Garret Anderson to Backup First Base

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dd88
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One way to look at the latest stage in the career of Garret Anderson is that he has switched agents to Scott Boras from Thomas Wolfe.

The author, Wolfe, never negotiated a contract, but is best known for negotiating the phrase, "You can't go home again."

Yet, here is Anderson, at 37 and with 16 illustrious Major League seasons in his own book, trying to make it all the way to the verdant patch southeast of downtown Los Angeles that "would take me back to my childhood."

Anderson grew up a few miles from Dodger Stadium, an All-Los Angeles City player at Granada Hills' Kennedy High School who has only occasionally trod that field in visitors' grays.

"I got to play some [exhibition] Freeway Series and regular-season games there, mostly Interleague," he said, recalling his 15 seasons as an Angels mainstay prior to his one season in Atlanta, "and I really enjoyed those visits. Going back home is special, and I think that would apply to anybody.

"There are 30 teams out there, and to get a chance to play at home is definitely a blessing. I grew up in a community 20 minutes away from Dodger Stadium. I watched games there growing up. When you get to a place like that, it's special; it takes you back to your childhood."

It may not, however, take Anderson back to his position, the outfield, where he has appeared in 1,879 of 2,148 career games. Most of that action has come in left field, where the Dodgers have Manny Ramirez.

So Anderson is a fresh camp arrival, as a non-roster invitee on a Minor League contract, to compete for a job as a backup first baseman and lefty-hitting threat on the bench.

The hitting portion is a specialty, and part of Anderson's appeal is his admirable ability to handle tough lefties, which could make him invulnerable to late-game pitching changes.

In retrospect, the Dodgers' decision to sign him on March 3 must have been influenced by their awareness of the lingering physical woes of Brian Giles, another backup candidate who on Thursday decided to retire his arthritic right knee.

But first base is a whole new territory.

Anderson is scheduled to take the first step on his first-base adventure in Sunday's Cactus League game against the Rangers at Camelback Ranch, after a week of workouts to get his legs.

"[Manager Joe Torre] wanted him to decide when he's ready," said Don Mattingly, the Dodgers' interim manager during Torre's visit to Taiwan. "I'm not sure where Anderson will play [Sunday]. I know he wants to play the field and is definitely interested in playing some first base."

In the big-picture sense, it's pretty obvious where Anderson wants to play -- in Dodger Stadium.

"A player can't control where he ends up signing, so I'm very happy this came about," Anderson said. "It's a chance for a whole different way to look at my career."

The different looks are only just beginning. The chief challenge for a lifelong outfielder transitioning to first base isn't in taking infielders' throws, or even in handling the occasional grounder smashed his way.

Rather, it is the totally different perspective on everything happening on the field, from the batter's proximity to the positioning of infielders.

"I'm definitely not taking it lightly," Anderson said. "I'm taking this seriously, trying to get used to the look and the feel of it."

His education began on Thursday on a back field in the Dodgers' training complex, taking his first grounders at first base in about 15 years, since the Angels briefly had him work out there in his final Minor League days prior to his 1995 midseason, and permanent, promotion.

His uniform number -- 00 -- symbolizes the fresh start after 15 seasons of wearing the Angels' No. 16 and one year in the Atlanta Braves' No. 18.

Hitting him the grounders is bench coach Bob Schaefer, who after a few consecutive clean picks shouts, "Looking like Don Mattingly out there."

"Don't think so. Don't gimme that," protests Anderson with a smile, while already thinking of how he'll pick the brain of the everyday hitting coach who earned nine consecutive Gold Gloves through 1994 as the Yankees' first baseman.

One of his former Angels teammates -- Darin Erstad -- made the outfield-to-first-base switch artfully enough to earn a 2004 Gold Glove at the new position, but Anderson hasn't called him for advice.

"No, I don't want to bother anyone with a coach here who was pretty good at first base. I heard he was pretty good," Anderson said with a grin, adding, "His last year was my first."

Baseball always tends to go in such cycles. It has a certain rhythm, a definite pattern. Like a circle closing, bringing you home.

http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd ... mp;c_id=la


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