Hester ends up being Angels' catch of the day
ARLINGTON, Texas – Catchers are supposed to be the Angels' most important product.
Instead, the past six years have been a dogged search for the next Bengie Molina.
Lately their assembly line has gotten so rusty the Angels have summoned imports. The latest showed up Saturday. He made the Angels eager to see John Hester's Day Two.
Much was asked of Hester. He had to catch C.J. Wilson's briefcase full of pitches. He also needed to prop up an offense that has opened its eyes and blinked a few times lately, but was hammered, 10-3, on Friday night.
So Hester, batting ninth, got the Angels' first hit off Matt Harrison. He got another single in the two-run seventh.
The Angels won, 4-2, and the first key was holding the Rangers' Josh Hamilton to just one home run. Don't laugh. He's had two or more in two of his previous four games, and nine for the week.
The Angels also won because they got a monstrous, off-the-restaurant shot from Mark Trumbo, and they actually honored their own traditions and played some minimalist baseball.
Howie Kendrick's bunt single was the first hit any right-handed hitter has had off Alexi Ogando. Peter Bourjos followed with another one, creating a bases-loaded, no-out situation for Kendrys Morales in the seventh.
Morales, pinch-hitting for the same Erick Aybar who signed a four-year, $35 million extension on April 19, produced a sacrifice fly, and then Mike Trout followed with another to put the Angels ahead, 4-2.
The Angels bullpen then had to get nine large outs, a load it couldn't have carried a couple of weeks ago. But Jordan Walden got three, Ernesto Frieri five and Scott Downs the final one.
. Hester, Frieri and reliever David Pauley weren't in the organization when spring training began, and Trout and reliever David Carpenter didn't make the opening day roster.
Now they're here, indicating that the Angels know it's not as early in the season as they would have you believe.
Hester came of necessity. The Orioles released him April 12. He was driving cross-country, from the Orioles' Triple-A Norfolk affiliate to his home in Phoenix, when he got the call from the Angels, who didn't yet know Chris Iannetta would break his wrist and be gone from 6-8 weeks.
He is 28 and has hedged his baseball bet rather impressively. Hester graduated from Stanford with an economics degree.
"It was a lot of work," he said. "I got buried at times. In the end of the day I walked away with a degree. I remember trying to study for a mid-term or a final on a plane ride. I remember taking a final exam in a hotel room in Waco (during the NCAA Tournament). They didn't cut us much slack there.
"Most of my classmates are working in Wall Street or in San Francisco. I haven't established any firm plans.
Life after baseball is still up in the air. I'm trying to stay focused. It all can be over in a second."
Hester has survived one of those seconds.
In 2007, he was in the California League, playing for Visalia. On June 5, teammate Ben Copeland sent a hard foul into the dugout, and it landed just above Hester's right ear.
"I remember the ball coming," he said, "but nothing else."
"It was like the ball hit concrete," pitcher Daniel Stange told reporters at the time.
Hester was out cold for several minutes and the Visalia players were even asked if they would rather postpone the game.
Hester had fractured his skull and suffered a concussion. Still, he was back within six weeks.
"It was very, very scary," he said. "I look back and realize how fortunate I was. The fracture was very small, so the main problem was the concussion. Once I got rid of those symptoms I was ready to go."
Hester had 10 homers in 2007, 11 in Double-A the next year. In parts of seven minor league seasons he hit .284 with an OPS of .814. He is 6-foot-4, 230, so the power is there.
Still, he didn't play enough at Stanford to convince many scouts. After his junior year the Red Sox took him in the 33th round.
"I went off to Alaska to play that summer and never heard from them," he said. "So the writing was on the wall. The best thing was for me to play as a senior and then graduate."
Hester did, and the Diamondbacks took him in the 13th round. They sent him to Baltimore as part of the Mark Reynolds deal.
On Saturday he found himself in the middle of a team that, in its grasp for straws, will take any bats and shin guards it can find.
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