February 2012

Early Spring Training Thoughts Bouncing Through My Brain

Spring Training has sprung and with an array of early news beginning to trickle out of the camps, I had a lot of thoughts bouncing around in my brain, none of which was really a post in and of itself – much like a kid at the Lego store. Ooo, shiny! …Ooooo, shinier!! …Oooooooooo…you get the general idea. Instead of trying to force too much concentration to interfere with all of the excitement, here are some of the things that are pleasing, concerning, amusing, and annoying me right now:

  • They’re all there now, in Arizona – okay and in Florida too. Actual ballplayers running actual drills! Live baseball footage on MLBN, even if it’s only batting practice, bullpen sessions and drills, makes me a very happy girl.
  • Peter Bourjos says that the hip he was rehabbing over the winter feels 100%…but it’s a bone bruise and he’ll still most likely have surgery after the season is over. Ummm…so why didn’t he take care of this this offseason? Apparently, he didn’t get the MRI until around Thanksgiving so there wasn’t enough time. Ummm…okay. I think. So those rumors that Bourjos is actually part golden retriever? Hip issues certainly aren’t doing a lot to dispel them, kid. All joking aside, I am crossing my fingers that he stays as close to whatever approximates 100% for ballplayers throughout the season. I want Mike Trout to join Bourjos in the outfield ASAP, not come up to replace him during a DL stint.
  • Live games start this Saturday and Angels individual game tickets go on sale this Saturday. That makes this Saturday kind of like Christmas…well…until Opening Day and then that’s even more like Christmas…until a game comes along where I have particularly good seats and it’s a particularly exciting game and then that’s more like…   Hey, they say we’re supposed to keep the spirit of Christmas alive throughout the year, right? ;)
  • Mark Trumbo took a line drive to the face – as you do when you’re learning a new position – but doesn’t want to have the doc take a look at his nose. My husband will laugh uproariously at me when he reads this, but you have doctors on staff for a reason, right? Your foot? Bourjos’ hip? Go see the doc, you know, just in case. But way to really go for it at third! And way to be flexible and roll with the changes.
  • C.J. Wilson is really growing on me. I think Terry Smith asked him the perfect questions this afternoon to draw out his love of baseball in addition to his love of his extra-curricular activities. I thoroughly appreciated what he had to say about baseball, about loving the challenge, living for the competition and his gratitude for his adult successes after a childhood of never being the big, highly athletic kid. Very cool stuff. Hearing that, I am reassured that he does have his mind on the game and am leaning back towards, he’s so well rounded. Isn’t that cool! And, hey, a writing major. I did not know that, but gotta love those crazy writing types…especially when they finish a season with more than 200 strikeouts.
  • When did “effort” become a verb on MLBN, as in ‘I efforted that,’ ‘we’re in the process of efforting that’? I first noticed Greg Amsinger using it last week and now it seems to be a thing.  Okay, the English language, cobbled together, mismatched, uneven, patchwork quilt of a thing that it is, lends itself well to a certain fluidity. And I love words. I love playing with them with even more – I know, you are all shocked! – and I frequently find myself applauding the creative prose of sports announcers. But, efforting? No please. Stop it right now.
  • It’s February 29th. Happy Birthday, Frederic! Still nose to the grindstone on that apprenticeship? ;)

 

Exonerated by the Truth??

“The simple truth is that I am innocent, I’ve maintained my innocence since day one and ultimately I was proven to be innocent,” so Ryan Braun ended his press conference on Friday morning, his first since the announcement of his successful appeal of MLB’s 50 game suspension ruling. Unfortunately Braun’s statement is not accurate. The simple truth is that there is no simple truth here. Throwing out evidence on a technicality does not prove innocence…but neither does it indicate guilt. It’s a messy, ultimately unsatisfying conclusion to a situation that was highly unpalatable to begin with. But you know what? Life is like that more often than not. So, what have we learned from all of this?

