I-5 Bias: The Freeway Series Edition

Welcome to I-5 Bias: the Freeway Series Edition! This is the fourth 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. Despite the Dodgers and Angels terrible 2013 starts, Matt and I are both incredibly excited by this development want to 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!

I-5 Bias - Blog Medium

For this edition, we have posed six Angels and Dodgers oriented questions to be answered on both of our blogs prompted by the first two months of the 2013 season and the Freeway Series that begins today. 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:

So, the 2013 Dodgers and Angels. Hmmm…how can I put this delicately? What the hell happened??

Kristen says: While I love SABR and all of the increased attention even the average fan pays to statistics and analysis these days, the drawback is that no one is satisfied until they have a specific, detailed answer to performance questions these days and, I’m sorry, but sometimes that just isn’t possible. I mean, if there were a specific, detailed answer to the question of the Angels slower than molasses in a blizzard start to the season, don’t you think the problem would have been quickly solvable? In a nutshell, I think this was a perfect storm for the Angels. Heading into the season, player transactions were very tightly concentrated on beefing up the offense, and very much at the expense of the quality of the Angels starting rotation while virtually ignoring the bullpen. I was already queasy over the idea of assuming the offense would always pick up the pitching and then Murphy’s Law struck with a vengeance with a series of injuries taking out the only ace in the Angels pitching staff, turning the starting rotation and bullpen into personnel revolving doors, removing key set up pieces from the lineup and hampering the starts of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton – severely, in the case of Pujols. Does that fully explain the Angels start? Perhaps not for everyone, but when you throw in the added pressure of not living up to sky high expectations as each new calamity occurred, it explains things for me…not that I’ve been obsessing over this since Opening Day or anything…*whistles innocently*

Matt says: Well with the Dodgers I am still trying to figure out what is going on. This season hasn’t been the start we all expected for them. To be fair Injuries has hit the Dodgers pretty good but that’s no excuse. Between issues with batting with RISP, Bullpen meltdowns, and mismanagement in games the Dodgers have found themselves in a good hole.

Be honest. Do you think the Dodgers/Angels’ issues are fixable? How fixable? And what would it take at this point for you as a fan to call the season a success?

Matt says: Yes I do believe it is but that’s up to the Manager. Switch up the line up to where it’s more effective to get runs, Make better bullpen decisions and not put the same guys who keep blowing the game in. As far as what will make this season successful? Winning and getting back to the Playoffs is what will save this season. At the start all the expectations were going to be on but missing the playoffs after spending on the Starting Pitching and making changes will be a disapointment. They have to get it in gear ASAP.

Kristen says: Well, don’t look now but the Angels offense is back online, the pitchers are performing well enough and then some, and the guys have quite a nice little winning streak going on heading into the Freeway Series. And the cherry on top? Ace Jered Weaver is coming off the DL and scheduled to pitch on Wednesday…the game I have tickets for. Score! If this level of play continues, then I will count the Angels season a success, no matter what the standings say at the end. It’s not that I don’t care about making the playoffs, I very much do. And I’m not counting the Angels out at all. If they keep playing like this, anything is possible especially with two wild card opportunities. No, I’m just acknowledging the fact that when a team digs themselves this deep of a hole to start the season, they are no longer fully in control of their own destiny – final standings are as much a matter of the other teams having off days as your team having good ones, something that we as baseball fans know you can hope for all you want but never, ever count on.

There have been talk/rumors of Don Mattingly and Mike Scioscia possibly getting fired. Do you believe it’s time for them to go or should they even take blame?

Kristen says: Nope. Never. You will not see me calling for Sosh’s head over this. Not going to happen. I may cringe over his bullpen management from time to time…er…all the time and yes, there have been and will always be instances of mismanagement. But I really think that as fans we have a tendency to point to the handful of mismanaged plays and ignore the rest of the game. Besides, injuries aren’t the manager’s fault. Personnel changes are not the manager’s fault. And somehow, despite all of the setbacks, the Angels are climbing back into this race and I think that that speaks volumes for the players’ grit, of course, but also for Sosh’s ability to keep them together even through the rough times.

Matt says: I’m going to be straight up with Mattingly. From the looks of this he isn’t the right fit for the Dodgers. He has mismanaged games on his part and at times shows lack of fire but as of late he is starting to pick up that fire and take action. Benching Ethier and Kemp as well as calling out the team is a start right there. Now should he take blame. Yes but not ALL of it. Blame has to go around to everyone on their part. Mattingly has messed up on his part and it’s going to cost him his job at some point.

One more uncomfortable question: What do you think about emergency/closed door team meetings — players only or otherwise? Are they ever effective or do they just feed the drama?

Matt says: You know about those meetings I actually really like them. You have time to really air out whatever issues their are and talk about what you have to do as a team to get it going in the right direction. The Media will always make it more than what it needs to be but they are an effective way to talk as a team to get things going in a positive spin.

Kristen says: I think that, like any other tool, closed door meetings can be useful at times, useless at others and downright detrimental at others. I think a team meeting certainly can turn things around and, when such things become necessary, I do love it when the players show enough passion, initiative and team spirit to take ownership and have their own meeting. Here’s the thing though. Back in the day, fans would never hear about a closed door meeting or certainly not about every closed door meeting. Now we hear about every single one, often as they’re happening. Frequently we even hear what was said at the meetings – pretty contrary to the point of ‘closed door’ don’t you think? This is the part I don’t think it healthy. It adds to the drama and it also leads to the tail wagging the dog. When things start to go downhill, everyone expects a closed door meeting creating external pressure for the meeting to happen, rather than the meeting just occurring or not occurring naturally in keeping with the rhythms and chemistry of that particular team.

With the new schedule and league realignment, rivalry matchups including the Freeway Series have shrunk from 6 games to 4 for the season. Do you like this development or is it messing too much with tradition, albeit a relatively recent tradition?

Kristen says: I love the Freeway Series and the rivalry fan energy that both surrounds it at the ballparks and spills over into our work and social lives for a few days. I’m really going to miss that lasting for two full series and, to be honest, a shorter more compacted Freeway Series cuts into my ability to attend one game at each stadium, a mini-tradition Seth and I have enjoyed for a few years. But, at the same time, I get the necessity of trimming down the rivalry matchups under the new schedule. I also understand how awkward and underwhelming two series’ worth of rivalry matchups were under the old schedule for teams/fan bases who had no natural rival and were stuck with 6 games against an, in essence, MLB manufactured and assigned rival. So, while I’m disappointed for Angels and Dodgers fans, I get that this was the best course of action.

