ANAHEIM, Calif. — The past and the present collided at Angel Stadium Friday as Vernon Wells and his Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim held their home opener against the visiting Toronto Blue Jays.
It was Wells who for so many of the past years was the one to hold court about his team, and on this night the discussion about the Jays was still very much the theme, albeit from what is now the opposition’s dugout.
Wells looked just fine in his red and white Angels attire and on the surface appears to have made a seamless adjustment to his new team from the old.
Wells, after all is Vernon Wells, an intelligent, articulate player who never in his Jays days seemed to sweat the small stuff or be crushed about one rebuilding job falling apart on top of another.
“Life is good, it’s just different,” Wells began, the smile just as warm and pleasant and familiar as ever.
The last time that Wells spoke with Toronto reporters was followed the shocking trade to the Angels, and that day he was full of praise for general manager Alex Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays organization. He still holds both in high regard.
“Even after that (trade) it was just hard having conversations with guys that you watched grow up and had been a part of their lives and them a part of my life for years,” he said. “So yeah, it was difficult making that transition. But once spring training started, it took me a couple of days to get used to it and now it’s like I’ve been here for a while. But obviously looking across the field and seeing my former teammates, it will set me back a couple of days.”
This is the second year for Anthopoulos and his grand plan of making the Jays a better team, a younger team, a more exciting team. Wells was part of that movement a year ago, but now is the one that has been moved.
“I understand the business side of it and what Alex is trying to do,” Wells said. “I completely understand where he’s coming from and the situation that was put in front of him. That’s one of the scenarios why this deal went down, it gives him the flexibility to do some different things. One of them was signing Jose (Bautista) and he’s going to be a big part of that team moving forward.
“I wish for nothing but the best (for the Jays), whether I was part of that organization or not. I’d love to see them beat the Red Sox and the Yankees.”
When the trade went down, the reaction in Toronto was that Anthopoulos had achieved the impossible by moving Wells and his $86-million US contract. In Anaheim, they wrote that the Angels had dealt for an overpriced stiff.
Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register wrote the following:
“The fiscal restraint that led to the Angels being outbid for top free agents Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre was tossed aside Friday with the team agreeing to a trade that brings three-time All-Star outfielder Vernon Wells from the Toronto Blue Jays for catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera.
“The Angels resoundingly re-established their willingness to spend money with the deal for Wells, who is considered by many to be one of the most overpaid players in baseball. Whether it is money wisely spent depends on how the 32-year-old Wells performs in the next four years, during which he will make $86 million — making him the highest-paid player in Angels franchise history.”
Not quite a ringing endorsement but it was typical and one of many that Wells said he could easily dismiss.
“I’ve heard enough over my time so it didn’t really matter what I heard the last couple of years,” he said of the negativity. “It is what it is. You can’t control everybody and what they think and what they say. Once you start trying to do that, you’re just going in the wrong direction.”
Prior to the trade, Wells’ thoughts were centred on how the Jays could become better.
“Over the last off-season my goals and thoughts were what do we have to do to make the Toronto Blue Jays organization better, what do we need to improve on,” Wells said.
It never occurred to Wells that the Jays would decide that to achieve those goals they needed to move him along. Nobody thinks they could be part of the problem.
“I think they could have grown with me there,” Wells said. “I haven’t really thought much about it. It’s a situation where I’m not there anymore and I’m just hoping for the best for everybody that’s in that clubhouse ... except for this weekend.”
A year ago, the Jays got along without Roy Halladay.
This season, they’ll do just fine without Wells.
Some time it feels right to say good-bye.