Mention the Angels 2012 bullpen to a group of fans and you’ll get quite the array of reactions. Cringing. Anger. Shaking fists. Tears. Laughter…of the crazed sort, mind you. And, occasionally, nostalgia. (After all, fans did dub the bullpen of 1970s, the Arson Squad because, when called upon, they tended to have the opposite effect of putting out the fire…and that’s putting it mildly.) And those reactions are absolutely justified. Despite a few bright spots and clutch performances, the Angels 2012 bullpen had 22 blown saves to their…um…credit, tying the Red Sox for the most in the AL. Suffice to say, heading into the offseason, bullpen help needed to be one of Jerry Dipoto’s top priorities.
Dipoto and the Angels took a positive step Wednesday in signing Ryan Madson. Assuming he returns to his usual quality form following recovery from Tommy John surgery, having Madson’s strong arm in the 8th or 9th inning should improve the Angels ability to hold leads. This deal is potentially a great start towards fixing the bullpen for the 2013 season and, fortunately, Dipoto seems to see it that way too, hinting that he has a few more bullpen plans up his sleeves during the interviews surrounding Madson’s signing.
Cautiously pleased though I was with the deal, it didn’t do a whole lot to ease the tension I’ve been feeling about the Angels roster since Dipoto started letting players go. Despite the disappointment of 2012, I just didn’t think the Angels needed that much work. So many of 2012’s woes – Albert Pujols’ painfully slow start, back troubles hobbling Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, injuries and slumps and tigers and bears, oh my! – seemed like such random, one-time only streaks of terrible luck that, in my mind, the 2012 Angels should have treated the offseason much like the 2011 Braves did, as a chance to rest, heal, recover and not do anything drastic from a personnel standpoint. In my mind, the Angels just needed to fix the bullpen, sign Zack Greinke, lose Ervin Santana (because his awesomely nasty vs. “just a bit outside” pitching mood swings aren’t swinging nearly often enough or well enough to the positive end of the spectrum to justify putting up with the negative these days) keep almost everyone else, smile and wait for pitchers and catchers to report.
Getting rid of Torii Hunter and Dan Haren (whose bad year was truly uncharacteristic and, I think, won’t be a repeat occurrence in 2013) left me with feelings of deep unease and a sense of “where do we go from here?” I understand that the idea is to save enough money to sign Zack Greinke but that just seems like an awful lot of eggs in one highly expensive and only possibly attainable basket. I mean, even if the Dipoto is successful in landing Greinke, what about the rest of the starting rotation and the hole-ridden offense?
Trading Jordan Walden to the Braves for Tommy Hanson on Friday helped me feel a bit better. Hey, the Angels now have a for-certain 3-man rotation with one potential 4th that doesn’t scare the hell out of me – Jerome Williams. Progress! I liked Walden but he really doesn’t seem to have the temperament to maintain control and get outs once batters start hitting him…and then the pre-glasses Wild Thing emerges and things get a little scary. I think the addition of Madson is a safer bet. As for Hanson, I’m a little concerned about his back issues last season, and less concerned about his shoulder issues two season ago which seem to have healed. Basically, between that and the velocity drop offset by the increasingly nasty delivery, it feels like the Angels traded for Dan Haren’s younger, more economical self. But Haren worked out very well indeed for the Angels for the better part of two seasons so I am cautiously optimistic about this deal.
Now the team just needs another starter (Greinke, hopefully. If that won’t absolutely break the bank.), to fill at least one key hole in the starting lineup, oh, and adding a little bit more stabilization in the bullpen couldn’t hurt either. No problem, right? Yeah, there went that breathing easier thing again. Yes, I know, I know. It’s only December 3rd. The Winter Meetings are just getting started Monday morning and there’s a lot of offseason left — a lot, a lot even. Anything is possible…but the pickings are slimmer this year and I just can’t shake the feeling that we created too many holes to fill in an attempt to land one key piece that would have only just filled or offset the preexisting holes anyway. Oh well, bring on the Winter Meetings.
Hello Blogosphere. I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday! For the last eight years or so Seth and I have hosted Thanksgiving so that we can celebrate with both our families at once – that and to show off the kind of cooking chops we seldom have the opportunity to flaunt all in one meal outside of holiday scenarios. This year, however, my mother wanted to host Thanksgiving for the combined family and it was actually lovely to have the night before mostly off and then head to my parents’ house for Mom and Dad’s good cooking. It was kind of like being a kid again…well, some kind of precocious (read, obnoxious) foodie kid with a cranberry, polenta crusted tart in tow, at any rate.
