Results tagged ‘ Kole Calhoun ’

I-5 Bias: the 2014 Freeway Series Edition

Welcome to I-5 Bias: the 2014 Freeway Series Edition! This post marks the happy return of what has been a fun, 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. Matt and I were originally inspired to start this column by a huge shift in attention to the AL and NL West two years ago. Things have been up and down for my Angels and his Dodgers since then, but this season! Oh. My. Wow! This season!! Suffice to say, even though I’ve been in a busy real life enforced semi-retirement from blogging, when Matt asked me if I wanted to come back and do a Freeway Series I-5 Bias, both teams are so amazing, how could I turn that down?  So, here we are once again 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? No, forget that. This season more than ever, it’s I-5 bias instead!

I-5 Bias - Blog Medium

For this edition, we have posed six questions prompted by our teams’ current records, the relatively new season schedule format, that thorny little Dodgers TV problem, and the ensuing fan and media commentary on it all, to be answered on both of our blogs. We hope you enjoy this freeway collaboration and, hey, if anyone has any burning questions for future editions (yes, even snotty ones), please ask away:

 

The Angels and Dodgers both find themselves as strong playoff contenders in heated division races that are likely to come down to the wire. What has impressed you about both squads this season? What do you think of their chances in the postseason?

Matt Says: Well with the Dodgers I would have to say what impressed me about them is their starting pitching rotation. Having Kershaw Greinke and Ryu pitching is dangerous and always set the Dodgers up to win but now you have (Had) Beckett when he’s on it. The offensive serge that the Dodgers are on is really helping them as well. Even though the Dodgers got off to a really slow start it seems like they’re starting to find their groove and at the right time too. After sweeping the Giants and Braves they’re making it known that they are starting to get their groove and when they’re on a role then they’re a very dangerous team. As far as the Angels I think they finally have their complete game finally figured out. They’re absolutely deadly with their bats and they managed to make some moves to improve their bullpen especially with the addition of Hudson Street, Joe Thatcher, and Jason Grilli. What impressed me more is how Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Erick Aybar are hitting with Mike Trout as well as the impressive play of Kole Calhoun. I think they’ve finally made themselves known as a legit World Series Contender.

Kristen Says: The Angels offense makes me giddy. They’ve been so hit and miss – pun most assuredly intended – these last few seasons, especially for having so much potential. But this season? Wow!! And it isn’t just the usual suspects – of course Mike Trout, etc., have been impressive, but so have Howie Kendrick, Kole Calhoun and Erick Aybar. It’s nice to feel spoiled with hitting again. The starting rotation is not as impressive as it has been in years past, but they’re getting it done and I am impressed with the way Garrett Richards has really come into his own this year. But, even more than all of that, I love the guys’ fight. Walk off wins, come from behind wins and, yes, plenty of decisive wins as well – this season it feels like the Angels have the fight and the drive to pull a win from just about anything.

I know there has been some scoffing about the Angels chances in the postseason because the team doesn’t have the world beating pitching they’ve had in years past and, “as everyone knows” pitching wins championships. But, I have to say, the pitching is getting it done and in that scenario I actually think that the ability to fight for the win in close games is at least as important. And if you’ve ever followed this blog, you know that’s about as far as I will ever go in terms of making postseason predictions. I feel like there really is something to the old cliché about taking them one game at a time and, also, perhaps there’s a bit of superstition there for me as well.

As for the Dodgers, oddly enough I feel like I don’t know much about the team this season other than their strong record, and obvious highlights like Kershaw and Beckett’s no-hitters. In a normal season, Seth and I tune in to other games before each Angels game starts and after it finishes, frequently the Dodgers, although other AL West games feature highly as well. With nary a borrowed-from-the-original-minor-league-Angels LA logo in sight on TV most nights, I haven’t been able to follow the team.

 

August is unusually late in the season for the Freeway Series – normally we’re writing this column in June! What are your feelings on Interleague match ups this late in the season, just as the postseason races are really heating up?

Kristen Says: When the new schedule debuted, I thought I would hate having interleague play throughout the season, but as it turns out I don’t mind it. As long as we have interleague play – and I am one of the oddballs that actually looks forward to these unusual matchups, a baseball DC/Marvel crossover comic if you will – when we have it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in the way the teams perform. And here’s the thing, even before the current interleague format, September wasn’t strictly reserved for divisional play anyway and, depending on how the season goes, and doubly so the moment the wild card came into play, it isn’t a given that the most exciting end of season games will be divisional games. As for the Freeway Series, specifically, happening in August? I think this is the best Freeway matchup we SoCal baseball fans have seen in years and, to me, having the games mean so much on top of it just makes it feel like one of those series I’m going to wind up describing as a privilege to watch. What’s the downside?

