Results tagged ‘ Opening Day ’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I-5 Bias: The Opening Day Edition

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

I-5 Bias - Blog Medium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

The Angels’ Opening Day Went to 11! Let’s Concentrate on that…

When I get sad, I stop being sad and be AWESOME instead! True story. – Words to live by from the immortal Barney Stinson

So games 2 and 3 of the Angels opening series didn’t go exactly the way we had planned…or, you know, anything remotely like we had planned. Opening Night was pretty darned awesome! And more of an indication, I think, of what the season will be like than a pair of extremely early season games where, while this was not the only issue, two ace quality, workhorse pitchers were working through a bit of the old dead arm.

So, the morals of this weekend are:

  1. Don’t be sad, be awesome instead – and this goes triply for the fans.
  2. Dead arms and early season fielding jitters will pass of their own accord, as will some of the plate issues. And even with those plate issues, the offense already looks better than that of the last two years. But, even so, let’s stop swinging a) for the fences and b) at stupid pitches.
  3. Relax and just play your game.
  4. Clearly Seth and I need to be at these games. I mean, hello? They won when we were in the stands. (Of course, I am completely joking about that last point. Of course. *whistles innocently* But if say, anyone extra superstitious in a position to just happen to let a pair of season tickets fall off a truck and into my hot little hands felt the need to take me seriously, who would I be to say no? And I would like to state, for the record yet completely apropos of nothing of course, that said theoretical tickets would not have to be Diamond Club, or anything fancy like that. Quite the contrary, we would be perfectly happy continuing to root, root, root for the home team from mere mortals’ seats, so long as they’re in decent camera range. ;))

Opening Day. Opening Day lit halo. Looks pretty darned awesome to me! Angels vs. Royals, April 6, 2012, Opening Day. Photo by This is a very simple game...

*relieved sigh* Well, that’s out of the way. Now let’s all concentrate on the sheer Angels awesomeness we are sure to see sooner rather than later this month. And, to get you into that frame of mind, I give you a visual recap of the complete awesomeness that was Opening Day…and if you think I have used variants on the word awesome a few too many times in this post, I ask you, what would Barney Stinson say to you? Uh huh. Thought so. ;):

Opening Days tend to have the same ingredients MLB-wide – the giant flag covering the outfield, the local military color guard, the players from both teams lining the base paths as their names are called, the military flyover and the VIPs throwing out the first pitch. But that certainly is not to say that every Opening Day is the same, or that these details aren’t special. In fact, the universality of this format is part of what makes it special, lending the affair a ceremonial, special occasion air like a wedding or a graduation. And, much like the parties involved in those examples, each team manages to make the details their own:

Mike Scioscia and Howie Kendrick shake hands as they Angels take their places along the third base line for the pre-game festivities. Angels vs. Royals, April 6, 2012, Opening Day. Photo by This is a very simple game...

The color guard. The giant flag. The Angels lined up at attention. Ah, Opening Day! Darned if I don't tear up a little every time. In the line you can see C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren and Alberto Callaspo aming others. Angels vs. Royals, April 6, 2012, Opening Day. Photo by This is a very simple game...

The photo I took of the actual first pitch was blurry, which is okay because I like what this one says a little more. Angels 2002 greats Troy Percival, Tim Salmon and David Eckstein embrace before throwing out the first pitch to their coaches (and Dodgers 1988 greats!) Mike Scioscia, Alfredo Griffen and Mickey Hatcher. Angels vs. Royals, April 6, 2012, Opening Day. Photo by This is a very simple game...

The energy from the crowd was absolutely unreal. I have been to Opening Days before and I have been to well attended games before, but this was something completely different. And while I am sure that many in the stands were brand new Angels fans, brought to the stadium by the hype and excitement of the Angels well publicized off season acquisitions, I’m not going to join in the griping about that. I say, welcome. Come join us. Get to know the team and stick around for the seasons to come. However the rankings fallout by season’s end, this is going to be fun!

The crowd was unbelievable, sold out and packed to the gills. Angels vs. Royals, April 6, 2012, Opening Day. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And it was standing room only on the concourse. Too cool! Angels vs. Royals, April 6, 2012, Opening Day. Photo by This is a very simple game...

