Bootcheck learns new priorities

Bootcheck learns new priorities

OAKLAND -- Now that he's had a few days of solid rest, Chris Bootcheck has been able to absorb everything that's happened over the past week -- and the man just can't stop beaming.

"This whole season has been one blessing after another," Bootcheck, the Angels' hard-throwing middle reliever, said.

It started this spring, when Bootcheck made the pitching staff as a non-roster long shot, and it carried right on through to Sunday's clinching of the American League West title at Angel Stadium.

For Bootcheck, that was the second-most memorable event in his life last week -- by a long shot. Three days earlier, in Phoenix, he'd been by his wife Jina's side for the birth of their first child, Marin Lilly. It had been a hectic trip to the airport and then to Phoenix the night before, Marin's arrival coming three weeks earlier than anticipated.

"Jina and Marin are both doing great," Bootcheck said. "We talk all the time, and it's amazing to hear a baby in the background. I used to hear our animals during our phone conversations."

Bootcheck said he already can tell how dramatically his life has changed. He understood that the moment they put Marin Lilly in his arms after her birth, and "she stared at me for like three minutes straight. It was 10:51 a.m. on Sept. 20. It's something that hits you in ways you can't even explain. You just know your life has a lot of new meaning."

Bootcheck returned to the team on Saturday morning, bleary-eyed, having had precious little sleep for three nights. It occurred to him that if the Angels had clinched on Friday night, he'd have missed the celebration.

Making his first appearance on Monday night since the momentous events of the previous days, he gave up two hits and a run, trying to regain a feel for his command. Durable and dependable, with a 95-mph heater, he leads the Angels and all AL rookies in relief innings pitched with 77, having turned his career around at age 28 with a team that can win a World Series.

"[Bootcheck's] done a great job for us," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's got a lot of talent, and he found his command and gave us some very big efforts. Our middle relief has been one of the strengths of this club, with guys like [Bootcheck], Darren Oliver and Dustin Moseley."

Bootcheck knows he's on the fence for the postseason roster, that Ervin Santana could grab his seat in the bullpen. All he can do, he said, is keep doing what he's doing and hope for the best. In an infant's heartbeat, he realized, things that once seemed so incredibly important were still important -- just in a different, less consuming way.

"Being a father, it really does change you -- overnight," Bootcheck said. "There's just something different about your life.'

It's infinitely richer, for one thing.

"Oh, yeah, it's a much better world," said Oliver, whose two sons, Brock and Maxwell, have become the centers of his universe. "Things don't bother you as much when you become a dad. We talked about that. Boot knows now what I mean."

At times, Bootcheck thinks back over the season as a whole and shakes his head in wonder.

"I knew it was a long shot to make the staff as a non-roster guy," he said. "But I also knew it's been done before. I decided I'd give it my best shot.

"I remember standing in the outfield one day in Tempe during the spring, shagging flies, and Gary Matthews said, 'You know, you can do it. You can make this team. Just keep your hopes up.'

"I really appreciated that. It means a lot when guys give you support like that. I've learned a lot this season. It's been such a blessing, in so many ways.

"I don't think I could be any happier -- or luckier."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.