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The Angels felt differently. After the 2008 season Teixeira signed an eight-year, $180 million free-agent deal with the Yankees, and Anaheim handed the first base job to Morales. In his first year in New York, Teixeira hit 39 homers and drove in 122 runs—numbers that Morales, despite hitting fifth or sixth in a more pitcher-friendly ballpark and making only $600,000, nearly matched. "[The Angels] took some heat last off-season for letting Teixeira go," says Rangers general manager Jon Daniels. "They were vilified by some, but the reality is, they were right. They had a player that basically gave them similar production for a fraction of the price."
In addition Morales, formerly the man without a position, was the best defensive first baseman in the league, according to the advanced statistic Ultimate Zone Rating. He was, according to Rangers manager Ron Washington, "a very good base runner." He hit from both sides of the plate—.309 as a lefty, .296 as a righty. And, under the tutelage of Bobby Abreu ("We just have a little conversation sometimes, in the outfield, during batting practice," Abreu says), he turned into a more patient hitter, drawing a walk every 13.5 plate appearances, after drawing one every 18.2 in the minors.
He had become a complete player. "It took him maybe a little longer than some guys," says Scioscia. "But once he got it, man, he was there."
It was 8 a.m. on the morning of March 3, and while many of his bleary-eyed teammates were still changing out of their jeans and bejeweled T-shirts, Kendry Morales sat serenely in front of his locker in Tempe Diablo Stadium, in full uniform and spikes, a bat leaning against his knee. After a trying off-season, he was itching to play. Last month it was reported that an ex-employee of his agents, Alan and Randy Hendricks, was being investigated by police in Coral Springs, Fla., for draining $300,000 from Morales's bank account. (He promptly switched agents, signing with Scott Boras.) Then Morales had to stay away from the Angels' spring facility until his work visa came through. He spent the last weeks of February working out and watching Olympic ice skating somewhere in Phoenix. The visa finally arrived on March 2, eight days after he was supposed to have reported to camp.
For the most part, though, Morales's life, so long in flux, was in order. His wife, Yarley, and mother, Noevia, years ago defected from Cuba—he and Yarley live in Coral Springs and have two children, Hanely, 2, and Kendry, three months. (Morales also has a six-year-old daughter, Andrea, from a previous relationship who is still in Cuba.) This spring he's sitting eight lockers away from his old foe, Kazmir ("The first thing I said when I was traded here last August was, 'Me and you got a history,'" Kazmir says), and next to Hunter. Like his teammates, Hunter calls Morales Bam-Bam and jokes with him when the still significant language barrier permits.
Morales is Anaheim's most fearsome offensive weapon now that Vladimir Guerrero is a Ranger. Of course the Angels, fanatically team-first, would never say as much. "I think he's going to be a major part of it, but there's not one guy that has to carry this thing," says Scioscia. But still: After years of struggling to reach destination after destination, only to once and again be turned back or delayed, he has made it. "He's just a good player," says Bane. "You get so proud. Shoot, I've bragged about Kendry for so long, I'm sure everybody got tired of hearing it."
Morales has made it, but he still has dreams. "What I dream is for things to get better in Cuba so I can see my family, and go back and forth," he says. "With baseball, just to keep working hard and see if maybe I can make the All-Star Game." As far as he's traveled, that trip—the All-Star Game is in Anaheim this July—shouldn't prove much of a bother at all.
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