Ace of Diamonds
By Tamara Vallejos
If things had gone a little differently last August, Los Angeles Angels ace pitcher Jered Weaver would be gearing up for an incredibly lucrative free agency come fall. His 15-1 record and 2.13 ERA so far this season—and, oh yeah, a no-hitter back in May—would have had baseball executives salivating, and the proposed contract numbers would have been staggering.
But things went a route unexpected these days, when professional sports salaries seem to continuously skyrocket and the notion of the “paycheck player” is the expected standard among the more cynical of fans, who know their favorite guy, come contract negotiations, will likely jettison team loyalty in favor of the highest bidder.
Then there’s Weaver, who will be making an appearance at Pechanga Casino and Resort this week. Last season, with dollar signs firmly in his future, he closed the book on talk of free agency and signed an $85 million contract extension with the Angels, keeping him in Anaheim through the end of 2016. That’s not exactly chump change—but the 29-year-old could have demanded tens of millions more elsewhere. So why stick with the Halos? For this Simi Valley native and former Long Beach State University star, nothing can top the comforts of home.
“I’ve definitely been very blessed,” says Weaver, a day after a commanding four-hit shutout over Oakland, which secured his ninth straight win. “California is where I grew up, and I didn’t want to leave. I felt very comfortable around friends and family, and wanted to give them the opportunity to come watch a game whenever they want and be a part of it all. I’m happy here, and I’m happy I’m going to be here for at least the next five years.”
And what about those extra millions he could have cashed in on?
“You can’t put a price tag on happiness.”
In fact, it was that proximity to home that helped his family be at Angel Stadium for a major moment in Weaver’s career when, on May 2 against Minnesota, he pitched a no-hitter. He accomplished the rare feat with his mom, dad and wife in the crowd, and was able to share with them the exuberant post-game celebration.
“They were able to come out on the field after it happened and I was able to give them big hugs and shed some tears of joy,” says Weaver. “It’s been a long road, and my mom and dad have been there since the very beginning. For them to be a part of that [celebration] was a special occasion.”
With Anaheim some 70 miles from where Weaver grew up, it’s of course a figuratively long road, begun on Little League fields where dreams of the big leagues are rampant, but rarely fulfilled.
It’s even more impressive, then, that the Weaver family contributed two pitchers to Major League rosters. Weaver’s older brother, Jeff, a former Angel and two-time Dodger, had a decade-long career that included a 2006 World Series victory with the St. Louis Cardinals.
“[Jeff] is obviously someone I looked up to from a young age,” says Weaver. “He’s six years older than I am so he was always one step ahead in the game, and I got to see the path he took. Once he got to the big leagues, I looked in the mirror and thought, ‘Hey, maybe I could really give this a shot.’”
In a stroke of fantastic timing, Weaver was called up to the Angels in 2006 (only a year after signing with the club, who picked him in the first round of the 2004 draft). That meant that he joined a pitching rotation that included Jeff, putting the brothers on a team together for the first time. Later on, in 2009, with Jeff up the highway and playing for the Dodgers, the two were matched up against each other in interleague play, with about 50 friends and family in attendance.
Just add it the growing list of Weaver’s career highlights—which could also include a Cy Young award, if his dominating season continues. Yet he remains grounded, and appreciative he’s playing professionally at all.
“It was always a dream of mine, but I didn’t think it would become reality,” he says.
“But here I am today.”
Jered Weaver autograph signing at Pechanga Resort and Casino, 45000 Pechanga Pkwy., Temecula, (951) 693-1819; www.pechanga.com. Aug 9. 7pm-9pm. Free.