As an Angels fan, I am used to not seeing my team on the national radar – sports news covers or features, popular culture, public awareness, generic poll via number of ball caps seen in random unexpected places, or otherwise. This is hardly a gripe – actually, I kind of like it – it’s just an observation. As I’ve mentioned before, I was raised a Dodger fan. And the Dodgers, while they aren’t the Yankees or, more recently, the Red Sox, are frequently on the national radar…not always for good reasons, sad to say, especially lately, but still, they’re there.
When you want to set a scene as being definitively in Los Angeles, you reference the Dodgers or show a glimpse of the stadium in a scan of the scenery. Dodgers Stadium isn’t as frequently filmed as the Hollywood sign, nor as oft destroyed in Hollywood natural disasters as the Capital Records building or those darned Angelyne signs, but it’s there never the less. (Yes, the Angels had top billing in that one movie but, seriously, I’m trying to forget that one. Remember the Naked Gun, by all means, but please forget that other one…er…ones, apparently. I stand corrected. See comments below.) You are likely to see Dodgers caps in random places, ditto shirts and other paraphernalia. Yankees gear is more common, but you get the general idea. I grew up thinking this was normal attention for your average baseball team, even though fans of 25-ish other teams could have told me otherwise. Now I get it. Sightings of Angels on the cover of, the TV screen of, or head or back of anything or anyone becomes increasingly rare the further you get from the general Orange County/Los Angeles area. This is normal attention for your average baseball team. And as a direct result, any random Angels sighting – National news feature, gear seen in a movie, ball cap on the head of a random fan in, say, Olathe, Kansas, never fails to give me a giddy little thrill.
Needless to say, those giddy little thrills have been quite the frequent occurrence since, oh, say December 8th. Go figure. Signing two of the biggest free agent names in the same day will do that for a team. And the best part is, they aren’t getting any less giddy or thrilling as they continue to multiply. So, imagine my delight this morning in the doctor’s office, when I spied this bright, shiny treasure:
My Angels on the cover of ESPN. Yes, it was bright and shiny. I swear, it glowed like Excalibur in the Disney cartoon. Why do you ask? And, yes, I am probably the only baseball blogger who didn’t already know the Angels were on the cover. January has been quite the suck for me. But not knowing made the thrill just that much more giddy-making. No, I don’t see this getting old anytime soon. While I liked the homey feel of non-attention, I could certainly grow to appreciate attention.
Random Thoughts on the article itself:
- Jerry Dipoto is a rockstar. Mind you, this is just a confirmation of my existing opinion of the guy, but, yeah. Total. Rockstar. However these signings turn out – and I certainly hope it’s a meets or exceeds expectations kind of scenario – he’s proven that he has the negotiating skills, brains, guts and personality to do well by the Angels for years to come.
- It really is interesting how very normal typical player concerns are when they’re deciding which offer to accept. Yes, I do understand, it’s much more about the money than anyone is going to actually come out and say. But even when you boil that down, it’s typical job stuff. Compensation. Job security – length of contract and no-trade clauses. Will my family be happy? Will I get to do the specific job I like to do? Will I like my boss/coworkers? etc…
- Except, of course, for C.J. Wilson whose pros and cons list was, between the screenwriting opportunities and possible sponsorship of his racing team, unique to say the least. Maybe it’s because I was hot and cold on the rumors that Angels were going after him in the first place? But whenever I watch or hear an interview with Wilson where he talks more about his – incredibly interesting, I’ll admit – hobbies than about baseball, I am torn between thinking “Wow, what an intriguing, well rounded guy” and “Nooo! He’s not Barry Zito. He’s not Barry Zito. He is. NOT. Barry Zito.”
- The part that made me laugh? One call from Albert Pujols apparently pulled Arte Moreno away from a movie date with his wife. They were in the middle of watching Melancholia. Okay, I like arty, abstract movies but please tell me that Arte wasn’t thanking Albert in more ways than one as soon as he saw the mighty bat’s name displayed on his cell phone. Oh, darn. Whoops. Sorry, honey. I am so disappointed to miss this boring drivel…er…I mean stirring dialog, but I gotta take this.
- Apparently a random woman reading ESPN magazine in a doctor’s office is still considered an oddity. I got a literal thumbs up from one gent when I picked up the magazine and several odd looks from other parties. Of course, the fact that I took a photo of the cover with my phone may have had something to do with that. I suppose that could be considered odd in some circles.
- Did I mention that Jerry Dipoto is a rockstar?