It is nice to go home sometimes and just catch up with everyone. We talked a lot about work. Family. Politics. You know, the usual. Oh and, of course, a bit of baseball. My father said that he is fed up with professional sports these days…followed by the pause for comedic effect, the merrily twinkling eyes and the affectionate, “that’s why I root for the Dodgers.” This followed by some more serious Dodgers roster talk (not yet knowing of the impending TV deal, of course), similar Angels talk, a lot of good natured ribbing at the expense of both teams and more than a little head shaking over our two So Cal teams. See, I come by my outlook on the game honestly.
Among our baseball topics – Mike Trout. I was a little surprised to find out that my dad was paying attention to Trout’s season because he’s very busy and doesn’t always pay attention to AL doings. But, then again, Trout was quite a story in 2012 and he is every bit the sort of player my father adores – a good kid playing the game extremely well and playing it the right way. So, of course, if two folks are discussing Mike Trout in late November you know what had to come up don’t you? Da dum…….da dum…da dum da dum da dum da dum…da da da DUM! But of course, the AL MVP vote. What else? And if you think for one second that I’m going to use this holiday conversation snippet as an excuse for a very delayed post about my thoughts on the AL MVP vote, well I have one thing to say to you: Thank you. Clearly you’ve been reading this blog for a while. ;)
No worries, though. This is absolutely not a bitter fest. Yes, I thought Mike Trout should have won MVP. That’s how I would have voted were I in the baseball writers’ shoes. But I am neither shocked nor upset over the outcome. Here’s the thing, both Trout and Miguel Cabrera had stellar seasons – MVP level stellar seasons. I happen to feel that a player like Trout who excelled across the board at offense, defense, speed and any other skills test you want to throw his way is more valuable to his team than a player who only beats him out in terms of offense but, at the same time, I cannot deny that being the first player to win the triple crown in 45 years is a highly compelling argument. Both guys carried their team at various points. Both guys were clutch. Both guys hit milestones during the season. The Tigers made it to the playoffs, but the Angels had a better record in a stronger division. Cabrera’s booming bat lead the Tigers to victory in September as the While Sox collapsed. Trout’s bat slumped in September but he still lead the Angels to victory with his speed and his glove while the A’s simply could not lose. As I said, I liked Trout for MVP, but both candidates were excellent choices and I’m certainly not going to complain about Cabrera winning the honor.
I do, however, have a complaint about the way the discussion and debate were framed, both leading up to the AL MVP vote and since the winners were announced. I really dislike the fact that so many people writing/talking/arguing about this subject just blast the other side for the paragraph after paragraph as if the opposing candidate were unworthy even of nomination until the final few sentences when they toss in a sheepish, ‘oh, by the way, [the other guy] had a pretty good year too.’ And I outright hate all of the “Miguel Cabrera is an old school, old stats candidate whose contributions must be judged with your eyes, while Mike Trout is a new stats, SABR candidate whose contributions must be judged one paper” idiocy. Ummmm…have you seen Mike Trout play?? If you need paper to judge that, well that’s your business but I wouldn’t admit something like that in public. ;) And as for Cabrera, his offense looks good whether we’re using old stats or new. This isn’t a new stats vs. old stats argument. It’s that same “better offense vs. strong offense/better defense/better speed combination” phrased in terms of stats and on that debate, agree or agree to disagree, the baseball writers have spoken…for the 2012 season at any rate.
So, congratulations to Miguel Cabrera on winning MVP, one more on a nice list of 2012 accomplishments and, well, congratulations to Mike Trout too while we’re at it. Earning 2nd place in the AL MVP voting in one’s rookie season is hardly an accomplishment to sneeze at and the kid has his own, equally well deserved, long list of 2012 accomplishments.
Oh, before I sign off though, I do have one more Trout related rant…this offseason it seems that few MLBN and online discussions of the awards, the Angels 2012 season or Mike Trout can go by without snark, tsk tsking and/or contemptuous sighs over the Angels’ “terrible decision” not to bring Trout to the bigs right out of Spring Training “for whatever reason.” Baseball analysts (and various and sundry bloggers…and Chris Rose), would you quit harping on this subject and just do a little quick research already. Trout was so sick during Spring Training that he lost something like 10 pounds and barely had a Spring Training to speak of, then got well only to suffer through a bout of tendonitis in his shoulder. Had the Angels brought him up in April, under those conditions, it would hardly have been a recipe for Trout success and might well have been a recipe for injury or illness disaster. Whether you want to look at it as the Angels looking out for the player or looking out for their investment (and I tend to assume it’s a little of both and there’s not a thing wrong with that), the decision was a good one. And I say that even as a fan who suffered though that terrible, awful, no good, very bad, oh how I even hate bringing it up again, April. < /rant >
The unconscious redirection of feelings about one object or entity toward another.
