I was out running errands this afternoon listening to a pretty decent punk set on one of our local radio stations – Bad Religion, Social D! – when the DJ threw House of Pain’s Jump Around into the mix, a fun hip hop song from my high school days now known to Angels fans everywhere as the Rally Monkey’s song. I was already kind of rocking out in my car to the Social D but I happened to be at a stop light when House of Pain came on and, I couldn’t help myself, a full on car dance ensued. That song has so many great memories for me – fun with friends, school dances and many, many Angels rallies – that I did not care who saw my goofy display. What? Like they’ve never given in to the urge to car dance before? Anyway, Jump Around lead to Blitzkrieg Bop and then what do you think the DJ played next? Yeah, no joke – Muse’s Uprising, the song played in the middle of the 1st inning before the Angels’ first at bat. Strange Clear Channel pre-programmed play list coincidence or Angels fan DJ in mid-Winter withdrawals? My evidence is entirely circumstantial, but I prefer to believe the latter.
My point in sharing this (other than offering yet another example of how Uprising has been following me everywhere, haunting me all winter long and hopefully a small amount of entertainment) is that, in addition to my usual instant goose bumps, Angels related songs are finally starting to make me feel giddy excited again instead of just wistful. Pitchers and catchers report in a little over two weeks!! I am excited about the Angels 2011 season, something I definitely was not a few weeks ago when every free agent so many of us coveted for a Halos uniform donned other baseball caps instead.
A large part of my excitement stems from reports that the Angels and Jered Weaver are starting to talk long term contract extension instead of just the standard salary arbitration talk. Honestly, if the Angels can make this happen and keep Weaver in a Halos uniform well beyond 2012, I would consider this a pretty successful offseason. Seriously, pay the man. It doesn’t sound like he’s being unreasonable and, to all appearances, last year was just a taste of what he’s capable of achieving in the years to come. Even more important? It’s my birthday in a little more than two weeks and a long term Angels contract extension for Weaver would be simply the best birthday present this girl could ask for. Yes, I am sure the Angels understand the significance of the birthday argument and care deeply. Why do you ask?
Another part of my excitement? I keep reading and listening to more interviews with Vernon Wells and, I have to say, his excitement about joining the Angels and assertions that this is a competitive team that doesn’t sit at home in October are infectious. I may be a stat loving (recovering) math geek, but I am far more moved by those intangible player traits – heart, clutch, grit – and my own gut reaction to certain players. Yes, he’s streaky and I understand about the splits but I have a good feeling about this. Right now, listening to Vernon Wells’ interviews, it sounds like he is genuinely excited to come to Anaheim this season, ready to move to wherever the team needs him to move in the line-up and in the outfield and eager to get out there and win – all traits that remind me of other successful Angels players and make me think Wells will fit right in. I recently learned that Torii Hunter had been lobbying hard for the Angels to sign Wells – silly perhaps, but that endorsement carries a lot of weight with me. Perhaps my gut is overly optimistic but right now it’s telling me that 2011 is going to be one of Wells’ strong years…and I say that after never having felt truly optimistic going into the 2010 season.
Oh, and most exciting of all? Kendry’s coming back!! This is reason enough to prompt its own happy dance, car, Angels related music or no. Hey, it’s been 11 whole days since I’ve mentioned this and I thought it was worth repeating…yes I counted. Recovering math geek, not recovered math geek. Now where did I put that iPod? I feel a little House of Pain coming on!
