Faster than a speeding bullet, the Angels’ new center fielder has arrived on the scene.
One day, there was a hall of famer, heart and soul of the team, in the middle of everything, where he always was and always would be. The next day, Torii Hunter was in right field and the universe had tilted.
To Hunter’s right was a newcomer named Peter Bourjos. He was more blur than player, so fast that it took HD TV just to get him in focus.
Two weeks later, Bourjos is the guy in the Angels’ outfield not named Reggie Willits who wears his pants pulled high and his red socks long. He is also the Angels’ starting center fielder, apparently for the foreseeable future.
Internal scouting reports, with a mind to the apparent Angels’ need for speed, are predictably favorable so far.
Says Manager Mike Scioscia, “A good speed from home to first for a right-handed batter is 4.1 seconds. He’s faster than that.”
Says second baseman Howie Kendrick, “He’s up there with the best in the league, with [Pittsburgh’s Andrew] McCutchen and [Tampa Bay’s Carl] Crawford. With our own Erick Aybar. We were coming around the bases the other day and I looked back and he was right on me, so I had to get it in gear.”
The always affable Hunter says, with a huge grin, “He might be the fastest white guy I ever saw.”
Bourjos didn’t come out of nowhere, but there weren’t any trumpets signaling his arrival.
“I was as surprised as everybody else to be here this soon,” he says.
The son of Chris Bourjos, who played for the San Francisco Giants in 1980 and is now a scout for the Baltimore Orioles, Peter Bourjos was drafted in the 10th round in 2005 by the Angels. He is from Scottsdale, Ariz., where he starred at Notre Dame High as a center fielder and leadoff hitter from his sophomore year on. He began at Mountain Desert High in Scottsdale, but they kept pinch-hitting for him, so he transferred. At Notre Dame High, he also played football and, as one might imagine, was a wide receiver and kick returner.
“I caught 14-15 touchdown passes my junior year,” he says, adding that he has never been timed at 100 yards, but once ran 60 yards in 6.3 seconds.
He missed most of his senior year of football with mononucleosis, but his focus was mostly on baseball, anyway.
“I didn’t have any interest in college,” he says. “I just wanted to get drafted, sign and get out there. See if I could make it.”
On Aug. 3, at age 23, he had, at least for the moment.
That was the day of his major league debut, a game in Baltimore. He had had minor league seasons in Orem, Utah; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Rancho Cucamonga; Arkansas and, the start of this year, triple-A Salt Lake City, where he hit .314, with 12 triples and 27 stolen bases in three months.
He says he was ready for just about anything. He had played a few games in left field in Salt Lake, the word being that that was where the mothership had a need.
He wasn’t ready for what happened next.
“I walked into Mike Scioscia’s office,” Bourjos says. “He asked me if I was nervous. I said no. He said I should be. But he was kidding. He said not to be. Then he said I’d be starting in center field.”
Bourjos was stunned. Center field belonged to Hunter.
“I walked out,” Bourjos says, “and Torii walked up to me, told me he was moving over, that it was fine with him, they had let him make the call, and that if I needed anything, he was there. He treated me like he had known me forever.”
And so, with Hunter going to right and Bobby Abreu from right to left, Peter Bourjos, wet-behind-the-ears rookie, had been judged to have such special defensive skills that two of the better players in the history of the game were moved to make room.
It is a work in progress, but there have been dividends. The best example so far was Friday night at the Big A against Toronto, when Bourjos became a human highlight film.
In the second inning, he nearly robbed Adam Lind of a triple. He actually got to the wall so fast that he overran the ball and it caromed off his forearm.
In the fourth, Bourjos got a perfect jump on a line drive by Aaron Hill and made the kind of diving catch in shallow left center that few others would even try. An inning later, Yunel Escobar put him in full sprint toward the 400 mark in dead center. Bourjos gathered it in, in full stride, over the shoulder, a la Willie Mays.
The capper was in the ninth. Jose Bautista sent a rocket to the gap in deep left center. Somehow, Bourjos tracked it down, dived and caught it.
No, he’s not yet able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. But give the Angels’ Superkid a season or so.
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