Surrounded by stars, Fletcher still stands out

February 1st, 2021

ANAHEIM -- Despite their six-year playoff drought, the Angels are a team built on superstars.

There’s Mike Trout, who is almost universally regarded as the best player of his generation; Shohei Ohtani, who broke the mold as a two-way talent; Anthony Rendon, who was just selected as the best third baseman in the Majors by MLB Network; Albert Pujols, who is the only player to hit at least 650 homers and 650 doubles; and even Justin Upton has been one of the better hitting outfielders over the past decade.

But when it comes to the club’s most popular player among Angels fans, it’s tough to top the diminutive , who has drawn comparisons to former fan favorite David Eckstein. Fletcher, listed at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds and wears No. 22 just like Eckstein, is a throwback player who does all the little things well, and he's a pest at the plate who is nearly impossible to strike out and can put just about anything in play.

The fans can’t get enough of him and neither can manager Joe Maddon, who raves about Fletcher every time he’s brought up.

“He’s the kind of guy that can get overlooked with today’s methods,” Maddon said. “I would take several more of those. We all would. He’s a baseball player. He just does things properly. He plays the game right. He’s got great skills. He sees things that other people don’t see in advance.”

As Maddon noted, Fletcher, 26, isn’t the prototypical slugger with high strikeout rates that is so prevalent in the modern game, as he stands out with his other strengths, including an otherworldly ability to make contact. He led the Majors by making contact on 92% of his swings last year, which was nearly two percentage points higher than anybody else in baseball. He swung and missed only 3% of the time, which is also the best rate in the big leagues.

All of that helped Fletcher bat .319/.376/.425 with three homers, 13 doubles and 18 RBIs in 49 games. And it led to several memorable moments, such as the time he doubled on a fastball from A's pitcher Mike Fiers that was nearly over Fletcher’s head. The pitch was 4.74 feet off the ground, per Statcast, which tied it for the highest pitch hit for a base knock in the Majors in 2020.

But when you ask the soft-spoken and easy-going Fletcher how exactly he’s the best in the game at putting the bat to the ball, he simplifies it.

“I think it’s just a combination of having good hand-eye coordination and a short swing,” Fletcher said. “I’ve always had those two things, and then the last two years, my approach, I’ve really refined it. I have a better approach and plan up there.”

Fletcher also credits his longtime trainer Stan Grebeck for his success, along with former Angels coach Matt Martin. Fletcher has been training with Grebeck since he was 13 years old, while Fletcher flies to Lubbock, Texas, to work on his hitting and mental skills with Martin.

That work has helped build the ideal ballplayer out of Fletcher’s skill set, and Maddon raves about his instincts and ability to impact the game in so many facets, as he’s also a versatile defender who can play just about every position on the diamond. Fletcher is set to be the club’s starting second baseman in 2021, but he saw action at second, short, third and right field in ’20.

“That’s what baseball players have looked like for 100 years,” Maddon said. “He was taught properly, and it’s really a pleasure to work with him. That’s a baseball player, and that’s how a baseball player is supposed to play the game.”

Fletcher’s relaxed and quiet demeanor also wins over fans, and even Trout jokes that Fletcher is “not a man of many words.” But Fletcher has started to come out of his shell after three seasons in the Majors, and he's known for his competitive nature in the clubhouse. He’s essentially unbeatable at the Madden football video-game series, blowing out all comers and showing off that hand-eye coordination that makes him so special at the plate and defensively. He’s also an expert at board games, poker and escape rooms, showing off his mental acuity.

He’s simply impossible not to like, and Fletcher is growing into more of a leadership role in the clubhouse because of his work ethic and passion for the game.

"If you were like an Avengers team, or he was a Marvel teammate, he’d be like Captain America because he’s Mr. Baseball,” Rendon said. “It’s awesome. It’s fun to be around, for sure.”

It also helps that Fletcher is a local product who grew up near Angel Stadium in Cypress, Calif., and attended Loyola Marymount University before being drafted by the Angels as a sixth-rounder in the 2005 Draft. His father, Tim, is an Army veteran who worked more than 30 years in construction, and his mother, Fernanda, is a dancer.

Fletcher still lives in Orange County with his wife, Kierra, which makes him more ingrained with the fan base as someone who is local year-round. Unlike other athletes who are instantly recognizable because of their immense size, it’s Fletcher’s relatability that makes him so endearing to the fan base. He’s also active in the community as well as the face of the Angels for many charitable endeavors.

"It's pretty motivating to me and is really cool to be recognized by the fans,” Fletcher said. “It's showing me that I'm doing things right and kind of motivates me to keep getting better.”

He embraces that support from the fans, and he's also aware of the various memes that sprang up from younger supporters on social media throughout the 2020 season.

For example, after Angels wins, fans would flood the @Angels account with pictures of Fletcher along with the words, “You made David Fletcher happy,” or conversely after losses, they would flood the other club’s Twitter account with pictures of Fletcher along with the words, “You made David Fletcher unhappy.” And the Angels’ most popular post of 2020 was one of Fletcher standing with the shadow of a goat beyond him, signifying he’s the GOAT, or "greatest of all-time."

"I saw a little bit of it," Fletcher said of the social media posts. "I thought some of it was pretty funny."

Fletcher can relate to the fans because he grew up rooting for the Angels -- and of course, his favorite player was Eckstein -- and he even attended the 2002 World Series parade with his parents and brother, Dominic, who was drafted by the D-backs in the second round of the ’19 Draft.

Fletcher still has a photograph from that day, and his goal is to help lead the Angels to another parade down Katella Avenue to give the fans what they deserve after a tough stretch that hasn’t seen the franchise win a playoff game since 2009.

"Playing at home is a dream come true. I couldn't be in a better situation," Fletcher said. "But it's been a long time since we've gone deep into the playoffs. I think our fans definitely deserve that."