By John Philip Wyllie
Though Tijuana-born Benji Gil was
disappointed with both his own play and that of his Culiacan teammates
during the recently completed Mexican League season, the Tomateros
inability to make the playoffs in Mexico might actually have furthered
his career with the Anaheim Angels. Gil, who played his high school
baseball at Castle Park High School while growing up in Chula
Vista, expects to be starting at shortstop when the Angels open
their season on the road in Texas on April 3.
"This year I was able to rest more than before since we didn't make the (Mexican League) playoffs. That gave me three weeks to a month longer to recuperate. In other years, I've played 130 to 140 games (in the majors) and then 50 to 60 more in winter ball plus the playoffs. That's a lot of games and it takes its toll," Gil said.
With the Angels regular shortstop, Gary DiSarcina out until at least May and possible longer, Gil who has a found his niche as a utility infielder over the years, can finally focus on one position. Due mainly to his superior hitting, Gil was able to fight off a challenge from youngster Wilmy Caceres and barring something unforeseen, he will open for the Angels at shortstop.
Hitting a respectable .256 this spring with a triple, two doubles and two RBIs, Gil's focus on batting during the offseason seems to be paying off for a man known more for his glove than he is for his bat. "I think the coaches have been pretty happy with what I've done this spring," Gil says. "I'm getting quite a bit of playing time. Now if I can just keep that up, get some more at bats and continue playing steady defense, everything will take care of itself."
The other part of the equation is of course for Gil to avoid the injury bug that allowed him to get this opportunity in the first place. Playing virtually year round helps with that. "I try and keep fit all of the time. I do a lot of stretching and weight training and focus a lot on my midsection and legs," he said. For the Angels to improve on last year's third place finish in the tough American League West, Gil and his teammates will have to stay injury-free.