Heading into the 2013 season, the Angels were ranked highly on all analysts’ lists. A playoff berth was said to be all but assured and many even predicted they would reach the World Series. And indeed, even taking into account the pounds of salt it’s always best to take with preseason predictions, the Angels definitely seemed like one of the teams to beat. Certainly no one expected them to turn out to be one of the teams that everyone beats. *sigh* But, never fear ladies and gentlemen. The Angels are still having an extraordinary season — just not even remotely in the positive sense. They’re still causing jaws drop all over Major League Baseball and with play that causes fans to exclaim loudly — loudly and things that are largely unprintable, that is.
In fact, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that 2013 Angels are redefining baseball as we know it. So, with the intent of educating and informing the larger baseball audience, I offer the following TIAVSG Angels vocabulary lesson. While these baseball terms continue to hold their standard definitions for the other 29 teams, here is what they now mean in the Angels’ lexicon:
Run Support – A mercurial happenstance that seems to come and go in waves with no discernible rhyme or reason, though it is significantly more likely to disappear when the Angels starters are doing well, and reappear when the starters’ performance renders it ineffective.
Starting Rotation – Similar to Run Support. A Starting Rotation is a group of players whose effectiveness and ability are a mercurial happenstance that seems to come and go in waves with no discernible rhyme or reason and appears to “enjoy” an inverse relationship with Run Support.
Turning the Corner – I’m convinced that, for the Angels, this is no longer so much a defined vocabulary term as the limit in a calculus equation. The Angels are forever, one might even say infinitely, said to be approaching “Turning the Corner” but they never, ever actually get there.
Lead – A largely theoretical concept that is difficult to achieve and, once achieved, nearly impossible to hold.
Loss – Synonym for weekday. No, never mind. That was grossly unfair of me. Losses can occur on weekends as well.
Firemen – Traditionally this is a neat, somewhat old fashioned term for relief pitchers, because they come into the game in a high stress situation and ‘put out the fire.’ I am particularly fond of it because I’m generally fond of old fashioned terms with vivid imagery…and you are all shocked. Now, under normal circumstances, I am highly in favor of reading as much as one can of as many different kinds of books as one can and Ray Bradbury is a personal favorite going back to childhood. But whoever made Fahrenheit 451 required reading for the bullpen? I want them found and forcibly serenaded with Buttercup…I’m Henry the 8th, I am style…for several days. *shakes head sadly* Not that kind of firemen guys. Not that kind of firemen.
Astros (see also Cubs) – An offensive juggernaut of a team with virtually unhittable pitching.
Consistency – In standard baseball terminology, consistency always has a positive connotation. He’s getting consistent at the plate, for example, means the he in question is starting to hit regularly. But in just plain, old, everyday English, consistency is more of a contextual concept and, as the Angels are reminding us this season, it is more than possible to be consistently bad.
Closed Door Meeting – I am certain that this is now a common synonym for postgame spread as both occur with significant regularity after the conclusion of the game.
Ace – Fortunately for the Angels, the traditional baseball definition still stands. An Ace is the guy that stops the team hemorrhaging, the guy who takes the mound and gives his team a chance to win no matter what…even if the offense can’t get it together in time to actually give the W to him. But no matter how the Angels or anyone else continues to define an Ace, he can only take the mound every five games or so…ugh.
October – And thus, sadly I fear that the definition of this word is destined to become ‘a quiet time of deep sadness and contemplation, but mostly of idleness…idleness spent watching other teams in the playoffs.’
Fan – A pitiable creature, filled with self-loathing and wracked by guilt over his/her inability to refrain from snarking, griping, angry yelling and the composing of lengthy, disenchanted blog posts filled with sarcastic vocabulary lessons in the face of the Angels ongoing inexplicably terrible play…even though she…er..*cough, cough*…I mean, he/she still goes to games and watches almost every single one she…er…or he can’t attend on TV. A creature who, even awash with such emotions, cannot keep herself from starting to hope again, just a little, every time the team starts to show glimpses of their true ability and wins a game or two.
