Results tagged ‘ Hank Conger ’

Angels Weekend: Of Brooms, a Youth Uprising & the AL Central

It was quite the busy weekend at my house. In addition to the usual Pilates class and errands, we made pickled red onions, scoured the house, rearranged the furniture upstairs and did a lot of sweeping…oh, yeah, wait. That last part? That wasn’t Seth and I. That was the Angels!! ;)

Sorry for the brief bragging indulgence but, did you see us play last season? I think we can all agree, I’m due. So, suffice to say, it was a good weekend. Tyler Chatwood? I was a little apprehensive about his second major league start, especially when he’s definitely pitching to contact and the While Sox can hit. But, wow, can the kid pitch! And what confidence and poise on the mound. If he starts getting hit, he regroups, recovers and moves on. Can we keep him Sosh? Pleeeeeease. Can we? Can we?!

Another weekend revelation? Hel-lo Hank Conger. After Spring Training, Conger stayed on the 25-man roster primarily because of the large number of Angels on the DL. Everyone has been referring to him as the Angels third catcher, the assumption being that when a few of the regular players come off the DL, Hank will go back to the Bees, leaving Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson to duke it out for the primary catcher’s spot. Hank, however, has seized this brief opportunity with both hands in a death grip and sprinted with it. Seriously, each appearance has been better than the last. The pitchers seem to love him. He calls a good game. He catches guys stealing. He caught Juan Pierre stealing. That’s not easy. And he’s hitting and seems a little stronger with each plate appearance. I think it’s time to stop calling the kid the third catcher. I think it’s time to just call the kid the catcher. Let Mathis and Wilson duke it out over who gets to stay up when everyone comes back off the DL…except this is Mike Scioscia’s Angels, so all three may very well wind up staying up. I’m rolling my eyes right now, but it’s with affection.

Other high points? Dan Haren is now 4 and 0. Like Jered Weaver, he didn’t have his best start and now has an E.R.A. over 1 but, also like Weaver, not his best start is still pretty darned good and was good enough for the W. Maicer Izturis had a very hot bat. Mark Trumbo is a beast at the plate and is getting darned good at pulling off a tag out of nowhere at first, which is good because the rain wet ball wasn’t exactly helping with those throws to first. I. Love. Our. Outfield. Have I mentioned that before? Vernon Wells is continuing to gain momentum at the plate and in left field. The bullpen did really well. Jordan Walden almost blew his first save in spectacular fashion but this kid has a closer’s ice water in his veins. He loaded up the bases, then settled down and got the outs he needed without flinching. I wish I could say the same. I flinched, twitched, paced around the room, swore a blue streak and generally was not a pretty sight until he calmed down and got that last out. But as long as he doesn’t make a habit of getting himself into a jam in the first place, it’s nice to know that Walden can get himself out of a jam.

The Angels had a great weekend and Texas got beaten up by the Yankees so now we’re tied for first. Tied. For. First! Yes, it’s April 17th. I realize that standings at this point mean absolutely nothing. First place and a couple of bucks still won’t buy you a grande latte at Starbucks – those suckers cost $3.50. But after every major sports publication picked the Angels to finish in third place, well out of second, being tied for first with the red hot Texas Rangers feels pretty darned sweet right now. *toasts the Angels with a glass of Malbec* Oooookaaaay. I was going to drink that anyway. It went with dinner, gorgeously in fact. But it tastes just that much better after being raised in honor of the Angels.

Starting Monday, the Angels face the aforementioned red hot Texas Rangers. The red hot AL Champion Texas Rangers. I’m a little nervous. I’m a little excited. Well see how it goes. They’re tough. Really tough. But here’s the thing. We beat them a few times last year when the Angels were far, far from their best and the Rangers were still red hot. So…can we beat them? Yes. It sure won’t be easy, but I believe we can. Will we beat them? I sure hope so, but it’s far from a given, and we’re heading into the bottom of our starting rotation, though Ervin Santana has certainly had some success against Texas. You have to play the games to find these things out, fortunately, because I already know where we stand on paper. I don’t think this series is truly make it or break it time for the Angels. Again, its only April. But this series is an important test even so. Go Halos!!