The Angels held their press conference to officially welcome Vernon Wells to the team today. It sounds like there was a great crowd gathered underneath the giant baseball caps in front of the stadium this morning. Only where the Angels are concerned do I envy my husband’s job location in Irvine, mere minutes away from the Big A, and the unfortunate 60 to 90 minute commute that goes along with it. I know that some of his coworkers, a fun bunch of diehards the lot of them, took an early lunch at the press conference and, while I like my job and my commute much better, it would be fun to be able to do that every now and then…or just to be able to get to weeknight games in time for batting practice. But I digress…
It was nice to read a little more positive press about the trade today. I am actually really surprised at the huge disconnect between the way some of the – admittedly local and Angels friendly – press views the Vernon Wells trade and the way the rest of the press views it. Apparently, this is the worst deal this offseason or any of the last few in recent history, the Rangers and the Blue Jays should erect statues in our honor and Tony Reagins should fear for his job. Wow. It’s so nice to know that no one is still falling back on hyperbole and other sports writing clichés. (Sarcasm, on the other hand, is a grand literary tradition as well as an important lifestyle choice. Why do you ask?) I have read a lot more about this trade since my post last weekend and I stand by my initial assessment of the whole thing – this is certainly not the best deal we could have made this season but it is a good one and the team the Angels are putting on the field in 2011 is better than the one that left the field in 2010. Are they good enough? Well, I guess we’re just going have to actually play 162 games and find out. I am excited to watch how it all plays out…and I am really excited about our outfield this season!
And then there was that was that completely unexpected twist ending to the trade yesterday…No, no one had a psychotic break or turned out to really have been dead the whole time (Juan Rivera’s 2010 left field performance to the contrary – sorry Morris, I had to.), but, no one expected the Texas Inquisition! Shocking yes, but I am even more surprised at the God-like qualities Mike Napoli’s batting prowess has recently taken on in some of the blog posts about his unfortunate trade by the Blue Jays to the Rangers (not to mention the unexpected presumption that he would have suddenly become the primary catcher). He’s got a great bat. I’m going to miss having him in the Angels line-up too and I’m really going to miss him behind the plate, for the little bit of playing time he was likely to have (let’s not forget that part!). I’m not looking forward to facing him in our division either. And I am also not thrilled that the Rangers got another power hitter – as if we didn’t know it already, those guys are definitely going to be tough again this year! But Napoli did not suddenly become one of the elite hitters in baseball just because he got traded to the Rangers.
I wish Napoli well except against the Angels, as I did when he was traded to the Blue Jays. But while his homerun total may go up slightly in Arlington, always hyped as a hitter’s ballpark, I really don’t expect his slash line stats to change that drastically. He’s been fairly even his whole career up until now. Yes, as a former Angels catcher, he knows our pitchers well, but that didn’t help him against John Lackey this year anymore than it did any of our other players. He is likely to smack a Weaver or Haren pitch or two out of the park over the course of a season – fly ball pitchers and all that – but, be honest, he’s also likely to keep stranding runners in scoring position even when he’s playing in Anaheim and going through three and four week long slumps too. He’s good. We’ll miss him. It’s going to suck seeing him in Rangers red…and blue…and red, white and blue…and whatever other uniform they come up with this season. But he is hardly the key to the Angels undoing. The Rangers line-up as a whole? That’s a lot scarier, but our starters had better be bringing their nastiest stuff anyway. Hmmm…if all else fails and the Angels really need a Plan B in terms of pitching to Nap, maybe they can just plan on walking the guy in front of him if no one else is already on base? ;)
My husband and I took Friday off and spend a long weekend at his folks’ vacation home in Cambria, wine tasting through Paso Robles with friends from college. We had the best time. Chatty fun playing vintner during a wine blending party at the always gracious (not to mention delicious!) Mitchella vineyards. A relaxing lunch on Calcareous Vineyard’s lovely patio. Rhone blends and Zinfandels and Syrahs, oh my at the other wineries. Fun and stories at the baseball winery, yes, baseball winery. A delicious dinner in, prepared by my talented husband. Some of the best Mexican street food style tacos I’ve had since my Oxy days. Games and port in the evenings. It was an absolutely fantastic weekend that looked like a neat combination of this:
Interspersed with a healthy dose of this:
So, about that baseball winery. Out in Paso Robles, down the Union Road wine trail just south of East 46 there is an absolute gem for baseball fans. Rio Seco‘s owner and winemaker is Tom Hinkle, a retired baseball scout and former Minor League Baseball player. Hinkle was drafted by the Detroit Tigers and spent several years in their farm system in the 1960s, coached baseball at Cal State Poly SLO in the 1970s and became a Major League Baseball scout in the 1980s for a full roster of teams over the course of roughly 26 years including the Padres, Cubs, Expos, Blue Jays, Tigers and Brewers. Apparently he is the scout who helped sign Randy Johnson among other names you would recognize.