And that concludes this evening’s Angels baseball terms vocabulary lesson. I cannot tell you how much I want the Angels to start and keep playing the caliber of baseball that would make me well and truly embarrassed by this post. Seriously. No joke. I want to eat crow over this by season’s end. Few things would make me happier than posting a lengthy and heartfelt apology…but the longer this kind of play continues, the likelihood of my needing to scour the internet for tasty crow marinades from Food Network chefs decreases significantly.
I turned on my TV this morning and — hip, hip and ten thousand huzzahs! — there were men playing baseball! Live! Right there on the prettiest green grass you even did see…well, since October at least. Oh, it was glorious! And then I got to listen to the Angels game on the radio! I tell you, hearing Terry Smith’s voice calling a game, complete with all the old, familiar names and phrases, after the long, long winter without? It was a veritable symphony to these offseason ears.
It was almost enough to make up for the sheer horror of dealing with Ticketmaster this morning when Angels individual game tickets went on sale…Ah, Ticketmaster. How do I loathe thee? Let me count the fees…er…ways. I loathe thee to the depth and breadth and height Of your soulless reach into every event in sight For the never ending fees and tolls and charges… I loathe thee to the level of every event’s Monopolized need to use your stupid, inefficient, outrageously priced, services…
Ummm…yeah. I won’t bore you with the rest. It’s mostly loud swearing from that point on anyway…loud swearing punctuated by the sound of throwing things hard enough to soundly strike walls. Sort of a Beat thing. And angry, improvised Victorian/Beat poetry fusion thing. Oh yeah. I’m bringing it back. But I digress…
Back to Spring Training games! Okay, okay. So the Angels lost. Badly. To the Cubs. Eh, it isn’t officially Spring Training at all until the Angels have been clobbered by at least one team you might not think had it in them. And, I know, all manner of outfielders need to work on communication, the infield fielding is suspect and the pitchers need to work on, well, everything. Angel ERAs are pretty much double (digits that is) or nothing after today. Heck, even Stephen Strasburg looked like his control is rusty during the Nationals/Mets game…of course, the look of sheer terror on the young Met batter’s face when he realized this was laugh out loud funny and one of the highlights of my morning.
But, even so, glorious I say! All of this is part of the charm of Spring Training. The players are working to ready themselves for the season and we get to see a glimpse inside the process, warts and all. I really wouldn’t worry about any issues unless they continue to be issues with no sign of improvement in late March. Be they every so rusty, gaffe ridden and filled with unknown faces, Spring Training games are still baseball. And, quite simply, there’s no game like baseball!
Oh, I know that after two weeks or so of this, I will grow bored of Spring Training games for all of the same reasons I just listed as charming and a few others besides and begin Jones-ing hard for the regular season to start. I might even whine about it on this blog. Might But the fact of the matter remains that with the start of Spring Training games, Opening Day just isn’t that far away, I have tickets to the Angels home opener (and a few more games so far, besides), and my Angels are on TV tomorrow. This is a great weekend.
Two baseball nuts. One week’s vacation. 4th week of October. Two glorious getaway destinations. Zero televisions. Whoa. What’s wrong with this picture? How ‘d that happen? Yes, I know. The 4th week of October is certainly an odd time for baseball fans to go on a week’s vacation, unless said vacation happens to involve following one’s team to various playoff destinations, I suppose. Yet, this is where we find ourselves. My husband’s industry requires everyone to take one week-long vacation each year and our’s was supposed to fall in midsummer, a decidedly less playoff-y time, followed by a long-ish weekend, this weekend, at the Paso Robles Harvest Festival we so adore. But work and family commitments prompted some pretty massive schedule adjusting and, so, here we are. I am not complaining at all – our vacation has been lovely so far! – just explaining how two baseball nuts wound up spending this of all weeks in two places – my inlaws’ Cambria house and their Yosemite cabin – with absolutely no televisions.
