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ANAHEIM Angels
Tim Crothers
March 31, 1997
Rick Nielsen, the sports editor of The Jamestown (N.Dak.) Sun, lost a lot of sleep last summer, pushing his deadline back on numerous nights until Angels games ended on the West Coast. Nielsen stayed late at the office so he could type up a little feature called "Darin's Day," which included Darin Erstad's box-score line from that night's game. There were no other Angels players listed because, frankly, the 16,000 citizens of Jamestown don't much care about anybody other than Erstad, the town's favorite son. "Since I got to the big leagues, there's been a whole lot of Direct-TV sold in Jamestown," the shy, 22-year-old Erstad is somewhat embarrassed to say. "People like to keep up with the local boy."
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March 31, 1997

Anaheim Angels

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The Lineup

1B

Darin Erstad

First baseman with enough speed and patience to bat leadoff

CF

Jim Edmonds

Hit .304 in 1996 but only .189 against lefthanders

LF

Garret Anderson

126 of 173 hits last season were singles

RF

Tim Salmon

30 homers in '96 but none against pitching-poor Tigers

DH

Eddie Murray

Still capable, at 41, of 20-homer, 75-RBI season

3B

Dave Hollins

K'd 102 times in 422 at bats with Twins last year

C

Jim Leyritz

Despite iffy defense, finally getting a chance to be a starter

2B

Randy Velarde

Batted .333 with runners in scoring position in '96

SS

Gary DiSarcina

Average plummeted 51 points from .307 in '95

Ace

Chuck Finley

Nine wins shy of Nolan Ryan's club record (138)

Closer

Troy Percival

Huge success—36 saves—in first full year in this role

Rick Nielsen, the sports editor of The Jamestown (N.Dak.) Sun, lost a lot of sleep last summer, pushing his deadline back on numerous nights until Angels games ended on the West Coast. Nielsen stayed late at the office so he could type up a little feature called "Darin's Day," which included Darin Erstad's box-score line from that night's game. There were no other Angels players listed because, frankly, the 16,000 citizens of Jamestown don't much care about anybody other than Erstad, the town's favorite son. "Since I got to the big leagues, there's been a whole lot of Direct-TV sold in Jamestown," the shy, 22-year-old Erstad is somewhat embarrassed to say. "People like to keep up with the local boy."

North Dakotans are excited about Erstad because he is one of the few pro athletes to hail from the Peace Garden State, along with defensive end Phil Hansen of the Buffalo Bills and a former major leaguer you may have heard of, Roger Maris.

Erstad was a three-sport star at Jamestown High, but none of the three sports was baseball. He played football and hockey and ran track because the weather was so forbidding that the school didn't have a baseball team. Instead, Erstad played American Legion ball in the summers before he left for the University of Nebraska, where he became a star outfielder and the punter on the Cornhuskers' 1994 national championship football team. He impressed baseball scouts enough that he was the first overall pick in the June '95 amateur draft.

After he was called up from Triple A Vancouver last June, as a replacement for injured centerfielder Jim Edmonds, Erstad hit .284 with four homers and 20 RBIs in 57 games, then returned to Vancouver, where he hit .305 for the season. But with Angels starting outfielders Edmonds, Tim Salmon and Garret Anderson in good health this year, Erstad appeared destined for a utility role.

However, in a testament to Erstad's potential, the Angels traded first baseman J.T. Snow, who had averaged 21 homers and 85 RBIs and won a Gold Glove the previous two seasons, to open up a spot in the lineup for Erstad, who had played the position in just three games as a pro. Erstad has been tutored at first base this spring by coach Larry Bowa, a former Gold Glove shortstop, and by Angels DH Eddie Murray, who has played more games at first (2,413) than anybody else in major league history.

It's all part of the accelerated learning curve for Erstad. "Darin grew up in a place where you can't play much baseball, so he's still grasping the game," says new Anaheim manager Terry Collins. "Considering what he's already done, we think he can be very special."

Back in Jamestown, Erstad is already so special that he is gaining rapidly on the town's current marquee attraction: the world's largest buffalo, a 60-ton faux bison that lurks off 1-94. "Darin is so popular around here," says Nielsen, "that if he has another good season, I wouldn't be surprised if they put up a statue of him right beside that buffalo."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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