Angels Home Opener: A Disappointing Night in the Baseball Zone

Submitted for your approval: one normally mild mannered couple travelling companionably together down the 57 freeway as they do several times a month without incident. But this time something is different. Their voices grow louder and more excited and their gestures more enthusiastic. Their hearts beat faster, their anticipation increases to a child-like pitch and gooseflesh rises on their arms. Little do they know that they’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of lights out pitching and the sounds wooden bats striking balls, but of mental toughness; a dimension of wins and of losses, sadly this time the latter; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are a couple of chalk lines, a wall and a series of time honored rules startlingly complex in their seeming simplicity. That’s the signpost up ahead – it says exit Katella for Angels Stadium. Their next stop? The Baseball Zone. *Cue theme music. No! Not Buttercup. Never Buttercup!*

Friday night, as planned, we took ourselves out to the ballgame, to watch the Angels Home Opener against the Blue Jays. The weather was seriously touch and go for a while there, including a complete downpour as I was leaving my house. But it stayed dry in Anaheim through the game and the Friday Night Fireworks that followed, only starting to pelt us with a few fat rain drops as we headed out to our car. Would that my Angels had held the lead anywhere near as well as the clouds held back the rain.

The game itself? It started off well enough. Ervin Santana pitched like the good Ervin, the one with control who can throw strikes. Peter Bourjos is amazing to watch in center, flying across the grass, making difficult catches look effortless. We had a few good hits, scoring one in the 1st inning and another in the 3rd for an early two run lead. The Jays were slipping and sliding all over the outfield. Everything was off to a great start, and then we started to strand runners. Vernon Wells failed to cash in on runners in scoring position. Additional batters started to strand more runners. A two run lead is not a very safe thing deep into the game and it didn’t last. Santana gave up three runs aided by a few sloppy plays in the outfield.

By the time they brought in Fernando Rodney in the 9th – I know, not a save situation, but I was surprised! – I felt absolutely deflated. Rodney performed acceptably, allowing one runner on, but no walks and no additional runs. However, bringing him out just cemented the frustrating sense of one step forward, three giant steps back I was having after the stranded runners. Oh well, you never know what wonders or horrors you might witness when you visit: the Baseball Zone! I prefer wonders myself but I suppose that, in the end, a bad Friday night at the ballpark is probably better than a good Friday night almost anywhere else…and it’s only April 9th…But Conger needs to stop swinging for the fences, Wells needs to find his bat and work on running forward to make catches, and everyone else needs to work on hitting with runners in scoring position. I’m not panicking. All of this will come in the next few weeks. But…seriously!

The Opening Day experience outside of the game? It was fantastic, from the first goosebump raising view of the field coming up through the stadium to our seats, to that first bite of wonderfully nasty ballpark hotdog that I have been jonesing for, for months. Eli Grba, the first Angel selected in the team’s first draft and the Angels’ first opening day pitcher threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Grba is the first of a planned string of Angels alumni to perform this duty throughout the season. He was so cute in the interview before the game, talking about how nervous he was to throw out the pitch after so many years and how his friends would make fun of him if he bounced it on the ground. He did just fine, but it’s amusing to note that friends are the same everywhere no matter what the generation, and your best friends are the ones who’ll affectionately give you the most grief when necessary…or when not so necessary.

The front office has switched up some of the music and the pre-game slide show for the 50th anniversary and, while I need to see it a few more times to remember all of the details, I’m enjoying it so far. The flashback 1980s uniforms were a trip and a half. I remember these uniforms well from any number of Freeway Series I watched as a kid, though I was rooting for the other guys back then. I am amused that the concept of flashback uniforms extends to colors, logos and jersey designs, but the cut of the pants remains identical to the modern uniforms – no skinny pants fashion faux paus for the sake of historical accuracy here. Actually I laugh mostly because I can picture the players emphatically vetoing the silly looking and, no doubt, less comfortable 1980’s pants.

Fortunately, win or lose, here’s the thing about the Baseball Zone. It’s absolutely addicting. The first question I asked my husband this morning? So, do want to go to the ballgame tonight? He reigned me in a little – someone needs to sometimes! – but only just a little. We’re going back on Tuesday night and trying it out in the view level this time because my no more than $15 per ticket and try to keep it under $10 except for very special games rules are in full effect. Sometimes I reign myself in too. :)

Hopefully this evening’s game, which is about to begin, will be better. Kaz is conveniently injured and on the DL. Maybe he really did hurt his back, maybe he didn’t but he always seems to go on the DL right before his first start back after being obliterated by the opposing team. Either way, I’m excited to see how Matt Palmer does. Hey Angels, how about a little run support please? And by a little, I actually mean a lot.

