Travis d’Arnaud didn’t even know they were announcing the Major League Baseball Sliver Slugger awards last Thursday, but a text from a friend reminded him just in time.
“With 10 minutes left (in the awards show) me and my wife just rushed to the couch and turned it on (the television),” d’Arnaud said. “Once we heard that I won my wife screamed really loud. She was so excited for me, and I just had to calm her down because our daughter was sleeping in the other room. We didn’t want to wake her up.”
The honor of being named the best offensive catcher in the National League comes after a career year at the plate for d’Arnaud. The Lakewood High alum and Atlanta Braves catcher finished the abbreviated season with a .321 batting average, 34 RBIs and nine home runs. His batting average ranked 10th in the league. He contributed 12 hits, 10 RBIs and a pair of home runs in 14 playoff games while helping Atlanta reach the National League Championship Series. They lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games.
“That’s the player I believed I am, and I wanted to show everyone,” d’Arnaud said of his breakout performance. “To have the faith from the organization behind me is very motivating.”
After being released by the New York Mets last year, d’Arnaud signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers. He was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays after playing only one game. The veteran catcher worked his way into the Rays lineup, and then signed a two-year $16 million contract with Atlanta in the offseason.
“One of the reasons I signed (with Atlanta) was I hated calling games against them,” d’Arnaud said. “I hated waking up knowing, ‘Oh shoot, we have to play the Braves and it’s going to be a tough one.’ To be able to contribute was a lot of fun and it made showing up to the ballpark so fun every single day.”
d’Arnaud said the big personalities and fun-loving attitude of this Atlanta team helped them get deep into the postseason.
“In February when normal spring training started, everybody was loose like that,” d’Arnaud said. “Fortunately they welcomed guys like me with open arms and we kind of just fit right in. After quarantine I feel like when we met again in June and July it was the exact same vibes. We just kind of rode that wave all the way to the end of the season. We kept winning so we just stayed the same and kept having fun and good things happened.”
The dugout full of smiles also reminded d’Arnaud of his time as a Lakewood Lancer. They won a CIF title his junior year, and went 58-10-1 overall in his last two seasons playing for legendary coach Spud O’Neil.
“We were fortunate enough to have great coaching growing up,” d’Arnaud said. “A lot of that team all grew up playing together from when we were 14 all the way through high school. I think we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses so much. We were able to keep each other in great moods all the time. Everybody was laughing and joking around. That’s why I think we were a special team that year and were able to win.”
Lakewood used a seventh inning comeback to beat Agoura in the 2006 CIF championship game, and d’Arnaud remembers the final inning vividly.
“I remember coming out of the dugout waving my arm (when the go-ahead run scored) and that dog pile at the end, I remember that too,” he said. “That’s a big moment. I still have a lot of close friends that I still hang out with to this day that were on that team.”
d’Arnaud, 31, was drafted straight out of Lakewood by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2007, and made his big league debut for the Mets in 2013. Injuries limited d’Arnaud in New York, and Tommy John surgery in 2018 ultimately caused the Mets to release him. d’Arnaud said attention to details helped him stay healthy this season.
“I keep looking at (injuries) as a learning process versus getting down on myself,” d’Arnaud said. “I think the biggest thing I learned is understanding hydration, when to eat and what to eat for certain situations. I’ve also had the same stretch routine for two years… I was able to appreciate (baseball) when I was just sitting there watching it so I’m trying not to take this for granted as much, and give it my all. I still want to get better. I know my defense can get better and maybe strive to become a Gold Glover now.”
J.P. Crawford is also a Lakewood alum who won that prestigious award after a breakout season. The Seattle Mariners shortstop was named the American League Gold Glove winner last week. Crawford, 25, had a Defensive Wins Above Replacement of almost 1.0 and only made three errors in 53 starts.
Evan Longoria hit his 300th career home run in August to add another impressive accomplishment to his 13-year career. The San Fransisco Giants third baseman and former Long Beach State Dirtbag finished the year with 49 hits, 28 RBIs and 26 runs scored in 53 games.
Justin Turner made a few interesting headlines during the Los Angeles Dodgers World Series season. Turner, who was born in Long Beach, set the Dodgers record for most postseason hits. He also was pulled from the title-clinching game after testing positive for COVID-19. Turner received some public backlash for coming out of the clubhouse and celebrating with his teammates after the Game 6 victory.
Jeff McNeil continued to produce at the plate for the New York Mets. The former Dirtbag hit .311 with a .836 OPS a year after making his first All-Star team.
Garrett Hampson is another Long Beach State product who carved out a spot for himself in a lineup. Hampson used his elite speed to score 25 runs for the Colorado Rockies in 53 games.
Aaron Hicks helped the New York Yankees reach the postseason again this season. The Wilson High alum and outfielder had an impressive .793 OPS in his eighth professional season.