Waiting all day for a repairman to arrive in a paradisiacal place like Yosemite National Park – you know, just in case you were all wondering or anything like that – is no less annoying than waiting for one back home. Oh, the view from the kitchen windows is infinitely more gorgeous, but that’s about it.
Long story short, the stove in the cabin blew up. Yeah, no joke. Manufacturer’s defect. Gas build up while cooking. Boom. I wasn’t there, mind you, but I assume it was rather spectacular sounding. Fortunately there were no injuries. So, now someone has to be here for the repairman and the Brown Footed Loons happened to be on the verge of migrating again so, voila!, we added an odd detour redundancy to our vacation so that we could wait in Yosemite – before heading to Cambria/Paso Robles for the Harvest Festival and then back to Yosemite for the rest of the week – for a repairman who never showed…yeah, Sears is now a 4 letter word in my house.
While that was certainly a less than awesome start to our vacation – to put it mildly! – I’ll tell you what is awesome: baseball fans! Seth and I decided to give ourselves a treat on the way from Yosemite to Cambria and stop at a little steakhouse just outside the park we’d been dying to try rather than grabbing fast food. Well, wouldn’t you know it, this little steakhouse, it had a little bar. And in the little bar, it had a certain game on both TVs…and a large party of Giants fans, central California being no doubter Giants country, wearing their team gear with pride and rooting loudly. So we decided to kick it in the bar and catch a few innings.
Best decision all day! The food was excellent, the wait staff friendly and the company could not be beat. We sat down just as Buster Posey struck out in the 4th inning. So we were there for what happened immediately after. Hunter Pence’s comebacker hit. Lance Lynn’s errant throw the bounced off the bag. And the Giants’ 4th inning scoring spree. The bar went from sedate to very loud indeed and, even after we confessed our Angels fan status, our cheers were welcomed into the mix. Baseball fans appreciate other baseball fans, especially come playoffs time. Except for a few inevitable bad apples I have found this to be true again and again, a point that was underscored when the rest of the local crowd showed up. This is a very small town and this bar seems to be one of the preferred places from which to catch the game. Four local Cardinals fans wandered in wearing their team gear with pride, clearly transplants from a more birds on bats part of the country. The Giants fans at the bar and the Cards fans greeted one another warmly and, when there wasn’t quite enough room at the bar for everyone, seating arrangements were shuffled about to make sure the new arrivals weren’t sitting at nearby bar room table by themselves. All very companionable and sweet. Like I said, baseball fans are awesome!
The game itself was a breath of fresh air in what had previously threated to be a dull series. Sorry, Cards and Tigers fans, but sweeps and near sweeps are only desirable if you’re an existing part of the fan base of the team doing the dominating. For the rest of us, especially after getting thoroughly spoiled by the wild, tightly contested wonderfulness that was the Division Series X 4, quite frankly, the ALCS was kind of a let down and the NLCS looked like it was heading that way. Yeah, I was rooting for the Tigers in the ALCS, but I rather hoped the Yankees would put up a fight. I get that Derek Jeter’s injury was a crushing blow to team morale, but even before that they were not themselves.
Fortunately for baseball fans everywhere, especially those of us watching purely for love of the game, the Giants rallying after two straight losses to shut out the Cardinals and take Game 6 saved the NLCS from a similarly ho hum fate, no matter what happens tomorrow. And it was great to see Barry Zito going retro, channeling pitches from his own more lights out era. I love a good comeback story. They’re one of my favorite parts of the game…along with taut pitchers’ duels, stellar defensive plays, ballsy steals, and diverse groups of great fans coming together to bond over our shared love.
Wow, it has been one hell of a Postseason so far. Barring one’s own team making it to October, a baseball fan couldn’t ask for a better gift than watching all four Division Series going to five games complete with extra innings, walk off wins, taut pitching duels and plenty of derring-do in the field and at the plate. I only wish I had a little more time to take it all in. Ugh. It’s not as if I’m glad the Angels aren’t in the Postseason this year, but if I have to spend this many late hours on a work project in October, let’s just say I’m glad it happens to coincide with a year the Angels aren’t in the playoffs. Because, seriously, if it was the Angels I was only able to watch with part of my distracted attention, my coworkers would be significantly less than thrilled with me right now. Hell hath no grumpiness like a fan denied, and all that. Anyway, couple of thoughts on the Postseason so far.
Derek Jeter: I’m rooting against the Yankees, which shouldn’t really be a shock. I generally root against them. But that doesn’t mean I ever want players get hurt. It was shock and a half, seeing Derek Jeter fracture his ankle. It looked bad when he went down, then it almost looked like he was joking with Robinson Cano and I briefly thought he might be okay but then, *shudders* that look on his face and you had to know it was bad even before the diagnosis was in. Not the way anyone wants to end their season and certainly not the way any fan of the game wants to see any player, let alone one of the all-time greats, end their season. I wish Jeter a full and speedy recovery.