Visiting Tom Hinkle’s winery is a kick. Rio Seco is everything a small family run winery should be – great wine, nice people, a friendly, no frills tasting room in one of the barrel rooms filled with constant glimpses into the business of winemaking, and plenty of locals stopping by which speaks to both the enjoyable nature of the wine and the excellent hospitality of the winemaking family. One of the Hinkle daughters or Mrs. Hinkle are the most likely candidates to pour your wine tasting and all are full of stories about the winery and Tom’s career. If you catch Tom in the tasting room, he is always willing to chat about baseball past and present. He is no Angels fan, judging from the not unfriendly but gruff “Oh. Halos fans.” my husband and I received the first time we visited. Eh, no one is perfect, right? But it was fantastic to hear his opinions on the standings and which teams were likely to make it to the playoffs when we caught him with a few minutes of free time over Labor Day weekend last summer. While I disagreed with him that the bulk of the Angels problem was losing John Lackey, even at that time he was saying watch out for the Giants who could go all the way. Apparently, the Hinkles are friends with Peter Bourjos’ family and it was a lot of fun for us to hear the retired scout talk about him so soon after he was called up from the minors.
Tom was not available this last trip, so we wound up chatting with one of his daughters while we tasted the new vintages. She told us that while Tom is retired, he still gets calls from former colleagues and several of the local teams asking for insight into a particular player so the baseball world is still very much a part of their lives. Rio Seco itself has a nice baseball theme running through it from their “All-Star line-up” of baseball themed wines, including the Grand Slam and Clubhouse Reds, to the Diamond Club wine club (a portion of this club’s proceeds are donated to the Baseball Scout of the Year Foundation each year) to the small mementos from Hinkle’s career in MLB and at Cal Poly SLO scattered throughout the tasting room/barrel room. Many of the events they throw are baseball themed and frequently involve other baseball scouts both current and retired. I am sorry I missed the Harvest Festival BBQ and playoffs analysis this past October and hope Rio Seco hosts some kind of preseason analysis event at Zinfandel Festival in March.
Oh, and the wine itself is really good. According to the Hinkle daughters, their parents refer to Rio Seco wines as being primarily Monday through Thursday wines, rather than weekend and special occasion wines. I adore that phrase and tend to agree with this assessment in the sense that all of Rio Seco’s wines are easily enjoyable, would be equally good on their own or with a meal and are priced such that opening several bottles in the middle of the week will not cause any strain on the budget…but I will happily drink this wine Friday through Sunday as well. My favorites are the #22 Zinfandel (named for the fact that this gem was the 22nd bonded winery in Paso, it’s got a deep blackberry and raspberry flavor with allspice, cinnamon and clove notes, typical of a Paso Robles Zinfandel) and the Grand Slam (a fruit forward table red with nice tannins that begs to be paired with pasta with a spicy marinara sauce, hard salami and cheese or a big juicy burger). Oddly enough for me, another favorite is Glee, a White Cabernet. To me, this is part of the magic of a tasting room. Leave your preconceived “oh, I only like red wine” and “we’re not drinking Merlot!” notions at the door and taste everything the winery is willing to let you taste. You never know, you might find something you weren’t expecting to like. As, lo and behold, I have found a non-dry rose I actually like. I am quite fond of dry roses actually, but seldom like sweet ones. The Glee is sweet without being cloying. It tastes like pureed strawberries with a hint of citrus, vanilla and light herbal notes. This is refreshing in the extreme and we like drinking it while we are barbequing the meat we will eventually serve with red wine at a party.