The System Works…Kind of. Hear me out. MLB’s PED testing policy is supposed to flag all suspicious test results for investigation regardless of a player’s stats, paycheck size, seniority or personal reputation. That happened. When the National League MVP’s urine sample contained what was by all accounts a ludicrous amount of testosterone (and the alleged amount in and if itself is highly questionable in Braun’s favor to my mind, but I digress) the investigation began and proceeded according to the rules in place, up to and including Braun exercising his right to contest the eventual decision and go to arbitration. MLB did not agree with the decision the arbitrator returned but according to their own rules they must abide but it and they are doing just that. Whether or not you are satisfied with the end result of the process, you have to applaud the process itself, or at least the basic bones of it, for functioning.

But It Only Takes One Person… Prior to my current position, I was a project coordinator in the marketing department of a large mortgage bank. The legal requirements of marketing mortgage loans are, by absolute necessity, epic in terms of length and complexity…yes, even before the crash, contrary to what the media will tell you. So we created checklists for all of our campaigns itemizing absolutely everything that each piece of the offer must include or wasn’t allowed to include. And on those occasions where a campaign error made it past the proofreaders and out to the public, every single time, without fail, it was because someone didn’t follow the checklist. People get lazy and skip steps. They get bored and sloppy. They get busy and rush through steps. And/or they run into something unexpected and get creative without thoroughly checking the established procedures to see if their creativity abides by the letter and spirit of the rules.

I can create checklists all day long and MLB can set rules and procedures until they’re blue in the face, but they can only ever be as effective as the human beings who follow them. I can think of any number of perfectly innocent, human reasons the collector in the Braun case failed to mail the sample for 44 hours. Maybe he had to beat it immediately after work to get his kid(s) to practice/the game/whatever. Maybe he had a honey do list a mile long and some of the items were time sensitive. Maybe he was tired and just decided ‘the job can bite me tonight, I’m going straight home and will take care of Fed Ex when I feel like it.’ And who among us hasn’t decided something similar at one point or another? But the fact of the matter remains that he did not follow MLB’s written procedures and this is where the process failed. The fact that it sounds like this may have happened before and no one questioned it does not excuse or alter in any way the fact that it happened this time.

Okay, So the System Works Up to a Point, But Clearly it Could Use a Few Refinements. Obviously MLB needs to clarify and refine a few of its sample handling procedures. That and try to ensure that every collector on their staff follows them to the letter 100% of the time, which is basically impossible. See previous point about human beings and their habits. But I think it goes a little bit further than that. I think that the response to sample that raises suspicions of PED use should be an immediate, unannounced second test. Basically, one representative each from MLB and the Players’ Union show up at the clubhouse or the home of the player in question with a collector and the necessary equipment in tow and say, ‘drink some water or whatever you need to do, because we need a second test right now.’ This eliminates any concern that too much time has passed, or that the player had time to begin some sort of aggressive system cleanse after learning that the first test was suspicious – better for any player who is truly innocent and the victim of some random goof in testing, and better for MLB.

If a collector ever fails to follow procedures to the letter, the test should be immediately declared invalid and a second test administered. Why this last part wasn’t done in the first place in this particular case is beyond me. A swiftly administered second test would have save lot of headaches for all concerned.

Loose Lips Sink a Heck of Lot More Than Just Ships. Show of hands. Who else is sick of anonymous sources leaking confidential information? Yeah, that’s a lot of hands. I completely agree. We should never have known that any of this was happening. Because the arbitrator found in Braun’s favor, we shouldn’t know about any of this now. Enough with the loose lips routine already. No matter who does it and with what intention, in the end it just makes everyone look bad.