Way to go Tigers, coming out of nowhere to land the big free agent bat! That was almost…well…Angelic. …Ooooh. Kay. And reminiscent of many other teams in other seasons too. But this is an Angels blog. I’ve kind of got this slant going on. And with that slant I have to say, I don’t know which outcome of the deal amuses me more, the fact that this move keeps Prince Fielder out of the AL West? Or the thought that with Migueal Cabrera moving to third base according to today’s reports, Angels fans are likely to see a lot more of Justin Verlander’s “That’s bushleague!” scowl? Pssssst…Angels players bunt. Often and generally very well. Pass it on.
In all seriousness though, I do like the way this offseason is turning out and the role this deal played in it. The Tigers and the Rangers, both already strong teams, were able to make improvements without outright dominating. The Tigers filled the potentially devastating void left by Victor Martinez’ season ending injury in a way that also bumped up their offense. The Rangers did not further bump up an offense that was already pretty much the scariest in the AL, but they did improve their starting rotation. Yes, I know Darvish is unproven, but I just can’t imagine a pitching acquisition that Nolan Ryan approved of so highly turning into a flaming failure.
And the Angels? The Angels made sure they can compete, adding power to a lineup in serious need of just such an infusion and restoring their starting rotation to the promise it had at the beginning of the 2011 season. Remember, for all that our pitching was impressive last season it was primarily spots one through three that did the impressing. The four and five spots were a rotating mixed bag of frequent awfulness speckled with the occasional gem. Other teams patched potential problem spots too. I like the Yankees pitching additions…all the more because they’re both pitchers the Angels hit. I find it interesting and potentially beneficial that the Red Sox have gone out of their way to add good clubhouse guys into the mix with their All Stars. Don’t worry, I’m not going to beat a dead, repeatedly reanimated as a zombie and then beaten dead again and again and again, Bostonian horse here. But suffice it to say, I think this may prove to be a more powerful strategy than folks are currently giving it credit for.
And no, this isn’t me being some sort of Mary Sue saying, Yay, everyone is equal now. Let’s get out there, give the other team a big hug, and don’t bother keeping score. This is me, the passionate baseball fan saying, I see a lot of well matched, hard fought, competitive as all get out, great baseball games on the horizon in 2012, and that prospect makes me downright giddy. Spring training, you slacker. What’s taking you so long to get here? Come on, pick up the pace already!
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So, I’ve been less than present in the MLBlogs community for the past week now and probably will continue to be so for a few days yet…or not, who can say. No, I’m not one of the bloggers packing it in. And I didn’t finally go off the deep end from some sort of baseball depravation induced psychosis. Heck, I would prefer that. I lost a close friend Sunday. The guy both Seth and thought of as brother. The third of our goofy Three Musketeers band of degenerates. He was only a little older than me, which is to say way, way too young…as if there were a good age for this. He’d been in the hospital all last week and devastated doesn’t even begin to cover it.
My friend – the best bad influence a girl could have, as I called him with fondness – was, among other things, the gent who taught me how to play blackjack. Not the rules, but how to really play – strategies, calculating probabilities, fearlessness. But as anyone who has ever spent serious time at the tables knows, no matter how well you work the probabilities, sometimes the cards just don’t fall in your favor and you need to do something different to change your luck. I haven’t been able to put pen to paper in days. Not for work. Not for blogging. Not for nothing. But today, I made myself bang out this post in response to news that genuinely excited me, in an attempt to “change my luck” by doing a few “normal” things. To quote Marcellus Wallace, I am pretty f-ing far from okay. But I think I am moving closer to a place where I am better able to honor his life with memories that bring smiles rather than floods of tears.
With this week’s news that the Angels have reached one-year deals, avoiding arbitration with both Eric Aybar and Alberto Callaspo, the team appears to be mostly set for the season. Although, I don’t think anyone would mind another reliable arm for the bullpen, should it just happen to present itself and, you know, except for the “will they be ready or won’t they” injury situations with Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales. Hey, you can’t have everything, right? …except, perhaps, when Jerry Dipoto is starting off his Haloed tenure with a bang, so we’ll see. *whistles softly*
At any rate, traditionally this is the time to start predicting lineups, rotations and such. But, let’s be honest. Being an Angels fan adds a certain layer – or, like 10! – of, shall we say, complexity to this age old pastime. Oh, I can predict the starting rotation with ease and a fair bit of certainty: Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson, Ervin Santana and Jerome Williams. And don’t think I didn’t all kinds of delicious little shivers up and down my arms typing that list of names just now. The 2012 starting rotation rocks. Hard. But moving past that and on to predicting the lineup? That’s another story. This is, after all, a Mike Scioscia team, she types with affection.
