By IAN WILSON
These Angels earned their wings in Alberta.
More than a dozen members of the 2002 World Series champion Anaheim Angels learned how to take their game to the next level while playing Triple-A baseball in Wild Rose country.
These weren’t just bench players either. They were key performers who helped the club secure its first Fall Classic title.
By the time they represented the American League (AL) against the National League’s San Francisco Giants, a number of hitters and pitchers with the Angels were ready, in part because of lessons learned during their time in the Pacific Coast League (PCL).
The best-of-seven affair was a classic that went the distance, and it forced the Angels to keep home run king Barry Bonds in check – or at least try to keep him from going yard on a regular basis.
Here’s a game-by-game rundown of the series, with a focus on some of the contributions of athletes who once called Alberta home:
Lefty Jarrod Washburn took the mound for the Angels in the series opener. The 27-year-old was Anaheim’s ace, having gone 18-6 with a 3.15 earned run average (ERA) during the regular season for the Halos.
Washburn split time between the Angels and the minors in 1999 and 2000. At the Triple-A level, he appeared in 16 games for the Edmonton Trappers.
“He’s a high priority in our system. They really like him at the major-league level,” Trapper manager Carney Lansford told the Edmonton Journal in June of 1999.
“We also need to get him ready in case the big league team needs him up there.”
Washburn went 4-5 for the Trappers while striking out 75 batters through 89.2 innings before establishing himself as a starter for Anaheim.
Against the Giants in the opener, Washburn had some trouble with San Francisco’s sluggers. Bonds, Reggie Sanders and J.T. Snow all homered off the Wisconsin native. A pair of long balls for the Angels from World Series Most Valuable Player (MVP) Troy Glaus kept the game close but Washburn was tagged with the loss after yielding six hits and registering five strikeouts in the game. The first game ended as a 4-3 victory for the Giants.
The Angels needed a response for the home crowd, and outfielder Tim Salmon gave them the spark they needed.
Salmon had been in the majors for a decade by this point and his last long stretch in the minors was an unforgettable campaign with the Trappers.
In 118 games and 409 at bats for Edmonton, the right-handed hitter posted a batting average of .347, an on-base percentage of .469 and he smacked 29 home runs. Salmon also scored 101 runs, produced 105 runs batted in (RBI) and hit 38 doubles. He led the PCL in many offensive categories despite missing the final 18 games of the campaign.
The spectacular season resulted in a host of accolades for Salmon, including being named the PCL’s MVP and the minor league player of the year by the Sporting News and Baseball America.
“Between the lines, 1992 is most memorable for a slugger named Tim Salmon, the epitome of the raw-boned kid with aw-shucks and the big leagues written all over him, who made a stop here and won’t be back,” wrote Journal reporter Robin Brownlee of the Trapper star.
Salmon was modest about his Triple-A success.
“I’m just putting the ball in play. It’s just a lot of luck, I believe … I just hit it, and where it goes, it goes. I’ve been fortunate. I seem to have been hitting the ball in the right place,” he told Brownlee in April.
Max Oliveras, the manager of the Trappers, was glowing in his praise of the emerging talent.
“I thought it would take him longer to adjust to the PCL, but he’s proved me wrong and right now, he’s carrying this club,” said the skipper.
“People see the stats, the offence, but you have to see him day in, day out … you do that, you appreciate Salmon more and more.”
When he was called up to the Angels in August, Oliveras had more good things to say to Calgary Herald scribe Daryl Slade.
“It’s scary. He’s gonna get better and better,” he said.
“I just pray to the Lord that he has some Lady Luck and stays away from injuries, because if he does, he’ll accomplish a lot in the big leagues.”
Added Oliveras: “You don’t see years like he has had very often – he’s shown me, in my opinion, that he’s ready to make the jump.”
Salmon was fully embracing the opportunity.
“I just hope I can pick up in the big leagues where I left off here,” he told the Journal.
“I don’t really expect to put up the numbers I had here, though. I know there will be an adjustment period and I’m ready.”
Salmon was most certainly ready for the second game of the World Series. He went 4-for-4 with three runs and four RBI. Two of his hits were homers, including a decisive two-run blast off Felix Rodriguez in the eighth inning that broke a tie and delivered an 11-10 triumph for the Angels.
Over the course of the series, Salmon batted .346 with a .452 on-base percentage and seven runs scored.
Ramon Ortiz and Washburn formed a one-two punch at the front of Anaheim’s rotation. The pair came up through the minors together and provided baseball fans in Edmonton with a glimpse into the future of the Angels.
In 1999-2000, Ortiz made 24 starts for the Trappers and turned in an 11-9 record with 140 Ks through 142.1 innings.
Rick Wise, the pitching coach of the Trappers, offered this scouting report on Ortiz.