So, the game itself. Just how good was the game? It was so good that I was hoarse until evening on Saturday. So good that I kept thinking Saturday was Sunday. No joke. That first regular season ballpark experience of the year was so much fun and excitement packed into one game that it seemed to me like it must be an entire Saturday, not just a Friday night. And here are a few of the reasons why:

Jered Weaver, 'nuff said. Well, okay. I might as well add 10 strikeouts, 0 walks and a mere 4 hits in 8 shutout innings. Well, this is the "Awesome" post after all! Angels vs. Royals, April 6, 2012, Opening Day. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Albert Pujols just misses pulling off the out on an errant throw from 3rd base. I cannot praise Pujols' defense enough. As for Mark Trumbo's defense at 3rd? Okay, so three errors in his first two games is not exactly a pretty start. But remember how much we were bitching about him at first in the opening weeks of 2011? And then he got a lot better and was pretty darned good by the end of the season? After watching the guy last year I can see that when things aren't working out, he works harder, often with success. I say give him the month of April, because the potential upshot from his bat is so great, and if we don't see some improvement and promise, then you can resume screaming bloody murder. Angels vs. Royals, April 6, 2012, Opening Day. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Okay fine, Jered Weaver decides he'll get his own outs - Howie Kendrick gets the pickoff throw and makes the tag in the 7th. Jeff Francour, you're out! Angels vs. Royals, April 6, 2012, Opening Day. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Kendrys Morales decided to bat leftie on his third trip to the plate, and set off what would become a 5-run rally. I cannot tell you how happy I am to have this man back in the line up. Go Bam Bam go! Angels vs. Royals, April 6, 2012, Opening Day. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Erick Aybar takes a sassy lead off third base after his bases clearing triple in the 8th inning. I wish I knew what he was saying to the Royals...though I imagine this was one of those times that is the reason we will never mic players. :) Angels vs. Royals, April 6, 2012, Opening Day. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Peter Bourjos had a great night, knocking in the first run, sliding in just ahead of the tage to score the 4th run and making a few great plays in the outfield. This is just a between innings warm up photo, but I think that I got his game face. Angels vs. Royals, April 6, 2012, Opening Day. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And, just because this is my blog, here’s some silliness too:

Meeting on the mound in the 7th inning. Whatever they're saying, Mark Trumbo appears to be telling the Royals dugout, "Ooooooo. You guys are in trou-ble." Angels vs. Royals, April 6, 2012, Opening Day. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And the Kiss Cam hijinks continue into 2012...as opposing team members MLB wide either make plans to stand well apart during this particular ritual or to ham it up for laughs and applause. Angels vs. Royals, April 6, 2012, Opening Day. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Okay, I have never tried to catch the butt pat on film, but you'd think that with the number of butt pats in baseball I would have wound up with a picture of one before this...I mean I've certainly erased enough photos of players doing other things I never intended to capture on camera. Angels vs. Royals, April 6, 2012, Opening Day. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Check out the height difference between Eric Hosmer and Alexi Amarista – this shot cracked me up. Now, what he lacks in height, Amarista more than makes up for with his glove, speed, agility and, in the future, I believe with his bat as well. This is one of the kids I am excited to watch come in to his own over the next few seasons. Angels vs. Royals, April 6, 2012, Opening Day. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And if that isn’t enough awesome to get you in the right frame of mind for the next few series, just wait. The Angels will get you there eventually. I’m sure of it.

Angels Opening Day Checklist: Don’t Leave Home Without…

The Angels Opening Day is finally here and I can barely contain my own excitement! In just a few…well…in just a few too many hours for my taste, I’ll be at the game. Still, hours. We’re down to hours! Isn’t that exciting? However, it is important to remember that attending Opening Day, or any other ballgame for that matter, is much like any other festive, celebratory occasion: in your excitement it’s all too easy to forget the darndest of things. But, with a little thought and preparation you can avoid any potentially disastrous forgetfulness and ensure your complete ballgame enjoyment.

Submitted for your entertainment, here is my helpful Angels Opening Day checklist. Did you remember to bring:

1. Tickets!

Because you can’t get into the ballpark without tickets, right? Yeah, I know. Ticketmaster, Stubhub and the like all have numbers you can call in a pinch in you lose your tickets. But, as someone who once had their Nine Inch Nails ticket swiped in the ladies room in between the Queens of the Stone Age set and the main event, I can tell you that as fast as they really do try to rectify these situations and get you back in your seat, standing in customer service with the feeling that you’re missing the first song, first pitch, etc. is not fun. Yeah. These babies went into my purse seconds after I snapped the photo. I recommend confirming possession of said tickets before you start the car to head for the stadium.

2. Cash…probably kind of a lot, actually.

This is one of those not so fun parts of the game. But ‘buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks’ is an indelible part of Take Me Out to the Ballgame, after all. Not to mention the hot dogs. The tasty, tasty, overpriced beverages. The parking… Need I go on? And I don’t know about other ballparks, but paying with a credit card or ATM always seems to take three times as long, so cash is king.

