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.
I’m very excited! Look what the mailman brought me:
World Baseball Classic tickets! Yes, Seth and I are going to spring training this year — a first for both of us! It will be the Arizona Baseball Extravaganza. We have our accommodations set, the requisite time off work and a fun, full list of spring training plans. We have tickets to Angels vs. D-Backs on 3/8, Angels vs. Rockies on 3/9 and the WBC games at Chase field for our evening’s entertainment. Sunday, we’re still not sure. We might go to the WBC game, or see what other ST game we can nab cheap lawn seats at, or maybe just grab breakfast and head back to L.A. So, hey, if anyone else is going to ST that weekend and wants to say ‘Hi’ and/or if any of you ST veterans have a great restaurant, bar and/or other must see suggestions, please let me know in the comments. Like I said, we’re very excited spring training newbies.
The itinerary sounds like heaven to Seth and I, but I am aware that this is a lot of baseball. The last time we tried to baseball all day long, at the Angels/A’s double header, we discovered a noticeable, yet far from unworkable, difference in our baseball thresholds. If you recall, the first game wasn’t exactly a short one and the second game went into extra innings. I wanted the second game to go on for as many innings as necessary for an Angels victory — an Angels victory that, alas, did not materialize — while suddenly, about the 10th inning, after some 9 hours of baseball, Seth was ready to be done. We stayed until the end — because he loves me very, very much and is a wonderful husband — but that last inning was a little much for him.
Now, we have agreed that what this really says is that I am a crazy person and not that he is a wimp. No, really, I would be that insane fan still watching the game from our seats at 2 a.m…in the 18th inning…on a week night…in the rain…with an early meeting awaiting me the next day, while Seth would have more sensibly wanted to go home sometime around midnight or so and at least be dry while catching the end of the game on the radio. However, knowing that this crazy person/passionate yet more sensible fan discrepancy exists is highly useful information and is the reason we’ve left the exact number of WBC we’re attending TBD and Sunday wide open to any whim that might take us. We’ll figure out what makes us both happy this trip, and know better how to plan for future baseball trips. But, however things work out, I know we’re going to have a blast together! We always do.
In the meantime, yes, I know the Angels have yet to win a game. I guess that’s supposed to concern me, but I have a really hard time getting too wound up about the overall record of extra early Spring Training games, when we’re still changing pitchers every single inning, changing the majority of the lineup at the 3rd/4th inning and again at the 6th/7th inning and during which few if any of the regular players are even on the field. And especially not when most of the pitchers MLB-wide are so very, very rusty. This is the very reason we have spring training — so that it’s February and March that look like this, instead of April and May. So, for now, I’m just going to revel in the glorious sounds of baseballs striking leather gloves and the crack of the bat on nicely hit balls — all of which sound so much clearer and more true to the live sounds of the ballpark on a ST broadcast than they do on a regular season broadcast where you have so much more crowd noise and sound-baffling cement – and in the promise of hearing those sounds live and seeing more improved performances and more regular players in just a few weeks.
(Cross posted with edits from L.A. Angels Insider. I don’t do a lot of cross posting, but this one fit the bill for both blogs.)
It all started with an absolute dearth of run support — because if what the rest of the Angels’ starting rotation experienced early in the 2012 season was a lack of run support, then clearly we must resort to stronger vocabulary when describing the strange case of Ervin Santana. In his first six starts of 2012, the team scored exactly three runs for Santana and all three of those came during his rocky first start against the Royals. The end result was an 0 and 6 record that belied his steady improvement over that time period which culminated in two quality starts, including the final game of that stretch wherein he struck out 10.
Unfortunately for Santana and our impressions of his season, his quality starts only overlapped with the Angels improving offense for two wins in May before his control slipped again. Then Santana began having entirely different issue with runs, namely with giving them up, frequently in the form of early inning bombs launched solidly into the stands. After a dismal performance in Colorado that can only partially be blamed on the stadium’s notorious altitude, fans had all but forgotten any quality starts.
