San Francisco Chronicle
‘Home ballpark’ beckons for Irvin
ANAHEIM — Cole Irvin figures to have support in the stands when he pitches against the Angels, his hometown team, in Anaheim for the first time Saturday.
He’ll also have fans on the Angel Stadium grounds crew. Irvin, the nowA’s lefthander, worked on that grounds crew for Angels games while attending Servite High School in Anaheim.
Among the other groundskeepers, then and now: Vinny Ayala, Irvin’s fifthgrade P.E. teacher at Rose Drive Elementary in Yorba Linda.
“He was a good worker,” Ayala said Friday of Irvin’s groundskeeping days. “I remember he was always willing to help. He was always willing to grab a rake, grab a shovel. He would have done anything just to be a part of it. We enjoyed having him out here. Besides just being out here, he was a pretty funny kid. He’s a good kid, so I’m really happy for him.”
Irvin, 27, started working a few games to notch high school service hours. And, at a coach’s urging, he did so to learn how to maintain a field, he said earlier this season. His first day he worked the visiting bullpen mound and chalked the leftfield line pregame — and helped drag the infield midgame.
“The first time I didn’t look up,” Irvin said. “I was on a majorleague field during a majorleague game, and I didn’t want to screw up the field.”
Irvin got to know the stadium well — he said he grew up going to Angels games and also pitched there while in high school — so Saturday will bring some familiarity. Irvin already has faced the Angels three times in his first season with the A’s, all in Oakland. He has a 3.86 ERA in those starts but held the Angels scoreless for seven innings in their most recent meeting July 19.
“It’s just going to be another day, another game where I need to be able to get ahead, throw strikes,” Irvin said. “But it’s going to be a lot of fun.
“There’s so much time spent in this stadium as a fan; ’02 World Series, I was part of all the playoff games there. There’s so many good baseball memories that always come back. So it’s going to be a lot of fun to be able to compete and pitch in my home ballpark.”
Irvin said he also trusts the pitching mound Saturday “is going to be absolutely pristine because this grounds crew does a great job — and I know firsthand.”
“I really believe he does have an appreciation,” said Ayala, who now teaches in high school and has spent 23 seasons on the Angel Stadium grounds crew. “Because he did it. He came out here, pulled a drag, grabbed a rake, lifted a shovel, moved dirt, doing the daily things we do.
“And I’ve always believed this: If you take care of the field, the field will take care of you. The game knows. So I think hopefully he’ll come out and put a good performance.”
Angels righthander Jaime Barria will oppose Irvin in Saturday’s game and lefthander Reid Detmers will start Sunday against the A’s. Shohei Ohtani was scheduled to pitch Sunday’s game but reportedly was pushed back after a foul ball into the dugout hit his thumb Wednesday.