So, if you are out and about in Paso Robles and looking for a treat, or if you want to purchase a tasty baseball themed wine for one of your gatherings this season (they accept online orders) I highly recommend Rio Seco. I didn’t want to plaster MLBlogs with descriptions of the other wineries we visited on our trip because I don’t know enough of you well enough to know it this would be interesting for you. But if you have an interest in less well known California wines, I did write a couple of posts on the trip on my LiveJournal here and here.
Wow. I leave the internets alone for one day and our recently all too mild-mannered Tony Reagins turns into the Trade Ninja again. So intent was I on fun, gorgeous scenery and wine today that I wasn’t even checking my email (understandable given that reception up here is pretty hit and miss) and didn’t notice the trade announcement until a few hours ago. Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera to the Blue Jays in exchange for Vernon Wells and an undisclosed amount of cash, or no cash at all depending on which reports you read. My, that was unexpected.
Admittedly, my initial reaction to the trade news was a little pouty. Mike Napoli is one of my favorite current Angels players and you always hate to see a favorite player move on even though it’s all part of the game. But then the trade started to grow on me. The truth of the matter is, Mike Scioscia prefers Jeff Mathis behind the plate and has said repeatedly that he considers Napoli too streaky to be anything more than an occasional DH. Whether or not I agree with Scioscia’s assessment, the bottom line is that barring injuries and with Kendry back at first (Yay!), at the absolute best Napoli was only going to split time behind the plate and see a couple of games as the DH anyway. If the Angels were going to underuse him, I’m sad to see a favorite player go, but I would rather trade him for someone the Angels will use. I wish Napoli all the best with the Blue Jays, except when the Blue Jays play the Angels. He’s streaky. Maybe he can have a brief slump those games.
On the other hand, I am not at all sorry to see Juan Rivera go. It’s uncharitable, I realize. He gave the Angels a few great seasons but he’s been sliding downhill since returning from the broken leg. He just seems to play with fear and hesitation now and the hustle is gone. I can forgive a player many things, including loss of mobility from aging or injury, but lack of hustle is something I’ve always found very hard to forgive. I wish him well in Toronto, I truly do (except when they play us, of course), but after last season especially, I will not miss him in Anaheim.
As for the other end of the deal? Yes, we overpaid. Whether or not we actually get cash out of this. I’m not even going to debate that. But, with the way deals have been going this offseason, free agency signings, trades or otherwise, I just don’t see very many ways for the Angels to have avoided overpaying and other teams already struck those deals. Yes, Vernon Wells is 32. But he doesn’t seem to have slowed down in the outfield since his Gold Glove years and, in terms of homeruns, OPS and batting average, 2010 was one of Wells’ best offensive seasons since 2006. When you ignore the money (and I am, because, really, how many deals didn’t involve insane money this offseason?) the Angels traded two players they were using as occasional utility players for a starting outfielder with a good glove and a dangerous bat. Between Peter Bourjos, Torii Hunter and Wells, I am actually really excited to see our outfield in action this year and I am starting to worry less about the batting line-up…though we still really need a leadoff hitter. I also love how excited Wells sounded about coming to Anaheim in his interview. He sounded ready to win and certain the Angels could accomplish that. Maybe he can help bring some of the swagger and daring the Angels lost in 2010 back to the Big A. Optimism returning and growing.
It’s about 226 miles to Cambria, we’ve got a full tank of gas, a hot thermos of coffee, it’s dark (and so late it’s nearly early) and we’re not wearing our sunglasses. Hit it.
We’re heading up the coast to meet old college friends for a long weekend in Cambria and Paso Robles – oh yes, there will be wine! …and local micro breweries and gourmet food and live jazz and…yeah, it’s that kind of place. Having finished my half of the driving duties up through Gaviota Pass I am free to blog about baseball for the rest of the ride so long as I keep my husband awake and entertained sharing news articles and your blogs.