But just as more and more fans were calling for a change, ‘Hey, that Garrett Richards kid looks pretty good. Once Jered Weaver comes off the DL, couldn’t we…’ Santana threw everyone a curve, pitching a one-hit shutout against the D-Backs that for six and two-thirds glorious innings was perfect in every sense of the word. Okay, so what do you do with a conundrum like that? It’s the strange case of Ervin Santana, indeed.
We all know the Angels’ most likely answer. Sometime this week, perhaps even as I post these thoughts, Jered Weaver will come off of the DL and Garrett Richards will head back to AAA. The Angels typically back the veteran, but in this case I don’t think fans should take issue with the decision. Yes, the four games leading up to Saturday’s gem were ugly, but Saturday didn’t happen in a vacuum. Lost amid the Angels’ April and early May offensive woes were enough strong starts to indicate that Santana’s latest flirtation with control issues, however hot and heavy it may have seemed, is just the same old on again, off again fling he’s had his entire career and not an all encompassing, season long relationship.
Looking at Santana’s record for the last four seasons, he heats up with the weather, giving the Angels strong Julys and Augusts, even during seasons where he’s struggled. I’m not saying that every start is going to be sunshine and rainbows from here on out but, given the near perfection we just witnessed, I think the Angels would be foolish not to at least see what late June and July have in store. If this weekend turns out to be an aberration and Santana’s control reverts to Colorado-like performances, it’s not like they can’t bring Richards (who pitched his own weekend gem) back up again.
Besides, we Angels fans know how our team has a tendency to torture…er…thrill…um, er…thrillingly torture?…us with more excitement in the eighth and ninth innings than is strictly necessary even at the best of times. Smart fans stocked up on plenty of antacid back in March. You know, just in case…
I was very excited to see the “fully” mic’d game between the Indians and the D-Backs today, even though Seth and I had been joking about the Observer Effect all week – the idea that you can’t really observe a thing without somehow changing it. I figured the players would be very conscious of the microphones and that that would kill a lot of their chatter, but I was hoping for a little taste of the banter on the field. Yeah, not so much. The players were so self conscious – and/or were barraged with reminders to watch their *#!% mouth, grannie back home could hear every word they said – that they didn’t say much of anything that wasn’t of a strictly business nature…or maybe it was the game itself that subdued them? Today the role of Captain Obvious was played by Kirk Gibson: We just aren’t doing many things well today.
Still, it was an interesting experiment and we did hear and few worthwhile, useful and even entertaining things:
- Hearing the base coaches talk to their runners. Even already understanding many of the strategies, hearing how these talks actually work was very cool. Steve Smith was especially good at this and his conversation with Shin Soo Choo following the line drive that had him hitting the decks was hilarious.
- The umpires. By and large I think they were the most comfortable with the microphones and, while at times a few of them were playing for the back row, we heard reasonably natural sounding banter and job talk. It was interesting to see how much they just chat with players and coaches in between innings and sometimes in between plays.
- So, can the players hear the fans? If the sounds from this game are any indication, oh boy can they! …or at least those fans seated closest to the field. And those whiney little kids begging for a ball sounded obnoxious from where I sat. Not all of the kids by any means, just those ones.
- Jason Kipnis cracked me up. I get the impression that only some of the singing was intentional, like maybe he often sings to himself in the infield and wasn’t thinking about the mic at first. He looked genuinely uncomfortable when caught, but then did not hesitate to ham it up. And go Adele, making it on to more players frequent play lists – or so one would infer – than I would have thought possible.
- With all of the mics, the sounds of the ball smacking gloves and flying off the bat were a lot closer to the sounds of actually being there at the game. Granted, I can usually hear these things reasonably well during Angels home broadcasts, but this was better.
- While I have no doubt the managers also held back a lot because of the mics, there were a few great Kirk Gibson and Manny Acta one liners, like the Gibby quote I mention above.
- Although the players dialed down the banter to near mute, as the game played out they became more and more comfortable with their usual business talk, and that was in and of itself educational. They’re better at it, obviously, but in calling the ball, calling the plays and encouraging teammates, they don’t sound too terribly different from baseball and softball players of all ages playing the game at any level.