Matt says: Well I ALWAYS have enjoyed the freeways series. To be honest I don’t have an issue with the series being 4 games because you have 2 in LA then right then another 2 in Anaheim. So more of a 4 game series home and home. I know this will eventually end up being a Opening Day match up soon with the realignment so 4 games isn’t bad. Though I did like the 6 game format.

Make your predictions now. Which team will win the Freeway Series and with what record?

Matt says: With what I have seen from the Dodgers they for some reason can’t get it together. Against St Louis they were shut out where they didn’t even show up and Yesterday where errors took them out of the game. This series starts off with Greinke and Ryu so it’s not pitching that I am worried about but the lack of offense. With that said I see this series going 2-2. Dodgers taking one in LA and one in Anaheim but with the Dodgers I really don’t know what to expect out of them at times especially with a hot Angels team coming into Dodger Stadium.

Kristen says: The Angels are hot right now and, since the start of interleague play, have owned the NL, including the Dodgers. I predict the Angels will win 3 out 4.

Meet the Bloggers Bonus Question: Do you enjoy the Freeway Series and, if so, what is your first/best Freeway Series memory?

Kristen says: I can’t pick out one specific, favorite memory – there are just too many! But the thing I love the most about the Freeway Series and the warm, fuzzy sense of family tradition I get from it. Growing up, my family primarily rooted for the Dodgers, but the Angels were Grandpa’s team, so I always knew both teams and loved watching them play each other. And, coming from such a Freeway family, as it were, my parents always took my sister and I to at least one Freeway Series game. There was no interleague play when I was a child so the Freeway Series was a pre-season exhibition. This meant that the Freeway Series was frequently my first live baseball game after the long winter without, adding to the specialness of the occasion.

Matt says: Theres so many favorite memories and moments from this series. I enjoy the Freeway Series because it’s two teams that’s close to each other clashing. As far as my favorite/best Freeway Series memory wellll theres so many that I can’t pin point on one. Mine would have to be my first trip to Angels Stadium in 2009. The night before Juan Rivera (Angels player at the time) hit a walk off Home Run. This night Jarred and Jeff Weaver pitched against each other. The Dodgers won that night but what made it memorible was that it was my Very First Freeway Series that I witnessed (The First of Many).

Fans Cheer as Angels Finally Decide to Go Streaking + Mike Trout Amazes Yet Again

Well looky there Lou Brown, the Angels have themselves an honest to goodness winning streak going on! And while, yes, it has happened before in 2013 – twice before to be precise, not that we fans have been counting or obsessing or agonizing over it or anything *nods* — at a five games and counting it is, in fact, the longest winning streak the Angels have managed this season, but two whole games no less. Now, a five game winning streak may indeed be a little short for a Storm Trooper, so to speak, and normal-season-Angels-Fan-Kristen is absolutely rolling her eyes at this 2013 season version of me but, to be honest, I am just way too giddy happy to care.

Watching the Angels play Tuesday and Wednesday against the Mariners in particular was downright exhilarating. The offense was absolutely raking, starters Jerome Williams and C.J. Wilson were dealing, the fielding was spectacular and the bullpen was everything you could possibly want them to be. Things were a little uglier yesterday, especially in terms of bullpen performance, but the team kept it together with strengths picking up the slack for weaknesses. In short, this was the Angels baseball we fans have been aching to see, the kind of Angels baseball that we just knew was lurking out there…somewhere…despite the numerous failed search party attempts and the increasingly hopeless expressions on the faces of the park rangers coordinating their efforts. So, does this mean hope is restored and all is suddenly right with our Halo’d little world? Hardly. Only five games and all that. But it is a start and I sure do hope the guys can keep playing like this because, well, this late into May it may or may be enough to lead to anything meaningful in terms of standings, but it sure would be a lot of fun to watch. And baseball that’s this fun to watch is no small thing.

So, in the middle of this Angels streak business, the team managed to remind MLB fans everywhere of another important fact: this Mike Trout kid? He’s pretty darned good at baseball. In the midst of an alleged sophomore slump, the prodigy is hitting just over .300 with 10 homeruns, a third of the way towards equaling last season’s total. Yes, he got off to a bit of a slow start, but this is only the kid’s first full season in the majors. We really have no pattern of behavior to compare this season’s progression to. Oh, and then there was the little matter of that hitting for the cycle thing on Tuesday. You may have heard or read about somewhere. I think a few of the local publications might have picked it up. ;)

And here I had been thinking that all of this season’s Mike Trout hype was a little embarrassingly over the top, possibly to the point of being detrimental. You know, the bobble head give away. The pint glass give away. The front office created daily Trout Farm cheering section out in left field, complete with themed shirt giveaways. The Subway commercial. All of the appearances in MLB commercials. Taken on their own, each of these things made me smile broadly…well, except for the Trout Farm. I have a pet peeve against such things being created by the Marketing Department. Naturally occurring and fan driven is infinitely cooler. But that can be the subject of another blog post…and I digress.

Anyway, individually these promotions and hype are neat, fun for the fans and certainly well deserved by Trout. But, the sum total of the hype on the shoulders of a 21 year old kid this early in his career? In the beginning I just felt queasy about the potential for pressure and harm, especially when Trout was warming up into the season slowly. But watching him play as amazingly as…well…as Mike Trout? I still think it all may be a little too much, but not out of worry for Trout mid you. I just think that the Angels driven components make us look a little overeager and unused to having such young talent on the team. However, in the grand scheme of things, although I may shake my head and role my eyes over it a little from time to time, I’m okay with all of it and having fun with most of it. And Mike Trout? Well, attention, no attention or anything in between, clearly the kid is going to be just fine. We don’t call him SuperTrout and Troutstanding for nothing!

 

 

The 2013 Angels, or how I Learned to Stop Worrying and Accept that Buttercup Might Be the Name of the Season

To paraphrase Lou Brown, easily one of the best fictional baseball coaches ever to grace the cinematic Majors: OK, we won a game Saturday. And we won Sunday. That’s called “two in a row”. And if we win again tomorrow, that’s called a “winning streak.” It has happened before!

