March 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Angels Promotions + More Spring Training Thoughts

Watching Angels spring training games, it would be extremely difficult not to notice the promotions schedule planned for the regular season. There is a large billboard just to the visitor’s side of home plate with a rolling display that prominently advertises the April and May promotions and the broadcast team is doing a great job of hyping all of the others. As with most baseball teams, the Angels promotions are a mixed bag. Some of them are exciting indeed. Others make you wonder what the marketing department was thinking. But some of the bad ones actually fall into a third, so bad they’re actually awesome category – the name-your-favorite-Kurt-Russell-bad-***-B-movie-here or They Live of stadium giveaways, if you will. Allow me to present a few examples:

Great Promotions

  • We get an Angels post game concert series this season! So far no bands have been named, but there will be four concerts, one each month in June through September. Is this copying the Rays? Yes. Will it be amazing fun anyway? Yes, oh yes.
  • Hat nights: the Angels marketing department usually offers a series of great ball caps throughout the season. For the anniversary, a lot of the caps are retro or outright replicas of players’ uniform caps through the years. As long as none of them are the cap from the Disney years, we’re good.
  • The Rally Monkey Sock Monkey in July: I like the Rally Monkey concept – a random, spur of the moment whim of the video board operators takes on a life of its own – but I have never felt the need to own one. A Rally Monkey Sock Monkey, however, sounds awfully cute. He could sit on the book shelves in my living room and taunt visiting Dodgers and Red Sox fans. Too bad this one’s just for the kids and I have no prop children to take with me so I can snag one.

So Bad They’re Actually Kind of Awesome Promotions

  • The Angels Luchador Mask in May: one the one hand, it’s kind of a WTF idea. On the other hand, it’s an Angels luchador mask. I think this is the giveaway my husband is most excited about. Why do I see his entire sales team sporting these things when the Rangers fan head of Marketing comes for a visit?
  • The Angels Ski Beanie in April: okay, so it’s a really silly looking brightly colored knit hat with ear flaps and a pom pom on top. But I think that the marketing department has failed to capitalize on the obvious Firefly tie-in potential with this one. The Outfielder of Canton, anyone? Hey, the Dodgers get their Star Wars night. Fair’s fair.
  • The Angels Gnome Bobblehead in August: usually all of the bobbleheads are in the great promotions category (I just didn’t mention them because every team does this now) but this bobblehead is not a player bobblehead, it’s literally a bobblehead of the Angels gnome statue giveaway last season. This would just be bad, but Angels fans turned out in droves to collect those darned gnomes last season and the broadcast team caught gnome fever, keeping one in the booth that would “show up” in odd places throughout the game so the gnome bobblehead gets style points for the humor factor.

What Were They Thinking Promotions

  • The Rally Monkey Chia Pet in August: sadly, I may wind up with one of these. This is one of the games we were thinking of attending.
  • The Angels Troll Doll in May: fortunately just for children!
  • Angels Newsboy Hat: this is the one exception to the Angels hat nights are great rule. Do hipsters even go to baseball games? I know. I know. If they do, it would be in Anaheim or Los Angeles.

It’s baseball. It’s wonderful. I love my Angels. And I would quite happily still go to as many games as possible even if there were no promotions at all. But I think it’s fun to take a look at the promotions and oh and ah or mock where appropriate.

* * * * *

A few notes after the Angels most recent spring training games: This is the first time I’ve seen Scott Downs pitch in Angels red and so far I really like what I see. Eight pitches, three outs. Whooo. Hooo. Mark Trumbo keeps right on hitting and it looks like he’s starting to place himself better for each play at first. Howie Kendrick makes me happy, specifically his increasingly reliable bat! Peter Bourjos makes me happy too, specifically his speed, range and glove in center! And hell-o Tyson Auer. Wow, that kid is fast! It looks like the Angels will not lack for speedy outfield prospects in the years to come.