With the Angels sadly resting for the month of October, Seth and I figured, eh, missing a week of the playoffs isn’t that big a deal. We’ll be so busy, we won’t even notice we’re missing it, so let’s not bother trying to make plans to watch the games…and this would have been absolutely true if some of the games were on during the day. Night time, however, is a different story. Not a lot of biking, hiking and photo taking going on after the sun goes down. And so we found ourselves catching the NLCS Game 5 in a steakhouse bar in Oakhurst outside of Yosemite. Catching game 6 at the Chili’s in Paso Robles. And enjoying the fine hospitality of the Moonstone Bar and Grill for Game 7, where the food was infinitely better than Chili’s and the bartender did an admirable job of pacifying the Monday Night Football fans with two to three minutes check ins, so the rest of us could enjoy the game that really mattered. Bravo, good Sir, bravo! And all I can say about the game is holy outrageous comebacks, Batman! Congratulations to the NLCS Champion Giants who return from the brink of extension to win the series even better than the Cardinals.
Of course, even when Seth and I have been happily engrossed in purely vacation activities, baseball has a wonderful tendency to find us. Quick commiserations with transplanted Angels fans in the tasting room at Barrel 27 winery. Shooting the breeze with a transplanted Red Sox fan in the tasting room at Clavo Cellars – No worries, no trash talk involved. We all wisely stuck to the safe topics of shared annoyance with newer fans who weren’t around for the losing years and mutual dislike of a certain team in pinstripes. And then there was Chicago Ribs Night at Midnight Cellars.
Midnight Cellars was one of the first wineries Seth and I tasted at on our honeymoon back in 1999 and it was the first winery whose wine club we joined, ensuring many, many years of great wine and outstanding parties. Midnight is truly a family owned and operated winery. Every year for Harvest Festival, the family brings their native Chicago to California, with racks and racks of Carson’s ribs finished on Midnight’s BBQs complete with all of the fixings, live blues and more wine than any mere group of people could possibly consume – though we did put forth a valiant effort and at a minimum put a serious dent in the ribs supply. The end result is delicious, spirited, fun and, while I can’t speak to authenticity as I have yet to travel that far north, I can say that a surprising number of couples from the Chicago area, not all of them friends of the family, are drawn to California for this ribs night before they begin their wine country adventure.
Seth and I were seated at a table with two such couples, four friends enjoying a quick adults’ vacation away from the kids. One gent was asking Siri for the latest football scores on his cell phone. I mentioned I seldom follow football, but love baseball and he then asked how the Giants did last night because ‘I just can’t stand the thought of the Cardinals making it to the World Series again…’ Ah hah, Cubs fans! And they were pleased that we recognized them as such and knew about the Cubs/Cardinals rivalry. As usual, baseball proved to be an excellent icebreaker among fans and we had a lot of fun talking about all sorts of things peppered in between the wine, the ribs, the music, the ribs, the library wine, more ribs, the tequila shots (with the winemaker!!) and more ribs. And I have a feeling the foursome greeted Monday’s win with a little more wine to celebrate.
Anyway, quite the week “off” from baseball so far, wouldn’t you agree?
If it seems as though I compare all things baseball to all things relationship a lot, that would be because A) I do, and B) the analogy absolutely works! Hey, it’s not like I made this up. I mean, how happy were you as young person the first time you made it past first base on a date? Not so much the first time you struck out with a cutie in public, right? Or, take the amazing t-shirt a friend of mine got after the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, which proclaimed “I saved second base!” Honestly, it would be weirder to try and separate the concepts.
I do finding it amusing though that the timing for these analogies is often opposite. I mean, right now, just as millions of men and women everywhere are resolving not to date Mr. or Ms. Right in 2012, or to stop dating their friends’ castoffs, baseball teams are leaping to the contrary conclusion that these are fine ideas. This isn’t a pot/kettle situation. Vernon Wells in 2011. Fernando Rodney in 2010. Scott Kazmir in 2009. I could go on but, really, what’s the point? As an Angels fan, suffice to say, I know from whence I speak.
Trying to look at it from the teams’ perspectives, I get it. At least, I think I do. I mean, we’ve all been there right? You think the Angels just didn’t understand Fernando Rodney. Not the way you can, Rays. They nagged him way too much about his control and all of those walks without spending enough time appreciating the speed of his fastball and the rakish angle of his ball cap. If only the Angels had taken more time to praise him and shower him with applause, you know, like they back when the relationship was fresh, things might have been different.