“He’s a power pitcher,” Wise told Journal reporter Norm Cowley in July of 1999.
“He’s got three big-league pitches and excellent command for one so young and not having really pitched that much. He’s fearless out there. He’s very aggressive. He’s definitely a tremendous prospect. He’s going to be in the big leagues and he’s going to be there for a long time.”
It was a solid assessment of the pitcher from the Dominican Republic, who ended up pitching in 303 Major League Baseball (MLB) contests over 12 seasons.
During the 2002 campaign, Ortiz rewarded the Angels with a 15-9 record, a 3.77 ERA and a career-best 162 strikeouts in 217.1 innings of work.
In the third contest of the Fall Classic, the righthander gave up five hits – including two homers – and four earned runs to the Giants. It wasn’t exactly a virtuoso performance but it was good enough. Anaheim’s bullpen held the fort, thanks in part to two scoreless frames from Scott Schoeneweis (another Trapper alum), and the Angels emerged with a 10-4 win and a 2-1 series lead.
The fourth installment in the head-to-head battle for baseball supremacy was a tight affair that was tied in the late stages.
An unearned run in the eighth inning broke a 3-3 deadlock and helped the Giants claim a 4-3 victory. Reliever Tim Worrell got the win, while Robb Nen picked up the save for San Francisco. Glaus had the only home run of the game in a losing effort.
Second baseman Benji Gil was a bright spot for the Angels. He had two hits in three at bats and scored a run.
Unlike many of his teammates, Gil came up through the PCL with the Calgary Cannons. The Mexican played 244 games for the Cannons in 1998-99, picking up 31 long balls and scoring 154 runs in that time. He also stole 28 bases for Calgary.
Despite his production at the Triple-A level, Gil was unhappy during much of his time in Cowtown.
“I started getting frustrated because they didn’t call me up, but now I’m going to get my focus back,” admitted Gil in the June 21, 1998 edition of the Calgary Herald.
“It’s frustrating when the guy ahead of you in the big leagues is not as good as you are … at first, I didn’t mind so much being here, but now that I’m an insurance policy for the (parent club) White Sox, I’m not enjoying myself. This is a nice city, but I’m not happy to be here. I’m too young to be an insurance policy.”
Calgary manager Tom Spencer was impressed with Gil’s ability but wanted to see him deliver for his team.
“If your head’s in Chicago, your ass will be in Calgary all season,” Spencer told the Herald.
“You’ve got to put everything behind you. If he thinks he’s a major leaguer then he has to go out and prove it. And I know he’s capable.”
Gil later ruffled feathers in the 1998 PCL playoffs after he was lifted for pinch hitter Kevin Roberson during the Northern Division championship. He bolted for the clubhouse and was nowhere to be found when Roberson delivered a series-clinching homer in Gil’s place.
Turns out both Spencer and Gil were right, however, about what he could achieve – the middle infielder suited up in over 600 games for the Texas Rangers and the Angels in a playing career that spanned over two decades.
The World Series was reduced to a best-of-three when the action shifted to Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco on Oct. 24, 2002.
Washburn took the bump for his second start, which ended up being a disastrous contest for the Angels. Kenny Lofton, Jeff Kent and Bonds got to the former Trapper early and often, striking for six runs in the first two innings.
Washburn lasted just four frames and was tagged with the loss. Anaheim’s bullpen didn’t fair much better. Reliever Ben Weber was torched for five earned runs, as was Scot Shields, who made 27 starts for the Trappers in 2000.
When the dust settled, the Giants had pounded the Halos by a 16-4 score.
Lost in the hit parade was a nice outing for shortstop David Eckstein. The Florida product picked up two hits, one run and one RBI in his four at bats.
Eckstein, who was waived by the Boston Red Sox in 2000 before the Anaheim Angels claimed him and assigned him to Edmonton, only played 15 games for the Trappers but his tenacity and strong play in the field made fans take notice in both Calgary and the City of Champions. He hit three home runs – including one at Burns Stadium – while stealing five bases, scoring 17 runs and batting .346 during 52 at bats in a Trapper uniform.
“The way he carries himself on the field is a guy who lives and dies for baseball,” Trapper hitting coach Leon Durham told the Edmonton Journal at the time.
His postseason with the Angels marked the start of an impressive run of MLB playoff performances. Eckstein batted .310 with six runs and three RBI against the Giants. In 2006, the middle infielder was named the World Series MVP as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. During that series against the Detroit Tigers, Eckstein had a .364 batting average, three doubles, four RBI and three runs over five games.
Infielder Scott Spiezio saved his best for the biggest stage.
It was a habit he developed with the Edmonton Trappers in 1996, when the club was pursuing a PCL title.