Matt Says: It’s really interesting but at the same time out of place. We’re usually seeing interleague teams as early as late May and now it’s all over the place. How ever I do believe with rivalries like the Freeway series being this late in the season it put more at steak. Right now you have two teams in the southland and down the I-5 from each other battling for their division and this game will have a lot on the line in terms of Postseason positioning. If you had a game like for example the Tigers against the Cardinals at this point of the season and both teams were in division races then the causal baseball/Sports fan would be attracted to this. At the same time it takes away the meaning of planning your summer seeing teams from the other league that you usually don’t see as much so I guess you can say I have mixed feeling about it. It has it’s positives and negatives.

 

What key players/match ups should fans watch for in this year’s Freeway Series?

Matt Says: Well as far as key players for the Dodgers (Not Named Yasiel Puig haha) one would have to be Matt Kemp. Kemp has been on an absolute tear as of late with the bat since the “drama” towards the trade deadline. Kemp been hampered with injuries left and right and I think he’s starting to come around now (.386 BA Post All-Star break). Another key player to keep an eye on for Los Angeles Hyun Jin Ryu. Ryu, Who is predicted to be in the rotation during the series, is one of those pitchers where they give up a lot of hits but once he’s locked in then he’s on it. Why I have Ryu up here as a key player? Because as of last season (Rookie season) the Angels are batting .065 against him and if he can repeat his performance from their last meeting then it could be a long night for Anaheim. As far as Match-ups It would have to be the Dodgers starting pitching rotation against the Angels line-up. Monday and Tuesday being Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw this will be the first time the Angels see the two Post All-star break and with the game at Dodger Stadium (NL Park) it’ll be very interesting to see what line-up Scioscia puts out there. Then comes the games at Angels Stadium and the DH in effect you’ll have the struggling Dan Haren and Hyun Jin Ryu facing the Angels with their dangerous offense. I think that’ll be the key because you have one of Baseball’s best offenses in the Angels taking on one of baseball’s best pitching rotation in the Dodgers.

Kristen Says: Well, there’s this young kid called Mike Trout, and I understand he’s pretty fun to watch. ;) I know, I know. Dodgers fans – and everyone else! – are already well aware. But you may not be as aware of the combination of Trout and Calhoun. They’re brilliant together in the outfield and a blast – often quite literally – to watch hit back to back in the lineup. I realize that my defensive bias is showing a bit here – this chick thinks homeruns are very nice indeed, but what she really digs is a perfectly executed 4-6-3 – but I will never tire of watching the fielding combination of Aybar, Kendrick and Albert Pujols. As for pitching matchups, I am most excited about Richards vs. Zack Greinke at the first game.

 

As you are probably aware, Time Warner and a number of cable providers are currently in a huge standoff over SportsNet LA, which controls the Dodgers’ TV rights, with the result that 70% of the Los Angeles Market is without Dodger games. As baseball fans and sports fans what are your thoughts on this issue and is this becoming a growing issue in sports television?

Kristen Says: As a fan of the game, this is such utter bullshit. I don’t usually swear on this blog, but let’s call a spade a spade. And, yes, I do see this as a growing problem in sports, not just in this sport. I think it really comes down to a question of what do teams owe their fans? The financial perks of lucrative, exclusive TV deals cannot be denied and often, though certainly not always, those benefits are reflected in the quality of the team the owners are able to put on the field. But if the fans can’t afford to see that team play? Or, as in this case, can’t have access to see them play even if they can afford it? Quite simply you have not done right by the fans. TV deal money needs to be balanced against fan access. If your team goes all the way to the playoffs and you don’t get to watch them until October, does the victory still count? Absolutely. But unless you were able to jump up and down in your living room, or at your local sports bar with friends, family and even random strangers for all of those key moments throughout the season, there is no way that victory tastes as sweet.

At the risk of being very long winded – I know, too late! – seasons like this Dodgers season make baseball fans, and I’m not talking about fair weather and bandwagon fans. No, I’m talking about the children of adult fans who grow up with the memory of a magical season, of the year their parents let them stay up late all summer just to watch the games because the team was that good, of the time they got to see their unshakable grandfather shed tears of joy over a long hoped for playoff berth…you know the kind of season I’m talking about because, if you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re a baseball fan and largely because of memories just like these. I know that’s my story. Now, what if that magical season, the season, wasn’t broadcast on television where you could see it? Managers and GMs are always talking about the need to consider the bottom line importance of the intangibles. I think owners need to keep them in mind as well.

