The trip did not start as planned. We were supposed to leave for Arizona on Thursday evening right after work. But then Seth worked much later than intended and ended his day much further from home than intended. I’m coming to the end of a particularly obnoxious bout of insomnia (any day now, body!) so Thursday evening found me just this side of the walking dead. Now, in the early days of our relationship, our much younger, crazier selves would have hopped in the car anyway. Why not? It’s 364 miles to Tempe. We got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses. Hit it! But with age comes wisdom…if, by wisdom, I mean a sort of occasional resigned acquiescence to some obvious shortcomings. *sigh* So, anyway, we set off bright and early Friday morning instead and continued to run afoul of Murphy’s law the rest of the day:
We left very early. Very, very early. Which means we beat the traffic — yes!! — but were running as much on liberal infusions of coffee as gasoline.
It rained some more.
Oh yeah, and then it rained some more.
Now, I usually enjoy the rain immensely but not when I have places to be quickly and need to deal with other California/Arizona drivers. Some of us can manage driving in the rain just fine, thank you. Sadly, many, many more prefer living up to the stereotype.
In between bouts of rain there were dust storms and tumbleweeds. Yes, rain and dust storms. Kind of together. Welcome to eastern California and western Arizona.
As I teased up above, it’s over 360 miles to Tempe from our home and the route is long and kind of out in the middle of the boonies – hence tumbleweeds. This part actually had its perks though, namely little traffic and a generous speed limit I took pleasure in abusing as often as was safe and practicable…which turned out to be quite a lot actually, even in the rain. *big silly grin*
We packed hurriedly and lightly and consequently forgot to pack a few items whose absence would prove to be somewhat inconvenient.
We arrived at Tempe Diablo Stadium just in time for the rain delayed Angels/D-Backs game to begin. But the rain kept returning, first in waves, then in torrents, until weather ended the game in the third inning…just before the hail came. Yes, hail. Pea sized hail. Giant grey English peas, that is.
Prior to the hail, sitting in my seat, I realized that there was no way my soaked to the skin jeans would be even remotely dry by the World Baseball Classic that evening…and possibly not by the following morning.
Similarly, I realized that I would be wearing 3.5” heels, my out to dinner shoes, to the evening’s game because my sneakers were every bit as wet as my jeans. Oh well, it would not be the first time I’ve had to do this. Side note to baseball fans: Whenever next you see a lady striding through the stadium in such wholly inappropriate-to-the-situation shoes, before you mock you her for not being a “real fan” consider the idea that perhaps she had no choice and that by coming to the game despite the fact that she was stuck in her heels (which, for the record, blow when you’re already trying to find space for your legs in the stands), she is displaying a greater degree of diehard fan badass-ery than your own. ;)
Here’s the thing though. All of the botched plans, the gaffes and the Murphy moments? None of it mattered. Not one bit. I had a day off work and was on the road with my husband. We hung out and laughed. I had a huge smile on my face before my butt even hit the stadium seat. And then? Oh, then there was the baseball. Yes, it was wet. It was rain shortened. It was played by the kids so that none of the names risked injury. But, it was the crack of the bat on the ball. In fact, it was all of the sounds of the game up close and amplified by the more intimate surroundings. It was double plays. It was dives back to the bag. It was live baseball in March, one month earlier than my usual first game. It. Was. Glorious! Running back to our car through the hail, I had an even bigger grin on my face and was laughing. Besides, the sun was due to come out the next day…
And that was just my first taste of Spring Training. Impressions of the USA vs. Mexico WBC game and Saturday’s full Angels vs. Rockies game to follow.
Welcome to I-5 Bias: the Early Spring Training Edition! This is the second in what we hope will be an occasional, throughout the season collaboration between this Angels blogger and Matt Lowry of Dodger Familia Thoughts, a great Dodgers blogger and friend of this blog. Between two Giants World Series wins in three years (sorry Matt ;) ), the AL West making quite the exciting splash in September 2012 and the ensuing Postseason, and recent shrewd personnel moves throughout the AL and NL West, MLB’s attention sure seems to be packing up and heading west these days. Matt and I are both incredibly excited by this development and especially by all of the attention our teams’ offseason moves have brought to my Angels and his Dodgers. So we thought that we would share our perspective on these two Freeway Series rivals, to entertain, inform and, hey, to spark conversation and debate. Why not! East Coast bias? Nah, forget that. From now on it’s I-5 bias instead!
For this edition, we have posed six Angels and Dodgers oriented questions prompted by spring training, the World Baseball Classic and recent media commentary, to be answered on both of our blogs. We hope you enjoy this continuing freeway collaboration and, hey, if anyone has any burning questions for future editions (yes, even snarky ones), please ask away:
What player(s) should we keep an eye on during spring training? Are there any young minor leaguers Angels/Dodgers fans should pay special attention to?
Kristen Says: Well, I don’t think I have to tell anyone to keep an eye on the usual suspects. ;) In fact, at least this early on in spring training, I wish fans would keep less of an eye, or at least a more casual eye on some of the bigger names. Josh Hamilton going 0 for 3 in his Angels February spring training debut merits a top Yahoo headline today? Really? *shaking my head and laughing* As for some of the players who aren’t already on every fan’s radar but should be, with Bobby Wilson no longer on the team, Hank Conger will be trying to make this season finally be the season that sees him start and stay on the 25-man roster. His batting average was the only thing standing in the way before and this spring he’s off to a great start. Peter Bourjos spent 2012 on the bench but is slated to finally share the outfield with Mike Trout in 2013. He should be both thrilled to play again this spring and extra eager to prove himself. Outfielder Kole Calhoun and short stop Andrew Romine will start the season in the minors on the 40-man roster but are exciting up and comers likely to become 25-man roster fixtures in the seasons to come.
Matt Says: Well for the Dodgers there’s two players that fans should keep an eye on. Yasiel Puig and Zack Lee. Puig as you know was the first major International signing that the Dodgers made in the middle of the season. Many scouts say he has good Power but is still Raw and needs more coaching. Fans will finally get to see what he is all about this Spring and we’ll get to see if he is ready or needs more time. Zack Lee is another player who is listed as the #1 Prospect in the Dodgers Organization. This is a guy who I believe will be called up this season (If any injuries are to hit). If not we will see him in Triple A.