Now, clearly, quoting the infinitely quotable Major League in reference to the 2013 Angels is hardly an original thought and I’m not even the first to sling this particular gem around this week. However, I would dearly love to be one of the last because, much like Lou Brown in his follow up comments to this bit of awesomeness, I would like to believe that the Angels are heating up. Really, I would. But this season?? Always there is the Big B…what a Buttercup!

Let me ‘splain (and, you know, see if I can throw in any more random movie references from the depths of my crazed brain while I’m at it!). Towards the end of the sad, sad debacle that was Wednesday night’s pitching implosion, abandon all hope…no, no, wait, here comes the Angels offense!…Nope, just kidding, more LOBsters than a large seafood chain could handle…Waaaaaiiiit, just kidding again, check out that offense!!…*facepalm* Nevermind, more LOBsters…emotional whiplash of a game, I tweeted, ‘This is such a buttercup game. And the Angels have just buttercupped all over the buttercupping thing. Blah.’ And, you know what? Even though the Angels have a proto-winning streak going on here – potentially their third of the season, talk about *facepalm*! – that sentiment actually sums up the whole season so far for me. Because, yes, I was in part being cute and trying to interject some much needed levity into the situation by using the name of the Angels’ much hated – at least by, let’s call it, all fans in their right mind; the rest of you are highly suspect – 7th inning stretch ditty as a stand in for the long, drawn out f-bomb that most of us were feeling at that point. However, my word choice meant so much more as well. Let us review the lyrics of the song, shall we?:

Why do you build me up (build me up) Buttercup, baby
Just to let me down (let me down) and mess me around
And then worst of all (worst of all) you never call, baby
When you say you will (say you will) but I love you still
I need you (I need you) more than anyone, darlin’
You know that I have from the start
So build me up (build me up)
Buttercup, don’t break my heart

Forget all of the perfectly rational, ‘who in the hell thought that this song would be an appropriate rooting-for-the-home-team-at-a-sporting-event song and would they please turn their marketing card in…right now!’ thoughts you’re having at this moment because, sadly, this season they’re beside the point. Thus far the 2013 Angels are the Buttercup Angels — always building us up, just to let us down again for another inning, another game, another streak, of the ‘you don’t want one’ kind. Offense starts coming back. Starting pitching blows a herd of goats. Starting pitching gets it done. Offense goes to sleep and/or the Angels bullpen decides to go all “flashback” on us and turns Arson Squad. Sweep the Tigers. Lose the next 5 – yes, count them, 5! – series. And so on, and so forth. So this proto-streak? I want it to be the real thing. Dear God I want it to be the real thing and the start of something great, but I just…I just don’t know.

But if you’re about to throw the B word at me, you just zip your lip right there. There is no bandwagon. There never was. Seth and I are bleeding red fans who have nothing to jump off of. We love this team, even if this season, like oh so many in the not so distant past, it’s a heavily frustrated, profanity laced, shouting kind of love. We’re still watching every game we can on TV. We’re still buying tickets to the Big A though, being less excited, we’ll probably attend closer to 15 games than our customary 20 – 25. It’s just the focus that has shifted. In another tweet this week, I confessed to fellow Angels fans that, even though it makes me feel like a bad fan, at this point I’m just hoping for the team to straighten up enough that they’re at least fun to watch play again…you know *cue hope and optimism yet again* like the last two games were! Anything more than that seems so farfetched that I just can’t bring my brain to contemplate it without the Angels themselves providing significantly more incentive. But the minute they do? (And, so help me, I can feel it starting already.) Well, I’ll let them build me up once more, praying the whole way that, this time? This time it’s real, and they don’t let me down…again.

The 2013 Angels and the Baseball Fan Masochism Tango

We baseball fans are a masochistic bunch. Oh, I’m not saying we that seek out pain, per se. I mean, who among us wouldn’t prefer a winning scenario for our team? But in those seasons where, despite our desires, the painful losses just keep piling up, we do tend stick around…and stick around…and stick around some more…and then some. Watching. Rooting, even if sometimes with more than a tinge of disappointed sarcasm. Hoping, even if at times, deep down, we suspect our hope is misplaced. In any other season, I might choose to call this fan behavior stubborn loyalty or even optimism, occasionally to the point of idiocy. But, this season? Yeah, I’m sticking with masochism. You’ve all had seasons like that, I’m sure, so the term stands.

The Angels started off badly in 2013 and, despite rare rays of hope temporarily piercing the gloom, it’s only gotten worse…and here I am, still watching. Yet, oddly enough, the first time I started really contemplating this whole fan masochism thing was in the final innings of the Angels terrible, horrible, no good, really fucking long, loss to the A’s on the 29th and 30th of May. That game was all kinds of ugly from the very beginning. For every wonderful thing, spot on thing the Angels did – Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo outright raking and hitting a bomb a piece, Jerome Williams long relief performance, plenty of 2-out derring-do – they committed at least 2 outright crimes against baseball – mass LOBster infestations, instances of crap fielding that would make a AA team blush and meatballs pitched to Brandon Moss.

Heading into extra innings as the visiting team, the deck is always a little stacked against you from the beginning. But this game? Honestly, I knew the Angels chances of pulling off a win were slim, owing to the evening and, eventually, morning’s ratio of shoddy play to good. And I knew that those chances grew slimmer with every inning as the mistakes piled on and more time on the field made one colossal, final mistake more and more likely. And, yet, still I watched and tweeted my support and sarcasm – because with me, even at the best of times, those are two are pretty inseparable concepts. Past 11 p.m. Past midnight. Past kissing my husband goodnight and heading back downstairs so I wouldn’t keep him awake with my cheers and shouting (he had an early meeting scheduled and is generally smarter than me about these things anyway). Past one in the morning all the way to the end of the game some 19 innings and six hours and 32 minutes after it started. And, here’s the thing. Remember how I said I was tweeting? Yeah, well, so were a lot of other Angels fans all the way through to the end. Several of them California transplants living in later time zones. Diehard Angels fans and complete and utter baseball masochists, the lot of us.