20110408 Angels Opening Day Flag 1 - for blog.jpg

New Closer, Move Down + Angels Win!

It will be fun going to the Big A on Friday for the Angels Home Opening Day for all of the obvious reasons, but now I have an additional one. I can’t wait to talk closers with Barbara, whom I doubt I am alone in calling my favorite usher. A diehard Angels fan, Barbara is kind of our den mother in the Right Field Pavilion, smiling, chatting baseball and shaming drunken idiots into behaving themselves as needed to ensure a good game for all. We hashed out all the problems of the bullpen and our closing situation many times over the course of the season and, of course, like armchair managers everywhere, we had all of the answers. And both of us wanted the Angels to just bring Jordan Walden in to close already. I imagine she is as thrilled with today’s news as I am.

That’s right, it’s official. Mike Scioscia told reporters today that Jordan Walden is the Angels closer while Fernando Rodney works out his issues. This is an open ended decision. If Rodney recovers, he might join the regular bullpen or he might resume his closer role. If Walden seizes this opening and runs with it like I believe he can, he may be the Angels closer for the rest of the season. Quite possibly because the 23 year old Walden does not look old enough to convincingly order champagne ;) – even with the beard – he instead celebrated his new role this evening by retiring the side in the 9th inning to cement the Angels 5 – 3 victory over the Rays. Good show, Jordan. I raise my glass to you.

I am a realist. I know this is a lot of responsibility to put on a 23 year old arm and psyche and I am sure there will be rough outings here and there. But, so far, the kid does extremely well under pressure and between last season, spring training and this week, Rodney was getting to the point where he walked batters every appearance, increasingly with disastrous results. As long as the quality outings are in the majority, we’re significantly ahead of where we were this weekend. If Rodney recovers, the Angels can find any one of a number of uses for him. If he doesn’t, better to eat his check then deal with the blown saves. Seriously.

As for the rest of this evening’s game? (Okay, it was an evening game for us. If we want to actually watch the east coast games, we have to DVR them and watch them when we get home from work.) The bullpen still needs some calming down. Mr. Kohn, please settle down. You are often amazing but enough with giving up the homeruns already. It is anxiety inducing, not to mention letting my geek show just a little too much, to be shouting “Khaaaaaaaaaan!” loudly enough for my neighbors to hear so many days in a week. Other than that, it was a great game. Jered Weaver pitched a good one – 6 strikeouts over seven innings. Three walks though, which is unusual but didn’t cost us too badly in the end. There’s a reason we have phrases like mid-season form. He’s getting there.

Young catcher Hank Conger got the start and his first major league homerun. Howie Kendrick continued his hot bat streak and we’re scoring runs early, something we failed to do most of last season. Four stolen bases, a couple of great fielding plays, oh, and the season is now official – we had one truly terrible umpire call. Maicer Izturis made a diving catch and clearly caught the ball but the second base ump ruled that the ball hit the ground first. It was annoying, but ultimately didn’t cost us anything. In those situations (where it doesn’t cost anything), it’s actually funny to watch Scioscia’s usually impassive face become extremely animated and expressive. My husband and I frequently make humorous suggestions as to what Scioscia and the umpire might be saying to one another. Although, in this case, you could read Scioscia’s lips loud and clear several times.

We need less excitement from the bullpen. We need to start scoring runs in the middle of the game too. We have improved but still need to do better with runners in scoring position. We need to do something about Scott Kazmir. But, hey, we won. We have a fix in place for the closer situation. We have Scott Downs coming off the DL any day now. We’re hitting and we’re working on those other issues. Optimism, returning. What a difference a win makes but, more importantly, what a difference a closer going one, two, three makes.

Spring Training Is Over. The 25-Man Roster Is Set-ish. Play Ball!