Thus, my desire to take all of my tiger stuffed animals (of which I have more than a few. I had a childhood love of them and then went to Oxy, whose mascot is – yes, you guessed it – the tiger.) and pose them underneath an overturned clothes basket “cage” for photos to post on MLBlogs was not, in fact, brilliant, it was merely transference. Transference of my anger with the Angels front office for failing to re-sign Torii Hunter over to the Tigers who successfully signed him this week. And, thus, the lack of photos of stuffed tigers, posed in makeshift cages or otherwise, in this blog post is a real sign of maturity and deep thought on my part, and not a sign of laziness over the realization that the tigers are all in box in the garage in a hard to reach place. Uh huh. Exactly. *nods*
Because, all joking aside, I am not really mad at the Tigers. No, really. I’m not. Torii Hunter the Tiger is going to take some serious getting used to (and, indeed, it took me a few days of reeling to simply get to the point where I could write this post) but I am glad that, if the Angels front office had to be stupid, at least Torii landed somewhere he seems to want to be. The man deserves to keep playing, the Tigers were smart to snap him up, and I understand that Angels made an economic decision here. As much as I still fully embrace the romance of that game, I am not so wrapped up in it that I mistake anything that happens in terms of player transactions in the modern game for a question of loyalty versus betrayal.
…But, no lie. I still think the Angels screwed the pooch on this decision. And it is for that reason, not because Torii was my favorite Angel, though he was (albeit on a long list), that I am livid with the front office right now. I think that keeping such an important clubhouse leader who is also a crucial bat in our lineup and presence to be reckoned with in the outfield should have been more than just a money decision. I think that throwing all of our eggs into one highly sought after basket like Zack Greinke, is dicey at best. And I think that, even if the Angels land Zack Greinke now, 3/5 of a scary good starting rotation combined with a lineup that once again has a crucial hole in it with no solution in sight sure doesn’t sound like it will look any better on the field than it does on paper. So, yeah, grumpy as hell right now.
But enough about that. Torii, thank you for every wonderful thing that you did in an Angels uniform. The robbed home runs. Your team first mentality. That sweet, sweet swing. Your “don’t even think about rounding third” arm. Your clubhouse presence and effective mentorship. Your humor and your wonderful way with us fans. I wish you well with the Tigers…just not too well against the Angels, you know. ;)
…aaaaaand, I still have lots to talk about, what with awards decisions and starting rotation decisions, and…and…well, okay, it’s November so I suppose it isn’t really that long a list, but still. However, it’s no joke when I say it took me a couple of days to get to the point where I could write about Torii and I figured this deserved its own post. So, stay tuned…
Ah, November. From a baseball standpoint, this is easily the sleepiest month of all. Sure it seems promising when you enter the month, what with free agency decisions, awards announcements and all. But then, reality hits. Potential free agents are either woo’d back by their current team or they become free agents aaaaaaaaaand nothing happens. Nothing. We talk. We speculate. Teams and players make noises. And nothing really happens until December and the Winter Meetings…or so. Okay, and in some big name cases, or so, or so.
And the awards? Well, they are fun and it is exciting when one of your favorites wins, or at least fodder for debate when they do not. However, as a fan, I find both the excitement and the occasional outrage to be largely ephemeral at least in terms of a baseball fix. I find out who won. I think Yay! Right on! Really? Or even WTF? And then I move on, baseball jones still fully present and accounted for.
Now, none of this is intended as a complaint. I understand why very little happens in terms of personnel decisions in November and the fact that the awards are no kind of baseball fix at all does not make them any less important. However, these facts do serve to explain how one might get so caught up in other things that, pulling a thoroughly random example completely out of thin air, a normally avid blogger might let her posts lapse for the better part of two weeks. Not buying it? *sigh* Yeah, didn’t think so. Well, tough. My assessment of November’s comparative lack of baseball fix-ly goodness stands. ;)
In terms of my Angels, well, to be honest I’m more than a bit annoyed with the front office right now and that probably also has a bit to do with my recent online scarcity. Although I suppose it makes for a more interesting blog, I don’t really like to rant. I prefer to cheer and praise and make up goofy noun-and-verb-repurposed-as-adjective mash ups of joy and excitement. But, alas, instead all I’ve got is a great big jumble of rantyness…
So, am I surprised that the Angels let Torii Hunter reach free agency without a contract offer? Not entirely, at least not after all of the noises the front office has been making about money. But am I disappointed? Oh, yes. Devastatingly so. Also, I think the decision was a big mistake. No, I don’t expect Torii to have as big a year in 2013 as he did in 2012 – 2012 was a career year. But I think 2012 makes it very clearly that Torii has found a way to stay healthy well into his 30s and to switch up his batting and fielding style to take advantage of the considerable skill sets he has in his 30s rather than still trying to play with the skill sets he had in his 20s.Plus, Torii’s skills as a clubhouse leader and a mentor to the younger players on the team are too important to just let go. I would never advocate keeping a player just because they’re a clubhouse leader, but when your clubhouse leader still plays like Torii plays, give the man a contract already. I think that some decisions can’t be made just with one’s wallet, which brings me to…
I hate to keep beating up on Vernon Wells, because he tries his ass off, keeps a great attitude and sense of humor through it all, and seems like a genuinely nice guy. Plus, he didn’t create this situation. However, the fact remains that he has never worked out on the Angels and the idea of Wells in the outfield over Torii (or, in truth, over Mark Trumbo or Peter Bourjos or anyone else if the Angels had kept Torii) just makes me even more livid with Tony Reagins’ initial trade decision and with the front office’s refusal to just take the salary hit – and yes, it’s a _huge hit – call the trade the failure it is and part company. Heading into the offseason, the rumor was that if the Angels couldn’t offload Wells’ contract there was no way they could extend a contract to Torii. Granted, it’s not my pocketbook and I have no idea how much additional cash Arte Moreno can afford to dedicate to the team payroll, but to me this just seems like wrongheaded thinking. Wells is hardly the only or even the biggest thing wrong with the Angels but, barring something extremely unforeseen happing, continuing to keep and play Wells over other players in never going to yield a different result than it already has. Yes, this trade was an incredibly costly mistake but sometimes it takes spending even more money to fix a costly mistake and this is one of those cases. The team should have kept Torii.