And what about Carlos Zambrano? I know Marlins, I know. Clearly he and the Cubs had severe compatibility issues. Sure the making up part was epic every. Single. Time. But all of the volatile spats that lead to the making up? And their increasing frequency coupled with little to no making up? This wasn’t a case of opposites attracting, they weren’t even speaking the same language. It will be different with you, right Marlins? Signing Carlos will be like getting to marry your best friend, right? Near perfect compatibility.
And for the rest of you out there joining me in a collective WTF – hey, I can see that face you’re making! – just remember, it always looks different when your friend is the one rationalizing a bad decision then when you’re the one doing it. And, really, who are we to point fingers? Sometimes these things work out, crazy as they may seem at the time…right? My husband and I made all of our friends make those faces when we started dating and we’re heading toward our second decade together…though examples of this working out are far more prevalent among humans than among baseball teams, I think. Still, good luck Rays, Marlins and everyone else in this position. Maybe it really will be different with you…
“Have fun storming the castle, Boys!” “Do you think they’ll make it?” “It’ll take a miracle…”
A lot has gone on in baseball the last couple of days. I’d love to explain it all, but there is no time. Let me sum up.
Erick Aybar. Gold Glove winner. Congratulations! I have to say, that was a little unexpected. Pleasantly so, don’t get me wrong. He’s got the glove. He’s got the arm. He’s got that oh my God! ability to turn two when he shouldn’t even have been able to turn one with where he had to go to get the ball. He just also has that oh my God! ability to completely forget what to do with the ball a couple of games a season. That was the source of my surprise, not any lack of ability. I will say this though, because I know there are a lot of naysayers out there griping about Aybar winning the Gold Glove. Who votes on the award? Managers and coaches. Managers and coaches who apparently routinely drool over Aybar because folks keep offering to trade us for him. And I think that had a lot do with the voting. Not statistics, traditional, saber or otherwise, but what the coaches and managers saw with their own eyes.
And can I just tell you how happy I was to see not one, not two but four Angels make it to the top three for Gold Glove consideration? And with real shots a winning, too, unlike last season. I think that under the old format, Peter Bourjos might have won or come in a close 4th. And I think that Dan Haren should have won, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, this is one more reminder that while 2011 was not everything we hoped it would be, it was still forward progress over 2010.
As far as the Dodgers three Gold Glove and one Silver Slugger Awards go, I have to say, I was almost as excited to hear that as I was to hear about Aybar. As bad as some of us think our teams need good news? The Dodgers needed it more. A lot more. And Frank McCourt finally realizing that he needed to sell the Dodgers? Yaaaaaaaaaaay!! But, “I believe it is in the best interests of our organization, our loyal fans and the community at large.”? Really Frank? Wow. What a brilliant conclusion. However did you come to it? And what took you so f’n long you selfish asshat! Perhaps he finally noticed all of trick-or-treaters in his neighborhood this season clad in traditional Los Angeles “Frank McCourt as an evil, delusional, lifeforce sucking demon” costumes?
Not unexpected at all, however? No Angels were nominated for the Sliver Slugger Award. I know. You are all shocked, right? It’s okay. Maybe Dipoto can help us fix that for next season…or, you know, Mark Trumbo. I hope, I hope, I hope. And there’s always the possibility Kendrys Morales will be back…and in playing shape…and pick up where he left off with his bat…soon enough in the season to make a difference…and…and…hey! It could totally happen. This is baseball. Much like a team coming from 10 games behind in the Wild Card Race to win the World Series, anything is possible.
Then there’s the free agent free for all about to take off. Talk about stress…for other fans that is. As far as Angels free agents go, forget stressing over it. Joel Pineiro? Scott Kazmir? Fernando Rodney? Please, that right there is a recipe for stress relief. *clink, clink, clink* I would like to propose a toast to our soon to be departed free agent signing failures. Gentlemen, may you richly enjoy your new homes, far, far from Anaheim. And, while I wish you all well, if you suddenly have a Mike Napoli like transformation, especially one that helps knock us out of the post season that I then have to hear about. All. October. Long. Please understand that I’m going to take it poorly. Slainte!