The Angels announced their initial 25-man roster late this evening, following a 5 – 1 win over the Dodgers in their final preseason game. I say initial because, of course, there will be considerable roster shifting in April and possibly into early May as Scott Downs, Kendrys Morales, Joel Pineiro and Reggie Willits come off of the 15-day DL. So, for now, the 2011 Angels are:

Starting Rotation:
Jered Weaver (RHP)
Dan Haren (RHP)
Ervin Santana (RHP)
Scott Kazmir (LHP)

Bullpen Pitchers:
Jason Bulger (RHP)
Kevin Jepsen (RHP)
Michael Kohn (RHP)
Fernando Rodney (RHP)
Hisanori Takahashi (LHP)
Rich Thompson (RHP)
Jordan Walden (RHP)

Catchers:
Hank Conger
Jeff Mathis
Bobby Wilson

Infield:
Erick Aybar
Alberto Callaspo
Maicer Izturis
Howard Kendrick
Mark Trumbo
Brandon Wood

Outfield:
Bobby Abreu
Peter Bourjos
Torii Hunter
Chris Pettit
Vernon Wells

Trevor Bell (RHP), Matt Palmer (RHP), Francisco Rodriguez (RHP), and infielder Andrew Romine were optioned back to AAA Salt Lake.

Not a whole lot of surprises there. Okay, I was a little surprised to see Hank Conger stay on the roster. I figured he would stay in AAA so he could get work in every day. But I don’t know who I would have kept up instead, this may change when they need roster space for guys coming off the DL and, besides, carrying three catchers is becoming a Mike Scioscia tradition. Given his hot streak since the surgery, I wish they found a way to keep Palmer up. I know Bulger is out of options, but he didn’t have a very good spring, or late summer for that matter… I’m pleased to see Chris Pettit getting another shot after missing all of 2010 due to shoulder surgery. I don’t know how long that experiment will last once guys start coming off the DL but we’ll see.

I’m excited! Yes, I pretty much knew who would make the cut, especially given the limiting injuries. Even so, just seeing the official roster really drives home the fact that Opening Day is Thursday! And I’m hopeful. We may have platoons at both of our infield corners indefinitely, but today it doesn’t bother me. So far it seems to be working, better than I expected. And if Trumbo’s bat holds up during the regular season, I think the first base platoon will be resolved quickly, even if Kendrys isn’t able to come back full time any time soon.

I’m so ready for Thursday. We have Weaver on the mound, the triple centerfield patrolling the outfield and a couple of guys whose bats really, really love Kauffman Stadium. Bring on the Royals. Play ball!!

This isn’t just a spring game. It’s live baseball! It’s been like four months, man!

The quote I used for my headline? It was easily the best comment of the night at Taps Fish House and Brewery where Seth and I decided to go for a late dinner in the bar Saturday. We were giddy from the live baseball treat of the afternoon – and scoring opening day tickets that morning! – wanted more and figured it wouldn’t take much effort to sweet talk the Taps bar staff into putting the Rockies/D-Backs game on one of the TVs. It didn’t. Our favorite bartender, the Angels fan who pumps us for details every time we hit Taps after a ballgame’s, eyes got huge when we asked for a channel change. “There’s still a game on! I thought I missed them all today.”

Well thank goodness for the MLB network’s delayed airing because I think all of the baseball fans in the bar were in the same boat. No one apparently thought to put the game on before we arrived, but the minute it was on the TV half of the eyes in the bar were glued to it…and it’s not like there were any Rockies or D-Backs fans in the bar, just a bunch of baseball starved locals. The headline comment came shortly after that from a guy sitting at one of the tables behind us. One of his friends chided him for paying so much attention to the game and this was his response, delivered loudly, with a great deal of passion and a sweeping gesture at the screen. We at the bar, several bartenders included, responded with approving hollers.

It was a great evening. Out with my husband, an honest to goodness game at the bar, good food, tasty beverages and a lot of baseball fans to talk to – from the friendly, talkative Red Sox fan beside me, to the Angels fans on both sides of the bar who echoed our boo when he used the term “rebuilding year” in reference to the Halos. In many ways, Taps is my ideal game day bar. I would spend more games there if I didn’t also spend so much money there every time I go.

* * * * *

So imagine my excitement about the Angels/Dodgers game today! Meh. As it turned out, I would have been a lot happier if they had aired yesterday’s game instead. Today the Angels gave the starters and most of the second string the day off and let the kids have a work out. Alas, against the Dodgers first string, the kids were not alright. I’m aware that this is the nature of spring training. It’s more about giving everyone a workout, giving the kids some experience and a tryout and working through any issues before the season starts than it is about winning. But still, 5-0 ouch.