Anyway, I think that’s quite enough ranting for one post, don’t you? Tune in in a day or two to read my next rant – hint, this one’s about the Angels pitching personnel situation – and for my official congratulations to Mike Trout on his AL Rookie of the Year Award win tomorrow. ;)
News Flash! There is precious little, if any, justice in this world. Oh. Yeah. That not exactly news to anyone. Okay. This just in! MLB Awards are often political and don’t always go to the most deserving player. Yeah, you’re right. Not exactly earth shattering either. Okay, we’ll just go with this, even though I’m sure news has already travelled fast: Mike Trout didn’t win the Gold Glove for AL Centerfielders.
Oh well, that’s okay. I’m sure the winner had, you know, less errors, a better WAR and a higher fielding percentage than Mike Trout…ummmmmmm…yeah. Never mind. Look, sour grapes aside, none of this is meant as a diss of winner Adam Jones. He also had a very good year. A great year even. But was it, I ask you, a Trout year? No, no it was not. In fact, that should be a new measure of fielding greatness and/or just plain overall awesomeness from now on – the Trout year. “Well, he had a great career in Center and his WAR was high but what does that translate to in Trout years?”
Oh well, I suppose this is an odd sort of balancing of the scales after Erick Aybar won the Gold Glove with more errors than either of the other two finalists last season. When it comes to MLB Awards, in any given season there’s plenty of WTF to go around.
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Congratulations to the 2012 World Champion San Francisco Giants! But I do have to say, as an unaffiliated fan rooting for a borrowed team, that was one boring World Series. Deadly boring in fact. Oh, I watched it and I was pleased to have four more games before we begrudgingly usher in the dread long winter without. But wouldn’t it have been better to have 6 or 7 games to tide us through till Spring Training? If you were to say I was spoiled by the sheer nail biting amazingness of 2011’s close, hard fought duel to the finish, you’d be absolutely right. But that doesn’t make it wrong to have hoped for the Tigers to take the lead once – nay, several times – before Game 4. Sweeps are only fun for the fans of the team doing the sweeping…and even then, I’m not so sure.
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It’s early yet, but we’ve still had a bit of Angels contract news. The team extended Chris Iannetta’s contract, which pleases me greatly. They also put Bobby Wilson out on Waivers and he was picked up by the Toronto Blue Jays, who are apparently trying to collect the whole tradable set of Angels cast off catchers. I know Wilson wasn’t an All Star, headline grabbing catcher, but he was a more than serviceable backstop who busted his ass to do right by the team in general and Angels pitchers in particular. He always played whatever role was asked of him with a great attitude and a smile on his face and I don’t think that gets as much recognition as it should.
I’m not questioning Jerry Dipoto’s decision to part ways with Wilson. It does make a lot of sense to finally create enough room for Hank Conger to move up to the Bigs full time. But what I am saying is that I noticed Bobby Wilson’s efforts and contributions, noticed and appreciated them. I enjoyed rooting for him as an Angel and now I wish him all the best as a Jay or wherever they trade him to…even if it’s Texas. *grumble, grumble, Texas, grumble, grumble*
While I certainly have a myriad of hopes for other Angels personnel decisions, at the moment I’m primarily focused on the fate of free agent Torii Hunter. First and foremost, he’s my favorite Angel – on a long list of favorites, mind you, but still – and as a very close second, in case you weren’t watching last season, he absolutely kicked ass. While I doubt his 2013 numbers will match his 2012 numbers, I’m sure they’ll still be very good indeed, not to mention all of the mentoring he provides, shaping the Angels of the future. So, Jerry? Torii? Just so we’re clear, I have all of my fingers, toes and anything else I can think of to cross, crossed hoping for news that Torii Hunter stays an Angel in 2013. Got it? Eeeeeeexcellent!
