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? 😉 )
First things first – Welcome back from the All Star Break in style Angels!!! Okay, okay. So the Angels’ All Star Break lasted a little longer than that of most other teams…pretty much until Wednesday, round about the 3rd inning actually. But after a crazy comeback win against the Rangers Wednesday and shutting the Rangers out on Thursday, I think I can cut the Angels some slack. After all, who among us hasn’t experienced “vacation lag”? I know I’m experiencing it this week!
So, about that vacation. We wrapped up the Bay Area Baseball Extravaganza with a visit to the beautiful and luxurious AT&T Park on Monday night to take in the Giants vs. Dodgers game. And if I was late enough to the game that I missed first pitch, so were all of these fine folks. Hmmm…I think L.A. has been unjustly maligned on this point 😉 :
Late for the game? How does this happen on vacation? We went for a bike ride late Monday morning on the Marsh Creek trail in Pittsburgh, CA, along marshes and canals off of San Francisco Bay. It was so beautiful and fun that we didn’t hit the car again until 24 miles and a few hours later. So much for catching batting practice, but darned if we didn’t have a blast:
AT&T Park is gorgeous, from the front gates to the seating areas to the view out over the right field all to the tops of ships in McCovey Cove.:
My college friend and his partner, Giants fans, both, accompanied us to the game and clued us in to some of AT&T Park’s finer details. For example, I had no idea that the grates in right field are open to the public walk that runs between the stadium and McCovey Cove. Fans strolling by are invited to stand and watch some of the game free of charge. Very cool:
There is not a bad seat in the house, certainly not our second row seats in the club section just above left field – vacations are for splurges after all! And there are lots of fan friendly touches in the seating sections. Club section ushers politely only allow fans past the doors to their seats in between plays and at bats, so seated fans don’t miss a pitch. In the outfield “bleachers” there are wide, lower concourses in front of the seats, so fans can pass by without blocking anyone’s view.:
If the Coliseum is no frills, AT&T Park is all frills possible. The food is phenomenal and there is quite a diverse selection. And in the club section, there are full bars with actual bartenders! I ordered an Irish coffee to keep the chill away in the later innings, and the bartender wisely never touched the Bailey’s while preparing my drink. Eureka!
Though I was amused to note that for all its frills, AT&T Park is still a mixed use facility. Note that from this vantage, in a different uniform, Cody Ross could be playing goalie:
Being on vacation, I was really out of the loop on trade news. Imagine my surprise, when this friendly face appeared on the Jumbotron in Dodger Blue. Welcome back to sunny Southern California, Juan, and best of luck to you!
When you’re not really cheering for either side, a competitive game is the most fun to watch, and this game was better than the 5 to 0 shutout score would lead one to believe. The Dodgers made a couple of really good plays and had several strong hits, but just couldn’t string any of it together long enough to get on the board. The Giants played very well throughout.:
So with all of this wonderfulness, were there any drawbacks AT&T Park? Just one actually, and it really surprised me. I love Giants fans. I went to the Bay Area to stay with and attend the game with two of them. I have rabid Giants fans in my family. I attended playoff parties with scores of them in Paso Robles and count several in their number as friends but, oh my goodness, when they all get together in one large group at AT&T Park, an awful lot of them choose to be dicks. In the club section for crying out loud! Not in the “we all came to get drunk and obnoxious but can’t name more than a handful of players on the team” section. Now I don’t know where the “we all came to get drunk and obnoxious but can’t name more than a handful of players on the team” section is at AT&T Park, but they must have one. All ballparks have one. We certainly do. 😉
I am not some delicate flower that cannot cope with heckling. Hello, how much time do I spend at the ballpark? Cheering. Heckling. Being passionate for your team. All are very important, traditional parts of the game for home fans and visiting fans alike. But isn’t it supposed to stay in the stands? In my experience at the Big A with rival fans and walking through Dodger Stadium and the Coliseum in Angels gear, the concourse, the bathrooms, the food stands, the ticket lines, etc, are all neutral ground, free from any of the fan on fan heckling that may or may not be going on in the seats.
Not so at AT&T Park. Walking through the concourse on the club level, past the carving station, the full bar and other wonders, Seth turned to me with a huge smile and said, Wow, this makes the club level in Anaheim look pretty plain. And he’s right. I love the Big A, but it is nowhere near this luxurious. A random Giants fan heard us and said loudly, that’s because the Angels suck as his friends all nodded and laughed and it wasn’t friendly laughter. Really? We weren’t even talking to him. “Not when they play the Giants…not in 2002.” Well that wasn’t nearly as funny, apparently, and the group of them quickly dispersed.
Random jerks and an isolated incident, right? Well, not for the Dodgers fans in attendance. I saw three separate instances of lone Dodger fans being heckled, and not in a “we’re friends who came together and are giving each other grief” way either, by small groups of Giants fans while we walked to our seats. I saw more instances later. On the concourse! On the club level!! For all I know, this goes on in reverse at Dodgers stadium, outside of the aforementioned “we all came to get drunk and obnoxious…” section. But the impression I got is that some Giants fans are wearing their new World Series title a lot more gracefully than others.
