- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2014

TEMPE, Ariz. – It took mere moments for a visitor to gain Chad Tracy’s attention on Friday when he told the Los Angeles Angels infielder he had made the trek westward from Washington.

It didn’t take much longer for Tracy, who played the last two seasons for the Washington Nationals, to make his affinity for his former teammates known.

“You tell those guys I said hello,” Tracy said, enthusiastically.

Tracy played both first base and third base over the last two seasons for the Nationals, captaining the “Goon Squad” – the nickname he gave to the team’s reserves. Popular in the clubhouse, Tracy had the moniker printed on T-shirts and handed them out to fellow bench players, and good-naturedly bragged when the reserves came through late in a game to lead the team to victory.

This offseason, the Nationals decided to head in a different direction. Tracy’s contract expired, and after he hit .202 in 129 at-bats with 11 RBI, six runs and four home runs, he said they didn’t approach him with another contract offer.

It wasn’t until late last month that a team came through: the Angels, who offered him a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

“I felt like I got a lot of big hits for those guys, and I would have loved to re-sign back, but they went in a different direction, which is normal,” Tracy said. “I wish those guys the best.”

By joining the Angels, Tracy has been afforded a chance to share a clubhouse with two of the most accomplished young players in baseball. A teammate of Bryce Harper’s for two years, he’s now two lockers away from Mike Trout.

“I’ve only gotten to really see Trout a little bit since I’ve been here, but he’s explosive,” Tracy said Friday after the Angels defeated the Chicago Cubs, 15-3, in their first spring training game. “He’s just a ball of muscle. He runs well, throws well, and he’s done everything well in a game. He’s fun to watch. At the same time, Harp does a lot of the same things from the left side of the plate. He can run, he can throw, he can hit for power. They’re very similar players.”

One of the biggest differences, Tracy said, has been in batting practice. Whereas Trout has taken a more methodical approach to his swings, Harper has always been content to swing freely.

“I think one of the differences is – I don’t know how to say this without sounding bad, but Trout is a whole lot simpler,” Tracy said. “He [has a] shorter swing, more compact with everything. Harp sometimes tends to get a little longer, but at the same time, it works for Harp. Trout – the difference that I see, he tends to swing a little easier in batting practice and, you know, kind of work on grooving his swing. Harp lets it eat a little more. He’ll go out there and launch balls the whole batting practice round, where Trout will hit line drives to the gaps and try to keep everything short and compact.”

The Angels could have one of the majors’ better offenses, with Trout, Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols, who is back after missing the last two months because of a torn left plantar fascia.

Tracy hopes that by showing during the spring he can still be a capable hitter, he can earn his way onto the team.

“I get a good feeling here,” Tracy said. “You know, the ball’s in my court. I’ve got to go out there and hit and perform and make it tough on them with the decision at the end.”