Just before 5 p.m., feeding time for our baseball addiction, Seth and I crept down the mountain from the Yosemite cabin to catch the game at a truly delicious barbecue joint in Oakhurst. We have meals to cook at the cabin, despite the lack of stove, and things we want to do in the evenings that preclude a 90 minute round trip just to find an available television, so we knew we were only going to catch one more game this vacation and, as it turned out, we picked a fun one. I chose this evening’s game because I wanted to see a great pitchers’ duel and just hoped that Barry Zito would hold up his end of the bargain by building on his heroic NLCS outing. I never expected that a pitchers’ duel would fail to materialize because Justin Verlander was having an off night. But, you know what? Those cheesy Postseason commercials really are true: you can’t script October.
Usually I don’t enjoy a blowout as much as a close game, even when the winning team is the team I’m rooting for, but who could possibly call themselves a baseball fan and not enjoy Pablo Sandoval’s three homerun game? …Well…okay, fine…Tigers fans get a pass on this one. ;) Sandoval is now only the fourth player to hit three home runs in a Postseason game. Talk about complete and utter Panda-monium in the Bay Area! Also, I think that this one-sided score doesn’t really tell the whole story. From what I saw, yes, the Tigers absolutely gave up when Verlander got shelled, but they also recovered and tried valiantly to get back in the game at the end there, it was just too little, too late. The end result was a dazzling display of highlight reel worthy diving and leaping defensive plays on both sides. With the Tigers showing strong signs of life at the end to the point that the Giants blew through three relievers to get the last three outs, tomorrow’s game could be a different story. But, a story with a similar Giants ending or one more to the Tigers liking, who can say. See previous comment about commercial cliches, scripting and October.
Woah, Woah, Woah. What’s with all this Giants Stuff?
Okay, okay. I know what you all must be thinking, reading my last few posts. Is this an Angels blog or some sort of weird hybrid Giants/Nationals/Orioles blog heavier on the west coast bias than on the east? Have the Angels finally driven this blogger so crazy that she’s lost all focus? Now that’s just crazy talk. Of course this is an Angels blog. But this is October, the Angels almost-an-October never quite materialized, and I will be damned if I spend the month mourning the lack of Angels to such a degree that I miss out on the LAST FEW WEEKS OF BASEBALL before the looooong wintery time without.
Even as a huge fan of the game, it’s so much more fun to root for someone than just to watch with no skin in the game, so once the Angels are out of the running, I pick other teams to root for. Borrowed skin, as it were. No, this isn’t being a bandwagon fan. Bandwagon fans hop on that bandwagon in good times and pretend they’re diehards from way back before jumping right off again in bad times. No bandwagon fans here. I am simply shamelessly loving the one I am with, namely your team, for a week or two or however long they last in the postseason because I can’t be with the one I want…and I have absolutely no problem explaining that. …Also, yes, my father did raise me with an appreciation for the classics and generally excellent taste in music. Why do you ask? ;)
This postseason my adopt a team philosophy has lead me to root for the Nationals – because they’d never been to the World Series as Expos or Nationals and I like rooting for a lovable underdog – the Orioles – because of their long World Series drought, see previous discussion of the Nationals – the A’s – because they had a fun team this season despite the fact that I almost never root for another AL West team also I couldn’t very well break tradition now and root for the Yankees – the Tigers – see previous conversation about the A’s – and the Giants because of family ties…
Our Blogger Heroine’s Strange Origins
…Long story shortened, I am the lone living Red sheep (my grandfather was a diehard Angels fan) in a family split on both my mother’s and my father’s sides between the Dodgers fan base and the Giants. Oddly enough, this means I grew up with a weird affection for both teams. But Kristen, how can you like both teams? Don’t you know about the Dodgers/Giants rivalry? Hello, did you not just read the previous two sentences? I have family on both sides of the rivalry…family who share food across the table at holiday gatherings…holiday gatherings that take place in the months following the baseball postseason. Savvy?
Such passion, while often contentious, is also contagious so, as improbable and downright wrong as this sounds, I have both an affection and a respect for the Dodgers and the Giants that still pales in comparison to my diehard passion for the Angels. I follow the Dodgers and the Giants out of the corner of my eye while I’m watching the Angels all season. I know the players on both teams and generally wish them both well. If either the Dodgers or the Giants makes it to the Postseason and there are no Angels to root for, then I’m rooting for that team. If both of them ever make it to the Postseason and there are no Angels to root for, well then I’ll probably root for the Dodgers – my immediate family are the Dodgers fans, so I grew up going to games in Chavez Ravine – and try to lay low on FaceBook when the cousins start trash talking. So, you see, it doesn’t matter that I felt nothing particularly for or against the Reds, that I generally like the Cardinals, and that I think the Tigers have a pretty fun team this season. This Giants rooting thing was as inevitable as it is fun and strictly relegated to an Angel-less October.