Teams often find a hidden gem in a non roster invitee. Which NRI player(s) have the best shot at making the Roster come opening day?
Matt Says: Dodgers tend to find hidden gems with the NRI players. I will say one who has a good shot would be Peter Molan and Mark Lowe. The Dodgers want to add a Veteran presence in a young bullpen and both of them have a good shot at making it but will have to beat out Stephen Fife and Josh Wall just to get on the 40 man roster. Molan you may remember was with the Braves last season but was hit with Injury problems and Lowe was with the Rangers as well but didn’t play as much. Only one of them will make it on the 40 man roster in my opinion.
Kristen Says: Barring any injuries or other oddities *knock on every scrap of wood in a 40 mile radius!* I think the Angels came in to spring training with the 25 and 40-man rosters pretty much set in all respects except perhaps the bullpen. I think that if NRI relief pitcher Hiroyuki Kobayashi continues to have a good Spring, he will have a shot at making the roster for Opening Day but I don’t expect any of the other Angels NRI players to make the roster for a couple of seasons yet.
Are there any issues or unanswered questions that you hope to see your team work out in spring training?
Kristen Says: For me, at least, the biggest question still facing the Angels is the starting rotation. I’m thrilled with the addition of Jason Vargas, but once I get past Jered Weaver and Vargas, I am full of questions. Will C.J. Wilson’s bone spur surgery mark the reappearance of the strong, reliable, successful C.J.? And will we get to see this C.J. in the second half too? Which Tommy Hanson will we see? And so on. I bounce back and forth between optimism and queasiness on the subject and really hope that spring training ultimately gives us a strong indication of positive answers to those questions. A secondary question for me is how quickly will the planned outfield configuration of Trout in left, Bourjos in center and Hamilton in right shape up? I don’t ask how well because I don’t really think that’s a necessary question — an all young, talented centerfielder outfield is a pretty drool-worthy prospect. At the same time, Trout and Hamilton are both used to calling the shots in their respective outfields and Bourjos spent most of 2012 — unfairly — on the bench so it may take him a few games to get used to taking charge again and will definitely take all three of them a few games to get used to each other’s range and working together. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what spring training is for – and I do love the fact that so many games are on TV now so that we get to watch the process.
Matt Says: Well for sure it isn’t Chemisty haha. I honestly think there’s a few questions and issues that I would like to see the Dodgers workout. One is being Hanley at Shortstop. Hanley isn’t the best defensive Shortstop out there and we all know he was at 3rd for a reason with the Marlins last year. Hanley will have to get fielding down at short and only has so much time with the Dodgers before he goes and plays in the WBC with the Dominican Republic. The rotation after Kershaw and Greinke is also a mystery as well. Dodgers had a deep rotation which could see guys either traded or moved to the bullpen. #3-4-5 will be up in the air pending on how Capuano, Harang, Beckett, Billingsley, Lilly, and Ryu pitches through the spring. Right now it’s projected to be Beckett, Billingsley, and Ryu but that could all change.
The Dodgers are well represented in the 2013 World Baseball Classic with five players participating. The Angels only have one player participating. How do you feel about this? Do you think it’s more important to have the cream of MLB represented in the WBC or for teams and players to conserve their talent for the regular baseball season?
Matt Says: I for one Love the World Baseball Classic. I like that the Dodgers are well represented in this because they’re playing for their country which is something they don’t get to do that much. I honestly would like to see the MLB’s best play in the classic but can understand if the Player don’t want to play..Notice I said player because I feel it’s up to them if they want to play in the Classic. Through the past few weeks we have seen teams step in a block players from play in the tournament and that I think is not fair. I get that teams don’t want guys hurt playing but it’s the same risk if you have them play in a Spring Training game. In my opinion I think it’s more important to have players ready for the Regular season but the WBC is played in the Spring and the players will have their rest before the Season starts but that’s for the players to decide. You see players like Mike Trout who declined to play to work with the Angels and that I can understand and respect.
Kristen Says: I think it’s great for the Dodgers to be so well represented in the WBC and most years I would be happy to see the Angels equally well represented. However, after all of the injuries of 2011 and 2012 and with so many very young players still learning how to keep positive momentum all the way through the second half of the regular season, I am glad that this Angels team largely opted not to participate. There will be other WBCs with more Angels participation. In general, while it would certainly be exciting to have all of the best in baseball playing in the WBC, I think this is a question best left up to the individual players. As with the Angels, I completely understand when players, knowing their own pre-season training needs, decide that they would prefer just to concentrate on the regular baseball season and skip out on the WBC. Look, half the fun of the WBC is seeing MLB greats playing for their home or ancestral countries, so excellent MLB participation isn’t going to guarantee a strong USA team regardless – though I do think we have a strong, competitive team this year and am excited to have tickets to the USA/Mexico game in a few weeks. I also don’t think that teams should step in to block players from participating in the WBC unless there is a legitimate injury concern in the sense of a frequently or recently injured player.
We had a Freeway Series showdown — naturally! — during the MLB Network’s recent Face of MLB contest and Matt Kemp beat Mike Trout. Thoughts? Reactions?
Kristen Says: On the surface, the Face of MLB contest is just a fun, silly way to pass the offseason time. On a deeper level though, I think the results demonstrate the effect of changing technology on the way fans interact with the game. With the increasing popularity of social media, constant MLB-wide highlights streaming across a baseball dedicated cable channel and all of the different ways we have to stream games online and watch out of market games on TV, baseball is no longer about just getting to see “our team” and the handful of, primarily East Coast teams, that at one point held an almost “National Brand” status. There was a time, not so long ago, when West Coast ballplayers would have been eliminated in the first round of any such competition. Now we fans still root the hardest for our own teams – as it should be! — but we are also aware of the daily exploits of talented players on every team regardless of rank and market size and I think that’s wonderful! As for Matt Kemp beating Mike Trout in this competition quite handily, this season I think that’s as it should be. Both are exceptionally talented players but Trout is a brand new face while Kemp is an established a team leader with several MVP level seasons to his credit. However, as Trout continues to live up to his potential, I expect that the results of any such future contests will quickly start shifting in Trout’s favor. ;)
Matt Says: I didn’t vote or anything for this because I don’t see the point in it but I find it to be something that adds for the fans. Last year Mike Trout was in the same position Kemp was in 2011. Great season only to not be named MVP due to his team not being in the Playoffs. Honestly I believe this is a great honor for both players to be recognized but in my opinion this was for the fans to make that call which we all knew who everyone was voting for. I just want to know outside of Dodgers/Angels fans who voted for who haha.
