2012 ended in the usual whirlwind of fun holiday activity. Now that we’re calmly ensconced in the early days of 2013, I finally had the chance to sit down and think about the baseball year that was for an Angels “year in review” highlights post. Hey, I already covered my season gripes as they happened. Now is the time to remember the fun parts. There are already a lot of fantastic Angels 2012 highlight posts out there with killer statistical breakdowns and insightful analysis and, quite frankly, they cover all of that better than I ever could. So, instead, I like to concentrate on those things — Angels specific, baseball general, personal accomplishment and otherwise — that made my Angels baseball season. So, without further ado, here are my personal Angels season highlights, in no particular order:
Mike Trout. Watching this gifted young man take the field in Angels red every day was easily one of the highlights of my baseball fandom so he was easily one of the highlights of my season. I mean, is there anything this talented kid can’t do? The bat. The glove. The speed. The instincts. The heart. The highlight reel nature of the way he plays every single game. The way he makes it all look so effortless. The best rookie season on record! And to top it all off, Trout is a genuinely nice young man who loves the game. Thinking about Trout’s 2012 season makes me giddy. Thinking about all of Trout’s Angels seasons to come gives me chills.
Jered Weaver’s no hitter. I mean, really, Jered Weaver in general. Our ace. Our hometown hero. Our tough, ass kicking, take no prisoners, “give me the ball coach, I’ll find a way to help the team win even when I’m hurting,” goofy, sweet, team leader from the mound. Once again, and even while suffering a back injury in the middle of the season, Weaver delivered a Cy Young worthy season performance that was just, alas, minutely less Cy Young worthy than the even more stellar performance of a rival (two this season). Oh well. Keep plugging away Weave, it’ll happen for you one year! In the meantime, there are so many things about Weaver’s season that I could list here because they also made my season – the career high 20 wins, surpassing 100 victories, notching his 1,000th strikeout – but, at the same time, it could only be the no hitter. It was epic. It was historic. And I was privileged enough to be there.
Chris Iannetta catching Weaver’s no hitter. Chris Iannetta brought a bit of pop and clutch back to the Angels backstop position (hey, I said a bit — but .240 is aces over .174). He hit it off swimmingly with the pitching staff. He caught Weaver’s no hitter. But it was what we learned a few days after the no hitter that really blew me away. Iannetta suffered a wrist fracture when he was hit by a pitch…in the second inning. He caught seven innings of a no hitter with a fractured wrist. Wow! If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know the special place that bad ass catchers will always hold in my heart, so this absolutely had to make my list.
Torii Hunter playing like a kid again. Torii, Torii, Torii. I certainly don’t agree with every single thing you say in the media, but man am I going to miss seeing you in Angels red. Angels Announcer Mark Gubicza once exclaimed, after a particularly dazzling Hunter play, followed by a particularly infectious Hunter smile, ‘Does anyone love playing this game more than Torii Hunter?’ As much as Torii? Certainly. But more than him? Absolutely not. I don’t think it’s possible. Getting to see Torii play a career year on the field while watching him mentor the younger Angels, especially Trout, with the deft hand of a born teacher was definitely a season highlight.
Albert Pujols’ first Angels’ home run and the team clearing the dugout to tease him. Yes, Albert had a slow season start. An epically, painfully, disappointingly slow season start. But did I not caution patience and optimism during that time? And did it not pay off? By the end of the season, Albert put up numbers that were comparable to his 2011 season (up here, down there, identical in a few places) despite the slow start. Yes, I know that he is aging and his numbers will probably be up and down and then eventually just down over the duration of his contract and we’ll discuss all of that when it happens. But I enjoyed watching him once he hit his stride as an Angel and I loved this moment in particular because you could tell, all in one moment, how deeply Pujols cares about his own performance. That Pujols may be aging but he’s still got it. That there are some things on the field that can still bring even the most cynical of Angels boo-birds cheering to their feet. And how supportive the Angels are of their teammates – not to mention how wonderfully, endearingly silly this team can be. It was such an inspiring? …exhilarating? …touching? …you know what? None of those words on its own really sums it all up so let’s just go with “baseball”…it was such a baseball moment!
Ernesto Frieri. Otherwise known as, yet more proof that Jerry Dipoto knows way more about baseball than I ever will. Ernesto who? I said when the Angels traded for him. But Frieri became a fan favorite in our house in short order after concluding his first appearance as an Angel. A shy, sweet seeming kid who still has a charming wide eyed, “I can’t believe I’m actually in the Bigs” attitude away from the mound, Frieri becomes Ernasty as soon as he gets the ball and then pitches miss bats and coufound batters at an impressive rate. Yes, there were bumps in the road. But Frieri made me smile and think hopeful, optimistic thoughts every time he walked on to the field. And, in a season that was most certainly not without its own bumps, that was a big deal.
Continued Fan Trips – San Diego. Seth and I have been trying — very slowly and for the time being locally as dictated by the almighty budget — to watch a game at every MLB ballpark. In 2012 our “Annual Baseball Extravaganza” took us to San Diego for the Angels interleague series against the Padres. Although this was just before the Angels took off on a winning tear, we had a blast. Petco Park is a fantastic baseball venue. Travelling to see your team play away is a great experience – not to mention one that will make you feel like a couple of diehard fans in a heartbeat — and we got to spend quality baseball – and pub crawling — time with a good friend who lives in the San Diego area. Total season highlight.