Matt Says: I think this whole thing is outrageous. You have a 70% of fans who can’t watch a game in their local market because cable companies don’t see eye to eye with each other on what price to pay to carry a channel? I think if you look or pay attention to this whole issue you have to say all parties involved are responsible. The Dodgers because they knew that when they took this deal the potential for fans not to see their team play and the Cable companies because all they’re doing more finger pointing than working to reach a possible deal for the people. For me I’m getting by just fine attending games and listening on radio but it would be better to actually get this channel that I’ve heard about. This is really becoming a growing issue in sports because it’s becoming about the money more than the fans being able to see their team play on TV. I mean you have the Pac-12 Network and their ongoing issue with DirecTV where people can’t see certain college games. You also had the issue with the Lakers channel when they moved to Time Warner and most of the market couldn’t see Laker games until three weeks into the season. I can list more examples but I think the readers get my point haha. Point being that while the money being pumped into a franchise to pay the players that can help and having their own network but at what price are fans paying? I think franchises look at least think about those who put the money into their pockets.

 

We joke about our I-5 bias, but the truth is that baseball has taken a huge shift out West. The Dodgers and Giants are battling it out for control of the NL West in a race where the loser is mostly likely to head to the playoffs anyway as a wild card team. The A’s and Angels currently hold the best records in baseball and are locked in a similar race in the AL West. In the AL, there’s even a chance that both wild card teams could come out of the AL West if the Mariners go on a tear. Would you say that having this many West Coast teams in such tight races is good for MLB?

Matt Says: Two years ago when we first did I-5 Bias I said that baseball’s power shift was swinging out west. Here we are with 5 teams out west gunning for the Postseason (Sorry Padres and Diamondbacks). The Dodgers, Giants, Angels, and A’s are making playoffs baring any big big collapse and the Mariners are right there in the thick of the wild card race. Yes this is great for the MLB right now because for once all the attention is out here. I think Baseball media’s east coast (And Midwest) bias is finally realizing that the excitement is really in the AL and NL West as well as the Wild Card races. To think this all triggered with the spending of the Angels, the ownership change with the Dodgers, the out of nowhere push of the A’s, the Giants as hard for me to say and now Robinson Cano and the Mariners. This is what we’ve been waiting for.

Kristen Says: Tight baseball races going down to the wire make a great season for everyone, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter what division they occur in – though, this is definitely a case of the more the merrier. There’s a reason that, when I Google “the best night in baseball ever,” every single reference on the first page is to September 28, 2011. I didn’t even have a team still in the running at that point and I still agree with that title. As far as the West Coast more or less owning the wild card race this season, I’d say it’s a definite improvement over the idea that the then one wild card spot would almost certainly go to the second place East Coast team, and one step closer to true competitive parity, where those wild card berths would be hotly contested across all divisions right up until the end. Because as much as I love my West Coast teams, I think that would be the most fun for baseball fans in general.

 

Care to make any Freeway Series predictions?

Kristen Says: I hate predictions! *cue Stevie Wonder’s Superstition* But in this case I always make an exception because it’s the done thing. Under the old(er) schedule, when the Freeway Series was 6 games, I always came down in favor of my Angels because, well, history. Yes, I said it. Cope. But with only four games and the Angels once again down a key starting pitcher (C.J. Wilson came off the DL just in time for Tyler Skaggs to go on it), I predict the Angels and Dodgers will split the series.

Matt Says: I know I may sound biased here but I am indeed very realistic with this. I believe the Dodgers will take 3 of 4 in the Freeway series. The Dodgers have been playing very good baseball as of late during the past 8-9 games. Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, and Yasiel Puig to name a few have been hitting pretty well after the All-Star break and the Dodgers pitching rotation falls into their favor especially against a team like the Angels. Also the Dodgers hold a good but slim lead over the Giants and they can’t afford to allow that lead to trim especially at this point of the season. The Angels on the other hand have been struggling on offense as of late and headed into the series with the Dodgers against that pitching staff is really something that Anaheim can’t afford to do. They’ll also be without Tyler Skaggs who has been pitching pretty well for them. Now honestly it could go either way and maybe even be a split like last season but I think the writing is on the wall for the Dodgers to take the series over their interleague rivals.

So the Angels Season…er…The Angels vs. A’s Game…er…Hey, Look. Pretty Photos!