Bonus Bloggers’ Bias Question: As a fan, do you look forward to spring training or can you take it or leave it?
Matt Says: As a fan yes I do and for many reasons. One it signals that Baseball is back after a long off-season and seeing Free-Agents sign and moves being made in the winter. Also allows fans to get a good look at players like a Kershaw and Kemp play and get their pre-season done, New players like Grenkie and Ryu play with their teams for the first time, and get a good look at the Top Prospects in the farm system play in MLB Uniform and see if they’re the real deal. Best part is actually going to see Spring Training and actually getting to meet the players. Yes people spend a lot of money to attend opening day or Opening night but it’s the only time fans can catch Baseball at a cheap price and in a location (Well to me and Kristen) where it’s not far at all. This year will be my first trip to Spring Training in Arizona and I am honestly looking forward to it. I understand some fans say they’ll wait till Opening Day to see what the team is about and that’s fine but with me being such a Baseball Junkie I like to see the Prospects and NRI guys just to see what my team will be working with.
Kristen Says: I love spring training and look forward to it every year! Yes, this is partially because of how stir crazy I get in the offseason. However, a big part of my spring training love is the glimpse it gives us inside the teams’ preparations for the season. I love watching my favorite players shake off the rust and work back into their regular season form and I enjoy watching new players and/or existing players in new positions work to blend seamlessly into the team unit. No, the games aren’t the same quality as regular season games, especially this early on. And, yes, once we get past about March 15th, I will be Jones-ing hard for the regular season to start. But the more casual vibe of spring training has an undeniable charm all its own and serves as the perfect appetizer before the regular season main course. (I decided that this was a more mature metaphor than Foreplay/Long Time, if you will. Aren’t you all so proud? ;) )
I’m very excited! Look what the mailman brought me:
World Baseball Classic tickets! Yes, Seth and I are going to spring training this year — a first for both of us! It will be the Arizona Baseball Extravaganza. We have our accommodations set, the requisite time off work and a fun, full list of spring training plans. We have tickets to Angels vs. D-Backs on 3/8, Angels vs. Rockies on 3/9 and the WBC games at Chase field for our evening’s entertainment. Sunday, we’re still not sure. We might go to the WBC game, or see what other ST game we can nab cheap lawn seats at, or maybe just grab breakfast and head back to L.A. So, hey, if anyone else is going to ST that weekend and wants to say ‘Hi’ and/or if any of you ST veterans have a great restaurant, bar and/or other must see suggestions, please let me know in the comments. Like I said, we’re very excited spring training newbies.
The itinerary sounds like heaven to Seth and I, but I am aware that this is a lot of baseball. The last time we tried to baseball all day long, at the Angels/A’s double header, we discovered a noticeable, yet far from unworkable, difference in our baseball thresholds. If you recall, the first game wasn’t exactly a short one and the second game went into extra innings. I wanted the second game to go on for as many innings as necessary for an Angels victory — an Angels victory that, alas, did not materialize — while suddenly, about the 10th inning, after some 9 hours of baseball, Seth was ready to be done. We stayed until the end — because he loves me very, very much and is a wonderful husband — but that last inning was a little much for him.
Now, we have agreed that what this really says is that I am a crazy person and not that he is a wimp. No, really, I would be that insane fan still watching the game from our seats at 2 a.m…in the 18th inning…on a week night…in the rain…with an early meeting awaiting me the next day, while Seth would have more sensibly wanted to go home sometime around midnight or so and at least be dry while catching the end of the game on the radio. However, knowing that this crazy person/passionate yet more sensible fan discrepancy exists is highly useful information and is the reason we’ve left the exact number of WBC we’re attending TBD and Sunday wide open to any whim that might take us. We’ll figure out what makes us both happy this trip, and know better how to plan for future baseball trips. But, however things work out, I know we’re going to have a blast together! We always do.
In the meantime, yes, I know the Angels have yet to win a game. I guess that’s supposed to concern me, but I have a really hard time getting too wound up about the overall record of extra early Spring Training games, when we’re still changing pitchers every single inning, changing the majority of the lineup at the 3rd/4th inning and again at the 6th/7th inning and during which few if any of the regular players are even on the field. And especially not when most of the pitchers MLB-wide are so very, very rusty. This is the very reason we have spring training — so that it’s February and March that look like this, instead of April and May. So, for now, I’m just going to revel in the glorious sounds of baseballs striking leather gloves and the crack of the bat on nicely hit balls — all of which sound so much clearer and more true to the live sounds of the ballpark on a ST broadcast than they do on a regular season broadcast where you have so much more crowd noise and sound-baffling cement – and in the promise of hearing those sounds live and seeing more improved performances and more regular players in just a few weeks.
I turned on my TV this morning and — hip, hip and ten thousand huzzahs! — there were men playing baseball! Live! Right there on the prettiest green grass you even did see…well, since October at least. Oh, it was glorious! And then I got to listen to the Angels game on the radio! I tell you, hearing Terry Smith’s voice calling a game, complete with all the old, familiar names and phrases, after the long, long winter without? It was a veritable symphony to these offseason ears.
It was almost enough to make up for the sheer horror of dealing with Ticketmaster this morning when Angels individual game tickets went on sale…Ah, Ticketmaster. How do I loathe thee? Let me count the fees…er…ways. I loathe thee to the depth and breadth and height Of your soulless reach into every event in sight For the never ending fees and tolls and charges… I loathe thee to the level of every event’s Monopolized need to use your stupid, inefficient, outrageously priced, services…
Ummm…yeah. I won’t bore you with the rest. It’s mostly loud swearing from that point on anyway…loud swearing punctuated by the sound of throwing things hard enough to soundly strike walls. Sort of a Beat thing. And angry, improvised Victorian/Beat poetry fusion thing. Oh yeah. I’m bringing it back. But I digress…
Back to Spring Training games! Okay, okay. So the Angels lost. Badly. To the Cubs. Eh, it isn’t officially Spring Training at all until the Angels have been clobbered by at least one team you might not think had it in them. And, I know, all manner of outfielders need to work on communication, the infield fielding is suspect and the pitchers need to work on, well, everything. Angel ERAs are pretty much double (digits that is) or nothing after today. Heck, even Stephen Strasburg looked like his control is rusty during the Nationals/Mets game…of course, the look of sheer terror on the young Met batter’s face when he realized this was laugh out loud funny and one of the highlights of my morning.
