All work and no baseball makes Kristen a sad girl…a most unacceptable state of affairs if you ask Kristen, I can tell you that. Lacking the ability to add baseball to the equation, clearly it was time to mix in a little playtime. It’s a three day weekend, so naturally Seth and I lit out for Cambria and Paso Robles the second we were both off work and packed up on Friday night. Yeah, it was a 4 and half hour drive starting at 8 p.m. So what? Brown footed loons are naturally nocturnal…and diurnal and crepuscular for that matter, whichever natural activity cycle is apt to lead to greater work productivity and/or a good time. We’re adaptable like that. Anyway, as we noted walking around town this morning, the Cambria/Paso Robles/long weekend/random weekend thing has been our thing for as long as there has been an us. Some years, I think we use the house more than his parents do…other years I know we do.
And after this many years of coming up here to California’s Central Coast wine county, I can tell you that that natural cycles of baseball and California wine mirror each other in so many different ways it’s a wonder they aren’t more closely associated than the more traditional pairing of baseball and beer. Just to name a few:
- In California, wine’s biggest event, its Fall Classic if you will, is the Harvest and crush (literally what it sounds like) which occurs in October. And, much like in baseball, you really want to get it over with before you hit November if at all possible.
- While wine blending, bottling and selling can occur all year long depending on what varietals a winery offers, the majority of the blending, the tinkering with the 25 man roster if you will, occurs in February and March and again in the early summer months.
- Rookie wines can be excellent right out of the bottle, or take several years of aging and conditioning before they really show their stuff, and the aging almost always improves the end result.
- Some winemakers rely on their own farm system, growing the majority of their own grapes. Others rely on the farm systems of their colleagues. Trades and outright “free agency” purchases are common.
- Many amateur aficionados think they know almost as much as or ever better than the professionals…and a lot of them have blogs. 😉
- Both the aficionados and the professional raters rely on often obscure numbers and statistics that are not necessarily what the actual wine makers, being more of a by taste, gut instinct and experience sort, rely on when putting together the finished product.
- And then, there is the fickle finger of fate thing. Just as really promising rookies may fail to live up to their potential or excellent ballplayers suffer career ending injuries, sometimes nature says “nope, I don’t think so” in the form of a drought, or quite the opposite, or any number of other minor disasters and the grapes just don’t live up to their potential either.
This last bit really speaks to what’s happening in Paso Robles and I would imagine the rest of California’s winery regions this year. California didn’t really have much of a summer in 2011. And, while consistent balmy mid 70’s weather is wonderful for tourism and fantastic fodder for any number of movies, it absolutely sucks for grapes which need hot days and cool breezes at night in order to fully develop the sugars that eventually ferment into the delicious nectar we enjoy. That kind of weather was in short supply this off season, much like free-agent starting pitchers of quality.
And, much like baseball teams with said starting pitchers, wineries tried different things to insure victory, from leaving the grapes on the vines an extra long time, risking catastrophic rain storms, to stripping the leaves off to give the gapes the full benefit of the sun, risking malnourishment and, should the heat wave finally come, scorched grapes. Just as in baseball, some wineries lucked out and some did not (the Angels clearly falling in the former category here). And it’s safe to say that in both worlds a lot of teams/wineries have rebuilding years ahead of them. But here’s the thing about rebuilding years in wine or in baseball that a lot of folks forget. Rebuilding necessities can lead to unexpected levels of creativity and take us in directions we never thought we could go. And, every now and then, this leads to an even better result than anyone could have possibly imagined. I can’t wait to see how the fruits of 2011 and early 2012 work out for everyone, on the field and in my glass. Cheers!
So, I’m back. I took the weekend off for fun and frivolity but I’m back now. What’d I miss? Regale me with wondrous baseball happenings. Catch me up on all the news. *crickets chirping* Oh. Yeah. Never mind. It’s still January. *sigh*
At least there is a little bit of news coming out of the Angels front office of varying degrees of happy. First, the truly happy making news. The Angels and Howard Kendrick reached an agreement on a four-year contract extension one year before Howard becomes a free agent. I am thrilled. I adore Howard Kendrick, Mr. HK-47 himself or, as I am prone to cheer at appropriate moments (of which there are many!): HK-47. When you absolutely, positively have to regain the lead, accept no substitutes.
Back in 2009, the Angels had to send Howard back to AAA for a little while to work on his swing. And work he did, returning to the majors with the beginnings of what has become a clutch, consistent bat with more than a bit of pop. Howard has also turned into a darned good second baseman, with the glove, arm and brains to be a full partner in all of the Angels daring double play do. He even has the willingness and ability to sub in at first and in the outfield when the Angels occasionally Franken-infield has the need. Not to mention he’s a class act and seems like an all around nice guy. In short, my kind of ballplayer and an excellent asset for the Angels, hopefully, for years to come.