Drew Storen: I will lament bad plays and bad seasons in blog posts, but I could never boo an Angels player, no matter how bad the season. So I absolutely cannot understand the level of hate heaped on Drew Storen after his blown save in game five of the Nationals/Cardinals series. Yes, the blown save was terribly disappointing, especially with all four runs coming after the 2nd out, epsecially after such a magical season. But, as with most losses, this was a team loss. What of the other relievers that let the Nationals 6 -1 lead slowly slip into a close game in the 9th? What of the offense that went all but dormant after the 3rd inning? There is no one person to blame here and that’s baseball. Besides, even if there was, the Nationals had a great season, a season fans should be proud of. And, while I’m not going to tell you that baseball is only a game – because to those of us who love it, it is so much more than that – I will say that very few things in this world justify heaping that level of hate on a person and baseball is not one of them.
Bryce Harper: We as fans gripe when players practice their clichés with maddening dedication in their interactions with the media, so why do so many folks complain even louder when the occasional player or manager breaks the mold and actually speaks their mind? I laughed when Bryce Harper got sarcastic with the reporter. “You think so? Maybe you should be our hitting coach.” Hilarious. Look, the how do you feel questions are abysmally stupid questions – how do you think I feel?! – that must be asked, even so. Reporters can’t exactly write an entire article based on how the player appeared to feel and what the manager said about how the player feels. They need quotes directly from the player even when the answer is pretty obvious. Understanding this, however, doesn’t mean that I’m not going to appreciate the hell out of it with my laughter if, every once in a while, a player responds to such questions with the kind of sarcastic response I’ve certainly got in my head. If Harper responded to reporters like this in every interview, I’d go along with the brat assessment. But, as it is, I’m just going to be thankful for the occasional non-“it’s a marathon not a sprint” gems. They provide humor, the provide a bit of insight and you have to admit, the kid’s got a way with words.
And that’s all the thoughts fit to print from this old brain for now. Hopefully I will get a little more time to watch October baseball in the coming weeks and get a few more thoughts on the blog.
(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.)
Angels fans woke up yesterday morning to the incredible news that the team will send, not one, not two, but four deserving players to Kansas City for the 2012 All Star Game: Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. Trumbo will also lend his increasingly legendary bat to the Home Run Derby and fans still have the chance to send a fifth Angel to Kansas City! Ernesto Frieri is one of five American League players on the ballot for the Final Vote which concludes this Thursday, July 5th. Take that East Coast bias!
Of course, despite Angels fans’ best efforts, none of the honored players were selected in the fan vote. We have the players vote and managerial selection to thank for these well deserved recognitions. Now, obviously fans don’t vote for pitchers and the two most deserving Angels position players this season were each a bit of an odd case. Trout wasn’t called up until April 28th and consequently wasn’t included on the ballot. Trumbo was included on the ballot but as a third baseman, a position at which he only received eight starts none of which, admittedly, were of All Star caliber, unlike his mighty bat and starts in the outfield. But let’s be honest here, even in a season with completely normal circumstances for the highest performing players, can Angels fans ever rely on the fan vote to give their favorite team a fair chance?
Let’s talk about the fan vote. I vividly remember voting for All Stars as a child at Dodgers stadium. (Yes, you read that correctly. I was raised as a Dodger fan. But with time, adulthood and intensive ballpark therapy, I got better. ;)) All Star ballots were placed on all of the seats and my sister and I would run around in between innings, picking up every unclaimed ballot in our section (after the 4th inning, of course – you know, Dodgers game) so we could vote for every Dodger candidate as many times as possible. I also did the same thing for the Angels players on the AL side of the ballot. My grandfather, whom I adored, was a diehard Angels fan going back to the minor league Angels in the PCL days, so the initial seeds for my eventual love of this team were planted early.
As much as this is kind of an adorable story when we’re talking about a couple of passionate, very young fans in pigtails, it’s also an illustration of exactly what is wrong with the fan vote. How many adult fans approach the All Star Vote with any greater thought or analysis than my sister and I did when we were six and nine? Not nearly enough. Much like my sister and I as children, all too many fans vote for the name on the front of the jersey instead of the name on the back. Casual fans vote in droves for uniforms from either the Yankees, who literally have the most recognized sports brand in the word, or from any team that has recently burst into the extremely short memory of the public consciousness, usually with a recent World Series appearance.
This is not to say that the fan vote never makes appropriate selections. Deserving All Stars start every year. But among the deserving there are just as many controversies. Is Mike Napoli, currently batting .238, really the best catcher in the American League right now? Hasn’t Derek Jeter gotten in a few years recently based far more on that fact that he is a walking, talking baseball legend and deservedly so, rather than his current year’s performance? And so on. Not to mention the fact that the fan vote invites ballot stuffing with even less subtlety than the infamous Tammeny Hall political machine of old. While the players vote and managers’ selections are not immune to snubs either, participants seem better able to put away pettier considerations and make more of the right choices.
Unfortunately, MLB can’t do away with the fan vote all together. It’s an important tool for building casual fan interest in the All Star Game and in the second half of the season. As with any sport, there are a lot more casual MLB fans than diehards out there and all of our teams benefit when they come out to the ballpark frequently, catch the game on television regularly and spend as much money as possible. However, that doesn’t mean that MLB can’t change the All Star Game voting format as long as it remains compelling for the fans. With all schedule and format changes already in the works for next season, 2013 is the perfect time to change the format of the All Star Vote and reduce the impact of the fan vote.