The only problem? Ugh! After the news and rumors today I don’t want to blog about baseball. Manny!?! Yes, I know the rumors have been linking his name with the Angels off and on all offseason but now they’re starting to sound serious. I do not want Manny Ramirez on the Angels. I don’t care if he does hit a ton every third season or so. I like baseball players, not drama queens. Let Manny be a diva…er…I mean Manny anywhere else. The thought of Manny in an Angels uniform is enough to make that optimism I was starting to feel dry up again for a while. If they really want to sign an aging DH with no real ability to play the outfield anymore, sign Vladdy please. Professional, clubhouse leader, not a diva bone in his body, swing at anything and hit it more often than anyone rationally should be able to Vladdy.
So enough thinking about baseball for one evening if the rumors only annoy me, right? Okay, then music it is. I just noticed that there is a profound lack of Journey on the radio stations in SLO county this evening. Now anywhere else in the country this would be business as usual. But this year, from the Northern most tip of Santa Barbara up through Paso Robles (and I would assume all the way up the coast to San Francisco) the amount of Journey on the radio stations increased exponentially with the Giants fortunes as the season progressed. The last time we were up here, during the playoffs, Don’t Stop Believin’, Lights and the like were like Law and Order reruns on basic cable – at any given moment, they were playing on at least one station. Not so tonight. This is almost eerie. Can it be they’ve finally tired of it? …Yeah, back to baseball and still annoyed thinking about the Manny rumors. This isn’t working.
Let’s try this again. This is an absolutely gorgeous drive, even late at night. Ocean, forest, orchards, vineyards, plenty of reminders that California is a huge state with far more farms and open spaces than city even still…though that is changing slowly but surely. The cities stretch just a little bit further every year. Driving up here late after work is great because then you don’t eat up four hours of your day off getting to the vacation. The only drawback? Bring your own coffee because, seriously, trying to find decent coffee in Santa Maria or thereabouts after one in the morning is kind of like Mariano Rivera blowing a save. It’s technically possible. You’ve heard of it happening before. It may even have happened once or twice while you were watching. But just how often does it happen really? Yeah, I have a one track mind this evening and this is a lost cause. Okay that’s it. I’m putting this post away and thinking about friends and wine for the rest of the evening…er…morning.
And, of course, what song came on the radio right as I was about to put down the Blackberry? Yep, you guessed it. Uprising by Muse. Haunted I tell you. Well at least it isn’t Don’t Stop Believin’ because even if Giants fans aren’t tired of it, I am. ;)
Have a nice weekend everyone!
The Angels signed contracts today, avoiding four of their six remaining possible arbitration cases, with Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick, Reggie Willits and Kendry Morales. Wait, Kendry? The Angels and a Scott Boras client reached a deal quickly and amicably? No snarling, gnashing of teeth or packing up of toys and running home swearing never to play with one another again? Apparently so, and amen to that I say. So, is this the dawn of a new era? Doubtful. I chalk it up to the classiness of the client (which as we all know, especially after watching contract negotiations this year, only goes so far) and an early Boras lull into a false sense of security before Kendry becomes a free agent. But for now we’ll take it…and it’s highly possible teeth were gnashed in private.
In other Tuesday Angels news, the team apparently traded dollar amounts with the other two arbitration eligible players, Jered Weaver and Mike Napoli. In terms of baseball dollars (you know, what’s an extra million give or take), the numbers being reported in the papers don’t look like the players asking prices and the Angels offers are too far apart. Personally, I hope the Angels just give Weaver and Napoli what they’re asking for. Weaver pitched an All-Star year and filled John Lackey’s vacated ace shoes like he’s been wearing them his whole career and meeting his request now might earn us some good will in negotiations when he’s a free agent…okay, he’s Scott Boras’ client so probably not, but it couldn’t hurt. Napoli did everything the team asked of him and more…okay his runners in scoring position clutch was a little broken, but when has that not been an off and on issue? He still had the most home runs of anyone on the team, a career high for him in a year where career lows ran rampant through the clubhouse, and he moved over to first base and played it admirably well when the team needed a first basemen.
