By John Philip Wyllie
Prior to the start of the Major League Baseball season, most of the talk in the American League West was coming out of Seattle. Coming off an incredible Major League topping 116 - 46 season, Mariners fans had every reason to be confident. But with the season now heading into its final two months, the formerly invincible Mariners have a division race on their hands.
No one is more pleased with this development than Tijuana-born and Chula Vista raised Benji Gil. Gil, the 29-year old Castle Park High product is enjoying another productive season as the Angels utility infielder. But based upon the way it started for the Angels and for Gil personally, he might have to pinch himself to make sure he is not just dreaming that the Angels are in first place.
“We had a pretty good team to start the season, but we didn’t get off to a very good start,” Gil said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “At the beginning of the season, our hitting wasn’t all that great, especially our timely, (clutch) hitting. Our pitching didn’t get off to such a great start either,” Gil recalled. A dismal 6-14 start had Anaheim fans believing that they were in for another disappointing year of Angels baseball.
While injuries plagued the early part of the season, those same injuries created an opportunity for Gil to break into the starting lineup. No sooner did he make his way into the starting nine when the injury plague came down hard upon him.
“It was unfortunate when the ankle injury occurred because (it came at a time when) I would have gotten the opportunity to get plenty of at bats,” Gil said. Batting opportunities were particularly important to Gil at that time as he was in the process of trying to find his groove after a somewhat disappointing Mexican League season. It was not to be.
“I tore one ligament in my ankle and stretched several others severely,” Gil said of the injury that sidelined him for nearly a month. “That stuff happens, so you just have to make the most of the situations you are dealt,” he added.
Healthy once again after the setback, Gil is eager to gain more playing time. But patience and versatility are the qualities most important to a utility infielder. In the meantime, Gil can enjoy his team’s unexpected prosperity. He can also be pleased with the fact that his current .289 batting average is substantially higher than his .239 lifetime average.
As for the Angels prospects, Gil remains guardedly optimistic. “Little by little everything has come together. Right now, we are about as good as any team out there, but there is still a long, long way to go and anything can happen in (the remaining) two months. We just have to continue playing the way we have down the stretch.”