But, even so, glorious I say! All of this is part of the charm of Spring Training. The players are working to ready themselves for the season and we get to see a glimpse inside the process, warts and all. I really wouldn’t worry about any issues unless they continue to be issues with no sign of improvement in late March. Be they every so rusty, gaffe ridden and filled with unknown faces, Spring Training games are still baseball. And, quite simply, there’s no game like baseball!
Oh, I know that after two weeks or so of this, I will grow bored of Spring Training games for all of the same reasons I just listed as charming and a few others besides and begin Jones-ing hard for the regular season to start. I might even whine about it on this blog. Might But the fact of the matter remains that with the start of Spring Training games, Opening Day just isn’t that far away, I have tickets to the Angels home opener (and a few more games so far, besides), and my Angels are on TV tomorrow. This is a great weekend.
…You know. Never get involved in a land war in Asia. Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line. And, only slightly less well-known, never ever speak of the fans in less than complimentary terms…because it will live forever online…or something like that. But I’ll get to that in a moment. First…
Hey there Major League Baseball, you great big sweetie. Don’t think for one second that I didn’t notice and appreciate your thoughtful Valentine, having position players start reporting on February 14th. We fans have enjoyed live video of actual baseball players on the field, in uniform, getting ready for the season all over MLBN and our favorite sports sites ever since. Hitting and pitching and live player interviews, oh my! It’s the best thing ever! …well, the best thing since October at any rate. See boys and girls, even if our teams appear to have a funny way of showing it at times, baseball really does love us back. ;)
Of course, the return of players to ball fields and the happy increase in player interviews that inevitably follows does also lead to an increase in player gaffes. For truly it seems as if no Spring Training is complete without several players contracting a case of foot in mouth disease. Among the most recently afflicted is one of our newest Angels, Josh Hamilton.
“It’s one of those things where Texas, especially Dallas, has always been a football town. So the good with the bad is they’re (the fans) supportive, but they also got a little spoiled, at the same time, pretty quickly. You can understand like a really true, true baseball town — and there are true baseball fans in Texas — but it’s not a true baseball town.”
Yikes. So…um…I can’t understand how Texas fans took offense at that, can you? ;) Seriously though, this isn’t pick on Josh Hamilton day for me. He’s not the first player and I doubt he’ll be the last to say something controversial well before Opening Day, and anyone watching the interview rather than just reading cold words on a page can see that Hamilton’s intentions with these comments were not malicious. He wasn’t trash talking, he was making his own honest observations in response to reporter questions.
In fact, I even agree with Hamilton…up to a point. Now hold on a second there Rangers fans before you get angry with me. In my opinion, Hamilton would be equally correct if he’d the same thing about Southern California fans, whether we’re calling them Los Angeles or Orange Country. Much like Texas, we also have great baseball fans in Southern California, but I wouldn’t call any of our towns baseball towns…and I do believe that by not including Anaheim or the greater OC/LA area in the list of “great baseball towns” that Hamilton gave in his attempt at a rebuttal, he was indicating as much himself.
Look, I spent the three day weekend hanging out with my sister-in-law, niece and nephew. They were taking a week’s vacation from their Boston home to warm up on the West Coast. We spent a fair bit of time talking about baseball — Hey, Seth and I are getting ready for a Spring Training trip; my nephew Henry has been enjoying Little League and is very excited about a great baseball camp his Boy Scout troop attended with PawSox players that culminated in a sleepover on the field; Henry’s annoyed with the Red Sox; I was trying with little success to pound out a blog post; the subject came up a lot. Anyway, just listening to my sister-in-law, Laura, and the kids talk, I was impressed once again with how much Boston is a real baseball town. Laura is a Los Angeles transplant and she is continually surprised at how much the average person in Boston knows about the Red Sox both past and current, by how many games they watch, by how frequently games and personnel moves are discussed. Compared to her experiences in Los Angeles, it’s night and day.
And while I’m certainly not complaining, in all honesty I can’t say the same thing about anywhere in Southern California, even if I were to somehow combine Dodgers fans and Angels fans together in my mind as if they were together rooting en masse for some sort of super Freeway Team, LOL! The Angels and the Dodgers both have great fans. Diehard fans. Fans who absolutely bleed their respective team’s colors. I interact with some of these amazing fans on a regular basis on Twitter and on the blogs…but half of the reason I started blogging and turned to the internet is because, when I’m not at a game, I don’t encounter many baseball fans in my daily life. Only once have I worked in a department where there were more baseball fans than not, and that was split evenly between Dodgers and Angels fans. Usually it’s me, myself and I. And in that one case, our department was unusual for the company.
When Seth worked a few miles from the Big A, he worked with a couple of diehard Angels fans (one of whom sweetly gave us season tickets on a regular basis) but their department was unusual for the building and whenever the company’s stadium seats were offered, it was the same handful of people asking for them every time. During the season, unlike what I hear about Boston, you can’t just walk into any bar in either county and expect the baseball game to be on. Some bars yes, and I make it a point to find and frequent those bars, but not every bar. It is common to have to “fight” basketball and football fans for the TV at points where the seasons overlap and, in my experience, it’s common for basketball and/or football to win out based on majority opinion. In fact, if anything, I would say that L.A. at least is a basketball town. Lakers. Blah.
And, correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the impression that the same is true for the environs surrounding Arlington, expect in their case it’s football, not basketball that’s front and center. Yet, I don’t think anyone would accuse Rangers fans of lacking passion for their team – I certainly would never accuse them of such and Hamilton’s comments didn’t either. So there you have it, great baseball fans. Not a “real” baseball town. That said, of course Rangers fans are pissed. I would be too if the cleat were on the other foot, so to speak. In fact, I remember when John Lackey dissed Angels fans during his first Spring Training with the Red Sox. I can’t remember the exact language, but he said something very similar to what Hamilton has said, that Anaheim is not as great a baseball town as Boston. And at the time I was livid. How dare he?! But I’m much more mature about the whole thing now, of course. So, John, how’d that work out for you? ;) …okay, okay. More mature, but not yet actually mature.