While there were certainly enjoyable moments in the Angels’ 2013, overall there’s no denying that it was a miserable season, a statement would still be true even if the Angels had won this afternoon’s final Angels game of the season – and, ugh. Final game. Don’t think it doesn’t hurt to type that in September. Again. While the outcome of this last game would not have altered the Angels season outcome in the slightest — heck, even reaching .500 became a pipe dream a week or so ago – a win sure would have felt better, damn it. And when you’re at the end of a terrible season that’s really all there is left to root for, isn’t it? Enjoyment in the moment.

Mark Trumbo holds aloft his magic bat and says, 'Come on, Meat. Show me some of that...' Okay, so I like mixing my references a tad too much. Oh, yeah. And he's probably he's not really saying that either. But you never know, Angels vs. A's, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Mark Trumbo holds aloft his magic bat and says, ‘Come on, Meat. Show me some of that…’ Okay, so I like mixing my references a tad too much. Oh, yeah. And he’s probably he’s not really saying that either. But you never know, Angels vs. A’s, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Sadly this description is also apt for the Angels vs. A’s game Seth and I attended on Monday, our last live game of the season – except at that point achieving .500 was an extremely remote possibility. *sigh* It was a blast seeing so many of the Angels youngsters like Kole Calhoun and Collin Cowgill – ok, he’s more of a new player than a true youngster but you get the general idea – play hard and make bold statements for continuing to be on the roster next season – hint, hint, hint Angels! But at the same time, seeing the “kids” contribute so significantly only highlights what the veterans were unable to accomplish this season. Yes, Josh Hamilton has been hitting much better in the last month or so, even going two for four the game in question, but it’s so much too little, too late and he was far from the only problem besides.

Kole "Lucky Ginger" Calhoun takes a turn at the plate while Mike Trout waits on deck. I thoroughly enjoyed Kole's contributions to the team this year and hope him in the lineup with SuperTrout again next season. Angels vs. A's, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Kole “Lucky Ginger” Calhoun takes a turn at the plate while Mike Trout waits on deck. I thoroughly enjoyed Kole’s contributions to the team this year and hope him in the lineup with SuperTrout again next season. Angels vs. A’s, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Josh Hamilton at the plate with Stephen Vogt catching. The good news? Hey, Hamilton's hitting again! The bad news? It came too late to help anyone. *sigh* Let's just hope that Josh is nice and comfortable in California now and next year puts his best "Natural" impression forward at the plate. Angels vs. A's, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Josh Hamilton at the plate with Stephen Vogt catching. The good news? Hey, Hamilton’s hitting again! The bad news? It came too late to help anyone. *sigh* Let’s just hope that Josh is nice and comfortable in California now and next year puts his best “Natural” impression forward at the plate. Angels vs. A’s, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

The outfield, as usual, was a veritable fount of joy amidst the misery. Even Cowgill – who is only an “even” because he hasn’t received anywhere near the understandable fanfare of Trout and some of the others – was making dynamite play after dynamite play.

Collin Cowgill, Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun kick back in the outfield during a pitching change. Whatever tale Collin's spinning, Kole is clearly having none of it, but Mike might believe him...might. Angels vs. A's, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Collin Cowgill, Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun kick back in the outfield during a pitching change. Whatever tale Collin’s spinning, Kole is clearly having none of it, but Mike might believe him…might. Angels vs. A’s, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Of course, the general awesomeness of the Angels outfield only serves as a counterpoint to the general sketchy state of Angels pitching – yet another whole season parallel. Garrett Richards, whom I still would have preferred to see start in lieu of Joe Blanton, has great stuff by shaky location and while he looked just fine for some batters, he managed to locate big fat meatballs for others…and then things got really bad on the mound and then the bullpen took over and things got worse.

Garrett Richards, Chris Iannetta and Mike Butcher meet on the mound. Richards pitched really well...except for when he gave up homeruns and walked guys and stuff, naturally. Ugh. Sadly photo pretty much summed up the evening's starting pitching experience for me. Angels vs. A's, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Garrett Richards, Chris Iannetta and Mike Butcher meet on the mound. Richards pitched really well…except for when he gave up homeruns and walked guys and stuff, naturally. Ugh. Sadly photo pretty much summed up the evening’s starting pitching experience for me. Angels vs. A’s, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Ah the offense, where to begin? Like so much of the season the offense was an upside/downside unto itself. What there was of it – which this game would be primarily Howie Kendrick – looked just fantastic! Sadly, having Kendrick, Mike Trout, Erick Aybar and Hamilton hitting, and Trumbo with an RBI sac and a walk – does not exactly equal a real offense. And if you rotate all of the names on the 25-man roster in and out of those sentences, you pretty much have the story of the Angels’ offensive season – take that meaning however you will and I can assure you it was completely intentional. ;)

