The quote I used for my headline? It was easily the best comment of the night at Taps Fish House and Brewery where Seth and I decided to go for a late dinner in the bar Saturday. We were giddy from the live baseball treat of the afternoon – and scoring opening day tickets that morning! – wanted more and figured it wouldn’t take much effort to sweet talk the Taps bar staff into putting the Rockies/D-Backs game on one of the TVs. It didn’t. Our favorite bartender, the Angels fan who pumps us for details every time we hit Taps after a ballgame’s, eyes got huge when we asked for a channel change. “There’s still a game on! I thought I missed them all today.”
Well thank goodness for the MLB network’s delayed airing because I think all of the baseball fans in the bar were in the same boat. No one apparently thought to put the game on before we arrived, but the minute it was on the TV half of the eyes in the bar were glued to it…and it’s not like there were any Rockies or D-Backs fans in the bar, just a bunch of baseball starved locals. The headline comment came shortly after that from a guy sitting at one of the tables behind us. One of his friends chided him for paying so much attention to the game and this was his response, delivered loudly, with a great deal of passion and a sweeping gesture at the screen. We at the bar, several bartenders included, responded with approving hollers.
It was a great evening. Out with my husband, an honest to goodness game at the bar, good food, tasty beverages and a lot of baseball fans to talk to – from the friendly, talkative Red Sox fan beside me, to the Angels fans on both sides of the bar who echoed our boo when he used the term “rebuilding year” in reference to the Halos. In many ways, Taps is my ideal game day bar. I would spend more games there if I didn’t also spend so much money there every time I go.
So imagine my excitement about the Angels/Dodgers game today! Meh. As it turned out, I would have been a lot happier if they had aired yesterday’s game instead. Today the Angels gave the starters and most of the second string the day off and let the kids have a work out. Alas, against the Dodgers first string, the kids were not alright. I’m aware that this is the nature of spring training. It’s more about giving everyone a workout, giving the kids some experience and a tryout and working through any issues before the season starts than it is about winning. But still, 5-0 ouch.
With the spirit of spring training in mind, I think there were a few important take aways. First, Kaz was throwing hard and throwing strikes! Even in the first inning and Scott Kazmir is prone to rough first innings. Granted, the Dodgers hit him – five hits and three earned runs in the two innings he pitched. But I think this was inconclusive, and I am not inclined to make excuses for Kaz. I think if he had the Angels starters behind him, that stat would have been better, more like two or three hits and one run. But you never know. I want to see more before the season starts but the fact that I do want to see more at all is positive. Maybe…maybe…well, we’ll see.
Here are some other thoughts I had watching the game. Bobby Wilson is taking spring training very seriously and looked strong both behind the plate and at bat. His increased speed and agility was a bright spot in the game for me. Hank Conger on the other hand looked rusty. I’m not really worried. I’ve seen him do a lot better than that, but if he wants a shot a starting catcher he needs to pick up the speed on his throw down to second a lot. I don’t know what to think of Mike Trout. He hit a nice solid single in the first inning and made one catch in center that his speed made look a lot easier than it was. Other than that, however, he looked like he kind of phoned it in, which I don’t like. But it is just one game. Mark Trumbo needs a lot of work at first. He made some good plays and some really clumsy ones. He’s wearing Mike Napoli’s Angels’s jersey number 44 this season and between the homerun yesterday and, alas, the lack of performance with runners in scoring position today, this seems appropriate. Fernando Rodney’s rustiness looks suspiciously like right where he left off last season.
Watching this game, it was obvious that, like most teams, the Angels have a lot of minor league players who will never be major league players. Andrew Romine, on the other hand? I liked his instincts when he came up this September, sliding across third with the ball to get the seemingly impossible force out. He had a good solid hit today and made one nice diving play at short, his throw just missing getting the speedy runner out at first. I look at him and think, interesting, maybe in a few years? Suffice to say, I need to see a lot more of spring training and the kids – and some of the veterans – need to play a lot more before I form stronger opinions. Fortunately, this was only game two and tomorrow the regular starters are supposed to play. And it’s all still exciting. In the words of random Taps bar guy, these aren’t just spring games. It’s live baseball! It’s been like four months, man!