3. Ball Caps

They protect your face from the sun and when the sun goes down, they protect your head from the cold. They shade your eyes from the glare – all the better to see the game with, my dears. They proclaim your team pride across the stadium in even the largest of crowds. Don’t leave home without them.

4. Fan appropriate attire

Okay, maybe this isn’t exactly difficult to remember if you leave for the game from your home, wearing it all already. But, like so many of us, I am forever dashing off to the game after work, so Day to Night Barbie’s got nothin’ on me. (The reference came from a coworker actually. I left the conference room we were working in wearing a business suit and returned in jeans and an Angels jersey to collect my computer and go. ‘What are you?’ she laughed. ‘Day to Night Barbie?’) And until I figure out that Wonder Woman ‘spin and spin and spin until *poof* your outfit completely changes including perfectly coordinated shoes, jewelry and makeup’ maneuver, I’m going to add ‘remember every piece of your fan appropriate attire’ to the list. Because forgetting my sneakers and going to the ballpark in jeans, jersey and 3.5 inch heels was not exactly my finest moment.

5. Camera

Because if you want to capture some of those great game memories permanently, whether on the field or of yourselves in the stands, you’re going to need a camera. Now, you will note that my case contains considerably more than just the camera – two extra batteries, two extra memory cards and various charging accoutrements, to be precise. What can I say? I’ve been married to an Eagle Scout for going on 13 years and that always be prepared thing? It’s so not just a slogan and, after a few years and numerous demonstrations of it’s usefulness as a philosophy, it rubs off on a person. Running out the battery during a game sucks. So does finding out that the card is full of of pics from a friend’s wedding that you can’t erase yet…or that you left it in the computer. *whistles* So, if you like to take more than just a few random photos, I suggest embracing your inner Eagle Scout – provided the real deal isn’t handy. ;)

6+. The backpack o’ many things…

…o’ many things, including:
1. One jacket for each party in colors that either coordinate with your team or, at the very least, do not coorninate with the colors of the opposing team (unless you have the same colors).
2. A few snacks that don’t require as much of the aforementioned cash. In our case, this is typically a bag of salt and pepper pistachios.
3. Team swag of the useful variety – blankets, warm hats and the like.
4. Team swag of the rally variety. Oh yes, there will be Angels Luchador masks! Regardless of what security says when you enter, they have yet to take them away from us in a moment of rally necessity.
5. Ponchos. Yes, ponchos. Remember what I said about the Eagle Scout thing? Cheap Target ponchos weigh nothing, fit easily in one pocket of the pack and will become your favorite thing in the entire world if one of those infamous April showers catches you in the stands.

And there you have it – check, check and double check – the Opening Day checklist. One additional thing that would be on my list if I could guarantee that my ability to check it off would be anything better than shakey? Managing to calm my excitement enough to get actual work done this morning and afternoon because I have a metric f-ton of work to do before the game. (It’s roughly 204 pounds larger than your standard imperial f-ton, don’t cha know?) Oh well. I’m going to run and try to make more progress on that last one and then, Play Ball!

A Little Excitement Before the Regular Season Begins

So, everyone’s getting really excited about the first Regular Season games starting in just a few hours, right? I mean, we’re all getting up extra early, with elaborate brunch, beer and calling in late to work plans so we can watch the games, right? *crickets* Yeah, that about sums it up. While I like the idea of exhibition games in Japan and other countries, I think that having the Mariners and A’s play two regular season games there is just ho hum. The timing will always be awkward, both in terms of fitting the games into the Regular Season calendar and in terms of the games themselves taking place at a time when the teams’ U.S. fans can easily watch. For this reason, I doubt MLB will ever get teams that are predicted to contend to participate and so what we’re left with is just blah. Two games stuck in a weird sort of baseball limbo. They count towards the regular season record, so they’re not quite exhibition games. But most folks aren’t paying any attention and the games are occurring completely outside the Regular Season calendar, well before the official Opening Day on April 4th, so it’s almost as if they aren’t really Regular Season games either, leaving me for one wondering, Why bother? 