Andrew Romine, Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick laugh as they warm up in between innings. Kendrick was this evening's offense, driving in 4 of the 5 Angels runs. Angels vs. A's, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Andrew Romine, Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick laugh as they warm up in between innings. Kendrick was this evening’s offense, driving in 4 of the 5 Angels runs. Angels vs. A’s, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Mike Trout at bat. Seriously, when he's on, I could watch this kid's gorgeous swing all day. Trout went 1 for 4 this evening. Angels vs. A's, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Mike Trout at bat. Seriously, when he’s on, I could watch this kid’s gorgeous swing all day. Trout went 1 for 4 this evening. Angels vs. A’s, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Of course, even with decidedly less than the full lineup participating, five runs should be enough to win a game…you know, with halfway decent pitching. Aaaaaand see previous rant, we’ve now come full circle. Hmmmm…looking at this game wrap-up, I think it’s safe to say Monday’s game functions pretty well as a microcosm for the Angels’ season.

Chris Young, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick kick back and watch the JumboTron during a pitching change. 'Hey, guys. Look at the crazy $#*! that Rally Monkey's doing now. You know, I love the Rally Monkey. When he's on that screen, they're losing...' Okay, probably that's just me transferring a bit here. Sadly I have grown to loathe the Rally Monkey this season because, yes, when he's on the JumboTron, we're losing and in 2013 we fans saw him on the JumboTron waaaaaaaay too often. Angels vs. A's, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Chris Young, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick kick back and watch the JumboTron during a pitching change. ‘Hey, guys. Look at the crazy $#*! that Rally Monkey’s doing now. You know, I love the Rally Monkey. When he’s on that screen, they’re losing…’ Okay, probably that’s just me transferring a bit here. Sadly I have grown to loathe the Rally Monkey this season because, yes, when he’s on the JumboTron, we’re losing and in 2013 we fans saw him on the JumboTron waaaaaaaay too often. Angels vs. A’s, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

The A's having a meeting on the mound. Pitcher Tommy Milone appears to be explaining something emphatically to catcher Stephen Vogt and Pitching Coach Curt Young. Perhaps, 'You know guys, it really makes me feel insecure when the infield can't make the play.' I for one found this imaginative scenario wildly hilarious...right up until the A's started kicking some serious Angels ass. *FacePalm* Angels vs. A's, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

The A’s having a meeting on the mound. Pitcher Tommy Milone appears to be explaining something emphatically to catcher Stephen Vogt and Pitching Coach Curt Young. Perhaps, ‘You know guys, it really makes me feel insecure when the infield can’t make the play.’ I for one found this imaginative scenario wildly hilarious…right up until the A’s started kicking some serious Angels ass. *FacePalm* Angels vs. A’s, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

But here’s the thing, through it all, we hardcore fans all kept rooting for our Angels. As disappointed and angry and absolutely beyond frustrated as we all were, we kept watching. We may not have gone to the games in droves – life caused even Seth and I to severely curtail our usual 20+ games this season – but if Twitter, FaceBook and the other forums are any indication, I am far, far from the only fan who still managed to catch at least 145 of 162. And this is why I got so livid, though I refrained from posting at the time, with Dodger Nick Punto and his outrageously ignorant: “I live I Orange County and you can feel the buzz. Those Angel fans are turning into Dodger fans. It’s great.” comment. Yes Nick, the same group of casual bandwagon fans who have both jerseys in their closets and have switched their fan allegiance from red to blue and back again with the standings for as long as there have been two teams along the I-5 corridor, are rooting blue again this season. And we’re all shocked – heck, you know most of these folks probably have Red Sox and Yankees caps in their closets as well. ;) But as frustrating as the last several seasons have been, the rest of the fans have and will stay bleeding red. It’s not like we haven’t been through it before.

And on that note, 2013 is over for the Angels and I can’t exactly say I’m sorry to see it go. I’d prefer to end on a happier note though, so I’m toasting to a hopefully better 2014 for the Angels with a few humorous photos:

During a pitching change, former FanCave Dweller and all around Angels Superfan Ricardo Marquez riveted the eye of the dance cam with his rally moves. Here we see our dynamic trio's (Collin Cowgill, Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun) priceless reaction. Angels vs. A's, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

During a pitching change, former FanCave Dweller and all around Angels Superfan Ricardo Marquez riveted the eye of the dance cam with his rally moves. Here we see our dynamic trio’s (Collin Cowgill, Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun) priceless reaction. Angels vs. A’s, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