Two more days until Spring Training games begin and I can’t wait. I am loving the news coming out of Tempe so far, especially about the starting rotation. Jered Weaver, getting down to business, ready to pick up where he left off and joking around with the new and younger guys before throwing batting practice. Dan Haren, excited to begin his first full season as an Angel and confident we can contend. Ervin Santana, scoffing at the idea that he always follows up a good year with a bad year. Okay Ervin, I like the sound of that, so make this year a good year too! Joel Pinero, fully recovered from his injury and ready to prove himself again this season. And not a whole lot of news about Scott Kazmir. Don’t think I haven’t noticed that. I am anxious to see him pitch during the Spring Training games just to get a clue where things stand.
Kazmir question aside, no this isn’t the Phillies four aces (and Blanton) but it is a very strong starting rotation, potentially one of the strongest of the coming season. Remembering the number of games the Angels lost last season by just one or two runs, I think that if these guys can just get some run support this season, the Angels are back in business. Oh, and everyone has to stay healthy. No more random injuries, please. I think we over filled our random injury and unexpected calamity quotas so thoroughly last season that we’ve already met them for several seasons to come.
As to which pitcher is going to start on Opening Day (Jered Weaver)? Of course, Mike Scioscia has not announced it yet (Jered Weaver). Notorious for waiting until the last possible minute to announce each season’s starter (Jered Weaver), I doubt we’ll hear anything official from Scioscia until the last week before the season starts (Jered Weaver). I laugh but only because I find this quirky Scioscia trait oddly endearing. So, do we at least know who the starting pitcher will be in this weekend’s Spring Training opener against the Dodgers? Apparently Scioscia wants to look at one more workout and gauge everyone’s recovery before he makes that decision. Ladies and gentlemen, and I say this with complete affection, we are all shocked.
Note to self: Car dancing with no music looks very undignified and is apt to make one’s husband look at her funny…that is until I explained that I was car dancing because a couple of nice bloggers commented to tell me this blog (and four other great Angels blogs!) is a featured blog on MLBlogs this week. Seriously, thank you Mark and MLBlogs! This is a fantastic blogging community and you do so much to support and draw attention to all of us that it’s easy to feel at home right away. There are a lot of great blogs and nice people here and I just can’t tell you how much fun it is to be a small part of it all.
But, even more giddy making than this news? The Angels Press Release arrived listing the Spring Training games Fox Sports West will televise in February and March – the perfect reminder that starting this Saturday weekend there will be live baseball on television once again! That’s only four more days without. Short of the official season Play Balls we’ll start hearing on March 31st, it doesn’t get much better than that. Almost all of the games are day games, of course, so I know what I will be doing with my lunch break for the next couple of weeks.
It has been wonderful reading all of the articles from Spring Training but it will be even better to see some of the action and judge it for myself. First glimpses of the Angels new bullpen. Jeff Mathis, Hank Conger and Bobby Wilson competing for starting catcher. Kendry hitting bombs and maybe working back into first base when he’s ready. A sneak preview of our new Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos, Torii Hunter outfield as well as all of the guys waiting in the wings to spell the main three or come up through the ranks in the next few years. Top prospect Mike Trout playing with the big leaguers, say no more. Watching to see how Andrew Romine, Mark Trumbo and the rest of the minor leaguers have improved over the winter. Watching to see if Kaz and Brandon Wood have improved over the winter. And this is just what I hope to see watching my team!
This schedule arrived at the perfect time. My husband and I had just officially decided that we are not going to Spring Training this year. I’m disappointed, of course, but the television schedule helps ease the blow and, anyway, who can argue with the law:
Law of Conservation of Vices: Vices cannot be created or destroyed, they merely change forms. However, judicious budget and vacation day management are required to ensure continual shifting of vices from their potential form (ie: that enjoyed by everyone but you) to their kinetic form (ie: that enjoyed by you).
We really only have two vices to which this law applies – baseball and wine. This year, a trip to the Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival will allow for greater enjoyment of wine and more baseball games attended during the season than a Spring Training trip. So, as much as I really want to go to spend a long March weekend in Arizona, oh well, next season. At least Paso Robles has a great sense of humor and embraces the coming baseball season. This year’s ad cracked me up:
After a long winter without baseball, the start of Spring Training is so exciting that for a couple of days it almost feels like baseball season is just about to begin…and then we remember that Spring Training is a lot like going to Disneyland as a kid – you’re excited for weeks before the trip. You can barely sleep the night beforehand imagining all of the rides you’re going to go on and the fun you will have. You are bouncy and giddy the whole drive to the park and, then, you’re finally there! You run into the park barely able to contain your glee and race to your first ride…where you have to wait in line for two more hours before you can board the roller coaster. Yeah, it’s kind of like that.