The boys at Hot Stove proposed this starting lineup shortly after Albert Pujols was signed:
And as lineups go, it makes a certain amount of sense. But it has two major flaws. 1) Relegating Trumbo to a part time DH role (What a waste! At that point, trade him.) and, even more importantly, 2) it only allows for 4 different variations. Four…Amateurs!
First, let’s consider the leadoff spot. Sosh will never stick to just one leadoff man. Yes, Aybar will fill that role frequently no doubt, but expect to see Peter Bourjos and Macier Izturis (provided he isn’t eventually part of trade for say, a bullpen arm, just to pull something completely out of thin air) in the leadoff spot a fair number of times as well. And then there will be those really random days, when Sosh is either feeling extra spicy or he thinks the guys need a kick in the pants. On those days we might find Howie Kendrick, Mike Trout or even Alberto Callaspo striding to the plate ahead of everyone else. You just never know with Scioscia.
Then there’s the cleanup spot. Albert Pujols is clearly the logical choice. But sometimes Scioscia likes to mix things up and bat the toughest slugger in the 5th spot. At that point you might see Trumbo or Morales take a turn batting 4th. And should the offense start to enter any lengthy slumps (Which you won’t do in 2012, right guys? Right?) expect to see some downright crazy things take place with the cleanup spot. In 2011 Maicer batted 4th in, I believe, two games.
And, really, that’s only the beginning. Torii’s natural place in the lineup is batting 3rd. But when he has an off week or two, expect to see him moved to batting 2nd…at which point he is likely to change his walkup song to Movin’ On Up again because, is there anyone who has more fun during a game than Torii? As much sure, but more? Nah, didn’t think so.
You can be sure that Trout and Bourjos will play in the same game many times throughout the season. And, in addition to taking the leadoff role some of the time, Bourjos will probably bat 2nd a few times as well. And the minute Trout comes into his own at the plate, Chris Iannetta is likely to see some time in the 9th spot – it’s an Angels catchers’ tradition, after all. Alberto Callaspo consistently has one of the highest batting averages on the team. He’s sure to spend some time batting 2nd or 3rd. And what of Bobby Abreu? So far I haven’t heard any noise about trading him. If he’s still with the team come Opening Day, I’m sure there will be several lineup variations featuring him at DH too…
…And this? This is just what I have come up with typing darn near stream of consciousness for a few minutes. Imagine what Scioscia will come up with given an entire season to plot and plan? That said, is any of this constant lineup shifting effective? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. On the average, I’d say it’s probably neither a good thing, nor a bad thing. It’s just Scioscia’s thing. And we fans gripe about it when the team is losing and joke about it with affection when the team is winning. Either way, I’ll not be attempting to diagram all of that variation into one master lineup, slash marks or not, thank you very much.
All work and no baseball makes Kristen a sad girl…a most unacceptable state of affairs if you ask Kristen, I can tell you that. Lacking the ability to add baseball to the equation, clearly it was time to mix in a little playtime. It’s a three day weekend, so naturally Seth and I lit out for Cambria and Paso Robles the second we were both off work and packed up on Friday night. Yeah, it was a 4 and half hour drive starting at 8 p.m. So what? Brown footed loons are naturally nocturnal…and diurnal and crepuscular for that matter, whichever natural activity cycle is apt to lead to greater work productivity and/or a good time. We’re adaptable like that. Anyway, as we noted walking around town this morning, the Cambria/Paso Robles/long weekend/random weekend thing has been our thing for as long as there has been an us. Some years, I think we use the house more than his parents do…other years I know we do.
And after this many years of coming up here to California’s Central Coast wine county, I can tell you that that natural cycles of baseball and California wine mirror each other in so many different ways it’s a wonder they aren’t more closely associated than the more traditional pairing of baseball and beer. Just to name a few:
- In California, wine’s biggest event, its Fall Classic if you will, is the Harvest and crush (literally what it sounds like) which occurs in October. And, much like in baseball, you really want to get it over with before you hit November if at all possible.
- While wine blending, bottling and selling can occur all year long depending on what varietals a winery offers, the majority of the blending, the tinkering with the 25 man roster if you will, occurs in February and March and again in the early summer months.
- Rookie wines can be excellent right out of the bottle, or take several years of aging and conditioning before they really show their stuff, and the aging almost always improves the end result.
- Some winemakers rely on their own farm system, growing the majority of their own grapes. Others rely on the farm systems of their colleagues. Trades and outright “free agency” purchases are common.
- Many amateur aficionados think they know almost as much as or ever better than the professionals…and a lot of them have blogs.
- Both the aficionados and the professional raters rely on often obscure numbers and statistics that are not necessarily what the actual wine makers, being more of a by taste, gut instinct and experience sort, rely on when putting together the finished product.