Now, Lackey also accused Angels fans of not supporting him, which was not true and quite offensive. And, if you move past the ‘not a true baseball town’ part of the comment, the point of Hamilton’s entire quote is that those real baseball fans in Texas won’t boo him when he returns to play in Arlington in Angels red, only ‘not true’ baseball fans will boo him. Ummm…yeah. This part would also be not true — especially after this Hamilton interview! — and probably is quite offensive to his former fan base. But I digress because that isn’t the aspect of his comments people are griping on.
Look, I know we fans seem like contradictory creatures and, well, some of us are. We’re always complaining that we want the players to say something real during interviews instead of just spouting the usual clichés and then the minute that something real turns out to be a bit controversial, some of us whine about that…a lot. But that isn’t what this is. I would far rather hear players speak their mind — even when I don’t agree with them! — than the usual, ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint.’ ‘We just have to play them one game at a time.’ Blah blah. Blah blah. Blah blah. However, while players are speaking their minds I would just caution them to remember that speaking about the fans in anything less than complementary tones really is one of the classic blunders. You can’t win. Really. You can’t. Even when you’re right. Perhaps especially when you’re right. Isn’t that right, Chris Perez? ;) And just so long as players understand that going in and make their own decisions accordingly, we’re all good.
So, in the meantime, how does one recover from an acute case of well publicized foot in mouth disease? I only ask (rhetorically) because, maybe, in our current situation…well…it could prove to be useful information. Well, it’s very simple, one need only keep one’s mouth shut against the possibility of relapses or appearances of new symptoms and wait for the next afflicted player to open his mouth and pull all of the attention his way with a few poorly considered words. And with that, we say thank you, Octavio Dotel — or, at least, so it would appear — and move on. ;)
Pitchers and Catchers report today!! Okay, granted with a few exceptions. But, still, pitchers and catchers report today. *happy dance* I know, I know. To the baseball fan, it’s ‘Play ball!’ that’s the truly wonderful phrase, the phrase we all rank highly on any list of the most beautiful phrases in the English language. ‘Pitchers and catchers report!’ just doesn’t have the same impact…most of the time. Today, however, ‘pitchers and catchers report’ means that the long, looooooong winter without baseball is over. It means that players will begin throwing baseballs, conducting drills and preparing for the main event, Opening Day, any moment now. It means that spring training ‘play ball’s will soon ring out loud and clear across Florida and Arizona and that official, regular season ‘play ball’s are not far behind. So why don’t you just take a moment, let that phrase roll off your tongue again and really savor it this time. Pitchers and catchers report! Today is sounds absolutely gorgeous, doesn’t it?
In honor of this beautiful day — my personal first day of Spring regardless of what the calendar says — I have decided to finally share my “resolutions” for the 2013 Angels, resolutions that I think the team should keep in order to help make their high potential for a fantastic 2013 season a reality. Hey, I know these sorts of things are traditionally done in January but what the heck. I missed that with my little blogging break and I might argue that today is the start of the baseball year anyway:
- Health is a common resolution, right? So let’s start there. Obviously no one ever wants to get injured or sick and Angels players are a tough bunch, often playing while injured. But when you look at the issues the team has had the last several seasons — with the offense, the bullpen, the starting rotation — the need to work around injuries and illnesses has played a significant role in each of those issues. So, as much as injuries are absolutely just a part of the game, play hard and with joy and passion but, while you’re doing that don’t forget to do all of your stretches/take up yoga or Pilates/ lift from the correct position/don’t hit the wall unless you have a shot at making the play/avoid walking into toe breaking brick patios/take your vitamins/whatever it takes to stay healthy. (And, hey, as I write this I am recovering sloooowly from the ick that’s going around my office and wishing desperately that I’d taken my own advice, so there you go. Healthy >>>>>>>>>>>>>not healthy.)
- Along the same theme as health, I would really love to see all aspects of the Angels’ game working at the same time. Last season, it seemed like the offense found their stride only to have the starting rotation hit a rough patch. Then the starting rotation would right themselves for a few games only to have the bullpen fall apart. Mind you, despite these issues, the team still won 89 games. So it stands to reason that if the Angels can really get on a role in 2013 with all of their strengths working at the same time, this could be really special season!
- Free Peter Bourjos! Picture it, an outfield with Bourjos in center flanked by Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton. Mike Trout truly is one amazing centerfielder, but Bourjos is even faster, runs even better routes and has a similarly golden glove (and, seriously, if both of these kids don’t get actual, for real Gold Glove awards in the plural sooner rather than later in their careers, that will be a crime). So, putting the two of them in the outfield together?!! Plus Hamilton?! I get goose bumps just thinking about it. And let’s just quit it with all of that Bourjos can’t hit talk, shall we. Yes, last year, coming into the game sporadically, often in the middle or at the end of the game, sometimes with weeks in between at bats, his batting average was terrible. But when given a full season to play the year before that, he may have started out slow but he finished with a more than respectable .271. Is a .271 average really higher than we should expect from Bourjos in a normal season like some say? Perhaps. But instead of continuing to speculate, why don’t we find out, really find out…you know, by leaving him in for more than a handful of games at a stretch. Look, even if Bourjos’ normal batting average turns out to be like .250, that’s a lot better than 2012’s alternative of Vernon Wells.
- Accomplish the above ^^ without losing Mark Trumbo’s bat. Barring any scary slumps — which means, Mark, stay out of the Home Run Derby unless you can do it without f-ing up your swing, ‘kay? — Trumbo should be a lineup constant, primarily in the role of DH but also as an occasional substitute outfielder, as needed.