After that no less deflating for being more than somewhat likely defeat, I promised myself that I would take a little rest from the Angels and not watch the game the next night…er…later that night. I mean, a lady’s got to catch up on her sleep at some point, right? Apparently many of the other #AngelsFamily diehards who were awake right along with me through 19 innings decided the same thing…a fact of which we are all aware because, in a completely shocking, surprise…drumroll, please…yup, you guessed it…we were all watching the next game from the very first pitch until the end. Another game the Angels lost, I might add. Yeah, like I said. Baseball masochists, the lot of us.

And, here I am, still watching whenever possible, my membership in the league of masochistic baseball fans having become fully apparent to me round about the first pitch that Tuesday evening game after the 19 inning marathon. I asked Seth to text me updates while I was away at a work conference in Las Vegas this weekend, and he happily obliged…even though the team only went one for three. I came home as quickly as I could last night and this evening…to make sure I caught the losses. I will probably do the same for Thursday’s game…and this weekend’s and beyond. The Angels are my team. I am their fan. And, willingly or unwillingly, we baseball fans are a masochistic bunch.

And if, for the most part, I’m avoiding MLBN as opposed to my usual downright addiction to the daily lineup of whatever part of Intentional Talk/MLB Tonight/Quick Pitch/etc. my schedule allows me to catch? Well, maybe my baseball masochism does know a few bounds. Right now I just don’t want to hear the daily Angels post mortem. I mean, when a team with this much talent performs this badly — tying a clubhouse record for terrible starts no less! — it’s definitely news. Although, considering the questionable pitching situation the Angels had even before the injuries, I seriously have to ask just how shocking a news story it is but, by all means, carry on. I just don’t need to hear it right now. I already know how bad it is, thank you very much.

So, in the middle of all of this baseball masochism, am I also pessimistic? I don’t know how this works for others suffering from my condition, and perhaps a few of you could enlighten me, but for me the situation is dire beyond the point of either pessimism or of optimism. Right now, the Angels are like a family member who has contracted a terrible illness, something very serious but not life threatening, like those poor folks who’ve been in various stages of bedridden with this year’s flu for three weeks or more. In a situation like that, you really have to concentrate on the here and now, on getting the patient back up and on their feet, before you can even begin to worry about niceties like the work event next week, that great party they’re supposed to go to in two weekends, or the hiking vacation you have planned together next month. Right now, I can’t even think about June, July and so on for the Angels, let alone September and October. I’m still reeling from April and hoping the team can start playing to their capabilities before the rest of May drifts by in a sea of L’s and games below .500, as well. *sigh* Come on Angels, dazzle us.

Angels Still Have Issues, but what a Difference a Few Lit Halos Can Make!

Writers are often purported to be an angsty bunch, pouring out the prose most effectively in a fit of anger or sadness. But not I. Words flow from my fingers through the keyboard most easily when I’m in a good mood and this blog is no exception. I don’t want to yell at my Angels, I want to cheer for and celebrate them. Now, is this more a factor of there being little truth to the stereotype about writers or of the fact of my being a hack, I cannot say. ;)  But I can tell you that I’d far rather continue writing the post I started in a fit of baseball fan euphoria on Sunday than anything “inspired” by last night’s game against the Rangers…but, don’t worry. You know me. I’ll bring it back around eventually.

Oh what a difference a series or even a game can make in the mood of the baseball fan! Especially when that series finds my previously slumping Angels sweeping the Tigers, scary offensive lineup and all! You would think that, as a lifelong baseball fan, I would thoroughly grok the whole 162 game season concept and not get so worked up over a series or even a week here or there. But, in truth, I think that’s only possibly for the more casual fan, the fan who skims the box scores far more often than they find the time to sit down and watch a game. Because, when you watch most of those 162 games, the no less true for being so very clichéd concept of this being a marathon not a sprint, becomes strictly academic in the face of the fact that you are living the season game by game. Heck, sometimes it doesn’t even take a series to provoke a completely disproportionate to the sample size at hand move to despair or jubilation. Especially this early in the season, sometimes just a game will do it. I certainly found myself embracing an impractical surge of optimism after watching the Angels’ walk off win against the Astros from the Big A two Saturdays ago. And a game like last night’s game against the Rangers, a game which laid bare all of the Angels flaws over the course of nine innings – see, I told you I’d bring this back around! – would have eaten at me, planting nagging doubts about the season, even in June or July.

Thus, last post I was desperately searching for a reason to stay optimistic and this weekend I was trying to temper my optimism with sane practicality and with only limited success…until last night. After the first game against the Rangers, the stark reminder of the Angels flaws did temper that optimism, but it didn’t kill it. Yes, I know the Angels are far from out of the woods yet in terms of the standings…yes, even this early in the season and I will remind anyone who says ‘no it’s too early to worry at all’ to look at last season. Yes, the starting rotation is a real problem, especially for the duration of Jered Weaver’s DL stint, and the bullpen is worse. And, yes, there is an awful lot riding on a potentially brilliant but frustratingly streaky offense. But the weekend’s sweep of the Tigers did at least show us what an Angels team with a fully functioning offense can do when the different components of the pitching staff combine for at least a passable performance, and what that team can do is win! Now, when the offense takes a while to come online, or is scoring but still strands too many runners in scoring position while any aspect of the pitching outright self destructs? Well, hang on to your hats ladies and gentlemen, this season could get a little interesting by all appropriately Hoban Washburne definitions of the word.

So those are the realistic concerns from the past week and change, but what about the happier observations?:

  • Is there anything hotter in baseball than your team’s walk off win? I mean, seriously. Is there anything more, dear lord, ‘Is it getting warm in here or is it just me?,’ I think I need several moments to recover and quite possibly a cigarette, hotter in baseball than a walk off win…especially one you witness live? No. Quite simply, there is not, as I was reminded from our seats at the Big A two Saturdays ago and again just this past Sunday.
  • When the offense is clicking it can and will pick up even so-so pitching…and the offense is heating up. Okay, Josh Hamilton needs to catch the warming trend and we’d like Mike Trout to steal more again, but for the most part they’re starting to look really good more games than not.
  • Promising youth explosion! If we had to have so many injuries early on – and, let’s face it, we’d all prefer that the Angels did not, but here we are – then at least the team has found two legitimate gems in the form of Garrett Richards and Luis “Lucho” Jimenez. When he last joined the Big League team, Richards had promising stuff but little seasoning. Returning from more time in the minors with a lot more polish, the youngster still has some work to do, but has nevertheless been one of the brighter spots in the rotation. And Lucho, replacing the ailing Alberto Callaspo, is simply a revelation. Good instincts, good hands, serious athleticism, some speed and no small amount of pop in his bat, not to mention an attitude with just the right amount of cockiness and an infectious grin. I find myself hoping that Lucho is Callaspo’s permanent replacement and I’m one of the fans usually counted among Callaspo supporters.
  • Even in our sketchy bullpen there are a few standouts. Scott Downs is Downs again. Jerome Williams is a confidence inspiring sight taking the mound in long relief and recent call up Michael Roth sure impressed in his Angels debut…in fact, one wonders why we haven’t seen him since. (Editor’s Note: Ah, that would be because apparently Roth is temporarily joining the starting rotation beginning tonight. I’m awfully excited to watch that. It’s only the Rangers, kid, and Yu Darvish. No pressure. ;)   )
  • Our outfield!! Trout, Peter Bourjos and Hamilton. I cannot get enough of the great plays from these three guys. And Bourjos haters? You go right on hating because, let’s face it that’s what you’re going to do anyway despite anything I say or, you know, logic. But don’t look now, Bourjos is hitting. Well!! And he’s getting on base too. Once Hamilton settles in at the plate, this trio will be unstoppable.

And that’s basically the long and the short of it. Which Angels tendencies will have more of an impact on the standings by season’s end? Well it really is too soon to tell, no matter how I feel on a game by game basis. But I have more optimism than I did when last I checked in and that, dear reader, is seriously something…something I for one needed badly.

Angels Home Opener and the Disappointments That Just Keep on Coming…

Yes, Seth and I did continue our relatively new tradition of attending the Angels home opener this year. And, yes, that was the better part of a week ago and I should have posted about it days ago. But I’ve sort of been holding off, waiting for the Angels to give me a reason to write something positive and cheerful. *sigh* Can you blame a girl? At this point I can see that the Angels are just mired in a terrible slump right now and it may take them awhile to work through it, a fact I am embracing with the sort of frustrated patience and loyal resignation that may indeed be unique to sports fans. However, thinking back on the Angels’ opening day, I can honestly say that even knowing today how the rest of the series turned out, that initial walking through the gates magic of the home opener still stands, and that seemed worth writing about.

Weeknight baseball games in the greater Los Angeles/Orange County area are tricky to time right under the best of circumstances. First pitch is at 7:05. Seth and I get off work at 6…ish…often a very large ish. And traffic is, well, storied and with reason. By now we’re pros at getting to the stadium, rushing to our section and sinking into our seats just in time for first pitch. Arriving any earlier takes a certain amount of luck and luck was not on our side that evening. We missed the dramatic home opener team introductions, the giant flag on the field and most of the other Opening Day traditions.

No matter. We caught the flyover from the parking lot and looking straight up at six WWII AT-6 fighters flying low in formation is all kinds of cool no matter where you’re standing. Watching the planes bank and head away while the stadium staff checked bags and tickets helped settle me out of rushing mode and into a more celebratory frame mind – a helpful reminder that this was not just any game. The feeling continued and grew as we rushed through the stadium toward our seats, goose bumps of anticipation rising on my arms as all of those familiar Angels pre-game sounds surrounded us. Train’s Calling All Angels. The historical news reels announcing the creation of the Angels franchise and subsequent team milestones. Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back in Town as the guys start to take the field, all prompting a welling of excited emotions that led to the following internal exchange – yes, I talk to myself and myself talks back. What of it? ;)

Are you…are you crying? No. S’dusty. The stadium’s barely been used in months.

Good. Because you know that thing about baseball? That thing about how there’s absolutely no crying in it? No, really. S’just dusty. Really, really dusty.

Okaaaaay, so I teared up a little…er…a lot. I will cop to becoming strangely emotional and sentimental over really odd things. But, hey, it was the home opener. Tears may have been a little over the top but if you’re a baseball fan and your home opener doesn’t provoke some sort of emotional response, might I suggest a trip to the doctor’s to check up on your heart, because it’s already clear that you have no soul. ;)

And if only the game itself had been at all good. As good C.J. Wilson handily dealing with those first two batters, perhaps, before he began to blow chunks, giving up three runs before the Angels were able to finally make that third out. Or, as good as innings three through six, perhaps, after Wilson had, quite admirably, calmed down and pitched well and the Angels started to score, eventually taking a small lead. If only any of the things, then that initial, walking through the gates excitement would have remained even if the A’s had still managed to win. But as it stands? With the miscues. The bad pitches. The sloppy play. The 13 frickin’ LOBsters! The eventual near blowout. That excitement remains relegated to the joy of being back at the stadium after the long winter away and is far removed from the game itself. *sigh* Some seasons are like that.

Now, if only I could laugh about my own disappointment over one game out of 162. But the Angels’ had been paying well, well below their potential leading up the home opener and it seems to be getting worse. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I’m resigned to the fact that this is just something the team is stuck in the middle of and might not find their way out of for a while. Meanwhile the injuries, starting with Jered Weaver, and the other hits just keep on coming. I firmly believe that this is not what the rest of the season will look like. This team is too talented to never find their rhythm and play well together. Now, will they be able to that before they lose enough games that they’ve effectively blown their season in April no matter how well they play May through September? Well, that is the $127.8 million question, now isn’t it? I honestly do not have a feel for the answer right now and I am dying for some sign of life for the team to justify even the smallest return of my usual sunny optimism.

I can tell you what I do know though. As a fan this just feels icky right now. My brain is a morass of conflicting thoughts, all of them tending toward the grumpy. I absolutely do not want to hear, ‘It’s early still. I mean, this is a marathon not a sprint.’ and the usual platitudes as if this is no big deal. With each game the Angels play like this, we draw exponentially closer to too late. At the same time, don’t let me hear anyone saying it’s over. Not yet. The season is in real danger but it could still be salvageable, so just take that talk right on over to someone else’s blog. Oh and, warning, because this behavior is already showing up on Twitter and FaceBook in full force, if anyone starts quoting that lame, pointless and beyond trite, “But back in 2002 the Angels started the season terribly and…” to me, I really will start throwing things at you. Yes. Through the internet.