In the Court of Public Opinion, Nice Guys Get the Benefit of the Doubt. After watching Braun’s press conference I am leaning more towards believing him than not…and I honestly wasn’t expecting that. He was up front and articulate. He sounded deeply hurt by the whole situation, which moved me. And, really, a lot of what he said made sense to me, especially about the fact that his personal stats have remained consistent and that he has taken and passed numerous PED tests during that time. Now, nice guys and not so nice guys alike have stood up and lied to our faces about this very subject any number of times before, and there is no proof that PED use actually enhances every performance. Many performances to be sure, but not every performance. So I am not completely decided in Braun’s favor and I may never be, but I am leaning that way…and it sounds like I am not the only one.

Am I – and many others – giving Ryan Braun more of the benefit of the doubt than I would a player with less of a nice guy reputation? Absolutely. Is that fair? You know what? Again I say absolutely. We live in world where the perks for being a nice guy are sadly few and far between – an indication of severely reversed priorities a far as I’m concerned. Occasionally getting an edge in the court of public opinion because of a nice guy reputation seems only fitting. But here’s the thing about having a nice guy reputation, if it ever shatters the backlash is swift and brutal. The decision has been rendered. I sincerely hope that Braun can recover from this on and off the field, that MLB makes a few changes (that will benefit truly innocent players too) and that we can all move on and just enjoy the season. But if it ever comes out down the road that Braun was another extremely convincing liar…

A.J. Burnett: Voice of Reason?

Yeah, yeah, it would have sounded pretty unlikely to me a few days ago too. But Thursday evening, my wonderful husband took me to our favorite tapas bar for my birthday and, as we waited for our table we both caught up on the last few days’ news. What can I say? All work and no Hot Stove makes Kristen an uninformed girl. Imagine my surprise, given that I had missed all of the rumors. The Angels and the Yankees were in the process of a straight up trade, Bobby Abreu for A.J. Burnett? And folks in the Angels front office thought this was a good idea? Thank you A.J. Burnett, or Mrs. Burnett if some of the subsequent stories are true, for answering a birthday wish I didn’t even know I needed to make! *sigh of relief* Thank you. A.J….er…Mrs. Burnett…heck both of you, for being the voice of reason.

Now I’m not saying the Angels shouldn’t be trying to move Bobby Abreu. I like the guy and he has made excellent contributions to the team in the past but we have quite the backlog in both the DH position and in the outfield (And, really, he can’t play in the outfield except in extreme emergencies anymore. His heart and efforts are in the right place but it just doesn’t work.) and his offensive production fell drastically in 2011. I just don’t see where he fits on the roster anymore. If a team were willing to take on Abreu’s contract, I’d miss the player he was but moving him would be an excellent idea.

And I’m not saying that A.J. Burnett is a terrible pitcher. He’s not. I have seen him pitch very well indeed. I am aware that when his stuff is on, it’s scary good. But he is a terribly inconsistent pitcher. And, when his stuff is off…well…look if off means that you can’t win while backed up by a team whose offense usually gives you a nice big fluffy cushion to play with, moving to a team where allowing one or two runs is often enough to cost you the game? (Of course, we do hope that certain offseason moves that may have been mentioned in the papers once or twice will help change that, but it’s all theoretical at this point.) And playing in a division where every single win is likely to be essential in determining the winner? Let’s just say that might not be the best move for any party concerned. I realize that according to the current story, these thoughts did not factor into Burnett’s decision much if at all, that he made his decision based on the need to remain on the east coast for family reasons, but the end result still makes him sound like an unlikely voice of reason to me.

Now, if the Angels could have gotten in on a three way trade with the Yankees and the Pirates, sending Abreu to New York for Burnett and then sending Burnett to Pittsburg for the two minor league prospects the Pirates wound up trading to New York for Burnett? Well, that would have been the best of all possible worlds, even if we never had a need for the minor leaguers. But the Angels have never been big on participating in multiple team deals and I guess that much has not changed…at least not so far.