With the spirit of spring training in mind, I think there were a few important take aways. First, Kaz was throwing hard and throwing strikes! Even in the first inning and Scott Kazmir is prone to rough first innings. Granted, the Dodgers hit him – five hits and three earned runs in the two innings he pitched. But I think this was inconclusive, and I am not inclined to make excuses for Kaz. I think if he had the Angels starters behind him, that stat would have been better, more like two or three hits and one run. But you never know. I want to see more before the season starts but the fact that I do want to see more at all is positive. Maybe…maybe…well, we’ll see.

Here are some other thoughts I had watching the game. Bobby Wilson is taking spring training very seriously and looked strong both behind the plate and at bat. His increased speed and agility was a bright spot in the game for me. Hank Conger on the other hand looked rusty. I’m not really worried. I’ve seen him do a lot better than that, but if he wants a shot a starting catcher he needs to pick up the speed on his throw down to second a lot. I don’t know what to think of Mike Trout. He hit a nice solid single in the first inning and made one catch in center that his speed made look a lot easier than it was. Other than that, however, he looked like he kind of phoned it in, which I don’t like. But it is just one game. Mark Trumbo needs a lot of work at first. He made some good plays and some really clumsy ones. He’s wearing Mike Napoli’s Angels’s jersey number 44 this season and between the homerun yesterday and, alas, the lack of performance with runners in scoring position today, this seems appropriate. Fernando Rodney’s rustiness looks suspiciously like right where he left off last season.

Watching this game, it was obvious that, like most teams, the Angels have a lot of minor league players who will never be major league players. Andrew Romine, on the other hand? I liked his instincts when he came up this September, sliding across third with the ball to get the seemingly impossible force out. He had a good solid hit today and made one nice diving play at short, his throw just missing getting the speedy runner out at first. I look at him and think, interesting, maybe in a few years? Suffice to say, I need to see a lot more of spring training and the kids – and some of the veterans – need to play a lot more before I form stronger opinions. Fortunately, this was only game two and tomorrow the regular starters are supposed to play. And it’s all still exciting. In the words of random Taps bar guy, these aren’t just spring games. It’s live baseball! It’s been like four months, man!

Michael Young, Young Catchers and Catching Angels Events

Michael Young? No, thanks. None for me please.
So Michael Young has had all he can stand and he can’t stands no more and he’s asked to be traded. I can’t say that blame him really, not that I blame the Rangers either. The team is making good deals but I can only imagine what went through Young’s mind when they signed Mike Napoli after he had already agreed to move to DH for Adrian Beltre…the All-State Insurance commercial with Mayhem as the distraught, dumped teenaged girl, however, does come to mind. It sounds to me like he’s headed for the Rockies. Of course, the being the media’s front runner hasn’t meant a whole lot this offseason, so you just never know and there are other teams – and other teams fans – who want him badly.

I may be in the minority, but I don’t want him for the Angels. He’s a stand up, team player kind of guy and I would love to have a bat like his in the lineup. But defensively he’s no better and possibly not quite as good as what we’ve already – which is not to say that the Angels third base options couldn’t use some defensive improvement. For me, Young’s bat alone doesn’t justify the players we would have to give up -and then face again, and again and again in Texas – to get him. Another team could make the trade and be happier and better for it, but I just don’t think the Angels are the right fit.

Young Catchers Trend Continues in 2011
MLB.com had a great article today about the large group of talented young catchers who should see some major league playing time next year. It was nice to see that the Angel’s Hank Conger prominently mentioned and frequently quoted. Conger impressed me behind the plate last season. If he can find his bat against major league pitching this season and find it quickly, he could really go places. Conger was even one of four catchers included in the photo when the article was highlighted on MLB’s front page this morning, before the news lit up with speculation about Pujols and Young. The photo was actually a montage of four tall, skinny photos, one of each catcher in a different crouch or catching position. Of course, when I was trying to explain this to my husband this evening, what I came up with was that it looked very Charlie’s Angels, actually, but with photos instead of silhouettes and mitts instead of guns. Sadly this was apt and he knew exactly what article I was talking about from this description. We both laughed a lot.

