Writers are often purported to be an angsty bunch, pouring out the prose most effectively in a fit of anger or sadness. But not I. Words flow from my fingers through the keyboard most easily when I’m in a good mood and this blog is no exception. I don’t want to yell at my Angels, I want to cheer for and celebrate them. Now, is this more a factor of there being little truth to the stereotype about writers or of the fact of my being a hack, I cannot say. 😉 But I can tell you that I’d far rather continue writing the post I started in a fit of baseball fan euphoria on Sunday than anything “inspired” by last night’s game against the Rangers…but, don’t worry. You know me. I’ll bring it back around eventually.
Oh what a difference a series or even a game can make in the mood of the baseball fan! Especially when that series finds my previously slumping Angels sweeping the Tigers, scary offensive lineup and all! You would think that, as a lifelong baseball fan, I would thoroughly grok the whole 162 game season concept and not get so worked up over a series or even a week here or there. But, in truth, I think that’s only possibly for the more casual fan, the fan who skims the box scores far more often than they find the time to sit down and watch a game. Because, when you watch most of those 162 games, the no less true for being so very clichéd concept of this being a marathon not a sprint, becomes strictly academic in the face of the fact that you are living the season game by game. Heck, sometimes it doesn’t even take a series to provoke a completely disproportionate to the sample size at hand move to despair or jubilation. Especially this early in the season, sometimes just a game will do it. I certainly found myself embracing an impractical surge of optimism after watching the Angels’ walk off win against the Astros from the Big A two Saturdays ago. And a game like last night’s game against the Rangers, a game which laid bare all of the Angels flaws over the course of nine innings – see, I told you I’d bring this back around! – would have eaten at me, planting nagging doubts about the season, even in June or July.
Thus, last post I was desperately searching for a reason to stay optimistic and this weekend I was trying to temper my optimism with sane practicality and with only limited success…until last night. After the first game against the Rangers, the stark reminder of the Angels flaws did temper that optimism, but it didn’t kill it. Yes, I know the Angels are far from out of the woods yet in terms of the standings…yes, even this early in the season and I will remind anyone who says ‘no it’s too early to worry at all’ to look at last season. Yes, the starting rotation is a real problem, especially for the duration of Jered Weaver’s DL stint, and the bullpen is worse. And, yes, there is an awful lot riding on a potentially brilliant but frustratingly streaky offense. But the weekend’s sweep of the Tigers did at least show us what an Angels team with a fully functioning offense can do when the different components of the pitching staff combine for at least a passable performance, and what that team can do is win! Now, when the offense takes a while to come online, or is scoring but still strands too many runners in scoring position while any aspect of the pitching outright self destructs? Well, hang on to your hats ladies and gentlemen, this season could get a little interesting by all appropriately Hoban Washburne definitions of the word.
So those are the realistic concerns from the past week and change, but what about the happier observations?:
- Is there anything hotter in baseball than your team’s walk off win? I mean, seriously. Is there anything more, dear lord, ‘Is it getting warm in here or is it just me?,’ I think I need several moments to recover and quite possibly a cigarette, hotter in baseball than a walk off win…especially one you witness live? No. Quite simply, there is not, as I was reminded from our seats at the Big A two Saturdays ago and again just this past Sunday.
- When the offense is clicking it can and will pick up even so-so pitching…and the offense is heating up. Okay, Josh Hamilton needs to catch the warming trend and we’d like Mike Trout to steal more again, but for the most part they’re starting to look really good more games than not.
- Promising youth explosion! If we had to have so many injuries early on – and, let’s face it, we’d all prefer that the Angels did not, but here we are – then at least the team has found two legitimate gems in the form of Garrett Richards and Luis “Lucho” Jimenez. When he last joined the Big League team, Richards had promising stuff but little seasoning. Returning from more time in the minors with a lot more polish, the youngster still has some work to do, but has nevertheless been one of the brighter spots in the rotation. And Lucho, replacing the ailing Alberto Callaspo, is simply a revelation. Good instincts, good hands, serious athleticism, some speed and no small amount of pop in his bat, not to mention an attitude with just the right amount of cockiness and an infectious grin. I find myself hoping that Lucho is Callaspo’s permanent replacement and I’m one of the fans usually counted among Callaspo supporters.
- Even in our sketchy bullpen there are a few standouts. Scott Downs is Downs again. Jerome Williams is a confidence inspiring sight taking the mound in long relief and recent call up Michael Roth sure impressed in his Angels debut…in fact, one wonders why we haven’t seen him since. (Editor’s Note: Ah, that would be because apparently Roth is temporarily joining the starting rotation beginning tonight. I’m awfully excited to watch that. It’s only the Rangers, kid, and Yu Darvish. No pressure. 😉 )
- Our outfield!! Trout, Peter Bourjos and Hamilton. I cannot get enough of the great plays from these three guys. And Bourjos haters? You go right on hating because, let’s face it that’s what you’re going to do anyway despite anything I say or, you know, logic. But don’t look now, Bourjos is hitting. Well!! And he’s getting on base too. Once Hamilton settles in at the plate, this trio will be unstoppable.