Two baseball nuts. One week’s vacation. 4th week of October. Two glorious getaway destinations. Zero televisions. Whoa. What’s wrong with this picture? How ‘d that happen? Yes, I know. The 4th week of October is certainly an odd time for baseball fans to go on a week’s vacation, unless said vacation happens to involve following one’s team to various playoff destinations, I suppose. Yet, this is where we find ourselves. My husband’s industry requires everyone to take one week-long vacation each year and our’s was supposed to fall in midsummer, a decidedly less playoff-y time, followed by a long-ish weekend, this weekend, at the Paso Robles Harvest Festival we so adore. But work and family commitments prompted some pretty massive schedule adjusting and, so, here we are. I am not complaining at all – our vacation has been lovely so far! – just explaining how two baseball nuts wound up spending this of all weeks in two places – my inlaws’ Cambria house and their Yosemite cabin – with absolutely no televisions.
With the Angels sadly resting for the month of October, Seth and I figured, eh, missing a week of the playoffs isn’t that big a deal. We’ll be so busy, we won’t even notice we’re missing it, so let’s not bother trying to make plans to watch the games…and this would have been absolutely true if some of the games were on during the day. Night time, however, is a different story. Not a lot of biking, hiking and photo taking going on after the sun goes down. And so we found ourselves catching the NLCS Game 5 in a steakhouse bar in Oakhurst outside of Yosemite. Catching game 6 at the Chili’s in Paso Robles. And enjoying the fine hospitality of the Moonstone Bar and Grill for Game 7, where the food was infinitely better than Chili’s and the bartender did an admirable job of pacifying the Monday Night Football fans with two to three minutes check ins, so the rest of us could enjoy the game that really mattered. Bravo, good Sir, bravo! And all I can say about the game is holy outrageous comebacks, Batman! Congratulations to the NLCS Champion Giants who return from the brink of extension to win the series even better than the Cardinals.
Of course, even when Seth and I have been happily engrossed in purely vacation activities, baseball has a wonderful tendency to find us. Quick commiserations with transplanted Angels fans in the tasting room at Barrel 27 winery. Shooting the breeze with a transplanted Red Sox fan in the tasting room at Clavo Cellars – No worries, no trash talk involved. We all wisely stuck to the safe topics of shared annoyance with newer fans who weren’t around for the losing years and mutual dislike of a certain team in pinstripes. And then there was Chicago Ribs Night at Midnight Cellars.
Midnight Cellars was one of the first wineries Seth and I tasted at on our honeymoon back in 1999 and it was the first winery whose wine club we joined, ensuring many, many years of great wine and outstanding parties. Midnight is truly a family owned and operated winery. Every year for Harvest Festival, the family brings their native Chicago to California, with racks and racks of Carson’s ribs finished on Midnight’s BBQs complete with all of the fixings, live blues and more wine than any mere group of people could possibly consume – though we did put forth a valiant effort and at a minimum put a serious dent in the ribs supply. The end result is delicious, spirited, fun and, while I can’t speak to authenticity as I have yet to travel that far north, I can say that a surprising number of couples from the Chicago area, not all of them friends of the family, are drawn to California for this ribs night before they begin their wine country adventure.
Seth and I were seated at a table with two such couples, four friends enjoying a quick adults’ vacation away from the kids. One gent was asking Siri for the latest football scores on his cell phone. I mentioned I seldom follow football, but love baseball and he then asked how the Giants did last night because ‘I just can’t stand the thought of the Cardinals making it to the World Series again…’ Ah hah, Cubs fans! And they were pleased that we recognized them as such and knew about the Cubs/Cardinals rivalry. As usual, baseball proved to be an excellent icebreaker among fans and we had a lot of fun talking about all sorts of things peppered in between the wine, the ribs, the music, the ribs, the library wine, more ribs, the tequila shots (with the winemaker!!) and more ribs. And I have a feeling the foursome greeted Monday’s win with a little more wine to celebrate.
Anyway, quite the week “off” from baseball so far, wouldn’t you agree?
Waiting all day for a repairman to arrive in a paradisiacal place like Yosemite National Park – you know, just in case you were all wondering or anything like that – is no less annoying than waiting for one back home. Oh, the view from the kitchen windows is infinitely more gorgeous, but that’s about it.