And then there’s the Cubs! But this is long enough already. I will leave that for folks far more up on all things National League than I to discuss.
I read, rather incessantly if the truth be told. For me it’s primarily a way of maintaining sanity. Something about disappearing into someone else’ story or an intriguing bit of non-fiction boosts my mood and settles my oft chaotically busy brain back into less stressed out functionality. Except, since late February I haven’t read much of anything. I have been too stressed out to settle down long enough for anything to grab my interest. It’s been miserable.
Finally, I picked up Dirk Hayhurst’s tale of minor league life, The Bullpen Gospels. I was so charmed by his turn of phrase and the compelling mix of humor and gut wrenching introspection, that I devoured it like a starving person in about two days, thus breaking up the longest “slump” of my “career.” One of the jacket quotes describes the book as Bull Durham meets Ball Four. On some levels this is true, especially on the humorous end of things. Never have kangaroo court proceedings been reported with such glee and the tales of out heckling rowdy opposing team fans are truly hilarious. But on the serious side of things, Hayhurst’s very much non-fiction back story and his personal stakes for failure are much darker and the introspection is more deliberate.
Ultimately, it’s the book’s juxtaposition of different elements that grabbed me. The silly with the serious. The drive for a major league baseball career with the motivation to have a lasting impact on the world. Beautifully related insider game tidbits peppered with references to Narnia, Charley and the Chocolate Factory, Conan the Barbarian and other wonderful oddities. I am a huge fan of that last part especially, as you might have guessed from the hodgepodge of strange side stuff I incorporate into this blog. Suffice to say, add The Bullpen Gospels to my list of recommended reads and many thanks to Dirk Hayhurst for helping me find my way back to my reading mechanics, as it were. Yes, of course he will read this, just like the Angels. Why do you ask? 😉
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After busting out of my biblio-slump, I began tearing my way once again through the stack of books to be read, and one of the first things that caught my interest also happened to have a blog tie-in. Jim Butcher’s “Curses,” a new short story in the Dresden Files series included in Ellen Datlow’s recently released urban fantasy anthology Naked City. In this story we find Harry Dresden, detective, warden and the only wizard in the Chicago phone book taking on the Cubs’ Billy Goat Curse. And the end result? A very fun read. I had no idea Butcher was a baseball fan and if he isn’t, he fakes it nicely. This is a lighter Dresden tale, as Butcher often chooses to share in these anthologies, and would be relatively easy for someone who hasn’t read the series up until now to pick up. And if you had the misfortune of watching the Sci-Fi Channel’s terrible TV series adaptation of these books, don’t worry, the books are a completely different animal.
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Speaking of books and baseball, there was a really cute news feature in one of the early July episodes of Angels Weekly showing Angels rookies Hank Conger and Mark Trumbo and recent rookie Peter Bourjos car pooling to the interleague games at Dodgers Stadium. The adorable part was how nonchalant and professional they were trying to be about having reporters videoing their ride, when it was obvious they could barely contain their glee over the very Big Leagues novelty of the whole thing.
The three young Angels shot the breeze on a number of subjects, eventually settling on upcoming movie releases that had piqued their interest. Conger, it turned out, could not wait for the new Harry Potter movie because he loves Harry Potter and has read all of the books, thus earning several Kristen approval points, not that they’re worth anything. 😉 Bourjos and Trumbo laughed at this revelation and exchanged “Here Hank goes again” looks before each asked the other if he had ever finished an entire book willingly. No, neither one had, and both clearly thought Conger was the odd duck on this subject. But their teasing was affectionate and the whole conversation reminded me of a funny story from my high school days…
One day before class during my sophomore year, I had just put down a book I was reading to joke around with a group of baseball players, a fairly typical day. The guys were teasing me about my reading habits, mainly that I had them. I was the stat girl for the varsity team and had gone through grade school and then some with most of these JV players. We were friends. The teasing was affectionate and I was giving it right back. “Did your parents brainwash you or something?” asked a guy I had known literally since preschool. “Yes, and once you get past the machine that holds your eyes open really wide, the drugs are actually kind of fun…” I responded, or something to that effect.