I’m still on the fence about Scott Kazmir. In his second outing, it took him about three or four batters to warm up, which is customary even when he’s having a good season, but he threw more balls in proportion to the strikes. However, he didn’t get hit nearly as much as he did in his first outing and he settled down such that the last 15 or so of his 35 pitches were fantastic. The Angels lost to the Brewers but Joel Pinero’s three innings were scoreless, continuing his streak. Pinero has not lost a spring training decision in the last 25 appearances.

We beat the White Sox this time out, but it wasn’t easy and it isn’t going to be easy in the regular season. I’m glad to see Jake Peavy seems fully recovered from last season’s injury. I watched the game he was injured during, and it didn’t look like he would be able to make it back this quickly. Former Angels Bench Coach Ron Roenicke looked comfortable as the Brewers Manager. I’m sure he’ll do well and wish him all the best!

More Musings on Spring Training and an Angels’ Great Retires

With a few more, significantly less than stellar, spring training games under our belt, Angels fans have learned several new things. For example, ouch, those Rangers guys sure can hit! Oh. Wait. We knew that already. I’d blame the loss on the kids – the Angels were playing with a mostly minor league squad that day – but it was really the homeruns that killed us and the first two – of four! – were off of regular pitchers and enough on their own to ensure a loss. At least Dan Haren was mad at himself about the homerun hit off him. A little anger can be motivating and spring training is the time to get motivated and shake off the rust.

But, Mark Trumbo can also hit! A line drive Wednesday and another bomb Thursday. It’s great to see he’s getting used to Major League pitching! Especially because Kendry Morales’ progress sounds steady but very slow. Kendry’s unlikely to be ready to play any time soon. Based on the fact that Trumbo has seen the most playing time of any Angel so far and all of it at first, I think it’s safe to assume that he’s Scioscia’s primary first base back-up plan. Trumbo’s still mixing a lot of clumsy plays in with the good ones, but with his bat coming around I’m softening up on this idea lot. Keep practicing hard and taking notes, kid, and this might just work out!

Torii Hunter found his bat today. Jeff Mathis and Howie Kendrick continue to find theirs while Brandon Wood temporarily misplaced his on the bus or something. And if any real conclusions could be drawn from this small sample size, I’d be dangerous. ;)

Ervin Santana may be the most unfortunately die hard Star Trek fan ever – convinced that in odd numbered years he’s supposed to suck. Yes, melodrama for humor’s sake is a perfectly reasonable coping mechanism. Why do you ask? I’m not actually panicking. I know it’s his first outing. I know he’s working on a new pitch. I know it’s just one spring training game. I know I still would have liked it a lot better if he’d nailed it.

Mike Napoli is a pretty classy guy and is handling the inevitable interview questions about the trade as well as anyone could ask. He’s being truthful – he appreciates the trade because it means he’s likely to get more playing time – while speaking well of both his former team and his new one. I still don’t like seeing him in another uniform but I wish him well and this takes a little bit of the sting out of the “just business” side of baseball.

Spring training doesn’t count for anything more than a means of everyone getting their work in and preparing for the regular season. Spring training records do not necessarily give any indication of how the team will look in the coming season. But boy do we scrutinize every pitch, swing and play anyway. It’s kind of like the initial stages of a new relationship. You know it’s going to take a while to get to know the person, so you try to keep your attitude light and casual. But every interaction still takes on exaggerated meaning as you try to figure out, does this have the potential for just an okay couple of dates, a really fun fling or something longer and more meaningful? Something that might even keep you cheering all the way through October?

* * * * *

Angels great Garret Anderson announced his retirement on Tuesday after 17 years in the majors, 15 of them with the Halos. A key member of the 2002 World Series winning team, Anderson still holds numerous Angels franchise hitting records including those for hits, extra base hits, runs and RBIs. I will always remember him for his clutch performances both at the plate and in the field and for that gorgeous, graceful swing, one of the most beautiful swings in the game.

Watching him struggle on the Dodgers last year was hard. Seeing him fumble two hard hit balls against the left field fence at the Big A during the Freeway series was harder. I’m sure retirement was a difficult decision but I think it was time. I understand and applaud the drive to try and push out one more year and then another and another, but I really like to see the players retire while their peak years are still a lot fresher in the fans’ minds than the rough years at the end. My hat’s off to you Garret Anderson. Congratulations on your retirement. (For a great Garret Anderson tribute with wonderful personal stories, please visit fellow Angels’ blogger Mo’s Angels.)