And now, I am out of time. I am heading off to my second game of the year, so I may post catch up photos from Opening Day later, and hopefully with a brain spinning with the sort of giddy, early optimism that a few wins this weekend could still bring out in me.

I-5 Bias: The Opening Day Edition

Welcome to I-5 Bias: the Opening Day Edition! This is the third 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!

I-5 Bias - Blog Medium

For this edition, we have posed six Angels and Dodgers oriented questions to be answered on both of our blogs prompted by the end of spring training and the World Baseball Classic and, of course, Baseball Fans’ Christmas Morning, otherwise known as Opening Day. 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:

So, about those less than stellar spring training records? Are you concerned? What, if anything, did you learn about your team from spring training?

Kristen says: I’m not really concerned about the Angels spring training record (or, truth be told, the Dodgers either for that matter). Split squads facing full squads. Pitchers taking the mound in unconventional innings for unusual stretches of time. Players pulled both more and less quickly than they usually would be. Minor leaguers finishing what the big leaguers start. Spring training play is just too different from regular season play for the one record to say anything predictive about the other. Besides, lately the Angels have started off their seasons with a crappy April and early May. The terrible spring training record gives me a small, odd hope that they’ve somehow gotten it out of their systems earlier this season. Now, having watched more spring training games than not, I can tell you that I am still really concerned about the Angels bullpen and only somewhat less concerned about the back end of the starting rotation. Here’s hoping that I’m just a hopeless worrywart without cause.

Matt says: as far as the records I’m not concerned at all because if you look at spring training most of the time it’s the minor league guys and Non roster guys playing so no need to worry at all. As far as what I learned in Spring I learned a few things. 1- the Dodgers minor league system is in great hands and 2- Dodgers have depth.

After watching spring training, what player(s) have particularly impressed you? What player(s) you look forward to seeing this upcoming season?

Matt says: One player I am really looking forward to seeing and Impressed by is Josh Beckett and here’s why. While Beckett isn’t going to be a Cy Young Award winner he is going to produce for the Dodgers. I believe the change of scenery will really help him this season. Another player that impressed me was Hyun Jin Ryu. Ryu will have to adjust to the MLB style of play but without a doubt he can for sure get it done. He will be a treat to watch this season. Yasiel Puig also impressed many Dodger fans this spring. Even though he was sent to Double A due to no room on the roster he will be something else once he’s called up.

Kristen says: I’m still head over heels enamored with the Angels outfield – Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos and Josh Hamilton. They had their rough games and bouts of butterfingers this spring training but I really got the impression they learned to work well together. Watching Bourjos get his centerfielder’s confidence back after a season spent largely on the bench was a kick and a half, as was watching Hank Conger kill it at the plate.

This is the first season with two 15 team leagues and interleague play every day. In fact, the Angels are one of the teams opening the season with an interleague series. What are your thoughts on this?

Kristen says: I’m an oddity among hardcore baseball fans in that I actually enjoy interleague play and look forward to all of the odd matchups – perhaps it’s a throwback to my childhood and all of those great DC/Marvel comic mash ups. ;) So, on many levels, I am excited to see the Angels take on the Reds. In fact, my only annoyance with the Angels season opener is not that it’s against a National League team. It’s that the series takes place on the East Coast and most of the games are early, sticking me with the unappealing choice of either catching games that take place while I’m at work only in bits and pieces on the radio and in phone updates, or watching them on delay knowing full well that there is no way I will be able to avoid knowing the outcome of the game prematurely unless by some miracle I can avoid the entire internet, the radio, television and basically all human contact until I’m finished watching the game. I know. Not bloody likely.

As for this being the first season with two 15 team leagues, I love having an equal number of teams in both leagues at last, but still have some serious reservations about that equal number being an odd one. We’ll see how this works out.

Matt says: I honestly believe is a pretty cool yet odd thing. With Opening Day it’s the start of the season and you always want to start the season off on the right foot. Interleague games to start the season will be an odd one but will also be fun. A good example is Angles and Reds. The Reds pitching staff against the Angels line up at Great American Ballpark is a game that catches many eyes. AL vs NL contenders. I believe it is a great treat for baseball fans.

What are your thoughts on your team’s Opening Day 25-man roster? Do you have any issues or just plain surprises?

Matt says: Justin Sellers is a player that surprised me. I would’ve thought Alex Castellanos or Ellian Herrara would be on the roster but Mattingly wanted to go with Defense. Paco Rodriguez is also another surprise but the kid shown that he can pitch. That’s for a fact. He can really pitch and has a bright future with this team. Other than that I see no other surprises on the 25 man roster. Most are healthy which is great.

Kristen says: The 25-man roster is more or less what I expected. There were no surprises for me in terms of the starters and I am completely happy on that front, ecstatic even. I was thrilled, though not surprised, that Hank Conger made the roster. Hopefully 2013 is his year to really make an impact! I was pleasantly surprised to see Andrew Romine make the bench list and am excited to see what he can do. I’ve had a soft spot for the kid ever since I saw him pull off a tough force play at third with a long distance slide across the bag with the ball, just ahead of the runner. He’s rough around the edges and needs work at the plate but has good instincts and an appealing versatility. My only issue is that even, with a large personnel shuffle in the bullpen, I still don’t trust them to be consistently reliable. Prove me wrong guys. I would love nothing more than to be making heartfelt, happy mea culpas to the bullpen at the end of the season.

The World Baseball Classic was big news and now the media are debating the impact it will have on the regular season. What are your thoughts?

Kristen says: I think it’s a mixed bag and that the effects will differ from player to player. I’m thrilled silly that the Angels’ participant, Erick Aybar, emerged from the WBC with a May and June like hot bat that he shows every intention of maintaining. In the case of Aybar, who regularly plays pretty much year around between the regular season and the Dominican League, I think he actually has a chance of maintaining it and other teams will be in this same, happy little boat. Other players may start out hot but fade early having, effectively, started playing hardcore, competitive baseball a month earlier than their teammates. And, of course, WBC related injuries – many of which would not have happened during less intense ST play – will be an issue for a few teams, including the Dodgers. What we have to remember, however, is that if the unfortunate end of the WBC related effects spectrum is enough to tip the seasonal balances for any team, then one of any number of the sort of injuries/issues that managers have to anticipate during the regular season might well have had the exact same effect.