MLBlogs, yes MLBlogs. 2012 saw the retirement of several blogs that I consider to be among the greats and – not to wax too Shawshank-y here — while I absolutely understand that the need to move on from such a huge undertaking may strike some, the Blogosphere is definitely lesser for their absence. I am now doubly grateful for those bloggers who continue blogging! Heck, this winter I briefly entertained the idea of retiring my own blog, not that mine is even in the same league as the aforementioned blogs. This blogging thing, it’s a blast and a half but it can also be a lot of work, especially when actual work commitments begin to get intense. But then I thought about what a season would be like without having this forum to share my giddiness and my frustrations, and that really didn’t seem like much fun. I was reminded that posting here and chatting with everyone was a highlight of my 2011 season, it was absolutely a highlight of my 2012 season and I look forward to it being a highlight of my 2013 season. If that means that from time to time I need to just relax and post a little less frequently, so be it. Thus, MLBlogs is essential to my 2012 list — plus, this past season I was invited to join in a few blogger collaborations, another fun highlight of my season and something I look forward to doing more of in 2013.
Happy New Year, all!! I hope your 2013 is filled with so many good things that you can’t even remember those inevitable rough patches come year end. 🙂
Focus. It’s essential, both for winning the game at hand and for reaching the post season. Completely out of sorts after the last three games, on Tuesday morning I was going to argue that Angels had hopelessly lost all focus.
Fortunately, I’m a moody writer in the reverse of tradition – I hate writing when I’m in a bad mood – so I had Tuesday’s gem to remind me that the prognosis is far from hopeless before I posted. The Angels have lost focus, it’s true, and for several seasons now if we’re being honest. But, they are working to regain their focus and we saw some of the fruits of that effort last night. Still, I think that Mike Scioscia’s comments after Monday’s game are correct. When you get mired in problems this deep, you aren’t going to fix them overnight. And, while my out of focus image is a pun-ny visual I also think it’s an apt analogy. As you focus the lens on a camera, your view bounces from terrible, to good, to blurry again, and back through good directly to bad a few more times until finally it’s just right.
The Angels aren’t fully focused yet and, while I hope Tuesday was the beginning of a fun winning streak, especially with Weaver on the mound today, I also imagine we’re in for a few more shifts through frustrating play before they do achieve complete focus. Batting averages are going up, or starting to go up again as the case may be. The bullpen’s been looking downright good lately. Situational hitting…is still a work in progress. Even when we win, LOBster is still far too much in season for anyone’s tastes. But the team’s overall record is improving – three steps forward, two steps back but, still, improvement. Much like focusing the camera, some of the interim results may give you a headache watching them, but ultimately we seem to be headed in a better direction.
And, once the Angels have finished focusing, what will the picture look like for late September? I know what we all want it to be but, honestly, I don’t think you can ever have more than a hopeful idea until you actually get there even in seasons where the team is doing well. Besides, I think focusing so hard on the end of the season before it even really began is the underlying reason the Angels got so very out of focus to begin with. Focus on the end of May first and then worry about June and so on. Although the end of the season is no longer as far away as any of us would like, it still really is a long way off yet.
The Hopefully Annual Baseball Extravaganza San Diego Edition: Part 2
After Sunday’s all too costly game – wishing both Vernon Wells and Ryan Langerhans full and speedy recoveries! – I didn’t have the heart to post about the end of our San Diego trip. But a one hit shutout does a lot to improve one’s outlook on things and scanning through my photos I was reminded of all of the positive things we fans can focus on right now while the team is getting it together. Hey, last season I was the unrepentant Pollyanna of Angels Baseball, best get back to it, right?
1) Starting Pitching, of course. So there have been a few issues getting started, but ultimately the staff is strong top to bottom as they reminded us this week – Weaver more than bounced back from Texas on Friday. Haren looked much healthier and definitely pitched to win, as did Santana and Williams. (And can you believe we have a guy this good as our 5th starter? The more I watch his calm presence on the mound, the more I adore him). And then there was C.J. last night. ‘Nuff said. If the rest of the team is willing, clearly our starters can get us there.
2) The kids. I simply can’t say enough good things about what Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout bring to this team – and Trout especially was on fire at the plate throughout this series. While I absolutely did not want it to come about because of injuries, especially injuries like these, I am eager to see if, with playing time, Peter Bourjos can bounce back to last season’s batting average. If he can, having the combined dynamic speed and talent of Trout and Bourjos in the outfield and terrorizing the base paths is certainly cause for celebration, no Pollyannas required.
3) Kudos to the Bullpen. They’ve been looking pretty darned good lately, no? I think the shifts and changes have ultimately been good for the team. I’m thrilled with the addition of Ernesto Frieri to the pen. To a man, the relievers appear to be making whatever adjustments and corrections they can to help keep us in the game and the improvement has not gone unnoticed.