The Illinois native had already put together a strong regular season in Triple-A, clubbing 20 homers, 30 doubles and 91 RBI in 140 games. When the postseason came around, Spiezio went supersonic. He hit six homers and produced 11 RBI in eight playoff games to help the Trappers capture their second championship.
Orv Franchuk, the hitting coach with the Trappers, was smitten by what he saw in Spiezio.
“This guy loves the game,” Franchuk told the Journal.
“He sprints onto the field every inning like it’s his last. He sprints to drills. He probably sprints to his locker to get dressed. He wakes up every day thinking about baseball. You can’t get him off the damn field.”
Added Franchuk: “I’ll tell you what sets him apart. This is a guy who has not only got some real ability, but who works harder than anybody else.”
That ability and effort delivered a clutch moment in the sixth game of the 2002 World Series. With the Angels trailing 5-0 in the seventh inning, Spiezio stepped to the plate with two runners on base. After fouling off several pitches, he sent a ball over the right field wall. It was a spark that got the home crowd on their feet and sent Anaheim’s famed Rally Monkey into a frenzy. The Angels scored three more runs in the eighth inning to complete the comeback and pick up a 6-5 win.
For his part, Spiezio had a .400 on-base percentage and eight RBI against San Francisco. He joined forces with Eckstein in St. Louis and won a second World Series ring with the Cardinals in 2006.
Following the high drama of the sixth chapter of the World Series, the deciding game was decidedly less exciting.
All of the runs in the matchup were scored by the end of the third frame. Benito Santiago scored first for the Giants on a sacrifice fly in the second inning, and Spiezio got the tying run when catcher Bengie Molina slashed a double in the bottom of the inning.
Anaheim took control of the game with three runs in the third when a Garret Anderson double plated Eckstein, Darin Erstad and Salmon.
From there, the Angels moundsmen locked things down. John Lackey worked five innings of one-run ball to nab the win, and Troy Percival picked up his second win of the series to clinch the championship.
Guiding the pitchers through the game, as he had all series, was the backstop Molina. The eldest brother of Jose and Yadier, who also had distinguished MLB careers as catchers, Bengie provided Gold Glove-calibre defense and a capable bat to the Halos. He batted .286 with two doubles, two runs and a pair of RBI during the Fall Classic.
Molina was another Trapper graduate. He played 65 games for Edmonton in 1999 and manufactured seven round trippers, 28 runs and 41 RBI.
As a youngster, Molina played around the diamond, taking turns as a shortstop, outfielder and pitcher. But when Anaheim’s scouts saw potential for him behind the dish, he embraced catching.
“It’s a fun position,” he told the Journal.
“I enjoy it. That’s why I got better every year. I take a lot of pride into it.”
John McNamara, the minor league catching instructor for the Angels in 1999, offered the following evaluation of Molina: “He can catch, he can throw and he can hit a little bit. He’s a good-looking prospect who’ll get to the major leagues eventually.”
There were, of course, other Alberta-linked players and coaches who helped the Angels claim MLB’s top prize.
Pitcher Lou Pote made 31 relief appearances for the Angels in 2002. In his 50.1 innings of mound work that year, Pote struck out 32 batters and registered a 3.22 ERA. The righthander from Illinois played for the Trappers in 1999-2000 and returned to Edmonton to finish his playing career with the Capitals of the North American League. The Capitals won the title in 2011 and Pote – now a coach with Okotoks Dawgs Academy – was named the postseason MVP.
Catcher/infielder Shawn Wooten made his way into nine postseason games for Anaheim in 2002 and was an effective hitter in the AL Division Series versus the New York Yankees. Wooten – who played 66 games for the Trappers in 2000 – collected six hits, four runs, two RBI and one homer in that matchup.
Julio Ramirez roamed the outfield in 29 regular-season games for the Halos in 2002. The Dominican suited up in 94 games for the Calgary Cannons in 2000 and returned to the Stampede City in 2010 to play for the Vipers in the Golden League.
Jeff DaVanon also played in the outfield for Anaheim that regular season, suiting up in 16 games. While he didn’t crack the postseason lineup, he did see playoff action for the Angels in 2004-05. DaVanon played 34 games for the Trap in 1999.
Matt Wise, who made seven relief appearances for the Angels, was a starting pitcher for the Trappers in 2000. For Edmonton, he went 9-6 with a 3.69 ERA and 82 Ks in 124.1 innings.
Bud Black, the pitching coach for the Angels during their championship campaign, has parental ties to Canada. His mother was born in Melville, Saskatchewan and his father was born in Calgary and raised in Edmonton.
Joe Maddon, meanwhile, was the bench coach for Anaheim in 2002. Prior to that posting, he served as the team’s minor league hitting instructor. That job brought him to Edmonton for several visits in the late 1980s and early 1990s to check up on the organization’s best prospects.