But once you get on that first ride, oh boy! And getting to the park is the first exciting step, of course. So it goes with Spring Training. I am thrilled it’s here! But I’m at that point where the fact that Opening Day is still six weeks away has sunk back in. I’m still, that excited little kid. But I’ve settled back down into waiting mode. Oh well, at least while we’re waiting, there are actual player interviews on MLB again, interviews taped earlier in the day, not back in September. And there is news! Lots of news, as far as the eye can read. It’s a bit of a wait still, but it’s now a more pleasant one.
Today’s news as the position players enjoyed their first workout was 90% fantastic! Kendry took an official batting practice on the main field and reminded everyone why we call him Bam Bam, knocking pitches into the scoreboards and stands from both sides of the plate. Whooo hooo, this is the kind of news I wanted to hear! Bobby Abreu reported to the field as his usual cheerful self and sounds like he is ready to assume the DH role, which had been a point of concern. Maicer Izturis is healthy and excited to make a play for full time third base and leadoff slots. If he can stay healthy all season it would be a first, so we’ll see how that goes, but healthy and eager is a good sign. When Maicer is in the lineup, good things happen.
The only bad news this weekend is that Brandon Wood is injured and resting from a back strain. He is the last player who can afford to be starting off Spring Training slow. Honestly though, after last season, I don’t have it in me to worry about this one. I like the kid. He has a good attitude and is willing to work hard and I would love it if he somehow turned things around this season and became strong hitter and a reliable third base, but I don’t know if this is possible. If somehow he proves himself in ST and gets another shot at third this season, I want a hard cutoff date in place. If Wood doesn’t perform by that date then the experiment has to be over. Folks can take a little fabric paint and turn all of those “Free Brandon Wood” t-shirts into “Free to a good home: Brandon Wood” t-shirts.
At Pilates this evening, I enjoyed a quick chat with a White Sox fan. Last season I introduced her to the cheap ticket wonders of StubHub and gave her information about the Big A so she could see her guys play – she was concerned about our “scary” freeways – and we’ve been friendly ever since. As I was leaving the parking lot, a group of guys in Pirate caps, one of them quite old school, walked by. On the freeway drive home, the usual mixed bag of bumper stickers streamed by as speeds increased in the final fade of rush hour. In and among the honor roll proclamations, fading Obama/Biden stickers and occasionally humorous sayings was an eclectic array of baseball stickers – Dodgers, Angels, Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies. Nothing new here.
Los Angeles is not like other places. The billboard signage proclaims that this is Dodgertown and that is true to a certain extent. But a sufficient number of Angels fans call Los Angeles County home to warrant equal representation in the team gear sections of our local Targets and Costcos and the same is true in reverse with Dodger fans in neighboring Orange County, home to my Halos of the absurdly lengthy and geographically challenged name. I read as many of your blogs as I can find, and more and more each week as Spring Training brings more sleepy bloggers out of hibernation, so I know that two team towns are nothing special. But Los Angeles is a little more complicated than that.
In and among the Dodgers and Angels gear, you can usually find a fair bit of Yankees and Red Sox items. White Sox caps and shirts are becoming more common as well and, if the number of Cubs fan Chicago transplants I ran into in Orange County last year is any indication, I expect to start seeing the occasional Cubs logo on the sales racks in the next year or so. Native Angelenos like myself are rare, you see. In Los Angeles and, increasingly, Orange County seemingly everybody is from someplace else. And even among the natives, most of us are only native by a generation or two. My grandparents and their families all came out to California during the Dustbowl, which is very common story.
