WILSON WAS SURE HE’D BE AN ANGEL
ANAHEIM – When C.J. Wilson played baseball at Santa Ana College, Coach Don Sneddon would load the team into a bus, drive down Katella Avenue and drop off his players near the riverbed on the other side of Anaheim Stadium. Then the team would have to run back to campus.
"It was only about 31/2 miles back to the college (going) down the riverbed, but since I took the long way (in the bus), it seemed longer to them," Sneddon said this week. "They would run past Anaheim Stadium, and I would tell them to take a good look (and say), 'Someday if you work hard, you may be playing there.'"
It took 10 years, but Sneddon's words proved prophetic, because earlier this week Wilson signed a five-year, $77.5 million contract to pitch for the Angels, on the same day slugger Albert Pujols agreed to terms on a 10-year contract worth more than $250 million with the team.
Not that there ever was a doubt in Wilson's mind that he would someday wear a major league uniform and play in Anaheim. Suffice to say, he has always been supremely confident in his abilities.
"I knew eventually I would play here," Wilson said Saturday, an hour after he and Pujols were introduced at a televised news conference outside Angel Stadium that attracted a raucous crowd of thousands of Angels fans. "Being a young amateur player and living so close (to the ballpark), it makes it easy to see the possibilities.
"It comes down to desire and attitude; that's what 'Sned' instilled in us."
No offense to Sneddon, but Wilson said he knew he would be a major leaguer long before he played at Fountain Valley High, Santa Ana College and Loyola Marymount.
"It's always been a goal my whole life; when I was 8 or 9, I wrote it down on a piece of paper," he said. "I was always focused from a young age."
And when he was 10, Wilson said he remembers Yankees World Series hero Don Larsen, the author of the only perfect game in Series history, coming to Huntington Beach and speaking to his Seaview Little League.
"He told us only 1 out of every 29,200 Little League players is going to make the major leagues," Wilson said. "I looked around at 300 kids who were in my Little League (and said), 'Sorry, a lot of us aren't going to make it.' Knowing that this guy was there and told me that, and there weren't even 2,000 there, I thought, 'This is going to be a tough road to hoe.'
"But I thought it was a goal that was achievable. Lots of guys were better than me in Little League and better than me in high school, but I just kept working and working and working."
And here he is, at age 31, coming off two superlative seasons with the Texas Rangers (a combined 31-15 record, including 16-7 and 2.94 ERA in 2011), two AL championships and two World Series. The hard work obviously has paid off.
Ten years ago, he thought he would make it to the majors as a hitter — not a pitcher — but that's the only thing that has surprised Wilson. Back then, he says he studied the batting strokes of Will Clark, George Brett and Shawn Green, as well as the pitching mechanics of his favorite Angels pitchers, Mark Langston and Chuck Finley.
Sneddon says that Wilson spent so much time in the batting cages in college and still does when he comes to campus to work out before spring training, that the coach put up a banner that says "C.J. Wilson Batting Cages."
"That's true," Wilson said, smiling, adding that he seriously considered signing with a National League team (the Marlins offered him a six-year deal with an option for a seventh year) because he loves to hit and run the bases.
But there also was the pull of staying home all year round and playing in front of his family and friends. And when he started hearing rumors about Pujols might be going to the Angels, it made it an easy decision.
Because there were so many sports teams in Southern California while he was growing up, he says he rooted more for individuals than teams, though he pulled for the Angels in the 2002 World Series because Angels pitching coach Bud Black had helped him when he was 15.
He also was a fan of David Eckstein, because he was inspired by how Eckstein overcame his physical limitations to become a starting infielder on a World Series team.
Wilson was born in Newport Beach and grew up in Huntington Beach, attending Edison High for a year and a half, but candidly says he transferred to Fountain Valley High because the baseball team was better.
He wryly noted that "Fountain Valley was the rival high school," so that should make the transition easier going from the Rangers to the AL West rival Angels.
"It's funny, there's some kind of reversal thing going on now," he said. "Texas was stealing Angels (e.g., Mike Napoli, Darren Oliver) and now the Angels got me."
To complete the cycle, is he going run from Santa Ana College to Angel Stadium before games?
"Probably not," Wilson said, smiling.
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