Why must all of the fun events happen during the week?
The Angels open house? All of the press conferences? And now the Inland Empire 66ers Affiliation Celebration – celebrating the Angels new advanced A affiliation? (Basically, the Angels and Dodgers traded advanced A teams in the offseason.) I actually do get why so many of these things take place during the week but I would love to be able to go to one or two of them. Oh well, that’s one of the many beauties of baseball. There is always next season.

Angels 2010 Top 10 – No I Don’t Mean This List Satirically

With only one day left in 2010, I believe it is customary to make a top 10 or some other sort of retrospective list. I don’t recall any actual written rule to this effect in the Big Book of Blogging Rules, wherever that may be, but it hey, the end of the year just cries out for such things, doesn’t it? So why buck tradition? If finding 10 things in this season of all seasons that make me happy to be an Angels fan makes me the unrepentant Pollyanna of Angels baseball, well, I did choose the handle Blithescribe after all *big grin*. In no particular order, here are my personal 10 favorite things about Angels baseball in 2010:

Jered Weaver - Angels fans were all so very worried about who could step up and fill the ace’s shoes with Lackey headed for the Red Sox. That seems so wonderfully silly now! I actually wasn’t that worried. I didn’t know he would step up so fully this season, but I did remember that post season game against the Yankees in 2009 when Weaver became the 8th inning set up man in a moment of need and he came in looking like a steely eyed gunslinger and sat them down one, two, three. I remember standing up and cheering in my living room and thinking future ace. And to be the AL strikeout leader in 2010, icing on the cake! Now let’s get this man some run support in 2011 shall we.

Signing Dan Haren - This was one of those, really, we got him? Way to go Reagins! moments. A second ace to add to the rotation, he was an absolute pleasure to watch in 2010 and finished his partial season here with a 2.87 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. I hope that these stats are indicative of what we can expect to see in 2011. The fact that we happened to be there for his first (Where he took the Youk line drive to the pitching arm, ouch!) and second starts made this extra fun for me.

7/31 and 8/1 against the Rangers - Both were absolute, bare knuckled brawls of a game, the Angels were in top form, and we had tickets to both for our anniversary – this lady demands diamonds on such occasions, natch ;) The Rangers won the first game, but the second was Weaver vs. Cliff Lee, the Angels pulled it off and it was quite possibly the best game I have seen from a stadium.

Players Doing What’s Best for the Team - Torii moving to right field so the Angels could bring Bourjos into center; Napoli taking over first base and doing a darned good job at it really, after Kendry’s injury when he hadn’t played first base since the minors; both were selfless, team spirited moves and, to my mind, damn clutch.

The Month of June - Instead of crumpling in the aftermath of Kendry’s season ending injury, the team cowboyed up and played like, well, like the Angels for the month of June and it was a beautiful thing to see…and then they crumpled. Would that the June play had lasted the rest of the year.

Peter Bourjos - It was such a breath of fresh air to watch this young bundle of talent and enthusiasm move up to the majors. And you’ve all heard it hundreds of time by now, but oh my God is this kid fast. In the games we attended alone I saw him rob four homeruns and turn two sure thing out bloopers to the short stop into a base hits. And he’s smart on the bases and out in the field too. He’s not perfect. He’s definitely a rookie so there were a few issues, primarily with his offense but he seemed to be improving by small increments with each at bat and I for one really look forward to watching him blossom into a full blown All Star in 2011.

Getting to See the Rookie Call-Ups in Action - While it would have been better if the Angles were in contention for a post season and the rookie call-ups mostly sat on the bench, the way things worked out it was a lot of fun to be there at the Big A for to see so many of their firsts – Conger, Trumbo and Romine’s first at bats, their first turns on defense. As with Bourjos, it was a bright spot to see so much youthful enthusiasm on the field, and I think we’ll be seeing Conger and Romine again, Conger quite soon.

16 Games! – My husband and I managed to go to 16 games this year. We typically watch between 100 and 130 of the games in some fashion, mostly on TV but this is the first time we’ve made it to the Big A, which is oh so much better, for so many. No, this is not earth shattering for Angels baseball as a whole, but it was a big deal in terms of my personal fan experience.

The Growth of the Friday Night Ritual - this is another one that would only matter in my house. A good bottle of wine, a gourmet dinner from our own kitchen and Angels baseball became what we called the Friday Night Ritual. It’s fun, companionable, affordable and this year we grew to love it to the point where we turned down all other invitations…’tis such a fine, fine line between the fanatic and fan!