Of Valentines, Billboards and the Machine

Driving down the 605 freeway to work today, what wondrous sight should greet my none-too-thrilled-to-be-office-bound-on-such-a-gorgeous-day eyes but this stupendous new billboard! What a lovely Valentine for the fans! Okay, so I actually telecommute three days a week so this billboard could have been up since last Wednesday night and I would have been none the wiser. But I saw it for the first time today, so I’m going with ‘lovely Valentine.’ Besides, this billboard is so much less ephemeral than roses, doesn’t require one to make reservations or deal with crowds and won’t take up valuable bed real estate unlike a teddy bear or other stuffed animal. It’s perfect! ;)

 

Angels 2012 season billboard on the 605 S just north of the 10 freeway. February 14, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

 

There are several of these billboards along my commute, a small series of them apparently, because another one a little further down the way had the same design but said “Now Playing” with the Angels logo for the A again. Passing the first one made me giddy with the reminder of the approaching baseball season. Passing the second one made me smile a little wider still. Passing the third one made me swell with pride over my team…and then frown a little as I started to question the whole ad campaign. Are we really only advertising Albert Pujols this season? Seriously?

Not that I’m complaining about featuring Pujols on billboards. I mean, he’s only the best or one of the best, depending on who you talk to, player in the game. And it’s not like he designed the ad campaign, or even requested such treatment. It’s just…well…we have other players too. Other wonderful players who are either already stars in their own right or on their way to becoming so. Guys who kept the team in contention last season right up until the end even though they ultimately fell short of the mark. You know, Jered Weaver. Dan Haren. Mr. Ervin “No hitter – I finally got that Cleveland beast off my back” Santana. Torii Hunter. And, heck, after last season Mark Trumbo. I’d like to see some of these guys on billboards too.

Of course, this is hardly unique to the Angels. Most teams who land a big free agency signing do the same thing. The whole Dodgers Mannywood campaign comes most immediately to my mind, perhaps because those billboards were in the same places on my commute as these new Angels billboards not so very long ago. And I am sure you all could provide me with quite an array of additional examples. But the fact that this is a common, traditional ad campaign style doesn’t make it a good one, in my opinion. To me the real story here isn’t just that Albert Pujols is an Angel now. For all that he is amazing, Pujols couldn’t be a baseball team of one if the rest of the team was ineffective. No, the real story is that Albert Pujols is donning an Angels uniform alongside our existing players, that he has the potential to take an already good team to the next level.

I would prefer to see several different individual player billboards – half of them Albert by all means, but the other half featuring a handful of others. Then, as you actually hit Anaheim, I would like to see a billboard or two with all of the featured players on it together. I think that billboard campaign would tell a more powerful story.  …Then again, what do I know about copy, design and marketing? Oh, yeah. Never mind. ;)

Spring Training Is Here!! Sort of… + Oakland, Cespedes and Truck Days

Well, the Mariners started workouts this weekend at any rate. But everyone else’s pitchers and catchers are reporting this coming weekend, the Angels on Sunday. Yay! Yay! Only 16 more days until they start playing live baseball! Okay, it will be rusty, working the kinks out, preseason, completely unofficial live baseball but I think we can all agree that after several months of nada, live is the only important word in that sentence…for a few weeks at least, until we grow tired of it and beg for the regular season to begin. But, for the time being, I’ll just sit here bouncing in my chair. The Angels have not released their Spring Training broadcast schedule yet, but I can figure some of it out based on the Dodgers posted broadcast schedule and, wow, live Angels baseball is on the horizon. The prospect makes me giddy. *boingy boingy, boingy*

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So, remember what I was saying about this being the Hot Stove year of the mystery team? Did anyone see Oakland coming on the Yoenis Cespedes deal? Seriously, anyone? Way to go Oakland! Um…I mean…I know we’re rivals and all that, a rivalry I especially enjoy I might add, and I really want the Angels to beat you soundly every single time our two teams meet, but how about the AL West this season? It’s really nice to be an oft discussed, and with respect no less, division again. It’s been an exciting offseason and I see even more exciting results coming this season. Thank you for continuing the crazy streak of key signings. I mean, seriously. AL East who? They still play baseball out there? ;)  And on the NL East front, I’m sure “AL West” is now a four letter word as far as the Miami Marlins are concerned.