- Hey, Sosh, fewer lineups, please. Now I understand that having multiple starting lineups for specific occasions can serve a useful purpose, as can shaking things up from time to time. And I do realize that giving up having 100+ lineups for 162 games is probably harder for you than quitting cigarettes is for most people. So I’m not asking you to go cold turkey and pick just one lineup to stick with for the rest of the season. But how about choosing one basic lineup with a small handful of situation specific variations — for example the ideal infield and outfield for Angels fly ball pitchers, the ideal infield and outfield for Angels groundball pitchers, and whatever? And, hey, maybe you could stick with each situation’s lineup for a while to really see if it works instead of switching them up at the drop of a hat? Hmmmm…What’s that you say? Probably not? Yeah, I thought as much. But hey, you can’t blame a girl for trying.
- Stay healthy.
- Players who tend to swing between off years and on years, I really hope to be cheering for the best version of you, so to speak, in 2013. For example, I really want to see the 2012 Kevin Jepsen again, or even a continuing, positive evolution of him. Because 2012 Jepsen was a revelation, pulling all of the occasional glimpses of skilled reliever we’d seen in previous seasons into a solid, reliable reliever who saved the Angels bacon a lot. Among my other biggest wishes in the category? I want to see the .300 + hitting Albert Pujols, the bone-spur free, kick ass version of C.J. Wilson, and I want to see “amazing feats of baseball awesomeness” Josh Hamilton, not the “caffeine ailments and special eye issues uniquely related to blue eyed folks” Josh Hamilton…because I’ve got a pair of baby blues of my own, Josh, and I call shenanigans on you there. ;)
- Another common resolution is to try new places/styles/foods/fill in the blank with a sense of adventure instead of fear. For the Angels, I think this specifically refers to new opposing pitchers. Facing a new pitcher should a be a light hearted adventure filled with all kinds of fun games, like home run derby and “how many bases can I steal?” not the sort of fear and over thinking that makes rookie pitchers look like Cy Young candidates.
- Fans and players alike: prepare for a full year of Mike Trout magic!!! But at the same time, let’s keep the same attitude of wonder and amazement we had in 2012 instead of heaping all of the expectations of last year’s stellar season on his young, albeit strong and capable, shoulders. I have not a doubt in my mind but what every year with Trout is going to be something special, but keeping some sort of running game by game comparison of last season’s home run totals and on base percentages with this season’s creates a stupid kind of pressure and is just going to drive everyone crazy…especially if you tend to do this out loud and while sitting next to me at the Big A. I’m just sayin’. ;)
- Oh, and last but certainly not least, the best resolution of all, again for fans and players alike: let’s have fun with the 2013 season! That, and did I mention stay healthy?
And, with that, I’m going to cease my giddy Pitchers and Catchers Report Day bouncing around the house and go back to getting some serious work done. *boingy, boingy, boingy* *sigh* Okay, apparently I’m going to continue my giddy Pitchers and Catchers Report Day bouncing around the house while getting some serious work done. 2013 is going to be amazing, I can just feel it!
Wasn’t the Super Bowl Lovely? That’s Nice, Now Bring on the Baseball! + Pujol’s WBC, C.J. Wilson’s Hair and More
Alright then. That’s over now. And by ‘that’ I mean football season. The Super Bowl was fun and all. Yes, I know that mistakes were made on both sides but, hey, I was entertained, especially in the 2nd half. And Jacoby Jones made me exclaim colorful variants on “No way! That’s so great! Wow!” on several occasions. I mean, I only watch maybe 4 football games a year, so I don’t really know what’s normal, but his performance looked pretty special to me. However, my point is, it’s over now. Even the postgame crying, cheering and speeches part. Heck, with the Ravens’ win, the jokes and gripes about the power outage will probably even taper off sooner than they would have otherwise. So, to make a long story short — too late! – can we have baseball now please? I know, I know. Just a few more days until pitchers and catchers report and then it isn’t really that much longer until Opening Day but…but…that’s just not good enough. I want baseball now. *sigh* Oh well, in the meantime…
I do wish Albert Pujols would drop the idea of trying to play in the World Baseball Classic. I know that he enjoys playing for the Dominican Republic and would love to continue doing so but the man just had knee surgery. Yes, it was a minor procedure, he had it back in October and allegedly the knee feels good. Sure, everything could be just fine. But what if it’s not? Look, Pujols had a notoriously slow start last season, a fact which I certainly found frustrating at the time but have never held against him. However, judging from Twitter, Facebook and behavior at the games, many other Angels fans have barely forgiven Albert for the slow start, if at all. Especially in light of this environment I think that it would be an excellent PR gesture on his part if Pujols made it clear that his commitment to the Angels is a priority and that he won’t do anything that even gives the appearance of risking his health for the season in any way…any way such as, for example, playing in the World Baseball Classic right after knee surgery instead of going through the normal Spring Training warm up into readiness for the season.
Besides, it’s clear that this is what his bosses expect of him as well. Angels GM Jerry Dipoto is diplomatically quoted as saying “It’s our understanding that Albert will be with us the entirety of spring training and we look forward to having him.” I don’t imagine that Dipoto intended that as a suggestion and, really, baseball can’t be so very different from more normal sorts of jobs in that, seriously, it’s best to do what your boss wants you to do. Now, I understand that WBC insurance doesn’t cover players who had surgery in the offseason and therefore MLB is unlikely to approved Pujols playing for the Dominican Republic. For that I am grateful. But given Pujols’ insistence that he wants to play, I have a concern that somehow, someone will make an exception. Really, it would be best for all concerned if Pujols chalks this up as being just one more of those “Gosh, it sucks to be a responsible adult sometimes,” decisions we all have to make from time to time and moves on.
In other news, C.J. Wilson is set to be a Head and Shoulders Mane Man for 2013. I’ll admit it, the Joe Mauer commercials cracked me up and part of me is looking forward to seeing if Wilson’s delightful sense of humor comes out in the commercials. However — gosh, am just a giant curmudgeon today or what? — a larger part me is saying, ‘Really? Another distraction, C.J.?’ Hearing about the resurgence of Wilson’s bone spur problems last year – which he had offseason surgery to correct — I do believe that pain and physical issues were far more significant contributors to Wilson’s 2012 issues on the mound than his plethora of taxing extracurricular activities. And I absolutely believe players should be able to take advantage of endorsement deals that come their way. However, I can’t help but feel that this situation falls into the same category as the one I outlined for Pujols above – an obvious, ‘I care deeply about my commitment to the Angels and will not do anything that even gives the appearance of jeopardizing that’ gesture is in order, perhaps toning down a few of his other side activities until he’s shown post bone spur removal ace stuff again for a while.