I’ll tell you what is exciting though, Magic Johnson buying the Dodgers. Ding Dong, the McCourts are gone. The wicked McCourts are gone! Yes, I root for the Halo’d ones down in Anaheim, but I’m an L.A. girl raised going to games in Chavez Ravine by a Dodger lovin’ family. As long as we aren’t specifically in the middle of a Freeway Series, I will always have a soft spot for the boys in blue. Besides, I like to think that baseball fans everywhere were rooting for the Dodgers to come out on top of all this – Come on Giants fan cousins of mine, you know you were rooting for them too…come on. Hey. That’s not the gesture you really want to be making. Seriously, knock that off right now or I’m telling your mom. See, that’s much better. Don’t you feel better now? Ummm…never mind. ;)

Anyway, moving right along…Magic Johnson is a shrewd businessman who has managed to create businesses that are simultaneously good for the community, good for local sports and entertainment, and also profitable. And for those of you who don’t have a lot of experience with business and politics in L.A., trust me, that’s no easy feat. Plus, Magic Johnson has been an L.A. guy by choice since his retirement. I see him as the kind of owner who will cultivate a good team on the field (and it’s not like he doesn’t have plenty of good players to work with already), while pleasing fans and leaving the important traditions intact. At least, this is what I hope will happen…even though I still hope they lose every single Freeway Series game. Hey, Dodgers soft spot, Angels heart. My goodwill is extensive, but not boundless. ;)

Which brings me to news even more exciting than that: Kendrys is hitting over .600 since his Spring Training debut and continues to see regular playing time, and I saw my first lit Halo of 2012 driving through Anaheim the other night. Okay, so it’s only a lit exhibition Halo, but still. Lit. Halo! The Regular Season – the real Regular Season – is so close I can taste it!

The Halo on the Big A shines into the March 2012 evening, announcing a Spring Training victory! Yes, I took this photo through the none too clean windshield of our moving vehicle. No, I wasn't the one driving. ;) Photo by This is a Very Simple Game...

Weekend Gourmet, Wine Festival and Angels Blogger Spring Training?

A belated Happy Saint Patrick’s Day from the Emerald Isle!…

View of Paso Robes farmland taken from West Highway 46 looking out towards a completely mist shourded Morro Bay. The rock? I can't see it, but who cares with all this pretty. March 17, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

…Yeah, I wish. ;) Though as not-Ireland places for a St. Patrick’s weekend getaway go, Paso Robles, CA is plenty nice enough. And although the particular shades of green in this landscape are all wrong for Ireland, it is still quite lovely and the mist and rain were at least accurate. So what’s a diehard Angels fan like me doing in a place like Paso Robles when there are games going on Arizona, you ask?

Well, with Pujols-mania bringing folks out to Tempe in droves, hotel stays and such suddenly got more expensive and harder to book, so we decided to wait and go to Spring Training another year. Oh well, I was a little sad but that does mean more money for the regular season ticket budget, which certainly makes up for missing out…and, besides, it’s the Zinfandel Festival which means I just spent a lovely weekend going through my own little baseball blogger’s Spring Training, which came none too soon if you ask me. Between Albert Pujols heating up the lineup, the rest of the bats following right long, the starting rotation looking great and even more formidable with the addition of C.J. Wilson, and what is looking more and more like the very real possibility of Kendrys Morales returning to the 25-man roster, this could be a very special season in the making. A blogger’s got to prepare. Training and drills are a must.

Okay, training and drills. Fine, you say. But at a wine festival? Of course at a wine festival! Where else could I get all of this practice and prep in? Take photos, for example. If you read this blog last season – first off thank you! – you know I like to take photos when I go to Angels games so that I can pepper my posts with photos that are as much mine as the commentary. Well, taking baseball game photos can be tricky. There’s a lot of action. Your subjects are constantly on the move, sometimes in unpredictable ways. It’s all too easy for the rusty blogger to end up with a large collection of photos like this one, which I like to call Not-So-Still life with Aybar:

A blurry, bad Erick Aybar rounding first base photo that is only seeing the light of day per the Roger Rabbit rules: Only when it's funny! Angels vs. White Sox, May 10, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Or even this one. Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos were both well in frame and in focus when I started to take the photo…:

A blurry, bad Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos warming up photo that is only seeing the light of day per the Roger Rabbit rules: Only when it's funny! Angels vs. Mariners, September 5, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

You’ve got to warm up for tricky action shots. Practicing on things that don’t move but require a lot of detail and focus can be helpful, like this vineyard (I love the gnalred, wintery vines and the  lines created by the three distinct fields with vines running at three different angles):

Views like this are why I say if I could find a way to make money up here, I would absolutely move to Paso Robles. Anyone need a mortgage banking, copy writing couple? We would probably be fair hats at catering and he brews excellent beer! March 16, 2012, Red Soles Winery property. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Or this gorgeous tasting room:

Shale Oak Winery's absolutely gorgeous eco-friendly tasting room. Grab a glass of something bold and fruity and head for the fire pits on the patio. March 16, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Then you can move on to some simple action subjects, like these Paso Robles wild turkeys:

Why did these Paso Robles wild turkeys cross the field? Duh, to get to road of course. March 16, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

I say a simple action shot because, although this is an impressive little dominance display here, with a lot of action going on, turkeys (the real ones with feathers at any rate) don’t generally muck up photos by adjusting themselves. Still, although no Spring Training can ever replicate the real thing I think I have gotten enough “innings” in with the camera to be ready for the regular season.