Wow, did typing that ever bring on a flood of memories. (Yeah, yeah. I digress. You are all shocked.) Memorial Day weekend. My husband and I were in Cambria. Oh no, the whole home stand against the Mariners was blacked out on the Central Coast! No problem, we can catch bits of the games on our phones. Wait. Kendry did what? Naps is playing first? The next day we desperately platooned our Blackberries to “watch” the game on MLB.com Gameday intermittently with Cambria and Paso Robles’ notoriously sketchy cell phone signals and wound up jumping up and down like loons in the middle of a Giants territory bar while the Giant’s season ticket holder bar owner (great guy and a great bar by the way – been favorite of ours for years) chuckled at us when the Angels actually pulled it off. As long as everyone is healthy and hale this season, this officially becomes a good memory.
At any rate, the 2011 team is starting to take shape…and it’s pretty much the same shape as last year but, for whatever reason. Call it not losing any more key players this year? Call it Kendry’s back? Call it plain old fashioned excitement because I’m starting to see the barest glimpse of Spring Training on the horizon like that first glimmer of the beacon on top of the Luxor seen from just outside of Baker? For whatever reason, I am starting to feel just the tiniest bit of that preseason optimism.
Listening to all of the historical retrospectives on the news and writing a bit about Martin Luther King Day for work – nope, no Monday holiday in my industry – got me thinking a lot today about courage, history, equality and baseball…okay the baseball part is pretty much always droning away in the back of my thoughts these days, but you get the general idea.
I have always been proud of Major League Baseball for breaking the color barrier and playing its own part in the history of the Civil Rights Movement all on its own, without government mandate and for what, to my mind, was the best reason of all – Jackie Robinson was good baseball player and would have been an asset to any team.
Of course this act of bravery, on the parts of Robinson, the Dodgers and Major League Baseball as an institution, was just one action. And one action on its own could never solve all of our nation’s problems with racial discrimination. One action couldn’t even solve all of baseball’s issues on that front. But it was a crucial step that opened the door for other players of color to join the league and for all of America to see them playing well and together with white players, to see players of all colors showing the same amazing athletic ability, teamwork, brotherhood and honor on the athletic field of battle. Eyes, minds and hearts were opened and this became one more brave action helping to affirm all of the brave efforts at integration that preceded it and helping to set the stage and inspire all of the brave acts that were to follow.
When we work and play together, we see each other for what we really are as individuals and it becomes harder and harder to hold onto false assumptions until the relationships that result are actually based on something real. This is a concept that we all know instinctively as children but often forget as adults. Baseball offered a refresher course in this all important lesson to a generation of Americans and many took it to heart…many should continue to take it to heart today. It was one action, but it was one loud, crucial action. Whatever the sport’s current popularity may be in relation to other sports, for this reason more than any other, baseball will always be the real national pastime for me.
They will not force us. They will stop degrading us. They will not control us. We will be victorious.
The Angels are haunting me. Seriously. The lines in italics above? They’re lyrics from the song Uprising by Muse and lately, I hear this song everywhere I go. On the radio at home. In my car. At the office. When I walk into one of our schools. At my favorite local Sushi restaurant – every time I walk in, be if for dine-in or take out. Seriously. Every time. I realize that my local sushi restaurant only has one iPod mix of about 90 minutes in length and this song is included in that mix, but every time? Even when I just stop in to pick up a phone order? Seriously, what are the odds? Yes, the Angels are definitely hunting me.
Perhaps I should explain. This song is played at every Angels game right before the bottom of the 1st inning. I love music and form a strong memory connection to certain songs. My ear will pick up on the background music at restaurants and even in the middle of a loud Vegas casino so, for me, the music played at the ballpark is noticeable and very memorable. Some team songs or walk up music will forever be linked to specific person or team for me. I doubt I will ever hear Guns n’ Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle again without thinking stand back, Mark McGuire’s coming to the plate. Take Me Out to the Ballgame, oddly enough, still has tinges of Dodgers association for me because theirs is the first name I belted out in lieu of “home team” many, many years ago. With other songs, like The Who’s Baba O’Riley, which the Rangers play before each game, I remember the baseball relationship to the song but hearing it doesn’t make me cringe because other memories formed a more powerful association long ago – in this case, listening to my Dad playing records.
