02/21/12 5:45 PM EST
Spring offers Wilson relief from busy lifestyle
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
He speaks Spanish, Japanese, Italian, and is currently trying out Portuguese. He's passionate about photography, is active on Twitter, has learned to play the guitar and piano, is a certified personal trainer, once learned to land a plane and loves racing. Loves it.
"I don't think he sleeps much," his new manager, Mike Scioscia, believes.
This offseason alone, Wilson's travels took him to Chicago, New York, Texas (twice), Sacramento (for his racing team), Florida (twice), and even Japan -- to help design merchandise for Phiten, a company that specializes in necklaces but now, thanks to Wilson, is expanding its brand.
Spring Training -- even when it coincides with a new organization, on a previous division rival and with the weight of a big contract -- is usually the one time things settle down for the 31-year-old left-hander.
"Spring Training is the most normal time of the year," said Wilson, who also commits himself to a drug-and-alcohol-free lifestyle. "I'm not flying anywhere. I'm just playing baseball, waking up in the morning early, doing my workouts, and then I'm done for the day. I really am able to focus and calm down. I have so many things going on, sometimes it gets a little too hectic."
The Angels, whose staff ranked second in the American League in ERA last year, didn't really need starting pitching. But since it's the most crucial department to winning, and one in which you can never have clutter, they stole Wilson away from their AL West foes with a five-year, $77.5 million contract the Rangers didn't care to match -- although they then committed roughly $110 million to Japanese phenom Yu Darvish.
Now, Wilson is part of a dynamic pitching foursome that also includes Jered Weaver (the ace), Dan Haren (possibly baseball's most consistent arm the last seven years) and Ervin Santana (among the most electric in the game).
"I feel like every single guy in this rotation feels like they're capable of going out there and pitching better than they did last year," Wilson said from the Angels' Spring Training site of Tempe Diablo Stadium. "It's scary for everybody else; it's awesome for us. I feel like I have a lot of room to improve. Everybody's going to feel like that, because we're all competitive with ourselves. That's how you get better."
Wilson may have a lot on his plate, but many say he's as committed to his craft as they come. He can tell you, for example, that A's shortstop Cliff Pennington -- a career .259 hitter who isn't giving any pitchers nightmares -- batted .425 on changeups against lefties last year.
"He's got a passion for living," Scioscia said, "but that passion also involves pitching. I think that's the most important thing."
And Wilson is always looking to pick somebody's brain, whether it's a former All-Star who happens to stroll through the clubhouse, one of the coaches, his catcher or some of his teammates.
That's a good quality on this staff.
Haren, for example, throws a great split-finger fastball, which Wilson was never really able to hone. And Weaver's best pitch is a changeup -- one of the best in the game -- which Wilson hopes to integrate more into his repertoire.
"If I see a guy doing something that's better than me, then I'll try to understand how he does it," Wilson said. "Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't. But I'm always experimenting, trying to get better, because I have a lot of room to improve."
Wilson's postseason pitching -- 1-5 with 4.82 ERA the last two years -- has left something to be desired, but he's been highly durable and effective in the regular season. And since he's only been a Major League starter the last two seasons, he doesn't have the workload most starting pitchers have by the time they're free-agent eligible.
In 2010, his first season back in the rotation after five years in the bullpen, Wilson went 15-8 with a 3.35 ERA and a 1.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 204 frames. In 2011, he improved across the board, going 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA and a 2.78 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 223 1/3 innings.
This year, Wilson is already making an impression on his new teammates.
"I've been impressed with just seeing how hard he works," Haren said. "He's in the weight room, he's running, and that was something that I witnessed from the outside."
From the outside, Weaver and Haren admittedly disliked Wilson. He pitched for the enemy, and they're old school about that sort of thing.
Now that he's on their side?
"I love him," Weaver said with wry smile. "He's a great competitor. Obviously, we saw that battling against him. We definitely had some battles against each other. Every time you can bring a guy over to a rotation that we thought was pretty good already, it's just going to make our rotation that much better."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.