"The brothers," Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo, separated once again by trades, greet each other on the base paths. 'Miss you, Bro!' 'Miss you more!' *snerk* Okay, probably their exchange was less girly and more peppered with friendly insult that that but, hey, it amused me. Angels vs. A's, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

“The brothers,” Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo, separated once again by trades, greet each other on the base paths. ‘Miss you, Bro!’ ‘Miss you more!’ *snerk* Okay, probably their exchange was less girly and more peppered with friendly insult that that but, hey, it amused me. Angels vs. A’s, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

While everyone else goofs around and Jerome Williams in particular is shocked, shocked I tell you over whatever hijinks are abounding, Mark Trumbo is having none of their shenanigans, thank you very much. Angels vs. A's, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

While everyone else goofs around and Jerome Williams in particular is shocked, shocked I tell you over whatever hijinks are abounding, Mark Trumbo is having none of their shenanigans, thank you very much. Angels vs. A’s, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Hank Conger caught daydreaming in the dugout...or is he? Angels vs. A's, September 23, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Hank Conger caught daydreaming in the dugout…or is he? Angels vs. A’s, September 23, 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.

I-5 Bias: the Early Spring Training Edition

Welcome to I-5 Bias: the Early Spring Training Edition! This is the second in what we hope will be an occasional, throughout the season collaboration between this Angels blogger and Matt Lowry of Dodger Familia Thoughts, a great Dodgers blogger and friend of this blog. Between two Giants World Series wins in three years (sorry Matt ;)   ), the AL West making quite the exciting splash in September 2012 and the ensuing Postseason, and recent shrewd personnel moves throughout the AL and NL West, MLB’s attention sure seems to be packing up and heading west these days. Matt and I are both incredibly excited by this development and especially by all of the attention our teams’ offseason moves have brought to my Angels and his Dodgers. So we thought that we would share our perspective on these two Freeway Series rivals, to entertain, inform and, hey, to spark conversation and debate. Why not! East Coast bias? Nah, forget that. From now on it’s I-5 bias instead!

I-5 Bias - Blog Medium

For this edition, we have posed six Angels and Dodgers oriented questions prompted by spring training, the World Baseball Classic and recent media commentary, to be answered on both of our blogs. We hope you enjoy this continuing freeway collaboration and, hey, if anyone has any burning questions for future editions (yes, even snarky ones), please ask away:

What player(s) should we keep an eye on during spring training? Are there any young minor leaguers Angels/Dodgers fans should pay special attention to?

Kristen Says: Well, I don’t think I have to tell anyone to keep an eye on the usual suspects. ;) In fact, at least this early on in spring training, I wish fans would keep less of an eye, or at least a more casual eye on some of the bigger names. Josh Hamilton going 0 for 3 in his Angels February spring training debut merits a top Yahoo headline today? Really? *shaking my head and laughing* As for some of the players who aren’t already on every fan’s radar but should be, with Bobby Wilson no longer on the team, Hank Conger will be trying to make this season finally be the season that sees him start and stay on the 25-man roster. His batting average was the only thing standing in the way before and this spring he’s off to a great start. Peter Bourjos spent 2012 on the bench but is slated to finally share the outfield with Mike Trout in 2013. He should be both thrilled to play again this spring and extra eager to prove himself. Outfielder Kole Calhoun and short stop Andrew Romine will start the season in the minors on the 40-man roster but are exciting up and comers likely to become 25-man roster fixtures in the seasons to come.

Matt Says: Well for the Dodgers there’s two players that fans should keep an eye on. Yasiel Puig and Zack Lee. Puig as you know was the first major International signing that the Dodgers made in the middle of the season. Many scouts say he has good Power but is still Raw and needs more coaching. Fans will finally get to see what he is all about this Spring and we’ll get to see if he is ready or needs more time. Zack Lee is another player who is listed as the #1 Prospect in the Dodgers Organization. This is a guy who I believe will be called up this season (If any injuries are to hit). If not we will see him in Triple A.

Teams often find a hidden gem in a non roster invitee. Which NRI player(s) have the best shot at making the Roster come opening day?

Matt Says: Dodgers tend to find hidden gems with the NRI players. I will say one who has a good shot would be Peter Molan and Mark Lowe. The Dodgers want to add a Veteran presence in a young bullpen and both of them have a good shot at making it but will have to beat out Stephen Fife and Josh Wall just to get on the 40 man roster. Molan you may remember was with the Braves last season but was hit with Injury problems and Lowe was with the Rangers as well but didn’t play as much. Only one of them will make it on the 40 man roster in my opinion.