Most of the songs played at Angels games have formed a very strong Angels baseball association for me. Train’s Calling All Angels, which is played during the historical highlight reel before the start of every game. Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky, which plays as the Angels start to take the field for the first time. And, of course, Uprising. I hear these songs, and I get my inevitable anticipatory goose bumps and chills. Oh, I didn’t mention the goose bumps? Yeah, whenever I know something exceptionally cool is about to happen or I see something creative that is just beautifully done, I get literal goose bumps on my arms, often chills. Previews for a movie based on a book I’ve read or a part of history I’ve studied where they get the scene just right? Concert announcement for a band I’ve been dying to see? New book release from a favorite author? A particularly well done cover song? Witty dialog? Angels game is about to start? Goose bumps in every instance.
So, Uprising plays, or Spirit in the Sky or Calling all Angels, and there I stand, Pavlov’s Angels fan with anticipatory goose bumps on my arms because my ear is absolutely certain that the game’s about to start. But, of course, I know it’s only January and I’m on my way to work, out with friends eating sushi this evening or whatever and I shake my head at my own silliness and sigh. Haunted I tell you. Now where did I put that countdown of the days until pitchers and catchers report? Because I’m sure I calculated something wrong. It’s moving way too slow.
(Editor’s Note: Build Me Up Buttercup is a notable exception to the whole Angels music/goose bumps thing. When that song plays during the 7th inning stretch, I sit down and mull over finding the poor misguided creature whose idea it was to use that song and politely suggesting that they turn in their marketing card. Right now.)
And another potential Angels arbitration case bites the dust in short order. The latest player to ink a quick deal rather than attempting to bargain for more based on his 2010 stats – because, really, how many of them had 2010 stats you could present as a bargaining chip with a straight face? – is catcher Jeff Mathis. Two players down, six more to go. This whole process was a heck of a lot more painful last year. Funny that. Apparently the avoiding arbitration thing is a lot easier for a team after a particularly bad season.
Angels: The deal is the deal. You will take it and you will smile for your batting average stunk up the place and don’t even get us started on your WAR.
Angels player: No no, that’s okay. No need to start in on the WAR. I’ll take the deal and, look, I’m smiling.
(Okay, so somehow in between my brain and the blog that wound up sounding very Eddie Izzard. Tea and cakes, or death?)
I am not surprised about any part of this deal and I am not upset by it either. I am not a Mathis hater and, yes, I am well aware that merely typing that in a public forum may earn me hate mail ;). I am also not in the smaller camp that thinks he God’s gift to catching. Mike Scioscia thinks he’s a better defensive catcher than Mike Napoli. Most seasons the stats do bear that out, but not to such a huge degree that I think it justifies having Mathis’ historically weak bat in the line up more often than Napoli’s streaky but mighty one. Generally, I am happier when I flip the game on or show up at the stadium and hear that Napoli is behind the dish for the game.
Now I don’t claim to be able to pick up on all of the subtle ways each catcher influences the pitching staff from my sofa or stadium seats vantage. And Mike Scioscia clearly does know as much about the relationship between pitchers and catchers as anyone currently in the game, so I’ve got to defer to his opinion on this and am not upset when Mathis is catching, I just don’t typically hope for too much when he comes up to the plate. I was ecstatic when between the end of 2009 and early 2010 he suddenly developed a hot bat. Catching dilemma solved! Unfortunately, the broken wrist in late April did a lot more than just put him on the DL for two months. The Mathis who returned to play in June had an altered swing and committed a string of fielding and throwing errors. From my vantage, not looking to make excuses for the guy, it really looked like continuing weakness on the recently healed wrist. But who knows.
Was the whole hot bat episode just one of those weird once in a career streaks that would have had him revert to form by the end of April or so if he hadn’t broken his wrist? I know what folks are saying, but seriously, who can really say. I sure hope that with the wrist completely healed, the Mathis who shows up to spring training hits like the Mathis we had on the team for most of April…and catches like him too, especially if the plan is for Mathis to catch at least half of the time.