As for the rest of my blogger’s Spring Training? Well, I got to study plenty of tasty treats in preparation for my Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels nights, like this glorious roast pork panini and sundried tomato salad from Farmstand 46. They call it The Goat:

If you're ever passing through Paso Robles, Farmstand 46 is a must! Behold The Goat, a slow roated pork shoulder panini topped with pickled onions, salty gruyere and a homemade garlic aioi, accompanied by a sundried tomato salad and real macaroons. March 16, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

…or the Zinfandel sliders, the tacos al pastor, the paella or any of the other deliciousness I was too busy nom-ing to take a photo of. Would I really make a roast pork panini or paella just for our Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels enjoyment? *laughs* Will Mike Scioscia change the Angels lineup a minimum of 60 times this season? Hell. Yes.

Speaking of Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels, what better place to stock up the old wine cellar than at Zin Fest? Yes, I think it’s going to be a beautiful season:

Part of this year's Zin Fest haul. As they say in Paso Robles, 'Sip. Swirl. Enjoy!' Don't mind if I do. March 17, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

I even got my usual pre-season gabfest in with some of the Giants fans at the Barrel 27 pick-up party. Not surprisingly they are every bit as thrilled to be getting Buster Posey back as we are with the positive Kendrys outlook. Not to mention it was fun talking rookies and just barely not rookies with them. The Giants have some great younger players in the mix or soon to be in the mix too – one gent I was chatting with is particularly enamored with Baby Giraffe, Brandon Belt – so our two fan bases have some fun things in common.

So, I have my trusty camera at the ready, my Opening Day tickets in hand…er…inbox, plenty of wine options (seriously if I actually showed you the full collection of options, you would laugh at me!) and my typing fingers limber and warmed up. 19 days until Opening Day and I. Can’t. Wait!

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

Rain, Rain, Go Away. Come Back Again After Opening Day!

As you might have guessed from my title, sunny Southern California isn’t exactly living up to the hype at the moment. April showers and all that. Normally I would be fine with this. Drought year water restrictions are really annoying and I would like to avoid that. But tomorrow is the Angels home opening day and we have tickets and…and…okay, a rain out would hardly be an epic tragedy but I am starting to get seriously twitchy for a live game and the weather report is just teasing me – bouncing back and forth between dire predictions of a 60% chance of rain all day and then roughly a 30% change of rain in the morning and early afternoon.

I sure hope the rain clears out in time for the game. Seth and I could not be more excited and have a whole evening planned it. We’re even both leaving work early enough to carpool and still get there in time to watch batting practice, unheard of on a weekday. It will be nice to start the home opener on a high note after a 5 to 1 win over the Rays. Dan Haren picked up the win. He pitched very well and was no doubt pleased with the Angels generous, early run support after their stinginess last season. Though many were initially confused by the nasty stuff of Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, the bats were alive and well. Jordan Walden had his second outing since assuming the closer role and it was another one, two, three inning. I am so happy with this change! But I think that contests to give Walden a nickname and snazzy walk up music are a little premature. Let’s actually watch the kid play first before we saddle him with a nickname.

Oh, and the tickets arrived today! My husband and I will officially be travelling for baseball this summer. Fairly late in the 2010 season, I was commiserating with an old college friend about the state of our teams. Neither of us liked our chances for a post season and we both knew we would be experiencing withdrawal like symptoms all winter. Of course, his team’s ranking at that point was just so much more torture and it all turned out pretty darned well for him in the end. But we had so much fun goofing around, chatting about the game that he proposed an annual fan exchange program – in 2011 he and his guy will take my husband and I to a Giants game and we will take them to an Angels game. So we are heading up to San Francisco in July for the Giants/Dodgers game and we have great seats! For any family who may be lurking on the blog, first, thank you for reading :) and, second, I will not be wearing either team’s colors but will wear my Angels hat instead.

The Giants game happens to be the same weekend the Angels are in the Bay Area to play the A’s, so I also nabbed good seats for the planned Angels vs. A’s single admission, double header on that Saturday. Single admission, double header! Doesn’t that sound like a great throwback to childhood?! I am so excited, I can’t wait…for this weekend or for that one!

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