I would love to hear what the players really say to one another on the field. In fact, if I could choose a mutant super power it might be some sort of controllable mutant hearing – hey it would be useful in business too! But, barring a bite from a radioactive owl, I don’t see that happening any time soon. And I certainly don’t want to change the way they communicate with one another for anything more than the occasional exhibition game. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to continue making up conversations for them like I did last season:
First thing’s first. Congratulations to the Cardinals! From ten games out of the Wild Card Race to World Series Champions, it was an inspiring comeback worthy of a classic baseball movie. Bravo and well deserved!
More importantly from my perspective though, the Angels did announce Jerry Dipoto as our new General Manager…as, you know, we might have guessed from all of the announcements announcing that the Angels could not in fact announce this move until after World Series was over. (Sorry, but as a sometime media and PR wonk, I love that kind of inspired work around the rules!). Oh, I know there has been a lot of talk since Tony Reagins’ departure about Kim Ng, which had me intrigued, and Andrew Friedman, which had me outright salivating even though I knew it wasn’t going to happen. But when it comes to personnel decisions and the Angels, reading speculation about it in the press, short of a very official sounding “unofficial” precursor to an announcement that is, is one of the biggest guarantees you can get that it isn’t going to happen.
If loose lips sink ships and one could logically infer that the inverse of this old school saying is true as well, the entire United States Navy could happily float on the closed lips of the Angels front office…with plenty of room for complex practice maneuvers and future growth. Besides, Andrew Friedman? Please. I don’t think you could separate him from Tampa Bay with a crowbar right now let alone for any money, especially after the miracle the Rays pulled off this season aided by his efforts on the personnel front.
So, now that the decision’s been made? Well, only time will tell but so far I’m happy about it. Dipoto is exactly what the Angels talked about bringing in when they first announced Reagins’ resignation, young, fresh and brand new to the GM position. For that reason, I only know what I have read about Dipoto in the last few days and what he said during the press conference. But I like what I’ve learned so far, especially his history in the Diamond Backs organization as Director of Scouting and Player Personnel and later as Interim General Manager. I think we can all agree that Arizona has made some excellent personnel decisions these last few seasons.
I liked what he had to say during the press conference about the Angels just needing a few key tweaks in the right direction rather than a complete overhaul, because the last I thing I want is for all of last season’s promising rookies to become this off season’s trade fodder for a string of great-for-the-next-two-seasons-and-then-blaaaah players. I like that Dipoto doesn’t align himself rigidly with either straight old school personnel theories or sabermetrics theories, but talks instead about an effective balance using ideas from all schools of thought. I liked hearing him talk about exploring all avenues for player acquisition including Latin America and Japan. And I love the fact that Dipoto’s passion for the game seems to be the first thing colleagues and teammates mention when describing him. Yes, all of this is talking a good game and talking and executing a good game do not always go hand in hand. But Dipoto has talked a sufficiently good game that I am intrigued and hopeful to see how he executes his game over the next several seasons.
The only thing I didn’t like was how obvious it became during the press conference that the rumors of Mike Scioscia’s supposed status as the “real GM behind a puppet GM” have grown wildly out of hand. When both Mike Scioscia and Arte Moreno feel a need to comment on and deny such speculation and Dipoto has to answer questions about his ability to work with Scioscia while still having his own voice heard, it’s all more than a little ridiculous. Please people! I love me some Mike Scioscia. He was one of my favorite Dodgers and one of the biggest reasons I switched camps to the other end of the 5 freeway all those years ago. But we’re talking about a man who routinely devises upwards of 125 different lineups for 162 games. With that level of…um…shall we say attention to detail?…can you imagine how much time he must put in before each game strategizing and such? Now can you imagine how much time a person with that level of “attention to detail” would spend studying, planning and executing trades, signings and the like? Now please remember that there are still only 24 hours in a day and that he has to spend some of them sleeping. Does Scioscia as some sort of puppet master GM still seem like a sound theory to you? Didn’t think so.