All appearances to the contrary, however, I am not all gloom and doom. It’s really just the relative lack of news in the offseason skewing things. I am thrilled the Angels hired Omar Vizquel and his 11 Gold Gloves of talent and experience as a new Infield Coach. Seeing Mike Trout in the Subway Super Bowl commercial made me smile – okay, smile and shout “Trout!” but, seriously, who’s keeping track? While none of the Angels recent minor league especially acquisitions excite me one way or the other, I am pleased with what these moves symbolize – a realization that the team needs to bulk the farm system back up soon. I’m not sure if these are the right moves for the job but, still, they’re a start. And, most important, Angels pitchers and catchers report in one week. I may not be very good at waiting patiently for Opening Day – okay, so I’m not good at it at all – but I will have a lot more tide me over news shortly.
Hello blogosphere, it’s been a few weeks…a completely unintended borderline hibernation, in fact. Anyway, as a result of the time off, my brain is a jumble of what to blog about first…especially because the Angels have had quite the quiet January, a very good thing really, considering the team is basically set at this point. So, here goes:
I adored the interview with Joan Jett on Hot Stove last Friday. I’ve always loved her music and I had a vague idea that she’s an O’s fan, but I had no idea exactly how much of a kick ass baseball fan she is until the interview. I giggled and cheered when she said, perfectly mater of factly, that she keeps an iPad on stage, open to the MLB Gameday Ap when she tours during baseball season. *flashes the universal sign for ‘rock on’ with genuine enthusiasm* It’s always nice to hear how absolutely not alone I am in being unable to refrain from checking…okay, being all but glued to…the Gameday Ap at wholly inappropriate times.
I’m sure that, by now, everyone has seen the second trailer for 42 but just in case…
I cannot tell you how excited I am for this movie. Wow! The trailer looks so good, that it literally gives me goose bumps of anticipation. I can’t wait! On another note, what does is say about me that the perfectly real crack of the ball on that bat at the end is absolutely music to my offseason ears? You know, other than nutcase? In all seriousness, I think that sound is good therapy for the offseason blues. Until someone either invents a “Crack O’the Bat” white noise generator for baseball fans, or Spring Training games start airing, I recommend watching the trailer every few days…and I know that only some of you are judging me right now while the rest are nodding right along. ;)
So, as I mentioned, I hadn’t planned on hibernating for any length of time this offseason. But, sadly, I’m coming to find that Januarys may just find me mopey and unproductive for the foreseeable future. One year ago my husband and I lost our best friend, Chet. I assumed that the anniversary of his death wouldn’t hit me so hard, but I was reminded once again that there really is no timetable for mourning. However, it is infinitely better to mourn than to forget and sharing good memories definitely takes the raw edge off. As it happens, a few of the many happy memories that have been getting us through this time are centered around the Angels. One of the last times we three hung out together before Chet started to get really sick was at the Angels’ Labor Day game against the Mariners.
Chet hadn’t been to a baseball game since he was a kid and he really enjoyed being back in a ballpark. The weather was perfect. It was a good game that ended with a lit halo and the outfield featured my then favorite Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos, Torii Hunter combo and Chet was really taken with the athleticism of Torii and the youngsters and with Mark Trumbo’s bat. He asked shrewd questions about the players and the mixed bag of a season. At one point, Trout came flying into the stands just a few rows in front of our left field field box seats and, after we all oohed and ahhed over the near catch, Chet added a hearty, “Ladies, you need a fishing license to keep a Trout that big” to our usual joking about how balls flying into the stands might make fine souvenirs but the ever present crowd of sign waving Trout/Bourjos/Trumbo admirers still needed to give the outfielders back.
Another memory that makes me smile from that game — there were two very good looking young women, one of them definitely my friend’s type, sitting a few rows in front of us one section over and I noticed him noticing them a few times in between innings. When they got up at one point with all signs pointing toward a beer run, Chet donned a pair of sunglasses to watch them more closely with such subtlety and smoothness — seriously, there are not enough Os in smooth to describe the skill of this maneuver — that I would have never picked up on what he was really doing, were it not for one detail…the sun had been down for about an inning at this point, a fact I pointed out once the ladies were well out of earshot. I will always remember Chet’s wonderful laugh in response — he had such a great laugh and this is the memory where I can most hear it loud and clear! — and the half sheepish, half mischievous smile on his face. However, I do wish he’d taken me up on my suggestion that we clearly needed more beer at that point. ;)
Anyway, Chet had a good enough time that for the small remaining part of the season he watched Angels baseball on TV and called or texted us to chat about the games, ask questions and argue over minutiae, you know, as you do. Baseball on TV is such an economical, feel good way to get your entertainment with plenty of substance for your brain to chew on that he got sucked back in, which is oddly and appropriately parallel to how Seth and I got back in to baseball years before. I will always wish I had more time with Chet. As another friend observed when a bunch of us got together to toast his memory on the actual anniversary, ‘However long you knew Chet, however much time you spent together, none of us got enough time.’ But I will always be grateful to that silly, attended completely on a whim, Angels game for giving us just one more reason to hang out, to chat, to build the kind of memories that make you smile and laugh.
2012 ended in the usual whirlwind of fun holiday activity. Now that we’re calmly ensconced in the early days of 2013, I finally had the chance to sit down and think about the baseball year that was for an Angels “year in review” highlights post. Hey, I already covered my season gripes as they happened. Now is the time to remember the fun parts. There are already a lot of fantastic Angels 2012 highlight posts out there with killer statistical breakdowns and insightful analysis and, quite frankly, they cover all of that better than I ever could. So, instead, I like to concentrate on those things — Angels specific, baseball general, personal accomplishment and otherwise — that made my Angels baseball season. So, without further ado, here are my personal Angels season highlights, in no particular order:
Mike Trout. Watching this gifted young man take the field in Angels red every day was easily one of the highlights of my baseball fandom so he was easily one of the highlights of my season. I mean, is there anything this talented kid can’t do? The bat. The glove. The speed. The instincts. The heart. The highlight reel nature of the way he plays every single game. The way he makes it all look so effortless. The best rookie season on record! And to top it all off, Trout is a genuinely nice young man who loves the game. Thinking about Trout’s 2012 season makes me giddy. Thinking about all of Trout’s Angels seasons to come gives me chills.