Long story short, the stove in the cabin blew up. Yeah, no joke. Manufacturer’s defect. Gas build up while cooking. Boom. I wasn’t there, mind you, but I assume it was rather spectacular sounding. Fortunately there were no injuries. So, now someone has to be here for the repairman and the Brown Footed Loons happened to be on the verge of migrating again so, voila!, we added an odd detour redundancy to our vacation so that we could wait in Yosemite – before heading to Cambria/Paso Robles for the Harvest Festival and then back to Yosemite for the rest of the week – for a repairman who never showed…yeah, Sears is now a 4 letter word in my house.
While that was certainly a less than awesome start to our vacation – to put it mildly! – I’ll tell you what is awesome: baseball fans! Seth and I decided to give ourselves a treat on the way from Yosemite to Cambria and stop at a little steakhouse just outside the park we’d been dying to try rather than grabbing fast food. Well, wouldn’t you know it, this little steakhouse, it had a little bar. And in the little bar, it had a certain game on both TVs…and a large party of Giants fans, central California being no doubter Giants country, wearing their team gear with pride and rooting loudly. So we decided to kick it in the bar and catch a few innings.
Best decision all day! The food was excellent, the wait staff friendly and the company could not be beat. We sat down just as Buster Posey struck out in the 4th inning. So we were there for what happened immediately after. Hunter Pence’s comebacker hit. Lance Lynn’s errant throw the bounced off the bag. And the Giants’ 4th inning scoring spree. The bar went from sedate to very loud indeed and, even after we confessed our Angels fan status, our cheers were welcomed into the mix. Baseball fans appreciate other baseball fans, especially come playoffs time. Except for a few inevitable bad apples I have found this to be true again and again, a point that was underscored when the rest of the local crowd showed up. This is a very small town and this bar seems to be one of the preferred places from which to catch the game. Four local Cardinals fans wandered in wearing their team gear with pride, clearly transplants from a more birds on bats part of the country. The Giants fans at the bar and the Cards fans greeted one another warmly and, when there wasn’t quite enough room at the bar for everyone, seating arrangements were shuffled about to make sure the new arrivals weren’t sitting at nearby bar room table by themselves. All very companionable and sweet. Like I said, baseball fans are awesome!
The game itself was a breath of fresh air in what had previously threated to be a dull series. Sorry, Cards and Tigers fans, but sweeps and near sweeps are only desirable if you’re an existing part of the fan base of the team doing the dominating. For the rest of us, especially after getting thoroughly spoiled by the wild, tightly contested wonderfulness that was the Division Series X 4, quite frankly, the ALCS was kind of a let down and the NLCS looked like it was heading that way. Yeah, I was rooting for the Tigers in the ALCS, but I rather hoped the Yankees would put up a fight. I get that Derek Jeter’s injury was a crushing blow to team morale, but even before that they were not themselves.
Fortunately for baseball fans everywhere, especially those of us watching purely for love of the game, the Giants rallying after two straight losses to shut out the Cardinals and take Game 6 saved the NLCS from a similarly ho hum fate, no matter what happens tomorrow. And it was great to see Barry Zito going retro, channeling pitches from his own more lights out era. I love a good comeback story. They’re one of my favorite parts of the game…along with taut pitchers’ duels, stellar defensive plays, ballsy steals, and diverse groups of great fans coming together to bond over our shared love.
Wow, it has been one hell of a Postseason so far. Barring one’s own team making it to October, a baseball fan couldn’t ask for a better gift than watching all four Division Series going to five games complete with extra innings, walk off wins, taut pitching duels and plenty of derring-do in the field and at the plate. I only wish I had a little more time to take it all in. Ugh. It’s not as if I’m glad the Angels aren’t in the Postseason this year, but if I have to spend this many late hours on a work project in October, let’s just say I’m glad it happens to coincide with a year the Angels aren’t in the playoffs. Because, seriously, if it was the Angels I was only able to watch with part of my distracted attention, my coworkers would be significantly less than thrilled with me right now. Hell hath no grumpiness like a fan denied, and all that. Anyway, couple of thoughts on the Postseason so far.
Derek Jeter: I’m rooting against the Yankees, which shouldn’t really be a shock. I generally root against them. But that doesn’t mean I ever want players get hurt. It was shock and a half, seeing Derek Jeter fracture his ankle. It looked bad when he went down, then it almost looked like he was joking with Robinson Cano and I briefly thought he might be okay but then, *shudders* that look on his face and you had to know it was bad even before the diagnosis was in. Not the way anyone wants to end their season and certainly not the way any fan of the game wants to see any player, let alone one of the all-time greats, end their season. I wish Jeter a full and speedy recovery.