Kristen Says: Barring any injuries or other oddities *knock on every scrap of wood in a 40 mile radius!* I think the Angels came in to spring training with the 25 and 40-man rosters pretty much set in all respects except perhaps the bullpen. I think that if NRI relief pitcher Hiroyuki Kobayashi continues to have a good Spring, he will have a shot at making the roster for Opening Day but I don’t expect any of the other Angels NRI players to make the roster for a couple of seasons yet.

From 2012's Spring Training Freeway Series games: Matt Kemp swings at a nasty Angels pitch and misses with Hank Conger catching...oh how I hope the Angels starting rotation can deliver this season!! Angels at Dodgers, April 3, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

From 2012’s Spring Training Freeway Series games: Matt Kemp swings at a nasty Angels pitch and misses with Hank Conger catching…oh how I hope the Angels starting rotation can deliver this season!! Angels at Dodgers, April 3, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Are there any issues or unanswered questions that you hope to see your team work out in spring training?

Kristen Says: For me, at least, the biggest question still facing the Angels is the starting rotation. I’m thrilled with the addition of Jason Vargas, but once I get past Jered Weaver and Vargas, I am full of questions. Will C.J. Wilson’s bone spur surgery mark the reappearance of the strong, reliable, successful C.J.? And will we get to see this C.J. in the second half too? Which Tommy Hanson will we see? And so on. I bounce back and forth between optimism and queasiness on the subject and really hope that spring training ultimately gives us a strong indication of positive answers to those questions. A secondary question for me is how quickly will the planned outfield configuration of Trout in left, Bourjos in center and Hamilton in right shape up? I don’t ask how well because I don’t really think that’s a necessary question — an all young, talented centerfielder outfield is a pretty drool-worthy prospect. At the same time, Trout and Hamilton are both used to calling the shots in their respective outfields and Bourjos spent most of 2012 — unfairly — on the bench so it may take him a few games to get used to taking charge again and will definitely take all three of them a few games to get used to each other’s range and working together. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what spring training is for – and I do love the fact that so many games are on TV now so that we get to watch the process.

Matt Says: Well for sure it isn’t Chemisty haha. I honestly think there’s a few questions and issues that I would like to see the Dodgers workout. One is being Hanley at Shortstop. Hanley isn’t the best defensive Shortstop out there and we all know he was at 3rd for a reason with the Marlins last year. Hanley will have to get fielding down at short and only has so much time with the Dodgers before he goes and plays in the WBC with the Dominican Republic. The rotation after Kershaw and Greinke is also a mystery as well. Dodgers had a deep rotation which could see guys either traded or moved to the bullpen. #3-4-5 will be up in the air pending on how Capuano, Harang, Beckett, Billingsley, Lilly, and Ryu pitches through the spring. Right now it’s projected to be Beckett, Billingsley, and Ryu but that could all change.

The Dodgers are well represented in the 2013 World Baseball Classic with five players participating. The Angels only have one player participating. How do you feel about this? Do you think it’s more important to have the cream of MLB represented in the WBC or for teams and players to conserve their talent for the regular baseball season?

Matt Says: I for one Love the World Baseball Classic. I like that the Dodgers are well represented in this because they’re playing for their country which is something they don’t get to do that much. I honestly would like to see the MLB’s best play in the classic but can understand if the Player don’t want to play..Notice I said player because I feel it’s up to them if they want to play in the Classic. Through the past few weeks we have seen teams step in a block players from play in the tournament and that I think is not fair. I get that teams don’t want guys hurt playing but it’s the same risk if you have them play in a Spring Training game. In my opinion I think it’s more important to have players ready for the Regular season but the WBC is played in the Spring and the players will have their rest before the Season starts but that’s for the players to decide. You see players like Mike Trout who declined to play to work with the Angels and that I can understand and respect.

Kristen Says: I think it’s great for the Dodgers to be so well represented in the WBC and most years I would be happy to see the Angels equally well represented. However, after all of the injuries of 2011 and 2012 and with so many very young players still learning how to keep positive momentum all the way through the second half of the regular season, I am glad that this Angels team largely opted not to participate. There will be other WBCs with more Angels participation. In general, while it would certainly be exciting to have all of the best in baseball playing in the WBC, I think this is a question best left up to the individual players. As with the Angels, I completely understand when players, knowing their own pre-season training needs, decide that they would prefer just to concentrate on the regular baseball season and skip out on the WBC. Look, half the fun of the WBC is seeing MLB greats playing for their home or ancestral countries, so excellent MLB participation isn’t going to guarantee a strong USA team regardless – though I do think we have a strong, competitive team this year and am excited to have tickets to the USA/Mexico game in a few weeks. I also don’t think that teams should step in to block players from participating in the WBC unless there is a legitimate injury concern in the sense of a frequently or recently injured player.