Personal Firsts - Kendry’s exhibition game grand slam against the Dodgers was the first grand slam my husband had ever seen live at a stadium – he didn’t go to as many Dodger games as I did as a kid ;). This was the first year I timed the tickets such that I got to see Weaver pitch at the stadium and honestly, you can’t really appreciate the sheer amount of ground this 6′ 7″ talented stork of a man covers and the deceptiveness of his delivery until you’ve seen it at the game. The first time either of us was there for an entire series – the last homestand against the A’s, many, many thanks to D for his generosity in just handing my husband the season tickets, this game and so many others. And the list goes on…

Suffice to say, yes it was a dismal season. But there were bright spots and enjoyable times for me at least and I for one am ready to call clean cup move down and see what the 2011 season brings…ideally Adrian Beltre but, if not, I am still eager to see what the Angels can do.

And Now We Return to Wednesday’s Originally Scheduled Broadcast

As I mentioned before, my original plan on Wednesday was to discuss some of the topics covered in Tuesday’s Winter Meeting interviews with Angels’ GM Tony Reagins and Angels Manager Mike Scioscia. That was before the Crawford deal, before the Angels signed Scott Downs, before…well, suffice to say a lot has happened in the four and a half days since those interviews, rendering much of what was said irrelevant at this point. However, a few pieces of news remain pertinent and interesting:

Kendry Morales
Since about late August or so, all reports have indicated that Kendry is making great progress at or slightly ahead of schedule and that he should be able to return for the 2011 season as good as new. On the one hand, this is what you would expect the front office to say but, on the other hand, if his progress was cause for concern I tend to think the easier route would just be to avoid giving frequent updates all together. During the Tuesday interviews, Scioscia and Reagins both reiterated that Kendry is making excellent progress and let us know he has been able to resume light baseball activities in addition to the regular rehab and workouts. Scioscia also said that while they will watch Kendry cautiously in the beginning, of course, based on his current progress he should be “full-go for all drills”* by the beginning of Spring Training.

Kendry Morales is one of my favorite players – a guy who can motivate the whole team with a swing of his mighty bat or a great play at first. Honestly, this news makes me happier than a big trade or signing announcement would make me…not that I didn’t want that big announcement too. I’m greedy like that. Having Kendry back in and of itself will be a huge improvement in the Angels offense, but all of the major players involved have promised us repeatedly that they would not be content with just having Kendry back in the line-up and would make one or two additional improvements for 2011. This promise has noticeably not been repeated since Crawford signed with the Red Sox and, while I sincerely hope this is not the case, I am left with one of Ash’s great lines from Army of Darkness stuck in my head. Oh that’s just what we call pillow talk, baby, that’s all.

Catchers’ Tango Turned Broadway Ensemble Dance Routine
Mike Scioscia said that with Kendry on the mend, Mike Napoli would be returning to his role as catcher in 2011 in the typically glowing way we have all come to expect when Scioscia talks about Napoli behind the plate. “I think he’s a catcher, and he thinks he’s a catcher. Now he needs to go out a catch like he’s a catcher.” Clearly by returning to his role a catcher, Scioscia meant returning to the two and occasionally three and even four way bare knuckled, albeit good naturedly so, brawl for a permanent position behind the plate. Of the catching position, Scioscia said, “It’s obviously an important position for us. Jeff is more skilled defensively. Bobby is a combination. Hank Conger is coming. We have some depth there.” Mike Scioscia, King of Understatement. Of course, this could also be so much pillow talk and Napoli could very well be trade bait for the bat we so desperately need. Given the fact that the Angels’ 2010 homerun leader is often, himself, the bat we so desperately need, albeit a very streaky one, unless such a trade brings additional sizable tangible benefits, this doesn’t make nearly as much sense to me as other deals might.

Scott Kazmir
According to Scioscia, Kaz’ new offseason conditioning program seems to be working. He is showing marked improvements in stamina and control and is still expected to be the 5th starter in 2011. This is the kind of news I really hope is true and not just the thing the team is expected to say. It’s hard not to respect and root for a player who is possibly more upset by his poor performance than even the fans and who busts his butt in the offseason to try and make sure it doesn’t happen again. If Kaz could be as good as he was for the Rays, as good as he started out for us in 2009…Wow! The Angels starting rotation would truly be a thing of beauty, wouldn’t it?