When it comes right down to it, this is one of the things I love most about living here – so many different people bringing pieces of their home to mine and mixing them together in new and different ways. I love that I can go out for authentic soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung (the only location outside of China), hit a jazz club hosting a band from New Orleans and then finish off the evening line dancing at a club opened up by Texas transplants who thought it might be fun and profitable to bring a little bit of home to Los Angeles. Authentic street tacos, a cheesesteak place opened up by a couple of guys who moved out here from Philly, New York style delis, a German deli where more people are speaking German and Polish than English on any given day, Kansas City style BBQ joints, all of these offerings are within easy driving distance of my house, and it’s amazing.
And the sea of different baseball caps? Dodger, Angels, Giants, Red Sox and Pirates at my office’s summer picnic alone. Enough nowadays that, seriously, if I were a kid, I’d give up playing “States” and play “MLB caps” instead. It’s just one more manifestation of what I think of as the real Los Angeles – Dodgertown yes, but kind of Everytown at the same time. I know that Los Angeles is far from the only big city to experience this phenomena, but I wonder if any other city sees their diversity carry over into their baseball cap offerings at non-ESPN type stores? I would definitely be interested in learning if this is so if any of you care to share.
I went to Costco on my lunch break this afternoon and did some of our grocery shopping with this post percolating in my mind. I decided it would be funny to take a picture of the souvenir baseball jersey rack so you could appreciate the wild mix of logos we tend to stock out here but, apparently it’s a little early for baseball still at Costco. However, serendipitously enough, when I walked out to my car this is the picture I was presented with. What are the odds? Well, around here? Fairly good, actually:
Spring Training is but a few days old and the MLB reporters, probably just as bored and jonesing for real baseball news during the winter as the lot of us, are eagerly taking in every detail and flooding the newspapers and websites with articles, much to my delight. The only downside to this? All of the dire Kendry Morales speculation. It was pretty much a given it would start as soon as he reported to Spring Training. According to reports throughout the winter, he resumed light baseball activities in December and began light jogging about a month ago. This is excellent, hopeful progress but it never sounded like Kendry would show up in perfect, healed condition ready to go full bore on day one of Spring Training. Depending on how quickly the doctors clear him to start running at full speed again, it sounds to me like he could make the Opening Day roster but this isn’t a definite.
Suffice to say, I was prepared to have this news confirmed, and it has been in several articles now, but even when expected, it’s still disappointing. The about face in the reporters’ tone from a cheerful one midway through the post season to extremely cautious now just tells me that on some level they’re big baseball fans too. They were hopeful and rooting for the guy over the winter and are little disheartened now and all of that comes through in the tone of the prose, even when they don’t intend it to. In the articles, Kendry himself sounds a little down about it but reading between the lines, I think things still sound hopeful. He’s hitting very well and feeling no pain (yay!) but says it still feels tight and unflexible and he can’t run with more than 1/2 speed right now. I actually know that one, to a much lesser extent. I have spent the last year finally properly rehabbing a knee I damaged repeatedly in my youth and again as an adult (the last time racing up hills on my bike with clips on my shoes – it was great…until it wasn’t) and I remember the stiffness and inflexibility seeming insurmountable until all of the sudden, and quicker than I would have thought, things improved by leaps and bounds. I hope the experience is comparable because, if so, Kendry could be in playing shape by Opening Day or soon after.
If not, well, I don’t really want to think about that right now, with our best first base substitute reporting for Spring Training in Surprise, AZ, this week instead of Tempe. Howie Kendrick was not my favorite substitute first baseman last season by a long shot, but I think he’s the best temporary option, unless Mark Trumbo has improved a lot over the winter and this I doubt. Then Callaspo could play third and Maicer could play second, as long as he stays healthy. It could work, but I hate to start out the season with a duct taped infield, even if it’s only for the first month.
Reading the rest of the news, several other Angels apparently spent the winter in various forms of surgery and rehabilitation. I was aware Erick Aybar had surgery to repair the knee damaged when Casey McGee busted up the double play back in June. He sounds excited by his progress and I hope that between fixing the knee and no longer dealing with the pressure of batting leadoff, he is able to return to his 2009 form. But Matt Palmer was a surprise. While continuing conditioning workouts this winter after the surgery on his clavicle last season, he discovered he would need knee surgery as well. Apparently they rebuilt him. Better. Stronger. Faster. And Palmer feels the end result has improved his range and delivery considerably. Yay! That’s the kind of news I like to hear! Pitching Coach Mike Butcher was another surprise but, again, with a positive ending. He had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his thyroid gland over the winter. All reports say the surgery was successful and Butcher is on the mend, though not attending the first few days of Spring Training. I wish him a full and speedy recovery.
