I made a name for myself here, I want to finish here,” Salmon said. “Southern California has been my home for the last 12, 13 years. It’s the place where I want to make it happen.”


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