Judging from voter turnout, fans enjoy the newer final vote process. Why not make the initial fan vote more like the final fan vote? For example, instead of voting for one player for each position, fans could vote for four players total with no restrictions on their selections. Fans can vote again in a longer format final vote, selecting another four players from an All Star Game manager selected list. In between the two fan votes, the player vote and managers’ selection process will have two more picks than usual (allowing non-fan dictated wiggle room to avoid some of the ‘there was no room him’ controversy) and managers will be allowed to determine their own starting line ups. Part of the fan draw will be tuning in to the All Star Game to see who has the honor of starting, as opposed to already knowing ahead of time. Perhaps a few hints can be given as the game approaches with starting pitchers announced a day or two ahead of time as a teaser.
Of course there will still be controversies. Opinions will always differ and some managers will always be better than others at picking the best players rather than just their own players. However I can’t help but think that, with recent examples of the benefit of home field advantage during the World Series fresh in everyone’s mind, a format that puts more of the All Star Game decisions in the hands of players and managers will lead to better choices. I’d suggest no longer having the All Star Game determine home field advantage for the World Series but, sadly, the likelihood of that even being considered is so inconceivable that it almost makes my voting format change suggestions look possible.
I was eight years old when I caught gymnastics fever. It was the summer of 1984. Los Angeles hosted the Olympics. Mary Lou Retton was America’s sweetheart. And NBC must have re-aired the Nadia movie 10 times that summer. My sister and I begged and pleaded so, of course, my parents let us start lessons. The first gym wasn’t what we expected. They never let us do any real tricks, we couldn’t use the whole beam, only the part over the giant fluffy mat and we vaulted onto a large upholstered box. However they had large pit full of foam squares, just like in the Nadia movie, and a lot of the kids taking classes there were “Industry,” including the younger siblings of a then rising sitcoms and afterschool specials star with a child-of-hippies first name and a state capitol for a last name, so you’d better bet classes were expensive.
Eventually we switched to youth classes at the local community college. No Nadia pit “full of bouncy things” but plenty of encouragement to try difficult tricks at a reasonable price. And the gym in which the classes were held announced it’s more serious work ethic when you walked in the door with a large poster of a young gymnast in the middle of a giant swing on the uneven bars with her toes just brushing the floor, a major points deduction, and the saying I used for my headline: Mistakes Can Be Costly. Let’s Try to Be Accurate in Our Work.
Watching the Angels play this season, this poster comes to mind fairly often. Mind you, the team is doing well in many ways and they’re only two games out of first, even with the last two losses. But when the Angels do lose, all too often, they’ve really beat themselves with some sort of costly mistake. Walking batters, sometimes several in a row. Errors on what would have been the third out. Meatball pitches. Base running gaffes. Swinging for the fences to the point of detriment when a nice hard knock into the gap would suffice. Mental vacations at inopportune fielding moments…I could go on, but you get the general idea.
All teams have these moments, make these mistakes. But, for whatever reason, timing is not on the Angels side this season and when mistakes are made, they quickly prove costly with even greater frequency than normal. And just what can a team do to prevent this situation? Nothing, other than work harder to keep the mistakes in check. This is why I love this particular poster so much that it has stayed with me all these years. It doesn’t yell, or point fingers and it doesn’t suggest for a second that anyone can live an errorless existence. It just states a simple fact, mistakes can be costly, and suggests a valuable action plan. I’ve already seen improvements in the Angels play this season. If they can avoid more of the costly errors, mental and otherwise, in the next few weeks, I expect they will still be playing in October.
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So, were there any high points we can take away from the series in the Bronx? Yes, indeedy. Dan Haren for one. He pitched most of a great game (Bringing in Fernando Rodney against Jeter with two on and two out was a moronic decision. Coaching staff, see previous conversation about mental errors.) and was an excellent mentor to young Garrett Richards, chatting him up and keeping him positive after his first game. Richards himself. Yes, he had a terrible first inning and a terrible fourth inning. But the kid fresh up from AA making his major league debut in the Bronx also pitched two 1, 2, 3 innings and a third near 1, 2, 3, inning (except for that little solo homerun thing, D’oh), striking out Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira in the process. Was it an awe inspiring debut? No, but I do think the kid shows promise. Tyler Chatwood’s debut was much the same and he was another bright spot in this series.
Angels bats were a frequent high point – Bobby Abreu, Peter Bourjos, Torii Hunter, Maicer Izturis, and Mark Trumbo all hit well throughout the series and others had hits. If only they could have hit consistently with runners in scoring position throughout the series, this could have been a different post. But at least the fought back this series. No, we scored our three runs in the first two innings and couldn’t possibly score any more until tomorrow. That was a positive…that and two homeruns off Mariano Rivera. Hey, we take our giggles were we can. 😉 Angels fielding was also stellar this series and errorless, except for that one really, really big one…see previous conversation. *sigh*