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The Angels need a Truck Day! I mean, of course they do have one in the sense that there are trucks that staff must pack full of all of the necessary Spring Training goodies and at some point these trucks do leave the Big A bound for Tempe, AZ. Some fans may even be aware of the date and show up to see the trucks off for all I know. But this is the extent of any Angels Truck Day and that’s only if that last part is anything more than theoretical. I know that I live in L.A. instead of Orange County but, really, if there were a big celebration to see the trucks off, I would have heard something. And a big celebration is what I want – crowds of fans gathering to cheer the end of the offseason, speeches from VIPs, a sort of Angels state of the union if you will, open gift shops with some of the newer 2011 items that haven’t officially debuted yet on sale early and, heck maybe even an opportunity to taste that first ballpark hot dog of the year.

You know, I want what a lot of other teams have. Is that too much to wish for? Oh, and while we’re at it, a multiple day extravaganza of a Fan Fest would be nice too, you know, like other teams have. And, and…basically I wish this was more of a baseball town. Yes, we have two teams in close proximity in the general Los Angeles/Orange County/west end of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties area both of whom routinely fill, nearly sell out or outright sell out, the considerable number of seats in their large stadiums…well, both of them, when folks aren’t justifiably livid with the McCourts that is. But ticket sales do not a baseball town make, at least not on their own. Crazy passionate bleeding team colors fans make a town a baseball town. And while I would argue that the Angels and the Dodgers boast just as many crazy passionate bleeding team colors fans as the next team (check out the blogs if you have any doubt), we just don’t seem to get credit for that.

My unscientific but credible theory on this subject is that our percentages get skewed and diluted by the sheer enormity of the total population out here. Yes, many baseball teams throughout the U.S. reside in populous counties, several of them in counties sufficiently populous to land on the top 15 most populous counties list according to the last census. However, the four California counties I just mentioned (L.A., Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside) plus San Diego to our immediate south make up one third of the top 15 most populous U.S. counties list. We have a lot of people out here, which I think means that we have just as many diehard fans, but significantly more casual fans and non fans (not that I’m complaining about them, enjoy the game however you like) than other places and the combined impression that creates is not one of a crowd that would appreciate, say for example, a Truck Day. Or, maybe it’s just So Cal’s notoriously too hip for the room attitude keeping us from having nice things yet again? ;)

Pay No Attention to the Groundhog Behind the Shadow, Spring Is Just Around the Corner

Well, Spring Training is at any rate and that’s good enough for me. So, I was all set to write one more ___ Days Without Baseball post but the fact of the matter is I’m just too darned cheerful. Yay! Oh, those posts were very much tongue in cheek, of course, but it still takes a certain amount of melancholy to write them and, wonderfully enough, I’m just not feeling it. Angels 2012 season billboards are beginning to bloom, the sports analysts are tweeting and there is a hint of baseball in the air.

And to top it all off? Mark Trumbo, one of the Angels two big question marks heading in to Spring Training was cleared to resume baseball activities this week after spending the offseason healing a stress fracture in his right foot. Can he continue last season’s offensive outburst? Can he make a transition to 3rd? Will the injury have any lingering effects? Oh and what about Kendrys? He’s a big part of the offense puzzle too, you know. Well, you kind of have to play the games first, but I sure think so. We’ll have to see. I don’t know. I really don’t know. Oh, and statement. One-Love.

Okay, so the Angels still have a few important questions to answer but that’s part of what Spring Training is all about. We have one new answer to add to Jerry Dipoto’s serious answers to all of fans’ Hot Stove questions. We have a lot of hope, a sense of infinite possibility, and I for one have more excitement than any one person can reasonably be expected to contain. And that right there – hope, possibility, excitement – is the larger part of what Spring Training and indeed the entire concept of Spring is all about.