From 2012's Spring Training Freeway Series games: Peter Bourjos entertains Mark Trumbo and other teammates on the bench...a location I sincerely hope neither Bourjos nor Trumbo will be seeing much of this season. Angels at Dodgers, April 3, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

From 2012’s Spring Training Freeway Series games: Peter Bourjos entertains Mark Trumbo and other teammates on the bench…a location I sincerely hope neither Bourjos nor Trumbo will be seeing much of this season. Angels at Dodgers, April 3, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

We had a Freeway Series showdown — naturally! — during the MLB Network’s recent Face of MLB contest and Matt Kemp beat Mike Trout. Thoughts? Reactions?

Kristen Says: On the surface, the Face of MLB contest is just a fun, silly way to pass the offseason time. On a deeper level though, I think the results demonstrate the effect of changing technology on the way fans interact with the game. With the increasing popularity of social media, constant MLB-wide highlights streaming across a baseball dedicated cable channel and all of the different ways we have to stream games online and watch out of market games on TV, baseball is no longer about just getting to see “our team” and the handful of, primarily East Coast teams, that at one point held an almost “National Brand” status. There was a time, not so long ago, when West Coast ballplayers would have been eliminated in the first round of any such competition. Now we fans still root the hardest for our own teams – as it should be! — but we are also aware of the daily exploits of talented players on every team regardless of rank and market size and I think that’s wonderful! As for Matt Kemp beating Mike Trout in this competition quite handily, this season I think that’s as it should be. Both are exceptionally talented players but Trout is a brand new face while Kemp is an established a team leader with several MVP level seasons to his credit. However, as Trout continues to live up to his potential, I expect that the results of any such future contests will quickly start shifting in Trout’s favor. ;)

Matt Says: I didn’t vote or anything for this because I don’t see the point in it but I find it to be something that adds for the fans. Last year Mike Trout was in the same position Kemp was in 2011. Great season only to not be named MVP due to his team not being in the Playoffs. Honestly I believe this is a great honor for both players to be recognized but in my opinion this was for the fans to make that call which we all knew who everyone was voting for. I just want to know outside of Dodgers/Angels fans who voted for who haha.

Bonus Bloggers’ Bias Question: As a fan, do you look forward to spring training or can you take it or leave it?

Matt Says: As a fan yes I do and for many reasons. One it signals that Baseball is back after a long off-season and seeing Free-Agents sign and moves being made in the winter. Also allows fans to get a good look at players like a Kershaw and Kemp play and get their pre-season done, New players like Grenkie and Ryu play with their teams for the first time, and get a good look at the Top Prospects in the farm system play in MLB Uniform and see if they’re the real deal. Best part is actually going to see Spring Training and actually getting to meet the players. Yes people spend a lot of money to attend opening day or Opening night but it’s the only time fans can catch Baseball at a cheap price and in a location (Well to me and Kristen) where it’s not far at all. This year will be my first trip to Spring Training in Arizona and I am honestly looking forward to it. I understand some fans say they’ll wait till Opening Day to see what the team is about and that’s fine but with me being such a Baseball Junkie I like to see the Prospects and NRI guys just to see what my team will be working with.

Kristen Says: I love spring training and look forward to it every year! Yes, this is partially because of how stir crazy I get in the offseason. However, a big part of my spring training love is the glimpse it gives us inside the teams’ preparations for the season. I love watching my favorite players shake off the rust and work back into their regular season form and I enjoy watching new players and/or existing players in new positions work to blend seamlessly into the team unit. No, the games aren’t the same quality as regular season games, especially this early on. And, yes, once we get past about March 15th, I will be Jones-ing hard for the regular season to start. But the more casual vibe of spring training has an undeniable charm all its own and serves as the perfect appetizer before the regular season main course. (I decided that this was a more mature metaphor than Foreplay/Long Time, if you will. Aren’t you all so proud? ;)  )

From 2012's Spring Training Freeway Series games: Angels jack of many trades and chief bomb hitter, Mark Trumbo, and Dodgers catcher Tim Federowicz move with the pitch. Angels at Dodgers, April 3, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

From 2012’s Spring Training Freeway Series games: Angels jack of many trades and chief bomb hitter, Mark Trumbo, and Dodgers catcher Tim Federowicz move with the pitch. Angels at Dodgers, April 3, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

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