Spring Has Sprung, the Pitches Are Zinging and the Bats are in Bloom

Silly as it sounds, after Sunday’s game I felt somewhat deflated. But two better spring training outings for the Angels was all it took to return the buoyancy to my mood. First and foremost, the regular pitchers and most of the core bullpen candidates both days looked good – a little rust here and there, a couple of instances where the pitch placement could still use a little work, but on the whole very good.

I got to see the debut of our most likely new outfield configuration – all centerfielders, all the time with Vernon Wells in left, speedy Peter Bourjos in center and Torii Hunter in right. I loved it! Between the three of them they cover a lot of ground and seem to work well together. Bourjos seemed to have a little trouble calling off Wells at first, but he came around much like he did last season with Torii and Bobby Abreu.

I think I have now seen the real Mike Trout and I too am impressed. That was a heck of a catch at the end of this afternoon’s game and he made it look absolutely effortless. And when he does get the bat on the ball, you can see the power there. I like this all centerfielder outfield idea and think Trout will fit in just fine when the time comes to replace one of the centers currently in the corners.

We’re nailing the double plays!! One of the first indications I had that things were amiss in 2010 was how few and far between the jaw dropping double plays, once an Angels hallmark, had become. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see the guys nailing that 6-4-3 or 4-6-3 again! Also, the fielding so far has been error free, which is especially nice to see so early in spring training.

We have bats! Everyone who should be hitting has had at least one good solid hit in the last three games (remember, each player in question has only played about one full game worth of innings in those three games) except Torii, and Torii’s bat usually doesn’t really heat up until late April. I would jump for joy if it happened earlier, of course, but I’m not going to panic when it doesn’t. Yes, this does mean that Jeff Mathis, Peter Bourjos, Erick Aybar and even Brandon Wood all had hits – Wood’s a hard hit double in his spring training debut today. I don’t know if this will last in all cases but it sure was good to see.

Certain old bad habits were still evident. Eighth and ninth inning excitement: Monday’s game against the A’s was 8 to 2 Angels going into the eighth inning and the final score was 8 to 7. Stranding runners on the bases: seven runners were left in scoring position in today’s game against the Reds. Failing to strike again: today’s game was another score in the first inning and never again outing. Aybar’s base running: he’s like the little girl with the little curl and today’s game was one of the horrid outings. But I’m not really concerned about this, this early on. These observations, good and bad, are all based on one two-game snapshot and I think early spring training games, where the pitchers change every one to two innings and all of the regular position players are out of the game by the 6th inning, are not the best representation of how the regular season will progress. I’m just grounding myself by taking note of the worrisome things along with the hopeful ones.

* * * * *

The baseball fever is so thick in my house that my husband actually convinced me to go play catch with him in the park the other day. Seth never played baseball growing up, not beyond the usual neighborhood pick-up games. I played softball in the local park and rec ponytail league from t-ball up through the beginning of high school but I haven’t touched a glove with any intent beyond catching a ball at batting practice in more than 15 years. So it was odd that he would ask and odder still that I would accept. I think that maybe seeing all of the young minor leaguers play a day game in such a small setting brings more nostalgia for the games you played in your own youth than a regular baseball game.

Playing catch? It’s not like riding a bicycle. Not after more than 15 years anyway. My arm is so much spaghetti, it’s embarrassing and, after this much time, it actually stings to catch the ball bare handed. But I’m still reasonably reliable with the glove and was even able to jump and stretch high to catch a few like back in the old days. And the unmistakable thunk of a perfect throw landing solidly in his glove the few times I managed a good one is absolutely addicting – childhood, laughter and fun all bottled up in a single sound. Yes, I will do this again. It was a lot of fun and I am way too stubborn not to give it another try. Besides, I’m not talking trash here but, um, I’m not the one with the sore shoulder today…he he he.

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