So surely that groundhog’s gone senile. Real spring is just around the corner. Besides, out here in Sunny So Cal we haven’t even seen winter. This isn’t bragging, mind you. It’s darned odd actually. We may not get snow and ice storms, but we do generally get rain and several weeks of weather in the 30s and 40s. Today it was 70. Weird! So I’m not buying this six more weeks stuff.

 

Five Things the Passionate Baseball Fan Should Appreciate About the Super Bowl

Personally, I am not a football fan. I don’t actively dislike football so much as it just fails to hold my attention for any length of time. I understand the rules and some of the basic strategies. I enjoy the pomp and circumstance of the Super Bowl, all the more so on those occasions, like today, when it’s actually a good game. But, well, it’s not like I would even know who was playing well in advance if it weren’t for the fact that my boss is from Boston with all of the fan affiliations that that entails and some of the guys at work are Giants fans. Still, watching the game today at my department’s annual Super Bowl party, it occurred to me that love it, hate it or something in between, there are several things the passionate baseball fan should appreciate about the Super Bowl.

1) Whether you are also a rabid football fan or someone like me who can take it or leave it, I think all passionate baseball fans can agree that single best thing about the Super Bowl is that it means our long winter ordeal is almost over, pitchers and catchers are mere days away from reporting. Oh, sure. Fine. There is the game itself and all that, you more rabid two and three sport types say. But ask yourself this, how often is the game really that good? Personally I remember a lot more dull one-sided exhibition-y affairs than I do real, exciting games. So I stand by my number one, thank you very much. Which brings me to…

2) More often than not, the Super Bowl is one of the more potent reminders of how much we should appreciate baseball’s lack of a clock. Let’s hear it for no “now stall for the next 8 minutes until the clock runs out” strategy. Hip. Hip. Hooray!! Because as fun and complex strategy laden as the 1st half of the Super Bowl often is, the 4th quarter, and sometimes much of the 2nd half, is just as often dull and plodding with the game’s outcome already decided. Clearly this year’s Super Bowl did not suffer from a ho hum 4th quarter, however this is not always or even often the case.

3) The food! Baseball is a marathon not a sprint, as every manager and most of the players will tell us countless times throughout the season and the spreads we put out for enjoying the game reflect this. No way, no how could we indulge in the wonderfully glutinous array of tastiness that is the traditional Super Bowl spread for every game of a four to seven game World Series, let alone for the regular season. We’d die from the sheer excess of it all. So baseball fans should appreciate and enjoy the ritual of the Super Bowl super munchies for the rare opportunity that it is.

4) Practice, practice, practice. I don’t know about you all, but I put my throat through a serious workout during the regular baseball season. Yelling. Cheering. Ranting at the tv. It can be tough on the unprepared body. This is probably not an issue for the multisport fans among us but it’s not like I really indulge in these activities in the offseason. I mean, seriously, “All right Bohannan! Way to bad ass your way out of the that one.” or “Come on Chef Freitag, can’t you see he respected the ingredient?!” just doesn’t really work for me. So the Super Bowl is kind of like that initial work out preparing my throat for the Spring Training that will fully prepare it for the regular season to come.

5) Camaraderie! Again, this is probably not as much an issue for some of you who are multi-sport fans. But for those of us who only or who mostly come alive for baseball, it’s not just missing the season, it’s missing the camaraderie of sharing the game with friends, with family, with complete strangers at the ballpark, at the sports bar, tailgating in the parking lot. The Super Bowl is one great big excuse to enjoy a little tide me over sports fueled camaraderie until the regular baseball season begins with a huge party…even if a lot of the participants are only watching for the commercials. My department throws an especially fun Super Bowl party and, wow, that really hit the spot for me today.

Now, the Super Bowl is over. Let the happy dancing in honor of the close proximity of the annual reporting of pitchers and their masked counterparts commence. One. Two. Oh, come on. You know you’re going to do it. Three. Uh huh. I thought so. ;)

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