- And then, there is the fickle finger of fate thing. Just as really promising rookies may fail to live up to their potential or excellent ballplayers suffer career ending injuries, sometimes nature says “nope, I don’t think so” in the form of a drought, or quite the opposite, or any number of other minor disasters and the grapes just don’t live up to their potential either.
This last bit really speaks to what’s happening in Paso Robles and I would imagine the rest of California’s winery regions this year. California didn’t really have much of a summer in 2011. And, while consistent balmy mid 70’s weather is wonderful for tourism and fantastic fodder for any number of movies, it absolutely sucks for grapes which need hot days and cool breezes at night in order to fully develop the sugars that eventually ferment into the delicious nectar we enjoy. That kind of weather was in short supply this off season, much like free-agent starting pitchers of quality.
And, much like baseball teams with said starting pitchers, wineries tried different things to insure victory, from leaving the grapes on the vines an extra long time, risking catastrophic rain storms, to stripping the leaves off to give the gapes the full benefit of the sun, risking malnourishment and, should the heat wave finally come, scorched grapes. Just as in baseball, some wineries lucked out and some did not (the Angels clearly falling in the former category here). And it’s safe to say that in both worlds a lot of teams/wineries have rebuilding years ahead of them. But here’s the thing about rebuilding years in wine or in baseball that a lot of folks forget. Rebuilding necessities can lead to unexpected levels of creativity and take us in directions we never thought we could go. And, every now and then, this leads to an even better result than anyone could have possibly imagined. I can’t wait to see how the fruits of 2011 and early 2012 work out for everyone, on the field and in my glass. Cheers!
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All work and no baseball…
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Well, this offseason appears to be stronger than I’d imagined. A bit more resourceful. It seems to have gotten the better of me. But only for the moment…Only. For. The moment.
Pitchers and catchers report in just over a month. Pitchers and cathers report in just over a month…*sigh*
So, I’m back. I took the weekend off for fun and frivolity but I’m back now. What’d I miss? Regale me with wondrous baseball happenings. Catch me up on all the news. *crickets chirping* Oh. Yeah. Never mind. It’s still January. *sigh*
At least there is a little bit of news coming out of the Angels front office of varying degrees of happy. First, the truly happy making news. The Angels and Howard Kendrick reached an agreement on a four-year contract extension one year before Howard becomes a free agent. I am thrilled. I adore Howard Kendrick, Mr. HK-47 himself or, as I am prone to cheer at appropriate moments (of which there are many!): HK-47. When you absolutely, positively have to regain the lead, accept no substitutes.
Back in 2009, the Angels had to send Howard back to AAA for a little while to work on his swing. And work he did, returning to the majors with the beginnings of what has become a clutch, consistent bat with more than a bit of pop. Howard has also turned into a darned good second baseman, with the glove, arm and brains to be a full partner in all of the Angels daring double play do. He even has the willingness and ability to sub in at first and in the outfield when the Angels occasionally Franken-infield has the need. Not to mention he’s a class act and seems like an all around nice guy. In short, my kind of ballplayer and an excellent asset for the Angels, hopefully, for years to come.
As for the cautiously good news, Keandrys Morales has been cleared to begin running again. Now, this is roughly the point at which all of the wheels fell off of this particular wagon last season…along with the axels and, well, quite frankly several of floor boards too…and extended pain and lack of mobility from scar tissue forced him into a second surgery. So who knows if this really means he’s coming back. But, well, it’s still more positive to hear that he has been cleared to begin running than that he hasn’t, yes?
And how about the not so happy news? The Angels signed Jorge Cantu to a minor league contract, he of the third base experience and the sometime power, sometime Mendoza bat. No, it’s not that have anything against the signing itself, I am just concerned about what it might mean, namely that the Angels are more concerned than they are letting on about Mark Trumbo’s stress fractured foot. It sounds like the foot should be healed enough to being baseball workouts just in time for Spring Training, which is closer to the five months it sounds like the doctors had been quoting as typical for such an injury…but is nowhere near the two to three months Trumbo and the Angels had been hoping for. Personally, even with a bevy of personal trainers involved I thought that two to three months was wishful thinking, but I am a little worried that we’ve gone from that to apparently signing insurance in case he doesn’t heal in five. Tough break, indeed, kid. Suffice to say, if this fan’s best wishes had actual healing properties, you’d have been back on your feet and sprinting already.
