Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
By Rich Mancuso
Angel Pagan returned to Citi Field again in late April on the opposite side with the San
Francisco Giants but his passion was always in New York with the Mets The Mets were his original team as a fourth round pick in the draft back in 1999. Later he was reacquired from the Chicago Cubs in 2008.
Next week, the first place Giants, and with the best record in baseball visit the Bronx for an interleague three-game series with the New York Yankees. But his passion for the Mets was always there after a trade to the Giants for right hander pitcher Ramon Ramirez and outfielder Andres Torres in December of 2011. You see changes in personnel at Citi Field every year, just like players going elsewhere, but Pagan always looked at New York as home despite being a part of two World Series championship teams with the Giants during those years of 2012 and 2014.
Yes, the even number years, which makes 2016 a cinch for the Giants to win another world championship?
“Don’t pay attention to the even year,” said Pagan who is once again healthy after missing close to three weeks from another strained hamstring. .“It doesn’t matter. You pay attention to the chemistry. It’s about 25 guys. Today it could you, today it could be me.”
In other words, as Pagan says, the Giants have the nucleus of 25 guys that have talent and the ability to win another championship, though the NL West with the defending champion Dodgers are favorites and the Arizona Diamondbacks are expected to be tough until the end. Do throw out the theory of the even year and play out the schedule with hopes of playing ball deep into October.
The Giants could be there at the end, They acquired formidable additions to their starting pitching in the offseason in left hander Johnny Cueto, who had first half Cy Young Award statistics and righthander Jeff Samardzija. And that’s a good addition to go along with Jake Peavy, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgamer.
And then there is Pagan who is a catalyst to the lineup because of his versatility to play center and now his new position in left. Pitching and defense win ballgames, and the Giants have that. Pagan in 60 games, because of the time missed, is making up for lost time and has that tendency of hitting to the opposite field and getting that extra base hit.
The 30 runs batted in are only a small indicator of how important Pagan is to the Giants.. Manager Bruce Bochy has Pagan in the leadoff spot, sometimes batting second and ninth after the pitcher.
“I can hit anywhere,”said Pagan. “ I can be a leadoff man as well as get the RBI. That’s why they brought me here in 2012. I can hit anywhere in the lineup, fifth to cleanup. To them it’s not about me hitting home runs, that’s why they put me in that situation. I won’t change my approach.”
The Giants have newcomer Denard Span in center and the injured Hunter Pence is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring who has been in right field. Now Pagan has switched to left, a position he believes will prolong his career because there is less stress on the legs and running after a ball.
“Great lineup and great defending team, “ he says referring all-star catcher Buster Posey and the first baseman Brandon Belt. “ Great opportunities to win ballgames.” There are more, and many more reasons why the Giants can win it all again in this an even year of 2016.
But a difference maker could be Pagan. He is healthy again, running like a youngster and swinging with authority. Pagan, 34-years of age and in the last year of his four-year contract, had an offseason surgical procedure to his right knee known as Tenex. They scan tissue to the bad area and the process is easier and more effective than a scope. Left field and batting at the top of the order, or ninth, at this point in his career as he says, “Is different but paying off now.”
“Another thing that can help propel me is playing left,” he said. “It’s helping me keep me in left and keep the body strong. I changed my personal trainer to one of the best in Puerto Rico that understood what I am going through.”
He also had assistance with a chiropractor, went for massage therapy and did not play Winter ball as he prepared in his hometown of Vega Alta, Puerto Rico. All of that has helped Pagan recover quicker from the lingering hamstring injuries that hinder ballplayers that run well and play the field.
He studies the game and is a veteran who has a good approach at the plate.
“ I’m a type of player that don’t look at pitches. I read, I look at a spot more than pitches,” says Pagan. He knows the rosters, and when opposing the Mets is happy with their success as he knew there were upcoming talent that got the Mets to the World Series last year.
He knew Jeurys Familia would be a good pitcher, and his former teammate in New York is the saves leader in the National League with an outstanding sinker. When rehabbing with an injury in Single-A ball when with the Mets, he got to know the closer, outfielder Juan Lagares who became the heir apparent to Pagan, before Yoenis Cespedes arrived in town.
Pagan knew the Mets would become a team that would go far, and with young talent that helped them get to the World Series..
“That’s a good pitching staff, “ he says about Harvey who had season ending surgery to his neck, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom. “Guys that have World Series experience that gives them the confidence of a winner. They have great talent, enough to go far.”
He added: “You could see those guys coming together, making another reference again to Harvey, Lagares and Familia, three of the closest teammates that remain from his tenure with the Mets. But, Pagan knew what was coming for the Mets organization and admits there was disappointment when he was traded to the Giants.
New York is special. There is family and many friends in the area that he makes sure to please with leaving tickets when he is in town. And there will be more request when the Giants go cross town and play the three-game weekend interleague series in the Bronx.
“Always hear the New York fans are hard,” he says. “You go out there and give it all and they appreciate that. Every organization has a meaning to me. I thank the Mets because they believed in my talent in high school. They traded me and brought me back. It’s a great organization and I enjoyed it here.”
And what about the New York fans who still welcome him when he comes to the Plate? “Good thing about the fans here is they always appreciated how I always came here and played hard. Doing my best now to help this team. Good or bad, I busted my butt and played for the fans and they respected that.”
Then there is that other sport called boxing. Pagan is an avid fan and friend of eight-time division champion Manny Pacquiao. He picks your ear about the fights before going into the baseball talk and asks if Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. will fight again. He analyzes upcoming fights and when on the road, or when the Giants are at home, after a game he makes sure to tune into the fights.
You get the feeling that boxing, his other passion would have been his thing if it were not for baseball, and in Puerto Rico those are the dominant sports he grew up with. He uses the boxing mentality when it comes to conditioning and also studies the fights.
He questions: “Who wins the fight” And he breaks down why Pacquiao is fighting again, and runs down the list of Latino champions who are dominating the sport of boxing. “And what is it with Miguel Cotto? Who does he fight next?” Pagan offers his opinion and does not know the next step for Cotto, the first four-division champion from Puerto Rico.
That passion for another sport may put Pagan in the boxing industry when the playing days are over, though he will not commit to anything because for now it’s all about the Giants and getting to another World Series.
“But Pacquiao needs to come back and fight Mayweather again” he says. “He is healthy now.” And, Angel Pagan is also healthy now which makes it a distinct possibility that the Giants could be playing baseball again in October in this even year.