Matt says: I honestly believe it will. Hanley’s injury was something that could’ve Happened in a Spring Training game. What many fail to realize is that the WBC gets players into 9 innings shape instead if slowly getting into that game by game. It gets them ready and going and if their teams make playoffs then the atmosphere will have them set to go. So I believe for the good it will have them ready.

Bonus Bloggers’ Bias Question: So, Opening Day. Do you have tickets to your team’s home opener and what, if any, Opening Day traditions do you have?

Matt says: yes I absolutely do. This is my first FULL season as a season ticket holder and I am looking forward to it. A tradition I always have is I check my stuff the night before and put it in one place. Then I get there the next day for batting practice and to see all the festivities. Opening day is really great.

Kristen says: I am bouncing off the walls excited! Yes, we do have tickets to the Angels home opener, though it’s just about the latest home opener for any team this season so I still have a ways to go before I get to see my guys play live. For the last three seasons, our tradition has been to go to the Angels home opener. In seasons like this one where that doesn’t coincide with Opening Day, our tradition is just to watch as much baseball as possible and really soak it in after the long winter without, preferably accompanied by a nice bottle of red…or two. Sadly, this year all traditions will be bucked. I’m sick, so no wine, and the Angels are playing at 1 p.m. on a weekday so, really, no Angels. Thus this year’s ‘tradition’ is apparently watching not my team and being frustrated until the Angels hit Texas. But, you know what? Today umpires will call out those magical words, ‘Play ball!’ twelve times in regular season play, so I simply can’t be bothered to wipe the big, silly grin off of my face long enough to be upset about much of anything. Baseball is back!

Jerry Dipoto Deals the Undeal-able Contract and Other Therapeutic Baseball News for this Ailing Blogger

Vernon Wells is Yankee now. Um. Wow! If anything could drag me forth from my hacking, wheezing, non-blogging stupor it would definitely be this little bit of “I can’t believe he actually pulled that one off” Jerry Dipoto magic. Okay. So that was a week ago, give or take, which means that it actually took the Vernon Wells trade, some pretty impressive contract extension news and the end of spring training to drag me forth from my hacking, wheezing, non-blogging stupor, but who’s counting?

Basically, I spent most of the month of March almost but not quite coming down with the ick that’s been going around the office, just managed to feel truly good in time to go to spring training in Arizona and came back sick as a dog. Okay, at this point dogs might rightfully take offense as they would have behaved more sensibly. I was too busy at work to take sick days, so I decided to mind over matter – read, ignore and wallow in denial – my way through things and wound up with the worst case of bronchitis I’ve ever had. Smart, huh?

While my intelligence is certainly in doubt at this point, there is no denying that Jerry Dipoto is a frickin’ genius and well deserving of the enthusiastic whispers and croaks of excited approval I managed upon hearing the news. Vernon Wells has never worked out for the Angels. That much is clear. But at the same time, it’s not for lack of trying and Wells has handled an awkward for all concerned situation like a gentleman and a true team player. Whatever the Angels asked Wells to do, he did with grace, including switching positions, switching to part time status and ultimately riding the pine…everything the Angels asked him to do except, sadly, hit the ball. So, while I am glad to see Wells go, I am also glad to see him go somewhere. I like the guy, I respect him and ultimately I wish him a fresh start and a good season…of course, at the same time, I do not wish Wells a good season against Angels pitching and, as immature as it may be, I will never wish the Yankees as a whole a good season, so I suppose I’m sending awfully mixed messages here. Oh well. The term fan is derived from the word fanatic not from any sort of word containing terms like sensible and/or rational in the definition. Deal with it. ;)

As for the impressive contract extensions, bravo to Buster Posey and Justin Verlander and their respective teams. I love decisions like this. As much as I might covet certain players for my Angels, in the end I love seeing players grow up with and stay with the team that drafted them. This growing trend of signing key players to contract extensions well before they hit free agency brings a little of the romance of the Golden Era back to the game, in a way that is actually fair to the players. I wholeheartedly approve. I am absolutely not wishing the season away — Heeeeellllllll no! — but it will be interesting to watch how this trend changes the Hot Stove season in the years to come as it completely restructures the free agency pool.

And, most importantly, tomorrow is Opening Day!! Okay, yes, it was fun watching the Astros beat the Rangers in a real game that actually counts, but this newer one-game teaser trailer to the season will never be Opening Day to me. Tomorrow is the real deal. And I say cheers to that!! And, when I’m feeling a lot better, I’ll even tip my glass. Right now it’s filled with tea and copious amounts of lemon juice and honey, which is very therapeutic but rather vile when you get right down to it, wholly inappropriate for any sort of toasting. So, verbal – whispered – cheers today and official cheers further down the line. I don’t care, tomorrow every team will respond to that most wonderful of phrases, ‘Play Ball!!’ so it’s all good!

The Annual Baseball Extravaganza, Spring Training Edition: Friday Evening, USA vs. Mexico

Finally sitting down to write again while watching the final games of the World Baseball Classic, I tip my hat to Puerto Rico for defeating reigning champion Japan, but I also have to belatedly tip my glass to Team USA. While I wish they could have made it this far and clearly theirs was not as great a finish as we’d hoped — certainly not as great a finish as the players had hoped — it was much better than I expected after catching the USA vs. Mexico game. And, hey, I have the last of the Balvenie RumCask in the glass I am tipping, so I can honestly say that a) this is a quality toast and b) that I may actually shed a tear or two in a moment…though certainly not for Team USA. ;)

And can we get a standing ovation? Well, we were standing and clapping for everything anyway -- this was a delightfully excited crowd -- so why not. R.A. Dickey and J.P. Arencibia head for the dugout after warm ups. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And can we get a standing ovation? Well, we were standing and clapping for everything anyway — this was a delightfully excited crowd — so why not. R.A. Dickey and J.P. Arencibia head for the dugout after warm ups. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Giancarlo Stanton warms up in right field right in front of our seats. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Giancarlo Stanton warms up in right field right in front of our seats. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Taking the not-particularly-way-back machine to one week ago, I return to the subject of our Annual Baseball Extravaganza, Spring Training Edition. For Seth and I, this was a trip filled with firsts — our first trip to Spring Training and our first World Baseball Classic game. Friday afternoon we left Tempe Diablo stadium when the Arizona sky opened up and poured water and ice, checked into our hotel, wrung as much water as we could from our jeans (serves us right for trying to pack light, I suppose) and headed to Chase Field to watch Team USA and Team Mexico battle to move to the next round in the WBC. Yes, that’s a lot of baseball. *Big silly grin* My kind of vacation.

