Off days on the road are rare for NHL players, and you could have hardly picked a better one for three Ducks on Sunday afternoon in Arizona.
Cam Fowler, Nick Bonino and Viktor Fasth – along with Ducks coaches – made the 20-minute trek from their hotel in Glendale (where they played the Coyotes last night and will again Monday night) to Angels spring training camp in Tempe. They spent the morning with the Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium as the team got ready for an afternoon game with the visiting Chicago Cubs.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” said Fowler, who grew up a Tigers fan back home in Michigan and played second base for Pioneer High School. “Just to be a part of this for a day, to see the way they do things here, was a lot of fun for us.”
The day started with the Ducks sitting in on the Angels’ morning meeting, a session that took on a lighter air thanks to manager Mike Scioscia. While giving the visitors an idea of the preparation the team goes through each day, he targeted the Ducks players (as well as some of his own) for a number of jokes and jabs.
“Just to see how other sports and managers and coaches handle their group was a great experience for me,” said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. “I found it not only entertaining, but enlightening. You come and see the complex and how organized everything is, everybody in different areas and knowing where they’re supposed to go, it’s pretty impressive. And the talent here is incredible too.”
|Fowler took on Bonino in a hitting contest judged by Scioscia and Fasth, with Fowler taking the victory in a close race. |
The three Ducks were challenged to show their baseball talent after the meeting. They were suited up in Angels gear – t-shirts, shorts and caps – and given a bat to take over to one of the facility’s auxiliary fields. They first spent a few minutes hitting tossed balls into the back of the batting cage, with Fasth clearly the least experienced of the three. The 30-year-old goaltender had never even attended a baseball game while growing up in his native Sweden, let along swung a bat. “We don’t have a lot of baseball over there,” Fasth said. “But this is fun. I’m just trying to do what I can.”
Later Fowler took on Bonino in a hitting contest, with several Angels prospects looking on and rooting as the two Ducks took turns in several rounds of five-pitch sessions. Scioscia and Fasth (whom Scioscia continually called “Swede”) served as judges for the competition, giving points for hard-hit balls, with Fowler winning by a slight edge.
“I was just trying to stay in there and stick to my own game,” said Fowler, who couldn’t wipe the smile off his face the entire afternoon. “’Bones’ came up with some clutch hits that kept him in it, but I was able to win it in the end.”
|Some fans think Angels outfielder Peter Bourjos and Cam Fowler look alike. You be the judge. |
Fowler’s prize? Buying lunch for the 70 players and coaches in camp “That’s what the winner gets, I guess,” Fowler said. “Maybe they’ll send me a bill. ‘Bones’ lucked out, I guess.”
The trio was then taken over to a bullpen area, where they each stood in at the plate as perennial All-Star Jered Weaver hurled 90-mile-per-hour fastballs by them. “We just stood in front of him to see what it looks like,” Fowler said. “Nobody even dared try to hit it. That would make us look stupid.”
They watched actual Angels batting practice on the Tempe Diablo field, then headed back to the clubhouses and getting more well-wishes from the Angels before heading out for the day.
“This was pretty cool,” said Bonino, who tried to keep it quiet that he grew up a Red Sox fan. “Cam and I already said we’re wearing this back to the hotel lobby, gear and all. It’s really cool for them to bring us in and let them know what it’s like to be in their shoes a little bit. It’s really fun.”
Added Fowler, "It was just cool seeing everybody and for them to allow us to come in there and see what it’s like for them. It’s always great for a professional athlete to see how the guys in another sport carry themselves day in and day out. We’re very thankful that they let us in and have some fun with them.”