As for the cautiously good news, Keandrys Morales has been cleared to begin running again. Now, this is roughly the point at which all of the wheels fell off of this particular wagon last season…along with the axels and, well, quite frankly several of floor boards too…and extended pain and lack of mobility from scar tissue forced him into a second surgery. So who knows if this really means he’s coming back. But, well, it’s still more positive to hear that he has been cleared to begin running than that he hasn’t, yes?
And how about the not so happy news? The Angels signed Jorge Cantu to a minor league contract, he of the third base experience and the sometime power, sometime Mendoza bat. No, it’s not that have anything against the signing itself, I am just concerned about what it might mean, namely that the Angels are more concerned than they are letting on about Mark Trumbo’s stress fractured foot. It sounds like the foot should be healed enough to being baseball workouts just in time for Spring Training, which is closer to the five months it sounds like the doctors had been quoting as typical for such an injury…but is nowhere near the two to three months Trumbo and the Angels had been hoping for. Personally, even with a bevy of personal trainers involved I thought that two to three months was wishful thinking, but I am a little worried that we’ve gone from that to apparently signing insurance in case he doesn’t heal in five. Tough break, indeed, kid. Suffice to say, if this fan’s best wishes had actual healing properties, you’d have been back on your feet and sprinting already.
Happy New Year!!
I hope everyone had a great time last night and I wish you all the best in 2012!
New Year’s Day is traditionally a day for proclaiming resolutions for the year to come…and the wee hours in between New Year’s Day and January 2nd work just as well in a year where New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday. I don’t know about you all but it just isn’t New Year’s for me until I get to flop in front of the Rose Parade on TV with a nice brunch and a flute or several of champagne. I am not usually one to make specific official resolutions for myself. A general try to grow and improve in life is sufficient. In 2011, the Angels certainly did grow and improve over their 2010 season and it was a pleasure to watch. But there is plenty of room for continued growth and improvement in 2012. If the Angels happen to be in a more traditional New Year’s resolutions state of mind, I can certainly suggest a few resolutions they would do well to make for the coming season:
- Most importantly, everyone stay healthy! Take care of those hamstrings. Mind those groin muscles. Don’t let the walls get the best of quite so many arguments. Oh, and that freak plate jumping accident may have been a once in a lifetime thing and all, but how about we don’t jump on the plate anyway.
- Enough with the GIDPs already. This is a good resolution for everyone but Torii, and now Albert, I’m mainly looking at you.
- Think before you steal. Seriously. Thinking caps on and fully functioning. Successful base stealing is thing of beauty to behold and an Angels baseball staple. Caught stealing? Not so much on either count.
- Stop swinging for the fences every at bat, especially if that’s not really your swing. Watching all of you, I know this was not done to showboat. You were trying to kick start the offense which is admirable. But, more often than not, a nice solid line drive into the gap helps just as much as a homerun and always more than popping out.
- No runners left behind in 2012! Raise that RISP and more RBIs! This was a 2011 resolution, and you all definitely improved in this regard but what the heck? There’s always room for more improvement right?
- In 2011, you resolved to make the 8th inning a little less unnecessarily exciting. For 2012, let’s resolve to do the same for the 9th inning, shall we? Extra innings are only fun when we were already coming from behind and, while it’s certainly sweet of you to think of them, this economy has already given the antacid industry enough of a boost.
- Leave any woes from last season in the past. Everyone starts the 2012 season with a clean slate!
- You brought a lot of the old swagger and sense of fun back in 2011 and it was wonderful. Keep it up, please.
- I love seeing how Angels veterans always help out the rookies and the newbies and how quickly the rookies and newbies fit right in and really look forward to seeing it all over again in 2012.
Do you ever have one of those days where odd things seem to parallel your mood or activities? You think of a song and change the station on the radio only to find that song? Or a coworker randomly starts the same conversation you just had that morning with your mom? Does this ever seem to happen with the baseball team you follow? Saturday, was my husband’s birthday “observed” – as opposed to Tuesday, his actual birthday, when we have tickets for the company seats at the Big A, whoo hoo! We hosted a pizza party/game night in his honor, so I knew that, between the prep, the party and the clean-up, I wasn’t going be able to pay as much attention to the Angels play as I would like to. Little did I know the Angels themselves wouldn’t be paying much attention to their play this weekend. Yikes!