* All of the interview quotations were taken from Lyle Spencer’s articles “Scioscia Sees a Bright Future for Trout” and “Lee Joins High-Profile List Linked to Angels.”

Lollygagging Through Late November

It’s the end of November, the house is all put back together from the Thanksgiving holiday, the trade/acquisition speculation on the Angels sites has reached the silly stage – in many cases, intentionally so – and I could not bring myself to feign interest in USC vs. Notre Dame. So, what’s a baseball fan to do? It was definitely time for Bull Durham…especially because I hadn’t seen it in months!

Bull Durham is my favorite baseball movie by far and one of my favorite movies period. Shocking given the title of my blog, right? There are a number of excellent movies that depict baseball players, coaching staff and other baseball insiders and their crazy passion for the game. Bull Durham is certainly among them. It’s well written, perfectly paced, filled with memorable characters and it does an excellent job of balancing all of the hope and promise of talent with the hard reality that a real career in baseball is unlikely for all but a very few and ephemeral for the majority of those few. What pushes Bull Durham over the top for me is how well it also shows the crazy passion of baseball fans. Besides, it’s infinitely quotable. What’s not to like?

A few months ago I found an older interview with Ron Shelton, the writer and director and a former second baseman in the Orioles farm system. Apparently, he has toyed with the idea of making a sequel several times but didn’t know where to take it. If Crash goes back to the minors or gets the managing job in Visalia, he either leaves Annie behind or takes her with him away from the life she’s created in Durham which is such a part of her character. Either way, the character dynamics are ruined on top of having lost Nuke and the cast of engaging background characters. Shelton said he just couldn’t do that to his creation, a measure of restraint I applaud and wish more artists had the option to employ (because, like baseball, creating art is also a job and I realize there are many practical factors aside from the artist’s wishes that go into such a decision).

Watching the Angels this year, however, in particular the dynamic of veteran pitchers interacting with a rookie catcher, I wonder if there isn’t a different way to approach a Bull Durham sequel. Watching Hank Conger make his major league debut was a bright spot for me this season, even though he was shaky at times. I remember the pregame show before his first start, catching for Jered Weaver no less. Victor and Gubie showed video from an exchange with Weaver earlier in the warm-ups. So, I understand Hank’s had a lot of questions for you. Gubie said with a knowing smile. Do you think he’s going to be okay? Weaver laughed and said, I think we have Hank breathing normally now. He’s going to be just fine. Weaver pitched a great game that night so Conger didn’t have many reasons to visit the mound or work to calm him down. However, I also remember a later start for Conger where Weaver did run into some difficulties. He started to get flustered and pace around the mound before he finally gestured toward Conger seeming to indicate, hey kid, this is the part where you walk out here and talk me through this.

Until I saw that interaction, I had only thought about veteran catchers training rookie pitchers, never the other way around. But think about it, a wiser and somewhat bitter Nuke at the end of his major league career, trying to rehab his aging arm in the minors for one more shot at a major league season, works with a rookie catcher. But because he’s Nuke, older and wiser is still far from wise. Make the rookie catcher inexperienced but talented and significantly more intelligent than Nuke, like Crash might conceivably have been at the beginning of his career, and suddenly you have what I think would be a very interesting dynamic where the catcher clearly does have a thing or two to learn from the pitcher’s experience but can’t imagine learning anything from someone who plays the buffoon so often. You would also have an easier time setting this story line back with the Durham Bulls where it wouldn’t be unlikely that the Larry character – easily my favorite supporting character – could have worked his way up to the manager’s position. Leave Crash and Annie out of it all together or have the characters make a cameo appearance attending the games, Annie still teaching at the community college and Crash probably a hitting coach for kids in the community and you would have…well…the closest I will probably ever come to writing fan fiction at any rate, LOL.

I don’t know what resolution the Angels have planned in 2011 for the increasingly crowded catching situation. But if Hank Conger can keep improving on his batting average and on base percentage – he looked a lot better by the end of the regular season but then didn’t do so well in winter league, so who knows – I would prefer seeing him as the back-up catcher with Mike Napoli in the lead catching role over a lot of our other options.

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