February 16, 2001
by John Philip Wyllie
Prior to the start of the Mexican League baseball season last November, Anaheim Angels infielder, Benji Gil, who plays for Culiacan in the MLB offseason, spoke with optimism about the upcoming Tomateros season. He was coming off a strong finish with the Angels and anticipating the opportunity to play in front of the hometown fans in the Caribbean World Series. He knew in November that Culiacan was slated to host the February event and he thought then that his chances of playing in it were good. Unfortunately for Gil, that just wasn't in the cards.
Culiacan, one of the Mexican League's strongest teams over the last few years, suffered through a disastrous '00 - '01 season and failed to even qualify for the playoffs. Gil, like so many of his teammates, got off to a slow start. So, a season that started with such optimism, ended in disappointment. The great thing about playing year round however, is that the new season is never very far off. With the Mexican League season now just a fading memory, Gil, re-signed by the Angels on Feb. 1, is ready to focus his attention on securing a position in Anaheim.
Legions of San Diego baseball fans make the trek out to Arizona each spring to see their favorite stars up close and personal as they shake off the winter's rust in the MLB Cactus League. The hometown Padres will be once again set off for Peoria while Gil's Angels will reconvene in nearby Tempe.
"It's an exciting time," says Gil. "It's a time for meeting new players and to get acquainted with the coaches and manager. Most importantly though, it is a time to really experiment and work on things." Gil, who hit .239 last season for the Angels, will use the time to test out a new batting stance.
"I'm looking forward to it. I want to use these six weeks to build a solid foundation." Gil has a shot at securing a starting role as the Angels shortstop and he wants to take full advantage of it.
With Angels starter, Gary DiSarcina not fully recovered from an injury- plagued 2000 season, Gil with a strong spring, could move into a starting role. To get a jump on the competition and to make sure his injured hamstring is completely healed, Gil will head over to Tempe five days early.
He is optimistic about his Angels, a team that finished two games over .500 in third place in the American League West last season. "I think we'll have a good club. Certainly, losing Mo Vaughn for the season will hurt. He is such an instrumental part of our ballclub and a great offensive threat. But I think we will still be able to contend in the A.L. West. We should at least be in the hunt."