The baseball/life parallel was a beautiful thing on Friday night. We cleaned the house and I baked a dark chocolate cake. Making this cake is as much about technique as it is about the recipe. If you cream the butter and sugar long enough and take a sufficiently light, careful hand with the folding, you have an almost ethereally light, fluffy cake. Fold too quickly or too long, or outright mix the batter, and you develop the glutens to the point where you basically have bread. A nice calm no doubter of a game was just what the doctor ordered.
Melt the chocolate, blend, combine. Vernon Wells hits a homerun. Dry ingredients, buttermilk, whipped egg whites, gently fold. Ervin Santana going strong. Back until the cake is springy to the touch. Double play to finish the game. Howie to Aybar to Tumbo. Light that baby up. And now let’s finish mopping the floor. Excellent. Great Friday! And can I just say that between their humorous sign campaign response to the sign stealing accusations and their classy welcome for Vernon Wells, I love Blue Jays fans!
Saturday, however, the whole baseball/life parallel thing started to suck. Big time. Yes, I needed to chop and prep all of the pizza toppings. Yes, I needed to make the double vanilla, cream cheese icing for the cake and that involves whipping thick ingredients. Yes, Seth had to work so I was on my own and frustrations from the game lead me to chop and whip with greater…hmmm…shall we say efficiency. But come on Angels, I didn’t need that kind of help! I’m strong lady. I can chop onions, mushrooms, garlic and the like in a good mood, would have preferred to in fact.
I was concerned about this particular Jered Weaver start heading into the game anyway. He doesn’t pitch as well when circumstances muck up the rotation. Just like in May, when illness delayed his start, Weaver seemed to come back throwing too hard and with less control after his extra rest. And for a guy who lives by pinpoint precision against a hot hitting Blue Jays team on yet another day where the Angels own bats stood still? My recipes were on the right track. This recipe, however, was one for disaster. And Pineiro’s two innings on top of it all? Ouch. Clearly he’s not working anything out in the bullpen. Is he injured? Is it psychological? Would Dave Duncan consent to maybe call and whisper to him over the phone? I got nothin’. But then I had the birthday party and a house full of people, wine to pour, pizzas on the grill and a really great time, all perfect distractions from any thoughts of Angels.
So, Sunday this would have to end right? We capped off a thoroughly decadent late night with a thoroughly decadent morning – sleeping in until first pitch and then lounging on the sofa to watch a good match up with a breakfast of leftover prosciutto pizza with blue cheese, apples and caramelized onions. And the beginning was great. Torii Hunter’s homerun. Dan Haren was dealing. Peter Bourjos smokin’ down the base paths. But it was not to be. After the game I could see one more parallel. I had a really happy Saturday night, and I was feeling it Sunday morning to a certain extent, hence the lounging. But some of the Angels and Mike Scioscia, love him though I do, must have had an even happier Saturday night. How else do you explain Bobby and Trumbo’s base running in the 9th? Or Scioscia’s decision to go to Fernando Rodney in the 10th?
The parallels, however, have to end now. See, Seth and I are going to be enjoying pizza, cake and other party leftovers easily until Thursday, but the Angels better not be keeping too many leftovers from their weekend. Torii’s hitting streak. Bobby’s reemerging bat. The fielding perhaps. The fact that Jered Weaver is such a stud, that even after giving up eight runs in less than five innings on Saturday, he still has the lowest E.R.A. and the third lowest WHIP in the majors. These are good leftovers to keep. But the lack of clutch, the inconsistent bats and the scary bullpen moments? Leave them on the road. The Rangers are coming to town for a four game series and with this disastrous road trip the Angels are four games behind them. This isn’t the last stand of the season right here, right now but it sure is time to get serious about winning again.
Of course, I would have dearly loved to amend Ernie Banks’ famous quote to let’s win two for this post but, alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Not in the double header and not even in the series. Ouch. Seriously, did you see Sunday’s score?! Ouch!
With the Angels entering the All Star Break on such a roll, we didn’t really want to break just then. And then coming back from the break to Peter Bourjos moving from day to day status to the DL until the 23rd and Vernon Wells too ill to start? Suffice to say, it was not a recipe for success. However, it was not a guaranteed disaster either, despite the eventual outcome. No, the Angels old “friends”, lack of RISP and difficulty getting the third out, played a large roll here too. Whatever is going on, the Angels need to get it together by Tuesday, because Texas is coming to town and we can’t lose any more series in our division right now or things just went from hard to really darned difficult in a hurry.