This last weekend, my husband and I hosted our annual holiday party after the holidays, a gathering of friends who have too many other obligations to get together during the actual holidays. This is my favorite party we throw every year. Friends fill the house enjoying cocktails and wontons in quantities that can only be described as festive. Why wontons? Long story short, I started making them in addition to other things because I like dim sum. Our guests routinely hoovered them by the handful so years ago we just made wontons the focal point and our own peculiar holiday tradition. We have a “pink elephant” gift exchange where everyone brings a copy of a favorite book for one round and a DVD of a favorite movie for another. So there is lots of raucous fun as everone ohs and ahs over what each person brought and then “steals” the presents from one another. I don’t think we stop laughing the whole night and everyone leaves with a new book to read, a new movie to watch…and often a list of a few new ideas to put on Netflix or add to their reading list.
New among the guests this year? One baseball talk starved Red Sox fan. An old friend of my husband’s whose path we crossed again about a year ago. This is a gentleman who talks a heck of a lot of Red Sox trash and plays Shipping Up to Boston and Tessie on his cell phone “for” me when the Sox are in town. Not that I ever throw it right back in any way or do anything else to warrant such treatment, of course. *smiles sweetly and attempts to look innocent* But oddly enough there was less bravado about him this evening. He wanted to know my opinion about the deals and if I had heard anything new. He wanted to make sure my husband and I would take him to the game again when the Red Sox were in town because he had so much fun last year. This last was not the mocking comment I originally took it for, mostly. Ignoring, for a moment, the egregious stomping my team suffered at the hands of his team once three glorious innings of the Angels on top came crashing to a halt as Dan Haren took a Youk line drive to the pitching elbow (eh, that’s baseball) and turned the mound over to a string of side show acts, I actually had a good time too. I want the Angels to win this year, thank you very much, but yeah, I’ll take him to the game again. It’s fun to have someone else sitting with us who knows his stuff, even if he cheers at all the wrong times for my taste.
And then things got weird. This Angels fan suddenly found herself feeling like she was comforting the Red Sox fan about his team’s Hot Stove activities. But, you guys got Crawford and Gonzalez, I said, I hate to say it but you’re going to put a heck of a team on the field this season.
Meh, I know, he said. But I’m worried about Bon. They’re thinking of trading him you know, or just letting him go to another team next year. If Bon isn’t a Red Sock anymore then, that’s it, I just don’t think I can be a fan anymore… This lead to a retelling of how my friend became a Red Sox fan as an adult and of his first game, seen from the Fox Sports box at Fenway no less, and a squeaker of a Jonathan Papelbon save…followed by a lot more whining (because, seriously, if your team has had the offseason the Rod Sox have had, it’s whining) and downright wistful hope that all of this was part of some greater ploy to keep Papelbon’s demands reasonable so the Sox can resign him in 2012 as a free agent.
And then the realization hit me. Oh my God! The anger. The threats. The rationalization. All in one thought pattern no less. Could it actually be? And there you have it ladies and gentlemen, proof that the scourge of Hot Stove Grief can strike anyone, even that most unlikely of candidates, a Red Sox fan in the middle of 2010-2011 offseason!
In Angels news, the team signed Alberto Callaspo to a one year contract, avoiding arbitration. So that’s one 2011 arbitration situation nicely side-stepped and seven more to contend with before the season starts. Yikes! If we don’t have Adrian Beltre or another star at third base in our future, then I am happy with this decision. Callaspo plays a good third base, not a Gold Glove third base by any means, but he does get the job done. And Callaspo’s bat, streaky but respectable over the course of the season, was not the reason the Angels third base position produced a dismal .223 batting average last year. He and Aybar just need to get over their occasional bouts of detrimental oneupsmanship (as opposed to the good kind they also exhibit which spurs both to work harder) and call the GD ball for crying out loud!