Welcome to the Angels organization Jerry Dipoto! May you live up to the good game you’ve talked so far.
I know, I know. It doesn’t sound the same without the Angels at all. But what’s a fan to do? Ignore the post season? Go into deep mourning every Friday night? I think not. So consider this Friday Gourmet: the Post Season Edition. And I have to say, even though I was sorely missing the Angels, having two excellent games for my viewing pleasure did make for a most enjoyable Friday. How cool is it that three of the four LDS match-ups went to Game 5 and all four match-ups were decided by 1 run? Pretty darned cool and extremely exciting. Suffice to say, this post season we’ve seen some good, close matchups.
I’ll admit it. I started my Friday a little early and snuck in the last two innings of the D-Backs game while I finished up a few things for work…hey, I also finally shut down the work laptop at home on Thursday just shy of midnight, so I think they still came out of this with the majority of my attention. 😉 What a good game! I wanted the D-Backs to win. But it was so close and everyone played so well, that they should certainly go home with their heads held high and rest up for next season when I have no doubt they’ll pick up right where they left off. (Though hopefully a rebuilt Dodgers team with spanking new owners will give them a run for their money and wind up in the top spot. Sorry Gibby. That’s just the way it works with me.) And, in the meantime, Congratulations to the Brewers! At the same time I was sorry to see the D-Backs lose, I was also pleased to see these guys win. Hey, it’s the post season. That’s allowed.
As for the Cardinals/Phillies game? That was one heck of taut pitcher’s duel. Both teams were on and it really could have gone either way. It was very exciting! I am sorry to say that I didn’t have the appropriate appreciation for Chris Carpenter before watching this game. Consider my eyes opened. He and Halliday were very well matched. Oh to be a fly on the wall during their planned fishing trip this off season. The game was so good, in fact, that Seth had to jokingly remind me not to wait to time the dinner by smoke detector twice. In my rushing back and forth between the kitchen and the TV, I’d failed to notice the timer going off. (Given the option to watch a big game live I hate, HATE, to pause it for longer than one could logically catch back up during a commercial break if I can help it.) You laugh, dear reader, but timing a meal by smoke detector has happened to both of us before. Only when cooking under extenuating distracting circumstances, mind you, such as during a game. …Oh, okay. Or when blackening fish or chicken. But, seriously. Searing blackening spice encrusted meat is really just a culinary game of chicken with the smoke detector anyway, so I don’t think that should count. 😉
Yeah, I was cooking a little towards the beginning of the game. It was Friday after all. I baked a spicy chili, cheddar bread and toasted up thick slices of it with turkey, thick slices tomato, slivers of onion and homemade cheddar garlic spread melted over the top. Paired with a gorgeous Muscat Canelli from Eberle it was really, really good if I do say so myself. Yes, paired with a sweet wine. Okay, you’re forgiven for making that face. You’ve probably only ever had sips of some ghastly sugar bomb like Beringer’s White Zinfandel or the like before. Trust me, it’s all about balance and a good sweet wine paired with something pungent and earthy like blue cheese or camembert, or with something spicy like Thai food or, say, a sandwich made with bread that includes a fair bit of fresh diced jalapeño, and it is a thing of beauty. And, hey, an evening in with good food, good wine a great game? It doesn’t get much better than that.
Would that this evening’s ALCS game had been as good. I would be willing to be that Verlander could have recovered his command given a few more innings in a row with no rain delay, but that may or may not have been enough. And then after the first rain delay it was C.J. Wilson’s turn to get a little sloppy, but not enough so for the Tigers to take the lead. Oh well. That’s only the first game. So, tomorrow. Bike ride. Minor chores. Then brunch eventually and a heck of a lot of baseball, possibly accompanied by the Tigers friendly Rio Seco wine. (Rio Seco’s winemaker played in the Tigers minor league system) Now, who the heck am I rooting for in the NLCS?? I like ‘em both and would enjoy seeing either in the World Series, so that is the question of the evening. Any thoughts?