But back to that double header part. Single admission. Double header. On Saturday in Oakland. Who could resist the old fashioned allure of a draw like that? Not this girl. Saturday I was at the Coliseum bright and early with my husband and a good friend from college, ready to continue the Bay Area Baseball Extravaganza with 18 innings of baseball…which turned into 19 by the end. It was a great day at the ballpark indeed. The weather was mild, our seats were excellent and we were seated in good company with just enough red nearby to not feel like we were cheering alone.
First, a note about the A’s ballpark. I heard horror stories before I headed up here and I have to say that’s really not fair. No one is ever going to put the Coliseum on their list of top 10 ballparks. It’s a no frills, mixed use facility, but those are the only problems with it. The park was clean, the seats were comfortable, most seats appear to have a good view of the field and we bought black and tans for only $8.25. Suffice to say no frills was far from uncomfortable. The no frills part does mean there weren’t a lot of unique regional specialities in the food court but we enjoyed polish sausage rolls, corn dogs and nachos – hey, it was a doule header. Nine hours at the ballpark. Don’t judge me. 😉 And even though the drawbacks of a mixed use facility are odd shaped seating and fields and still being able to see the lines from the previous week’s soccer match on the field, it’s still a baseball field, the most gorgeous shade of green in the world:
Besides, in Oakland, instances of the wave were blessedly few and far between and no one, seriously no one, bounced stupid beach balls around the stadium. Angels fans, take note. Please! Also, I don’t know what the players think of them, but as a fan I really liked seeing the old fashioned, on the field, open bullpens and dugouts for a change:
I took advantage of those on the field bullpens when I bought our tickets – on the field, 12 rows behind the mound in the Angels’ bullpen. It was a lot of fun to see the bullpen warmups up close:
It was also a lot of fun to have a good vantage for so many of the serious warm-ups, hanging out and general goofing around that goes on before a game. I’ve included more photos of that than game photos this time because, well, they’re fun and I don’t often have the opportunity:
And, of course, the games weren’t without their fair share of derring do. Jered Weaver was, well, Jered Weaver. Ervin Santana was shakey but kept it together. The bullpen was great. We had great hits, notably from Erick Aybar, Mark Trumbo, Vernon Wells and – yay! -from Mike Trout. We made some great plays too. With a few less stranded runners in the second game, who knows?:
If only the Angels had won the second game, it would have been a perfect day…and I’m sorry to say that as good a time as I had, I am not a good enough sport to have left the ballpark in perfectly high spirits after losing the second game. One great win, a near win and an amazing time at a double header should have been enough…but they weren’t quite, not for a perfectly gleeful mood. I still had a lot of fun, mind you. But it’s hard not to feel just a little but deflated even so. The A’s, or better yet the Angels, have to, have to, have to do this again next season. Have to! 🙂
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Outside of baseball, coming up to the Bay Area and hanging out with friends from college has a lovely feel of both fun in the here and now and nostalgia to it. I was definitely ready to start the rest of my life and move on from college once it was over, but those were four very fun years. Getting the band back together, as it were, for a few nights of fun however does remind me of a few things I miss, like the ability to spend long periods of time just hanging out…and that wonderful sense of possibility you feel when you know you’re smart and willing to work your butt off and life has yet to hand you any real beat downs…well, that, and the ability to be fully functional after three hours of sleep and 1/3 or so of a 1/5 of something tasty. 😉
Next Post: the Bay Area Baseball Extravaganza concludes with a trip to AT&T Park for a Giants vs. Dodgers game.
So the Marlins. Well they sure are nice and heating up now, aren’t they? This is just one more service we provide here at the Big A. Blah. But it did make for a pretty good game, really, and in the end the Angels were victorious…victorious and shocked out of their “okay we scored in one early inning, now we’re done for the game” habit so I am pretty happy out here in California. And Wow! Mark Trumbo is a beast, and rapidly becoming a clutch beast at that. I miss Kendrys, but Trumbo’s season is helping to keep me from completely pining away.
There are but two real flies in my ointment. Torii. Oh Torii! Speaking of beasts. If you haven’t seen the highlight reel yet, Torii Hunter made a spectacular Torii Hunter catch against the Marlins right center wall…running as hard as he could into the Marlins right center wall. This wasn’t a situation of Torii forgetting where the wall was. You could tell from his expression as he began his running jump into the wall, that he knew right where it was. But that was what was required to catch the ball. So he caught the ball, slammed into the wall and crumpled to the ground, writhing in pain, all while holding his glove up with the ball displayed so there was no doubt. He even argued with Mike Scioscia to stay in the game. Some nights, Chuck Norris wears Torii Hunter pajamas.