Jered Weaver’s no hitter. I mean, really, Jered Weaver in general. Our ace. Our hometown hero. Our tough, ass kicking, take no prisoners, “give me the ball coach, I’ll find a way to help the team win even when I’m hurting,” goofy, sweet, team leader from the mound. Once again, and even while suffering a back injury in the middle of the season, Weaver delivered a Cy Young worthy season performance that was just, alas, minutely less Cy Young worthy than the even more stellar performance of a rival (two this season). Oh well. Keep plugging away Weave, it’ll happen for you one year! In the meantime, there are so many things about Weaver’s season that I could list here because they also made my season – the career high 20 wins, surpassing 100 victories, notching his 1,000th strikeout – but, at the same time, it could only be the no hitter. It was epic. It was historic. And I was privileged enough to be there.
Chris Iannetta catching Weaver’s no hitter. Chris Iannetta brought a bit of pop and clutch back to the Angels backstop position (hey, I said a bit — but .240 is aces over .174). He hit it off swimmingly with the pitching staff. He caught Weaver’s no hitter. But it was what we learned a few days after the no hitter that really blew me away. Iannetta suffered a wrist fracture when he was hit by a pitch…in the second inning. He caught seven innings of a no hitter with a fractured wrist. Wow! If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know the special place that bad ass catchers will always hold in my heart, so this absolutely had to make my list.
Torii Hunter playing like a kid again. Torii, Torii, Torii. I certainly don’t agree with every single thing you say in the media, but man am I going to miss seeing you in Angels red. Angels Announcer Mark Gubicza once exclaimed, after a particularly dazzling Hunter play, followed by a particularly infectious Hunter smile, ‘Does anyone love playing this game more than Torii Hunter?’ As much as Torii? Certainly. But more than him? Absolutely not. I don’t think it’s possible. Getting to see Torii play a career year on the field while watching him mentor the younger Angels, especially Trout, with the deft hand of a born teacher was definitely a season highlight.
Albert Pujols’ first Angels’ home run and the team clearing the dugout to tease him. Yes, Albert had a slow season start. An epically, painfully, disappointingly slow season start. But did I not caution patience and optimism during that time? And did it not pay off? By the end of the season, Albert put up numbers that were comparable to his 2011 season (up here, down there, identical in a few places) despite the slow start. Yes, I know that he is aging and his numbers will probably be up and down and then eventually just down over the duration of his contract and we’ll discuss all of that when it happens. But I enjoyed watching him once he hit his stride as an Angel and I loved this moment in particular because you could tell, all in one moment, how deeply Pujols cares about his own performance. That Pujols may be aging but he’s still got it. That there are some things on the field that can still bring even the most cynical of Angels boo-birds cheering to their feet. And how supportive the Angels are of their teammates – not to mention how wonderfully, endearingly silly this team can be. It was such an inspiring? …exhilarating? …touching? …you know what? None of those words on its own really sums it all up so let’s just go with “baseball”…it was such a baseball moment!
Ernesto Frieri. Otherwise known as, yet more proof that Jerry Dipoto knows way more about baseball than I ever will. Ernesto who? I said when the Angels traded for him. But Frieri became a fan favorite in our house in short order after concluding his first appearance as an Angel. A shy, sweet seeming kid who still has a charming wide eyed, “I can’t believe I’m actually in the Bigs” attitude away from the mound, Frieri becomes Ernasty as soon as he gets the ball and then pitches miss bats and coufound batters at an impressive rate. Yes, there were bumps in the road. But Frieri made me smile and think hopeful, optimistic thoughts every time he walked on to the field. And, in a season that was most certainly not without its own bumps, that was a big deal.
Continued Fan Trips – San Diego. Seth and I have been trying — very slowly and for the time being locally as dictated by the almighty budget — to watch a game at every MLB ballpark. In 2012 our “Annual Baseball Extravaganza” took us to San Diego for the Angels interleague series against the Padres. Although this was just before the Angels took off on a winning tear, we had a blast. Petco Park is a fantastic baseball venue. Travelling to see your team play away is a great experience – not to mention one that will make you feel like a couple of diehard fans in a heartbeat — and we got to spend quality baseball – and pub crawling — time with a good friend who lives in the San Diego area. Total season highlight.
MLBlogs, yes MLBlogs. 2012 saw the retirement of several blogs that I consider to be among the greats and – not to wax too Shawshank-y here — while I absolutely understand that the need to move on from such a huge undertaking may strike some, the Blogosphere is definitely lesser for their absence. I am now doubly grateful for those bloggers who continue blogging! Heck, this winter I briefly entertained the idea of retiring my own blog, not that mine is even in the same league as the aforementioned blogs. This blogging thing, it’s a blast and a half but it can also be a lot of work, especially when actual work commitments begin to get intense. But then I thought about what a season would be like without having this forum to share my giddiness and my frustrations, and that really didn’t seem like much fun. I was reminded that posting here and chatting with everyone was a highlight of my 2011 season, it was absolutely a highlight of my 2012 season and I look forward to it being a highlight of my 2013 season. If that means that from time to time I need to just relax and post a little less frequently, so be it. Thus, MLBlogs is essential to my 2012 list — plus, this past season I was invited to join in a few blogger collaborations, another fun highlight of my season and something I look forward to doing more of in 2013.
Happy New Year, all!! I hope your 2013 is filled with so many good things that you can’t even remember those inevitable rough patches come year end. :)
“The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.” So are the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys any relation to the Rally Monkey? I’d sure like to think so. ;) I mean both lead to such random fun. Anyway, these annual reports and the blog stats in general are pretty cool benefits from the MLBlogs switch to WordPress, and I was having fun reading everyone else’s Annual Report, so I figured I’d share mine.
Many, many thanks to everyone who has dropped by my goofy little blog this year and even more thanks to those who have taken the time to comment and chat. I wish you all, all the best in 2013. Happy New Year!!
Here’s an excerpt:
4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 23,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 5 Film Festivals