So, do all of the winter improvements and repairs mean a stronger Angels team or another season of duct tape solutions and cobbled together Franken-infields? Time will tell but I actually believe it’s the former. One thing is for certain, one way or the other I’m in for a lot of news about it in the coming days and that is already a huge improvement over the offseason.
Of course, if the baseball PTB happen to be listening and in a favorable mood, it is my birthday tomorrow (Wednesday), so when I return from an evening of pints and pub trivia, I would really like some good Kendry news from Wednesday’s workouts…and, you know, a long stream of Kendry improvement news through the rest of Spring Training leading to a strong Opening Day start? Okay. I’m asking a lot. But you have to admit, as wishes go, it’s pretty unselfish for being just a tiny bit selfish. That should count for something…right?
Angels pitchers and catchers reported for Spring Training today!!! They have their first warm-up tomorrow, along with 11 other teams in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues. The hint of baseball is in the air again! And, really, could anyone ask for a better Valentine than that? I’m not really a Valentine’s Day kind of girl but, with the moved-up Spring Training schedule adding new meaning to the date, I might come to appreciate it after all!
Suddenly baseball articles are dominating the L.A. Times and the O.C. Register again, spring training games begin in a matter of weeks, Opening Day doesn’t seem quite so far away and all is right with world…okay, all is far from right with the world, but it’s just that much closer to right and I will take what I can get.
According to tweets from the first day back (that I read on Halos Heaven…I don’t have a Twitter account) catcher Bobby Wilson worked out like a man on a mission this offseason and lost 34 pounds. I think this is exciting. He caught a few really good games last season and has a strong but inconsistent bat. If he’s trying for a Nick Swisher like transformation in 2011, I am all for it. Based on last year’s performances, all three candidates for catcher have different important components of the necessary skill set for the position. Competition for the catcher’s position, spurring each player to improve areas of weakness, can only be a good thing for the team right now.
The L.A. Times blog reported that Jered Weaver arrived at Spring Training with a great attitude, has no hard feelings after the arbitration hearing and says he would still love to play for the Angels for a long time. Granted, this is the kind of thing a good sport is supposed to say when things don’t go their way regardless of actual feelings on the matter, but I am choosing to take these comments at face value. The same article reported that long term contract discussions with Weaver have halted until next winter. I actually like this. Once Spring Training starts, I want everyone concentrating on 2011 and not worrying about 2012 contacts and beyond.
Suffice to say, the L.A. Times made me a lot happier than reading the O.C. Register’s Blog Post “Arbitration Loses Usually Lead to Divorce“ did. Apparently if you look back at the last five years, only Mariano Rivera and Wandy Rodriguez have remained with the team they lost to in arbitration once they reached free agency eligibility. Ouch. Oh…yeah…but…well…in the immortal words of the great Charlie Brown, tell your statistics to shut up! All jokes aside, it was a good blog post and I’m aware that the arbitration decision doesn’t make for a great situation, but I’m just not going to spend all season worrying about it. Future Blithescribe can worry about Weaver’s contract and Kendry Morales’ too next winter.
Looking at the amount of Spring Training news posted on the blogs from journalists’ and players’ twitter accounts, I think I may need to finally break down and get a twitter account. I have avoided it for the longest time because most of the tweets I see auto-posted to FaceBook and Livejournal aren’t interesting to me. I know that eventually someone is going to ask me to work with Twitter in a professional capacity – I switch hats between communications, marketing, PR and fundraising, but I’m basically a corporate writer/communications specialist – so I should probably dive in and get used to the ins and outs of it on my own, but I’ve been dragging my feet. If there’s fun baseball information on Twitter, however, maybe that’s just the prod I need to join.
In the mean time, it’s finally Spring Training!!! And I am in such a bouncy, giddy good mood, it isn’t even funny. I hope the coming days find all of you in the same state of mind.
