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Anderson makes it clear he won’t just fade away

It’s already started, and it’s going to gain momentum.

Garret Anderson has been the Angels’ consistent .300 hitter for years, an All-Star game MVP after getting the World Series seventh game winning hit, but you listen, in the next week or so more fans are going to be overheard to say, “the Angels are better off now with Reggie Willits out there.”

As brilliant as Anderson has been for years here -- turning 35 on June 30 -- he’s been tough for fans and media to embrace. Injured again, and now out of sight as the Angels pull away from the rest of the league, the stage belongs to Willits.

I wondered how that plays in Anderson’s head. Is he worried? When he’s asked about giving up left field to become the team’s DH, does he realize that’s a round-about way of saying he’s lost a step? Is the tendon tear in his hip another tipoff that his body can no longer be depended on? Is Anderson finished?

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“I’ve asked myself,” he admits, and if only he had been this open his entire career. “I have self-checks. Can I still do that? I had some plays in the outfield that I began to think about. ‘OK, OK,’ I told myself, ‘I’m not healthy. If I was healthy, yeah, I could catch that ball.’

“I know I’m not the same as I was when I was younger. I’m not foolish to say otherwise; no one can escape that. When I was 24, I felt like Superman, but when you get older, it’s easier for the doubts to start to creep in.”

If healthy, though, and here is where the conversation takes an intense turn, “I have no doubt,” Anderson says, “no doubt I can still play.”

But what about Willits?

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“I’m thrilled for Willits,” he says. “I was there just like he is now. I was a young guy who had to take advantage of an opportunity, and he’s doing that.”

(Willits leads off for the Angels with a hit.)

For the longest time, and it goes back to his minor league days, Anderson has had a chip on his shoulder. He felt slighted and ignored by the media, who only took notice long enough to tag him as lackadaisical.

“I wasn’t bitter, but I couldn’t understand why somebody else would do the same things and get more notoriety,” he says. “I’d get people picking on my style of play. It’s just the body I have and how it responds. I can’t make it look any quicker than what it is.”

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(Willits has just stolen second base.)

Anderson says he’s past all that now, but detached and untrusting as he has been, the media has really never gotten to know the great player who has been camped in left field. More often than not, he’s been portrayed as the unsmiling Anderson, the uncaring baseball player who just seems to sleepwalk through a game.

(Willits has just scored.)

In reality, he’s funny, engaging and after spending two or three years trying to corner him, now there’s no getting rid of him. And I can speak with some experience now when I tell you that I have seen him both smile and laugh.

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(Willits has just driven in a run.)

But removed here from everyone over the years, I wonder now if that will make it easier for everyone to question his long-range value to the Angels without sentiment softening the blows. Do the Angels really need Anderson? And more than that, some might wonder, does Anderson care enough to return?

Well, they should know this about the guy. “I’m not going anywhere without a fight,” he says. “I want to be out there playing, and it gets me that I’m not. I know I can still play. No doubt whatsoever. My job is to get healthy, and then we’ll see. Then we’ll see.”

(Willits has just singled again. And again.)

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CAN’T WAIT to hear the ridiculous things Alexi Lalas, boss man of the Galaxy, has to say on the morning radio show after hearing what he said to British newspapers. Talk about taking one too many soccer balls to the head.

He said that when David Beckham arrives, and I understand he’s a soccer player, he will be bigger in this country than Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan.

“The U.S. will never have dealt with an athlete who has had this kind of international impact,” Lalas told a British newspaper. “Tiger Woods has that international appeal but, with due respect to Woods and Michael Jordan, David Beckham is at an entirely different level.”

With all due respect to Lalas, he’s off his rocker. If Beckham doesn’t score every game, and it’s not what he does, eventually he will draw a collective yawn.

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EVERY SUNDAY Aniceforo Hernandez, known as “John” to the customers he serves at the Mini Gourmet in Yorba Linda, plays soccer, so I wanted to know if he had scored on Father’s Day.

“The coach pulled me,” a dejected Hernandez said. “We were winning, 1-0, I got pulled and we lost, 2-1. The coach is just terrible, and that’s what I told her.”

Then he explained, the coach is his wife.

“My wife took me out of the game,” he said. “On Father’s Day.”

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It’s soccer, I said, maybe she was just trying to figure out a way to give you a tie.

TODAY’S LAST word comes in an e-mail exchange with Kevin Abourezk, education editor, Lincoln Journal Star:

“I have to say, I found your comment about Nebraska very offensive (in the Paul Salata column). It’s a sign of weak writing when you can’t come up with anything funnier than a cheap slam at a great state.”

As ducation editor, I’d think by now you’d be mart enough to leave that pit.

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The education editor replied: “Thank you for your candid response. I’ve passed your e-mail along to the Times’ reader representative department. Take care.”

Good. Wouldn’t want them moving to Nebraska.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.

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