Drew Storen: I will lament bad plays and bad seasons in blog posts, but I could never boo an Angels player, no matter how bad the season. So I absolutely cannot understand the level of hate heaped on Drew Storen after his blown save in game five of the Nationals/Cardinals series. Yes, the blown save was terribly disappointing, especially with all four runs coming after the 2nd out, epsecially after such a magical season. But, as with most losses, this was a team loss. What of the other relievers that let the Nationals 6 -1 lead slowly slip into a close game in the 9th? What of the offense that went all but dormant after the 3rd inning? There is no one person to blame here and that’s baseball. Besides, even if there was, the Nationals had a great season, a season fans should be proud of. And, while I’m not going to tell you that baseball is only a game – because to those of us who love it, it is so much more than that – I will say that very few things in this world justify heaping that level of hate on a person and baseball is not one of them.
Bryce Harper: We as fans gripe when players practice their clichés with maddening dedication in their interactions with the media, so why do so many folks complain even louder when the occasional player or manager breaks the mold and actually speaks their mind? I laughed when Bryce Harper got sarcastic with the reporter. “You think so? Maybe you should be our hitting coach.” Hilarious. Look, the how do you feel questions are abysmally stupid questions – how do you think I feel?! – that must be asked, even so. Reporters can’t exactly write an entire article based on how the player appeared to feel and what the manager said about how the player feels. They need quotes directly from the player even when the answer is pretty obvious. Understanding this, however, doesn’t mean that I’m not going to appreciate the hell out of it with my laughter if, every once in a while, a player responds to such questions with the kind of sarcastic response I’ve certainly got in my head. If Harper responded to reporters like this in every interview, I’d go along with the brat assessment. But, as it is, I’m just going to be thankful for the occasional non-“it’s a marathon not a sprint” gems. They provide humor, the provide a bit of insight and you have to admit, the kid’s got a way with words.
And that’s all the thoughts fit to print from this old brain for now. Hopefully I will get a little more time to watch October baseball in the coming weeks and get a few more thoughts on the blog.
Congratulations to all of the teams who earned playoff berths and many thanks to all of the teams (even those like the Angels, Rays and Dodgers who didn’t quite make it) who helped make this playoff race such an exhilarating, every single game counts right down to the wire, experience. Yeah, I’m actually even gonna tip my glass to old Bud Selig for the change in playoff formats. I don’t compliment Bud very often for obvious reasons, and I did initially dread the format change, but if the end result that every season ends roughly like this, then that is one worthwhile format change! (We’ll talk about this evening’s crappy call and Wild Card Game under protest later after I’ve noodled over it a bit, as a former manager of mine used to say. But, in general, even with that, my *cringe* compliment still stands.)
Special congratulations to the Nationals and the Orioles for defying expectations and recent history all season long and to the A’s for what – seriously, all rivalries aside – was an absolutely epic comeback. While, of course, I wish the Angels had been able to push even harder in September and come back even farther to take the playoff berth in their place (or in the Rangers’), as a baseball fan, I just plain tip my glass to the A’s achievement as well. And I have one more glass tip – to Miguel Cabrera, and in his case let’s respectfully amend that to a hat tip, shall we. Yes, naturally I know all about the raging AL MVP debate right now and the season’s hot and heavy race for the batting title between Cabrera and our Angels’ hero, Mike Trout. But I want to set all that aside for a little while. The first Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967? Wow! Seriously, wow! That is a big deal. Congratulations to Miguel Cabrera on an achievement that adds his to a very select and impressive list of names.
Yes, of course, I am disappointed my Angels didn’t make it to the Postseason, but they took too long to gell as a team, losing too many games along the way, and even though their play in the 2nd half was inspired, they were flat out outplayed by the A’s. And you know what? Fie on all of this failed season talk from the analysts. That’s baseball. Sometimes you get outplayed. Yes, the Angels spent a metric F ton of money on the team this season, but since when does money guarantee success? Big payrolls and big free agent signings don’t work out – or, as in the Angels case, don’t work out right away – all the time. Besides, the Angels had a lot of be proud of this season with a no hitter and an epic, record breaking rookie season both high on that list. (And, if you’re of a mind, you can check out what else I had to say on this very subject on L.A. Angels Insider.) I tip my glass to the Angels twice – once in mourning for the season that wasn’t, and once in pride for the season that was!
Yes, I do read the fabled wisdom that is the internets. I am aware that Angels fans are rumored to be some of the whiniest, most “it’s always someone else’s fault,” overly entitled fans out there and I do understand that if you read it on the internet it absolutely must be true and all that. ;) Well, fie on all of that too – and since when are there rules for such things anyway and who gets to write them I ask? ;) The Angels were outplayed. I am disappointed but far from devastated. I offer my sincere congratulations to all of those who did the outplaying. (More tips of the glass…yes, the Postseason demands quite a few tips of one’s glass. It’s excellent practice for the offseason which requires even more to get through. Why do you ask?) And I promise to regale the lot of you with all of my hopes, plans and general armchair GMing for the Angels 2013 throughout the fall and winter. You have been warned. ;)