I answered one facet of this question in one of my very first blog posts, wherein I talked about choosing a team to adopt for the postseason. But that is only one aspect of the answer. For some folks the entire answer is a simple, you don’t. But that just doesn’t work for me. The stakes are too high, the players too good and the action too exciting to ignore…besides, this is the last small slice of baseball we get to enjoy before the cold lonely baseball-less months of late fall and winter begin.
So, how do you enjoy the post season when your team doesn’t have a post season? For me the answer is eagerly, excitedly and with a sense of fun, but also distractedly and with a sense of detachment. Witness, I am watching the games, as many as we can when so many of them start while we are at work, but our kitchen is clean. Our bills are filed. When the game is one the east coast and starts early for us, dinners are more elaborate than slapped together sandwiches. (Okay, we ate sandwiches for dinner this evening, but they involved left over pork loan, brie, sautéed apples and onions and a chipotle peach jelly. They were absolutely not slapped together. 😉 ) The laundry is not only folded but — gasp! — put away. Both my husband and I are more willing to pick up a few mid-week groceries on our way home from the office instead of trying to cram the trip into a lunch break while crossing our fingers that no one swipes them from the office fridge. For better or worse, these things are simply a lot less true during the regular season…even more so during an Angels post season.
So the answer is, you enjoy the post season much the same as you would otherwise, but with a passion that is purely generic in nature. Oh, many of the teams in the current post season excite me and there have been several truly great games so far to be sure. But I can tear my eyes away from the screen for a little while for even mundane chores…and I do. That would never happen with the Angels, but I can’t think of a single other team that would inspire adopted passion on the same magnitude. The only teams that come close for me are family teams.
If the Angels were out but the Dodgers, my childhood team and the team half my family roots for, were in? I know could summon a fair bit of passion. Not the same as for the Angels by any means but passion even so. When the Giants, the team whose orange and black colors the other half of my family bleeds, made the series, it wasn’t even the same as the Dodgers would have been, but it was in fact more special than the current post season’s offerings. That’s it…and those two teams still aren’t even close. So, I will continue to hoot and holler and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy, but I think the kitchen won’t have any problems staying clean.
Oh, and for the record, my answer to the “who am I rooting for part of the question” is not as cut and dried as it was last season. My favorite non-Angels teams heading into the post season were the D-Backs, the Brewers and the Rays… *sigh* I wanted badly for the Rays to be able to go further, but what they accomplished was nothing short of miraculous and a joy to behold. So, I have been rooting for the D-Backs (though I won’t mind if the Brewers win instead…I do like them too), the Rays, the Cards and the Tigers. I will narrow it down further, of course, after the ALDS and then again for the World Series.
I’d love the D-Backs to take it all, because I adore Joe Saunders — and I miss him even though I wholeheartedly approved of the Dan Haren trade — and because Kirk Gibson was a childhood hero whom I still admire. Ryan Roberts grand slam against the Dodgers, where he paid homage to Gibby’s famous homerun as a Dodger with arm pumps down the first base line? Chills. Absolute chills. But I could find myself happily rooting for one of the other teams I mentioned should the D-Backs not make it past Friday. Because when you’re strictly a for the month of October, adopted fan, switching allegiances based on who won and any number of other frivolous reasons is not only acceptable, it’s darned necessary. 🙂
* * * * *
As several media sources reported, just before Tuesday’s game Josh Hamilton was asked about the success in a Rangers uniform of Vlad Guerrero last season and Mike Napoli this season. A leading question to be sure, but still…
Hamilton’s response? “I think we’re going to look at who we can get from the Angels next year.” Ouch. But whatever obnoxious truth there may be in that statement, nice Josh. Way to stay classy. Especially considering that the Rangers dropped Vlad like a hot potato the second they could no longer say ‘Who cares how much money we spend?! We’re filing for bankruptcy!’
Hey Josh, chances are Fernando Rodney is going to be available next season. Likely for a bargain price. Since the Rangers are so excellent at finding diamonds in the Angels rough, I suggest they dive on that grenade. With gusto!