Matthews finally at home with Angels

Matthews finally finds a home with Angels

ANAHEIM -- The nomadic Gary Matthews Jr. has traversed seven Major League ballclubs, finding work in both the American and National League, during his eight-year career.

But it was not until his most recent stop in Anaheim that the second-generation big-leaguer finally tracked an elusive target he had been stalking like so many fly balls in his native center field: stability.

"For the first time, really in my career, I actually feel like I'm playing at home," Matthews said. "Maybe it's because I am. I wake up in my own bed every morning. I stay in my own house, as opposed to being in a condo and having family come out to visit."

Matthews, a native San Franciscan, spent his formative years in the Golden State, graduating from Granada Hills High School in Canoga Park before serving a two-year stint at Mission College in Santa Clara. His father, Gary Sr., spent five years of his 16-year playing career fielding -- surprise, surprise -- fly balls for the Giants.

The second iteration of Gary Matthews made his professional debut with San Diego in 1999, before being forced from his home state after being dealt to Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York and Baltimore.

He returned to the Padres in 2003, but left yet again a season later -- this time for Texas -- before signing a $50 million deal this season to secure a five-year stay in Southern California.

Beaming with satisfaction since his arrival, Matthews has helped the first-place Angels to a Major League best 40-17 mark at home. Heading into Tuesday's game at Toronto, he was batting .275 with 14 home runs and 65 RBIs and playing the stellar defense for which he has received acclaim.

"It's just something about playing at home," he said. "I wonder what it is, because we play so well here. I don't know if it's the weather, because we never have extreme conditions. It's never extremely hot or extremely cold. We have really good fan support here. They make us feel comfortable here -- except maybe against Boston."

The Halos snatched two of three games from the Red Sox during their most recent visit to Angel Stadium. For the first time all season at the Big A, Halos fans appeared outnumbered, both physically and audibly. A sea of Boston fans flooded the stadium, offering jeers in rapid succession as their beloved Sox dropped two straight contests to the AL West leaders before taking the series finale.

But the Angels must face off against Boston once more; this time for a four-game set that begins with a doubleheader on Friday, in one of baseball's most infamously scathing arenas: Fenway Park.

"It can be hostile if you're not accustomed to it, depending on what type of player you are emotionally," Matthews said. "It's not that friendly your first time in there. It's different. It's one of the few places you hear racial comments every once in a while, but I've learned to enjoy it. They're passionate about their team. They're loud; they're drunk. Maybe [the large volume of college kids] has a lot to do with it."

Matthews particularly enjoys Fenway because of the fans' undying allegiance to their team and considerable knowledge of the game. He relishes the opportunity to speak with his unruly detractors whenever possible.

"It's a joy to play in Boston," Matthews said. "You go out for batting practice and they're out there ragging you. It's your opportunity as a player to go over and talk to them, and find out why they're so loud, why they're so obnoxious."

Matthews believes Fenway exceeds even the fabled fanaticism for which New York fans are so widely recognized. The Yankees will make an appearance at Angel Stadium on Aug. 20 for the start of a three-game set.

"With New York," Matthews said, "they're passionate about their team, they really know the game, but at times -- what's the word I'm looking for? -- they're a little bit more couth. They have a little bit more class than the fans in Boston.

"At least in New York, they appreciate players who play hard and play the game right. They let you know that, even though you're playing against their team. With Boston, they just smash you for three straight days; verbally assault you the whole time."

But Matthews remains unaffected.

"I've heard it all," he said. "There's not much more you can say. I'm accustomed to it. I really am. Like I said, I enjoy playing there. I really do."

Matthews appears willing to endure any verbal jabs an opposing fan might toss his way -- so long as his homecoming is not interrupted.

Larry Santana is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.