If it seems as though I compare all things baseball to all things relationship a lot, that would be because A) I do, and B) the analogy absolutely works! Hey, it’s not like I made this up. I mean, how happy were you as young person the first time you made it past first base on a date? Not so much the first time you struck out with a cutie in public, right? Or, take the amazing t-shirt a friend of mine got after the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, which proclaimed “I saved second base!” Honestly, it would be weirder to try and separate the concepts.
I do finding it amusing though that the timing for these analogies is often opposite. I mean, right now, just as millions of men and women everywhere are resolving not to date Mr. or Ms. Right in 2012, or to stop dating their friends’ castoffs, baseball teams are leaping to the contrary conclusion that these are fine ideas. This isn’t a pot/kettle situation. Vernon Wells in 2011. Fernando Rodney in 2010. Scott Kazmir in 2009. I could go on but, really, what’s the point? As an Angels fan, suffice to say, I know from whence I speak.
Trying to look at it from the teams’ perspectives, I get it. At least, I think I do. I mean, we’ve all been there right? You think the Angels just didn’t understand Fernando Rodney. Not the way you can, Rays. They nagged him way too much about his control and all of those walks without spending enough time appreciating the speed of his fastball and the rakish angle of his ball cap. If only the Angels had taken more time to praise him and shower him with applause, you know, like they back when the relationship was fresh, things might have been different.
And what about Carlos Zambrano? I know Marlins, I know. Clearly he and the Cubs had severe compatibility issues. Sure the making up part was epic every. Single. Time. But all of the volatile spats that lead to the making up? And their increasing frequency coupled with little to no making up? This wasn’t a case of opposites attracting, they weren’t even speaking the same language. It will be different with you, right Marlins? Signing Carlos will be like getting to marry your best friend, right? Near perfect compatibility.
And for the rest of you out there joining me in a collective WTF – hey, I can see that face you’re making! – just remember, it always looks different when your friend is the one rationalizing a bad decision then when you’re the one doing it. And, really, who are we to point fingers? Sometimes these things work out, crazy as they may seem at the time…right? My husband and I made all of our friends make those faces when we started dating and we’re heading toward our second decade together…though examples of this working out are far more prevalent among humans than among baseball teams, I think. Still, good luck Rays, Marlins and everyone else in this position. Maybe it really will be different with you…
“Have fun storming the castle, Boys!” “Do you think they’ll make it?” “It’ll take a miracle…”
Happy New Year!!
I hope everyone had a great time last night and I wish you all the best in 2012!
New Year’s Day is traditionally a day for proclaiming resolutions for the year to come…and the wee hours in between New Year’s Day and January 2nd work just as well in a year where New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday. I don’t know about you all but it just isn’t New Year’s for me until I get to flop in front of the Rose Parade on TV with a nice brunch and a flute or several of champagne. I am not usually one to make specific official resolutions for myself. A general try to grow and improve in life is sufficient. In 2011, the Angels certainly did grow and improve over their 2010 season and it was a pleasure to watch. But there is plenty of room for continued growth and improvement in 2012. If the Angels happen to be in a more traditional New Year’s resolutions state of mind, I can certainly suggest a few resolutions they would do well to make for the coming season:
- Most importantly, everyone stay healthy! Take care of those hamstrings. Mind those groin muscles. Don’t let the walls get the best of quite so many arguments. Oh, and that freak plate jumping accident may have been a once in a lifetime thing and all, but how about we don’t jump on the plate anyway.
- Enough with the GIDPs already. This is a good resolution for everyone but Torii, and now Albert, I’m mainly looking at you.
- Think before you steal. Seriously. Thinking caps on and fully functioning. Successful base stealing is thing of beauty to behold and an Angels baseball staple. Caught stealing? Not so much on either count.
- Stop swinging for the fences every at bat, especially if that’s not really your swing. Watching all of you, I know this was not done to showboat. You were trying to kick start the offense which is admirable. But, more often than not, a nice solid line drive into the gap helps just as much as a homerun and always more than popping out.
- No runners left behind in 2012! Raise that RISP and more RBIs! This was a 2011 resolution, and you all definitely improved in this regard but what the heck? There’s always room for more improvement right?
- In 2011, you resolved to make the 8th inning a little less unnecessarily exciting. For 2012, let’s resolve to do the same for the 9th inning, shall we? Extra innings are only fun when we were already coming from behind and, while it’s certainly sweet of you to think of them, this economy has already given the antacid industry enough of a boost.
- Leave any woes from last season in the past. Everyone starts the 2012 season with a clean slate!
- You brought a lot of the old swagger and sense of fun back in 2011 and it was wonderful. Keep it up, please.
- I love seeing how Angels veterans always help out the rookies and the newbies and how quickly the rookies and newbies fit right in and really look forward to seeing it all over again in 2012.