Old friend kept it up and I finally asked him if there was any book he would willingly read. He pretended to gag and loudly protested, of course not. And all of the baseball players predictably laughed. Yeah, the boy didth protest too much, especially to someone who knew about his extensive Darth Vader collection. Fortunatley, timing was on my side and I held aloft the recently released book to reveal the shiny new cover – Timothy Zahn’s Dark Force Rising, the second book in the very first Star Wars series to tackle the question of just what happened after the conclusion of the original movie trilogy. Old friend emitted what can only be described as a squeal of delight and practically dove over a row of desks to get a closer look. “Oh my god! It’s out! I didn’t know it was out yet! Is it good? The last one was so good…” and so on. And he wasn’t the only one. Bwa ha ha.
The moral of this story? Careful Bourjos and Trumbo. Reading isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and there’s nothing wrong with that. But someday you may just find that one book that has you diving over a desk and looking silly, LOL.
Sunday was such a gorgeous day out here in Southern California that it just begged to be enjoyed outside. So, Blithescribe, it’s clear and unseasonably warm. It’s been rainy and cold for the last few weekends. What are you going to do now? I’m going to Disneyland! Seriously, that’s what we do a fair bit. If you’re local and you love the mouse, you maintain an annual pass. It’s sadly only a little more expensive than a normal ticket anyway and gives you a truly locals’ indulgence, the ability to go grab a bite to eat and run around the park for a few hours say Friday after work, or on a Sunday afternoon. Any time you want and, for seven months a year with a smaller mostly locals crowd, at that. Not this Sunday. As we found out when we arrived, Disneyland was hosting the Junior Nationals Cheerleading Competition but we decided to tough it out anyway.
Waiting in longer than anticipated lines is the perfect opportunity for the baseball addict to check up on the game. Go go Gadget, smart phone. I hear a lot of baseball fans say that MLBN changed their life for the better but for me, even more so than MLBN, it’s web access from smart phones. Seth and I “watched” the Angels/D-Backs game, just the MLB.com play by play because the Gameday function shreds batteries, in between chatting and goofing around, of course. This is nothing special. We’ve all resorted to watching the game on the phone any number of times. What was new, to me at least, was the sheer number of other people doing the same thing. Now, my test group was a little skewed. The Lakers were playing a big game that afternoon but, even so, everywhere we looked as the lines twisted and folded over themselves, someone, often a couple or group of someones was checking out basketball or baseball on their phone. When we chatted with other people in line, we ran into a significant number of folks doing the same thing we were, though the teams of choice were all over the map.
What do you know? Technology helps the baseball addict leave the house – at least, that’s what one lady in line said of her husband. Seriously though, there are 162 games, after all. We have to work. We have social commitments. Things need to done around the house. We’re going to leave the house and often quite happily. It’s nice that technology has found ways to let the game come with us sometimes. Of course, as far as technology for the baseball fan has come, there has yet to be an invention that can replace fortunate timing 100% of the time. For example, the baby shower for my husband’s cousin on the Saturday of the Angels home opening weekend? I did my own little home plate celebration – without injury! – when I realized it will be over in plenty of time to catch first pitch. Because you can’t ditch one time only family events for baseball – yeah, um, I’ll be there for the next kid’s shower? – and you can only check a cell phone discretely so many times during a party.
As for the game? Well, it was a lot better than today’s strange Keystone Cops on both sides at times 14-13 loss to the Cubs, I can tell you that – I used the phone for highlit…er…updates for this one too. Work and all that. Jered Weaver pitched a decent three innings. Rich Thompson and Jason Bulger, both competing for bullpen spots did very well. And Francisco Rodriguez came in to close in the 9th and finished the game by delivering three outs in five pitches. Niiiice! Almost everyone was hitting. The Angels stole bases, made a couple of great plays in the outfield and more double plays in the infield. It was Angels baseball again. Like I said, better than today’s game of which the best I can say is at least Dan Haren pitched three solid, scoreless innings and everyone was hitting, including bombs for Mark Trumbo and Brandon Wood. Yes, Brandon Wood. Keep it up, kid!