A year ago this month, Taylor Featherston was reflecting on his first full season of double-A ball, wondering how he was going to break through a logjam of middle infielders in the Colorado Rockies system to even get a whiff of the big leagues.
Now look at him -- the Angels' starting second baseman for a three solid weeks, in the thick of a playoff race, and in the lineup again Monday night for the opener of a crucial three-game series against the Houston Astros in Minute Maid Park.
The Angels trail the Astros by 2 1/2 games for the second American League wild-card spot with 13 games left.
"This is what it's all about, this is what you dream of as a little kid," said Featherston, who grew up in the Houston area and spent Sunday night at his parents' house. "You're in a pennant race as a rookie playing second base with some of the best players in the game. It's an unbelievable feeling, very gratifying."
Featherston, a Rule 5 pick last winter, was a bit player for the first four months of the season, but with second baseman Johnny Giavotella out since Aug. 21 because of a condition that causes double vision, Featherston, who jumped from double-A to the big leagues, has been thrust into a prominent role.
He hasn't hit much, batting .226 with one homer and four runs batted in in 18 games since Sept. 1, but he has played solid and sometimes superb defense, including a running, lunging catch of a popup in which he narrowly avoided a collision with right fielder Kole Calhoun on Sunday in Minnesota.
"Oh my gosh, he's a linebacker," Featherston said of the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Calhoun. "I saw him out of the corner of my I eye, I heard him, but I wasn't going to let that ball fall."
Featherston has been a considerable defensive upgrade over Giavotella, and the more he plays, the more confident and comfortable he looks.
"I wouldn't say I'm nervous at all," Featherston said. "I would say I'm excited. You can't play this game nervous. That will definitely show up. You have to be yourself, aggressive and confident. And just play baseball."
Featherston has received excellent guidance from Angels veterans, especially third baseman David Freese and outfielder Shane Victorino.
"David Freese has been huge for me," Featherston said. "I'll get back to the hotel, he'll text me, I'll ask him certain things about how the game went, and he'll tell me what he thinks about certain situations, good and bad. He's really honest with me, which I respect.
"I would expect my teammates to let me know if I'm doing something wrong. Victorino, too. He'll come in and grab me after a base-running play, say I should have been more aggressive here, not as aggressive there. I like tough love. It makes me better, for sure."