The Angels “won” their arbitration case with Jered Weaver today. The Angels Ace and 2010 Strike Out Leader was seeking $8.8 million and the Angels offered $7.365 million. Call me crazy, but this doesn’t really seem like winning to me. The Angels want to keep Weaver in Anaheim – I know I want the Angels to keep Weaver in Anaheim! They began initial long term contract negotiations with him earlier this month. I didn’t really expect a long term contract to materialize this offseason. I know. I know. How could Weaver and the Angels ignore my “it’s almost my birthday” argument? Oh well, as compelling as that argument was, Weaver does have one more arbitration eligible year before he is eligible for free agency at the end of the 2012 season. I imagine making a deal now seemed too soon from Weaver’s perspective for him to be able to command the salary he is going to want from his next long term contract.
However, you would think, especially after there was so much conflict and ego bruising surrounding Weaver’s initial contract signing, that the Angels would want to throw him a bone now, if for no other reason than to earn goodwill this early on in the proceedings. Seriously, what’s $1.435 million to a Major League Baseball team? Especially this offseason and after the 2010 season Weaver had? Especially when the Angels got off comparatively easy with several of the other players’ contracts? I don’t think it was too much to ask at all.
I’m not really upset about this, more disappointed than anything. And, I’m not saying that “winning” this arbitration case chips anything in stone with Weaver other than the amount of this season’s contract. I just think there’s a time when taking a hard line is an advantage and a time when it might actually be detrimental and this has the potential to be the latter. I loved Lyle Spencer’s article on the arbitration case outcome. He doesn’t come out and say he thinks the Angels acted unwisely – it is a news piece after all. But the article states the outcome and then goes on to sing Weaver’s praises for the next 10 column inches or so. Well played.
Admittedly, I’ve only started paying attention to the details of contracts, arbitration and such in the last few years. I hated this side of the game as a kid when, typically, I didn’t want business and money to cloud my pure enjoyment of the game. I grudgingly accepted this side of the game as an adult when I started paying attention to baseball again and became really interested as the fervor of my fandom increased and I started working in finance, go figure. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m interested in the financial aspects of team decisions but would not yet claim to be knowledgeable. So if I’m looking at this the wrong way, please let me know. In this case I’d actually find it comforting :).
Michael Young? No, thanks. None for me please.
So Michael Young has had all he can stand and he can’t stands no more and he’s asked to be traded. I can’t say that blame him really, not that I blame the Rangers either. The team is making good deals but I can only imagine what went through Young’s mind when they signed Mike Napoli after he had already agreed to move to DH for Adrian Beltre…the All-State Insurance commercial with Mayhem as the distraught, dumped teenaged girl, however, does come to mind. It sounds to me like he’s headed for the Rockies. Of course, the being the media’s front runner hasn’t meant a whole lot this offseason, so you just never know and there are other teams – and other teams fans – who want him badly.
I may be in the minority, but I don’t want him for the Angels. He’s a stand up, team player kind of guy and I would love to have a bat like his in the lineup. But defensively he’s no better and possibly not quite as good as what we’ve already – which is not to say that the Angels third base options couldn’t use some defensive improvement. For me, Young’s bat alone doesn’t justify the players we would have to give up -and then face again, and again and again in Texas – to get him. Another team could make the trade and be happier and better for it, but I just don’t think the Angels are the right fit.
Young Catchers Trend Continues in 2011
MLB.com had a great article today about the large group of talented young catchers who should see some major league playing time next year. It was nice to see that the Angel’s Hank Conger prominently mentioned and frequently quoted. Conger impressed me behind the plate last season. If he can find his bat against major league pitching this season and find it quickly, he could really go places. Conger was even one of four catchers included in the photo when the article was highlighted on MLB’s front page this morning, before the news lit up with speculation about Pujols and Young. The photo was actually a montage of four tall, skinny photos, one of each catcher in a different crouch or catching position. Of course, when I was trying to explain this to my husband this evening, what I came up with was that it looked very Charlie’s Angels, actually, but with photos instead of silhouettes and mitts instead of guns. Sadly this was apt and he knew exactly what article I was talking about from this description. We both laughed a lot.
Why must all of the fun events happen during the week?
The Angels open house? All of the press conferences? And now the Inland Empire 66ers Affiliation Celebration – celebrating the Angels new advanced A affiliation? (Basically, the Angels and Dodgers traded advanced A teams in the offseason.) I actually do get why so many of these things take place during the week but I would love to be able to go to one or two of them. Oh well, that’s one of the many beauties of baseball. There is always next season.