Figgins reflects on his fave five
Streaking third baseman acknowledges mentors
ANAHEIM -- In the midst of a career-best 15-game hitting streak, Chone Figgins has few peers among Major League catalysts.
"He's doing as good a job as any leadoff man in baseball," Angels manager Mike Scioscia says of his third baseman, who carries a .298 batting average and a .374 on-base percentage with 19 steals in 22 attempts.
As he reflects on his career in the midst of another superb season at age 31, Figgins expresses gratitude to friends who have helped him find his way.
Five who come quickly to mind are Rolando Fernandez, Juan Pierre, Nathan Haynes, Keith Johnson and Garret Anderson.
They're scattered across the baseball landscape now. Fernandez is an executive with the Rockies. Pierre is slashing line drives with the Dodgers. Johnson is managing the Angels' Class A Rancho Cucamonga affiliate. And Anderson, the most productive offensive player in Angels history, is in Atlanta, adjusting to a new league and a Brave new world.
Haynes, in retirement, is hoping to launch a coaching career.
Figgins on Fernandez, Rockies director of international operations: "He's the one who put down the foundation for my career when he taught me how to switch-hit. I was right-handed all the way when they drafted and signed me [in 1997]. Rolando watched me swing the bat and told me I could switch-hit, because of how strong my hands were. He got me started switch-hitting, got me confident in my ability to do it. It wasn't easy at first, but I hung with it.
"We still talk on the phone now and then. Being able to hit from both sides is a big advantage, and Rolando is the one who pointed me in that direction and took me there."
Figgins on Pierre, flourishing as Manny Ramirez's replacement in left field: "Juan and I came up together with the Rockies. He'd gone to junior college and had been drafted three times, so he was a little ahead of me. We were competitors at first, seeing who could outwork the other guy.
"What I learned from Juan was that you need a plan, a program. I was killing myself in our workouts, which isn't a bad thing, but he had an approach. He made me understand that working hard wasn't enough; you had to work with a plan.
"He's been like a big brother, in a baseball sense. We work out together in the winter in Florida. I have my own plan now. I hit early every day. I come to the park at 2 [p.m. PT] for a night game and do 45 minutes to an hour in the gym. Then I get in the cage for 30 minutes of hitting. Every two or three days, I'll work on my bunting. I like to hit in the cage first, then come to the field hitting line drives.
"It doesn't surprise me, what Juan is doing. He loves the game and works as hard as anyone."
Figgins on Haynes, his teammate with the Angels during his career 2007 season, in which Figgins hit .330: "I got to know Nate after I got traded to the Angels in 2001. We played together at [Double-A] Arkansas. We got to be close friends, and I was able to do for Nate what Juan had done for me -- I gave him a plan, an approach. He was a great athlete and a great friend; it's just a shame he had so many injuries.
"When Nate got called up [from Triple-A Salt Lake] in 2007, I was struggling. He knew my swing, knew what I'd done to be successful. He told me one thing, and it clicked. It was more mental than anything, having to do with my approach. He had been watching me and said, 'You're close, right there. You can't change your approach.' I realized that he was right, that when you hit line drives, like I do, you're going to go through stretches when they don't fall. But you have to stick with what you do best.
"Nate is retired now, looking to become a coach. I think he'll be great at it."
Figgins on Johnson: "When I was in Triple-A [Salt Lake in 2002 and '03], he got me to understand what it was going to take to be in the big leagues. K.J. was big on the mental part of the game -- and defense. He stressed catching every routine ball you can and to focus my approach offensively on hitting with runners in scoring position.
"He said, 'You're a leadoff man, but when runners are out there, you need to get them in.' If I hit like there's a man on second -- even when nobody's on -- I have a better approach. I try to do that.
"He stays in touch with me. He gets all the [organizational] reports. He always tells me that when I try to bunt, I have better at-bats that game. I end up tracking the ball better.
"K.J. has helped a lot of guys out. I'm one of them."
Figgins on Anderson: "He told me when I came up that getting here is the easy part. Staying here is the tough part. He taught me what it takes to help your team win and stay in the big leagues.
"Garret never would come out and say, 'This is what you need to do.' That's not his way. He'd talk about another player who was similar to me to make his point about a situation, how he handled it. He'd leave it up to me to decide what I wanted to take from it.
"He'd never been an infielder or a switch-hitter, but he understood things. It's because he was so into the game, every detail. He'd say stuff to me, knowing I was close to Kotch [Casey Kotchman], and I would relay it to him. He always knew how to get your attention and how to make you think in ways to improve your game.
"Garret's a great player and a great friend. I've been lucky to have people like this around me."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.