Wells should benefit from move to left, grass
Position, surface switches with Angels figure to boost career
ANAHEIM -- If Vernon Wells needs any inspiration for 2011, he can look to the career arc of the great Andre Dawson.
It shows in the black and white of reference books how invigorating it was when Dawson settled in as a right fielder with the Cubs, playing on the grass at Wrigley Field, after spending seven of his first 10 full Major League seasons in center field on Montreal's carpeted slab of concrete.
Not only did three of the Hall of Famer's finest seasons come at ages 35 through 37, he won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1987 at age 32 -- Vernon Wells' age, as it so happens.
Dawson won four Rawlings Gold Gloves as a center fielder and four more while playing right. Wells has three Gold Gloves; new Angels teammate Torii Hunter owns nine.
Wells, like Hunter, has spent his entire career in center, but he will be moving to left field for the Angels. Hunter shifted to right field for the final two months in 2010, adjusting to a new look off the bat, a corner to play and a youthful center fielder -- Peter Bourjos -- who ran down everything in the gaps with astonishing speed and agility.
While Angels manager Mike Scioscia won't force Bourjos -- who will turn 24 on Opening Day, March 31 -- into an everyday role before he's ready, the boss clearly likes the visual of Wells, Bourjos and Hunter positioned left to right.
"I can't imagine a better defensive outfield than that," he said.
Wells sounded enthusiastic about the idea of adjusting to new territory in a conference call after Friday's swap that brought him to Los Angeles and sent Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera to Toronto.
"It's exciting for me," Wells said. "I got a chance to see Bourjos play firsthand, [see] what he can do. He's one of those special kids who can make an impact with the glove.
"I'd love to play beside him and be part of one of the best outfields around. If you can have three center fielders playing the outfield together, you can't have anything better than that."
The move to the Angels means more than changing outfield positions, though.
For nine full seasons and pieces of three others, Wells played his home games on artificial turf in Toronto. The hills and valleys are full of former center fielders living with the aches and pains associated with playing on carpeted fields. Dawson is merely one of many who absorbed the heavy toll on his knees, back and assorted joints, ligaments and tissues. He was lucky to escape when he did, leaving Montreal for Chicago in 1987.
Moving to Angel Stadium is a blessing Wells was counting in the immediate aftermath of the big swap.
"Playing in Anaheim as a visiting player, and standing in the outfield and just soaking in the atmosphere -- the fans, the field -- it's obviously the best in baseball," Wells said. "It played a big part in [not invoking my no-trade clause].
"It's one of those places you go to on the road where you say to yourself, 'It'd be fun to play here.' Never in my wildest dreams did I think this could happen."
Wells said there was only one other place where he'd have agreed to go, politely begging off identifying it. With his home in Texas -- he was signed by the Blue Jays out of Bowie High School in Arlington as the fifth overall pick in the 1997 First-Year Player Draft -- it seems likely that Texas was the other locale he'd have accepted.
Wells said he'd be in contact with Hunter, with whom he has done extensive charity work over the winters in Texas, to get the inside scoop on his new baseball home.
"Torii and I will definitely be meeting now," Wells said. "I've got to learn about Southern California. Torii's one of those special people. He cares about people, family."
Hunter, who spent nine full seasons on synthetic turf in Minnesota, will explain to his buddy the merits of playing on natural soil for 81 home games. It has done wonders for Hunter, who has enjoyed three of his best all-around offensive seasons with the Angels at ages 33, 34 and 35.
Hunter can draw clear parallels for Wells with Dawson, his childhood hero while growing up in Pine Bluff, Ark.
"Andre had a huge influence on me with the way he played the game -- his aggressive, all-out style," Hunter said. "You could tell the man loved to play and was a fierce competitor, and that's how I've always tried to be. I even copied his batting stance when I was a kid, before I found my own.
"I heard about how great he was in Montreal, and how that artificial turf in the Expos' park he played in for 10 years messed up his knees. I can relate to what he went through, now that I've moved from the artificial turf in Minnesota to the natural surface, God's green grass, in Southern California with the Angels.
"It makes a huge difference over the course of the season. I used to feel so beat up playing on that carpet. It tells you a lot about Andre Dawson that he was able to get through that, get to Wrigley Field as a free agent, and show his stuff when he won the NL MVP award in 1987. If anybody had any doubts about him being a Hall of Fame player, that should have taken care of them."
Following Dawson's lead, switching from center on turf to a corner position on grass is not a bad idea if one of your goals is a long, productive career.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.