February 14, 2017

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Mike Scioscia has been the Angels' manager since the 20th century, way back when Anaheim was at the front of the club's official name instead of the back. He has been a constant in Orange County since long before its housewives had a reality show.

Scioscia is the longest-tenured manager in baseball by a whopping seven years as he heads into his 18th season with the Angels. He realizes that such faith in a leader is positively remarkable in professional sports, and he enters every Cactus League campaign with a determination to justify it.

''Believe me, I don't take this opportunity for granted,'' Scioscia said Tuesday after the Angels' pitchers and catchers reported to Tempe Diablo Stadium. ''I know it's a long time, and I love it. (We're) going to keep moving toward that championship. I think it starts with when you have ownership that commits to putting good teams out there, and I think this year is a good example.''

The Angels are coming back from a 74-88 season in 2016, the worst of Scioscia's tenure. He realizes other managers of his vintage likely would have been in trouble, even given the Angels' brutal series of pitching injuries last summer.

But owner Arte Moreno has remained steadfastly behind his only bench boss since he bought the team in early 2003, several months after Scioscia won the franchise's only World Series title. And Scioscia is still firmly committed to the sometimes frustrating job of running the big-budget Angels, who didn't make any headline-grabbing offseason signings while general manager Billy Eppler continues to grapple with a payroll limited by past years of lavish free-agent deals.

Instead of worrying about what he doesn't have, Scioscia is clearly thrilled by his next challenge: Assembling the good players from last season's team and a handful of experienced newcomers around AL MVP Mike Trout to build something new and exciting.

''I absolutely love it,'' Scioscia said. ''I love the challenges. I love our staff. I love our team, and that gives you the inspiration to go on and continue to try to achieve. I don't take that lightly, and when we don't achieve, I take that hard, and it's been an incredible opportunity.''

Scioscia has been the Angels' manager for seven seasons longer than the San Francisco Giants tenure of Bruce Bochy, the second-longest tenured manager. Only Gregg Popovich and Bill Belichick - hired by the Patriots two months after the Angels landed Scioscia - have comparable longevity in major North American pro sports.

Popovich, Belichick and Bochy all have a few more rings than Scioscia, but the Angels have been a steady winner for most of his tenure. He is 10 wins away from 1,500 in his career, which will make him the 22nd manager to hit the milestone.

He should do it early in the season, but not much else is certain for a franchise hoping for a quick return to the pennant race after last season's stumbles - and that's part of the fun for Scioscia. He must figure out what to keep from last season's rotation, which lost nearly every starter to a significant injury at some point, and who will fill out the bullpen behind relievers Huston Street and Cam Bedrosian, who also are returning from injuries.

''I don't think there's anybody that's going to look at last year as a group of guys that underachieved, because that's not what happened,'' Scioscia said. ''These guys played their hearts out, and a lot of the young kids that came up to pitch pitched their hearts out, and that was inspiring for a lot of us.''

NOTES: Albert Pujols is already in camp and doing everything but running, the slugger said. He remains hopeful of returning from foot surgery in time for opening day, but the Angels won't know for sure until shortly before then. ... Scioscia is eager to monitor the progress of RHP Garrett Richards, who told reporters he expects to have a pitch limit in his return from nearly a full year of rest and rehabilitation for a strained elbow ligament. Richards had platelet-rich plasma injections in an effort to avoid Tommy John surgery.

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