Adrian Gonzalez went one for two and that one...well, it was a monster. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Adrian Gonzalez went one for two and that one…well, it was a monster. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

So, is it a homerun or not? (J.P. Arencibia and R.A. Dickey) World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

So, is it a homerun or not? (J.P. Arencibia and R.A. Dickey) World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

I don't know. Is it a homerun? (Eric Hosmer, David Wright, Brandon Phillips and Jimmy Rollins) World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

I don’t know. Is it a homerun? (Eric Hosmer, David Wright, Brandon Phillips and Jimmy Rollins) World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Rats -- or something like that -- sadly the umps confirm it's a homerun. (Giancarlo Stanton, Ryan Braun and Adam Joes) World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Rats — or something like that — sadly the umps confirm it’s a homerun. (Giancarlo Stanton, Ryan Braun and Adam Joes) World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

The energy walking into Chase was incredible. Our seats were excellent, in the third row just a section and change behind first base. In my opinion half of the fun of the WBC is seeing our MLB players in different uniforms, playing for their home country or for Team USA. It was an absolute kick to see so many players I adore but don’t get to watch nearly as often as my Angels – R.A. Dickey, Giancarlo Stanton, Brandon Phillips, Joe Mauer, Eric Hosmer and the list goes on – playing together in red, white and blue, especially on the same field with Adrian Gonzalez, Sergio Romo and everyone else playing for Mexico. Sadly, the game itself was one sided and ho hum. Mexico hit, ran and hit and ran some more while USA played like…well…like an MLB team in their second or third week of Spring Training. I had the wrong angle to tell if Dickey was having an off night or if Mexico simply has no issues hitting a knuckleball. Not that it mattered, because the outfield couldn’t seem to make a play to save their lives, a development I was not expecting given the quality of the players involved. Mind you, I had a blast and am excited we had tickets to see the game but, in the end, my excitement and enjoyment were more because we got to see a WBC game than because the game itself was anything special.

Okay, clearly I need my own Spring Training with the camera to get my shutter finger back up to speed but, still, love R.A. Dickey's face here. If I were the runner off the bag, I would have been intimidated. *nods* World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Okay, clearly I need my own Spring Training with the camera to get my shutter finger back up to speed but, still, I love R.A. Dickey’s face here. If I were the runner off the bag, I would have been intimidated. *nods* World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Adrian Gonzalez and Ramiro Pena join Luis Mendoza for a meeting on the mound. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Adrian Gonzalez and Ramiro Pena join Luis Mendoza for a meeting on the mound. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

A couple of observations:

The strangest thing about the game: Oddly enough, I scould not get used to the sounds. As I mentioned, it poured in Arizona that Friday so Chase Field wisely took advantage of all modern conveniences and this became the first baseball game I have ever watched under a closed roof. I was plenty grateful for the roof, mind you, especially sitting there still damp from the epic deluge and hail that ended the Angels game that afternoon. But at the same time I was reminded how much the traditional sounds of the game are part of the whole experience for me. Under a roof you still get the crack of the bat, etc., but it’s flatter and somewhat muted. It just doesn’t sound right…kind of Langoliers-ish for any of you out there who devoured Stephen King to the degree I did as a child. Now, don’t get me wrong. Baseball played underneath a retractable roof is decidedly better than a game called for inclement weather, or than sitting in the stands dripping wet, cold and absolutely hating life for that matter. But the game is still best enjoyed outside.

Spoiled Southern California girl, part of one? Oh, hey, that's me. Yup, this was my first time watching a baseball game under a roof. And what an imposing looking roof it is. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Spoiled Southern California girl, part of one? Oh, hey, that’s me. Yup, this was my first time watching a baseball game under a roof. And what an imposing looking roof it is. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

The best thing about the game: As I said, the energy was incredible! You hear a lot about games with a playoff atmosphere. Now, I have yet to afford the privilege of being at an actual playoff game – though that is indeed one for the bucket list – but I have been at several hard contested, end-of-the-season games that folks later describe as having a playoff atmosphere and I can definitely attest to the fact that that kind of energy is wild, intense and wonderful. I also had the luck of being at the Big A for every pitch of Jered Weaver’s no hitter (No, I probably won’t stop mentioning that for a few seasons yet. Why do you ask? ;) ) and the energy at that game was positively electric to the point where you could feel it on your skin. The energy at the WBC game was palpable, like that, but less intense. It was a rowdy, fun, the-crowd-is-absolutely-into-it-and-hanging-on-every-pitch kind of energy and, yet, at the same time it was casual. This wasn’t a playoff atmosphere, it felt like everything a simple every day game can and should be, and this during a relatively lopsided, uneventful game. If every regular season MLB game could feel like that? Well, I would probably love going to baseball games even more, something I did not think possible.

Brandon Phillips at the bat. Sadly baserunners were an issue for Team USA, namely getting them. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Brandon Phillips at the bat. Sadly baserunners were an issue for Team USA, namely getting them. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

The Annual Baseball Extravaganza, Spring Training Edition: Friday Afternoon, Angels vs. D-Backs

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:

Angels NRI Outfielder Randal Grichuk begins his swing. This is one of the few photos I have from this first game. I really didn't want to use the camera too much in the rain. March 8, 2013, Angels vs. D-Backs at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Angels NRI Outfielder Randal Grichuk begins his swing. This is one of the few photos I have from this first game. I really didn’t want to use the camera too much in the rain. March 8, 2013, Angels vs. D-Backs at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Photo by This is a very simple game…

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.

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.

Players -- including a bare headed Kole Calhoun in the back -- hang out in the dugout in the rain during the Angels at bat. March 8, 2013, Angels vs. D-Backs at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Players — including a bare headed Kole Calhoun in the back — hang out in the dugout in the rain during the Angels at bat. March 8, 2013, Angels vs. D-Backs at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Photo by This is a very simple game…

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.

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