As for the game itself, it was a tough loss, but largely because leading up to that point the game was so good – a two run tie until the bottom of the 7th and the Angels fought hard to get on top again. There were frustrating wasted opportunities at the plate – though certainly not from Eric Aybar! What a game he had! But defensively the team was amazing and that catch of Trout’s to keep us in the game? Wow! I just wish it had ended differently.
And, a few more words about Petco itself – our seats were in the club section right behind home plate with a fantastic view of one gorgeous ballpark. A lot of the photos I’ve included in this post are warm up photos and that is largely because at Petco Park all of BP and the warm up sessions are easily viewable from the concourses at all levels and, for the most part, fans are allowed easy field section access until the end of batting practice, something that is only possible with the more open designs of the newer stadiums. I am absolutely against all of this moving to L.A. talk, but I certainly wouldn’t mind a few modernizing upgrades to the Big A in Anaheim.
Something else I would like to point out is that I love the Padre’s sense of community. It was heartwarming to enjoy National Anthems played by a local school band on Friday and to have a local military color guard on Saturday.
Suffice to say it was a great a trip and I will jump at any chance I get to catch a game at Petco Park again.
Like many baseball fans, Seth and I have a goal to eventually enjoy a game at every major league baseball stadium and ideally some of the minor league stadiums as well. Economics and vacation time has thus far limited our progress to slow and local but, hey, progress is progress! Last season we took in a gloriously old-fashioned single admission double header at the Oakland Coliseum and experienced the Dodgers Giants rivalry at AT&T Park. This season we headed down the 5 freeway in the other direction and are currently enjoying the beginning of Interleague play as the Angels take on the Padres at Petco Park.
A Word About Petco Park: Gorgeous!
Okay, when can I ever limit myself to one word? Add to that enjoyable, friendly and in general a first class baseball experience. Everywhere we went, our clearly not rooting from around these parts red attire prompted staff to smile and welcome us to the park, a nice touch we have never experienced before. We enjoyed nice conversations with friendly ushers during batting practice and the game – baseball fans everywhere love talking about their team, their stadium, their experiences and I love to listen. The fans in our section were equally lovely, despite the fact of the Angels winning. And with recent Padre Ernesto Frieri sitting right in front of us in an Angels uniform (Ah, our seats! I’ll get to those is a minute.) and the other half of that trade, Alexi Amarista playing second, we had plenty to talk about.
Batting Practice and Bullpen Sessions, Oh My!
Taking in batting practice is one of my favorite ways to start a ballgame experience and yet, even as often as we go to the ballpark, this treat is a rare one for us. Working hours being what they are, even on the weekend, and L.A./Orange County traffic being what it is, if we’re lucky we get to the game about 20 minutes before first pitch and if we’re not, we get there somewhere during the 1st inning. So it was a nice vacation luxury to walk through the gates shortly after they first opened. Petco Park was designed with wide concourses that have great views of the field for most of their stretch, so we roamed freely about from the outfield above the beach bleachers, to our bullpen adjacent seats to home plate and back.
So, About Interleague Play…
Although it certainly isn’t the popular view, I actually enjoy and look forward to Interleague play. Maybe it’s because I was raised on the Dodgers and the National League. Maybe it’s because my team of choice has such a natural, longstanding and fun Interleague rival in the Dodgers? Or maybe it’s just that my personality is as slightly skewed from the norm in my baseball fandom as it is in everything else? Whatever it is, I look forward to seeing all of the unusual matchups Interleague play has to offer. Hello, odd visuals like the Angels playing against the storied ivy draped backdrop of Wrigley Field? How can that not be fun? Or, at least, that’s what I think. Besides, watching American League pitchers bat is a seasonal novelty I will never tire of and some guys surprise you:
As if All of This Preamble Wasn’t Enough, the Game Rocked…
The Angels played well and that was especially nice to see after Thursday’s game against the White Sox. Yes, I know, the Padres are struggling but so are the Angels and the struggling Royals just swept the unstoppable Rangers so you never can tell how these matchups will turn out once you take them from paper to the field. I was proud of our guys! Jered Weaver looked great – and not just with his bat ;). Our bats were present and made that presence known. Our defense had more than moved on from Thursday’s gaffs – hey, who put that sun up there in the sky? *facepalm* – and the bullpen rocked. All that and a W – what more could a fan ask for?
Okay, Now That’s Funny!
If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you probably already know that I prefer my blog entries, my friends and, indeed, my baseball with a rollicking sense of humor, the more off kilter the better. I love baseball’s crazy prank traditions, overly complex and fabulously silly rookie hazing rituals, and the goofy things that stadium personnel do to the opposing team. This evening it was the Padres Jumbotron Angels player slides that had me cracking up:
Big A Jumbotron programmers can be funny too, just usually at the Angels expense. For example, when our pitchers load the bases with only one out or no outs, it’s not uncommon for the stat to tell us how rarely the batter hits into a double play or how prone he is to grand slams. Ummm…thanks guys?
Anyway, that concludes Part 1 of our excursion. We have great seats for today’s game too and I am really looking forward to it – Go Angels!!