I’m not saying that the Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown mean kids “We’re number one! We’re number one!” vibe ruined my trip to the ball park. I had an amazing time. What I am saying is that amenities are lovely, frills make any experience that much more special, and given the chance to return to AT&T Park again as a baseball fan with no real ties to either team, as I did on this occasion, I would do so in a heartbeat. But as for attending a game as an out of town fan of the visiting team? I’d take the Coliseum over AT&T Park any day.
Interleague has always been good for the Angels. This year the team won every Interleague series and finished by taking two from the Dodgers this weekend at the big A. Friday’s game was the Angels sole loss in this series, proof perhaps that a day of rest is not always in order. The team’s level of play across the board prompted me to comment on FaceBook “The Revolution may not be televised, but the Zombie Apocalypse just aired on Fox Sports West.” But they were back in fine form Saturday and Sunday, with a dominant performance against Clayton Kershaw on Saturday and a tightly contested duel between Ervin Santana and Chad Billingsley on Sunday.
Seth and I had tickets to Saturday’s game, good seats in the club section just on the foul side of the left field pole. It’s amazing what folks will part with cheap these days. 🙂 Anyway, the energy was high and the fan interaction was a lot of fun, one reason I love Freeway Series games. Our seats were in front of three suites – one with Dodgers fans sandwiched between two filled with Angels fans – and intermingled with mix of fans of both teams. The suite dwellers were the fun, loud side of thoroughly hammered and formed the loudest component of both teams cheering/mostly friendly trash talk sections. The funniest part was after a one-two-three inning for Weaver when the Angels were already well ahead. The Dodgers suite switched from yelling “Let’s Go Dodgers” to “Let’s Go Yankees” of all things in perfect unison. They earned a lot of laughter and claps of approval from the Angels crowd. Who doesn’t appreciate a good sport?
Jered Weaver and Clayton Kershaw warm up in the bullpens just before first pitch. This photo shows off the side by side terraced bullpens I spoke of earlier. Seth and I did take the camera to the game, but some absolute dork left the memory stick at home in her computer. She had long brown hair and freckles…oh, yeah…it was me. J So there aren’t as many from the game and these photos are not as good as some of our others. To get the good photos, you have to have enough memory to snap several shots of a play or an at bat.
Jered Weaver warms up before the game. Weaver pitched a dominant game, allowing only four hits and one run in eight innings. At first it didn’t look like he was going to get much run support, as usual. But in the end the guys gave him downright gaudy seven runs. Hey, I could get used to gaudy and I’ll bet our pitchers could too.
Garret Anderson throws out the first pitch. As part of the 50th Anniversary celebration Angels alumni will throw out every first pitch this season. Recent retiree Garret Anderson threw out the first pitch on Saturday and I was thrilled to be on hand to watch this Angels great, still the holder of eight different team batting titles, accept the honor. Fernando Valenzuela threw out the first pitch on Friday, a controversial choice among Angels fans because he only played for the Angels for one year. I, personally liked the idea of including Fernando because of what he meant to baseball in California and how his rising star helped show off the considerable talents of our own skipper, Mike Scioscia, when he was a young catcher trying to earn the everyday role. Besides, I think it was a nice touch on the part of the Angels front office to choose Angels alumni for this series who also had Dodger ties, underscoring the long, intertwined history between our two teams.
Hank Conger chats with Jordan Walden and the bullpen and Bullpen Coach Steve Soliz address the relievers before the game. One, I like these photos my husband took from our vantage just above and in front of the bullpen because you can see some of the personalities and bonding in our bullpen this season. But also, this series, and indeed for most of interleague, the bullpen flat out rocked and I wanted to take a minute to recognized their important contribution.
Jeff Mathis leads off of second base after knocking a double into left field. This series was marked by unexpected but extremely welcome contributions at the plate from unlikely sources. Russell Branyan knocked in the winning run plus on with a two-run no doubter on Sunday and on Saturday it was Jeff Mathis with a solid double putting him in position to score the Angels first run of the night. He also had a single and a nice sacrifice bunt (and a badly failed sacrifice bunt, but we’re only talking positive here.)
Vernon Wells crossing the plate and celebrating with Mark Trumbo and Erick Aybar after another timely homerun. I am really enjoying his bat right now!! I managed to catch Wells doing his point to the sky as he crosses the plate and I love the exchange between Wells and Trumbo. It looks like Trumbo is saying “Dude, what was that?! How far did that go?!”
Behold the power of the rally manicure! I fidget. When I’m writing, when I’m resting, when I’m watching the game from home, just whenever. Sometimes the end result is useful, like folded laundry or and organized bill file and sometimes it’s just really silly, like random nail art for work or, you know, the ballgame. But I got more compliments on the silly things Saturday that I figured I would post them for posterity and/or mockery…and hey, if I were the sort to be superstitious about such things, they did win didn’t they? 🙂
Doesn’t everyone love a win?! The Angels celebrate after the game.
And in news outside of baseball, this weekend further rocked because Seth and I got out on the bikes a lot. I have come a long way since Memorial Day weekend and was able to ride in the rough again…okay, it was mild rough, but still. We took this trail on Saturday and again this morning. Go go Gadget knee. 🙂