And that’s basically the long and the short of it. Which Angels tendencies will have more of an impact on the standings by season’s end? Well it really is too soon to tell, no matter how I feel on a game by game basis. But I have more optimism than I did when last I checked in and that, dear reader, is seriously something…something I for one needed badly.
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.
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!
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!
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!
Finally sitting down to write again while watching the final games of the World Baseball Classic, I tip my hat to Puerto Rico for defeating reigning champion Japan, but I also have to belatedly tip my glass to Team USA. While I wish they could have made it this far and clearly theirs was not as great a finish as we’d hoped — certainly not as great a finish as the players had hoped — it was much better than I expected after catching the USA vs. Mexico game. And, hey, I have the last of the Balvenie RumCask in the glass I am tipping, so I can honestly say that a) this is a quality toast and b) that I may actually shed a tear or two in a moment…though certainly not for Team USA. 😉
Taking the not-particularly-way-back machine to one week ago, I return to the subject of our Annual Baseball Extravaganza, Spring Training Edition. For Seth and I, this was a trip filled with firsts — our first trip to Spring Training and our first World Baseball Classic game. Friday afternoon we left Tempe Diablo stadium when the Arizona sky opened up and poured water and ice, checked into our hotel, wrung as much water as we could from our jeans (serves us right for trying to pack light, I suppose) and headed to Chase Field to watch Team USA and Team Mexico battle to move to the next round in the WBC. Yes, that’s a lot of baseball. *Big silly grin* My kind of vacation.
The energy walking into Chase was incredible. Our seats were excellent, in the third row just a section and change behind first base. In my opinion half of the fun of the WBC is seeing our MLB players in different uniforms, playing for their home country or for Team USA. It was an absolute kick to see so many players I adore but don’t get to watch nearly as often as my Angels – R.A. Dickey, Giancarlo Stanton, Brandon Phillips, Joe Mauer, Eric Hosmer and the list goes on – playing together in red, white and blue, especially on the same field with Adrian Gonzalez, Sergio Romo and everyone else playing for Mexico. Sadly, the game itself was one sided and ho hum. Mexico hit, ran and hit and ran some more while USA played like…well…like an MLB team in their second or third week of Spring Training. I had the wrong angle to tell if Dickey was having an off night or if Mexico simply has no issues hitting a knuckleball. Not that it mattered, because the outfield couldn’t seem to make a play to save their lives, a development I was not expecting given the quality of the players involved. Mind you, I had a blast and am excited we had tickets to see the game but, in the end, my excitement and enjoyment were more because we got to see a WBC game than because the game itself was anything special.
A couple of observations:
The strangest thing about the game: Oddly enough, I scould not get used to the sounds. As I mentioned, it poured in Arizona that Friday so Chase Field wisely took advantage of all modern conveniences and this became the first baseball game I have ever watched under a closed roof. I was plenty grateful for the roof, mind you, especially sitting there still damp from the epic deluge and hail that ended the Angels game that afternoon. But at the same time I was reminded how much the traditional sounds of the game are part of the whole experience for me. Under a roof you still get the crack of the bat, etc., but it’s flatter and somewhat muted. It just doesn’t sound right…kind of Langoliers-ish for any of you out there who devoured Stephen King to the degree I did as a child. Now, don’t get me wrong. Baseball played underneath a retractable roof is decidedly better than a game called for inclement weather, or than sitting in the stands dripping wet, cold and absolutely hating life for that matter. But the game is still best enjoyed outside.
The best thing about the game: As I said, the energy was incredible! You hear a lot about games with a playoff atmosphere. Now, I have yet to afford the privilege of being at an actual playoff game — though that is indeed one for the bucket list — but I have been at several hard contested, end-of-the-season games that folks later describe as having a playoff atmosphere and I can definitely attest to the fact that that kind of energy is wild, intense and wonderful. I also had the luck of being at the Big A for every pitch of Jered Weaver’s no hitter (No, I probably won’t stop mentioning that for a few seasons yet. Why do you ask? 😉 ) and the energy at that game was positively electric to the point where you could feel it on your skin. The energy at the WBC game was palpable, like that, but less intense. It was a rowdy, fun, the-crowd-is-absolutely-into-it-and-hanging-on-every-pitch kind of energy and, yet, at the same time it was casual. This wasn’t a playoff atmosphere, it felt like everything a simple every day game can and should be, and this during a relatively lopsided, uneventful game. If every regular season MLB game could feel like that? Well, I would probably love going to baseball games even more, something I did not think possible.
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:
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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? 😉 )