Understandably, Torii is now day to day. The x-rays were negative but he bruised up the same area he bruised going over the wall against the Yankees and took a pick-off attempt throw to in one of the earlier Marlins games. Hey, I know. Maybe we should ban outfield walls and pick-off throws, because players could get serious bruises and stuff… </ sarcasm > The other fly? We have several very consistent reliable arms in our bullpen but have also regained a few inconsistent arms through DL-necessitated player transactions and it’s starting to show. Something to work on. And now it’s back to California to conclude the Four Corners Road Trip against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium:
I am excited. Freeway Series games have such energy and are a ton of fun. My husband and I are making the trek out the 5 freeway for Saturday’s game. Tyler Chatwood will take the mound for the Angels and Hiroki Kuroda will take the mound for the Dodgers and I will take a ton of photos. Hmmm, two pitchers with chronic lack of run support. This could get interesting. We’re even supposed to meet fellow blogger Emma from Crzblue’s Dodger Blue World, so much fun is in store…provided my sore throat gets the message that it is on serious notice and at least improves. I see my future and it involves more black tea, honey and lemon juice. It is a truly vile, syrupy, acidic concoction whose vileness, alas, is only exceeded by its effectiveness…and did I mention that it makes me whine? 😉
Fan Hide and Seek Night at the Sun Life Stadium
For the last several seasons, I have been hearing how low attendance is at Marlins games, but I had to see it for myself to really understand it. I realize that it was a weeknight and they had recently lost 11 in a row, but I swear there were more fans in the field box sections bordering the infield alone, at Fenway Park at 2am near the end of that marathon, extra innings, multiple rain delayed game we played in Boston in early May. I was flabbergasted.
And I mean this in no way as mockery of Marlins fans. The Marlins fans that were at the game were loud and passionate sounding…and you could hear every word each individual fan was saying, the stadium was so empty. And I am sure there were many more Marlins fans watching the game on TV. No, this is just my way of saying, wow. That visual, as much as the years-long abandoned construction projects, blocks with multiple foreclosure vacancies and acquaintances in the double digits who have been unemployed for a year or more, reminded me that while we are seeing signs of economic improvement, we are still stuck in this thing and we are going to be for a long, long time.
Friday’s Angels looked much like Monday through Thursday’s Angels, only with much better fielding than on several of the previous days. While this was an improvement, it was not enough to yield a different result and they lost four to two. The Angels aren’t exactly getting killed on the field this season. Most of the losses have been close. But it does go to show that if you aren’t scoring many runs, then your pitching and fielding have to be absolute perfection game in and game out in order to compensate for it, and that just isn’t feasible for any team.
So, cut to last night’s seven to five victory over the Royals. What changed? Several very important things as it turns out:
The veteran bats came alive. I admit it. I was less than pleased when I saw Vernon Wells batting cleanup last night. But he waled on the ball, going three for four with nice solid base hits that moved runners around the bases and lead to Wells scoring a run each time he made it on base. Howie Kendrick also went three for four, with two RBIs. Bobby Abreu had a key hit and he and Torii Hunter worked counts into walks for needed bodies on base. I cannot tell you how nice it was to see all of them on in one game!
We put runners on base and scored runs in multiple innings. If you look at the typical 2011 Angels box score, the one to three runs scored by our heroes usually occur all in one inning, often early in the game and then they don’t score again. This has not been an effective strategy. Last night, the Angels scored four runs in the second – more than their game average already – added a fifth run in the third and then game back to put two runs on the board and regain the lead in the 8th.
Our fielding was stellar. The Angels fielding has been good for most of 2011, but last night it was just on fire and it was equally on fire all around the diamond. Double plays. Two beautiful plays at the plate, including one highlight reel play on a perfect throw from Torii in right. Great catches all over the field and heads up back up.
We stole four bases! Stolen bases is one of many areas where sabermetrics and I have to agree to disagree. A team doesn’t have to be loaded with power hitters to win as long as they know how to consistently manufacture runs. The Angels know how to manufacture runs. This is one of Mike Sciocia’s specialties as a manager. They just haven’t been doing it consistently. Last night, the final two runs were the result of situational hitting, stolen bases and smartly taking advantage of a few Royals mistakes. This is a great sign and hopefully the beginning of a re-emerging trend. Now let’s just hope Alberto Callaspo, who pulled a hamstring during a successful double steal, is able to move from being day to day back to an everday player soon. This injuries trend is one that can stop any day now.
Looking at the season strictly from a numbers standpoint, one win by no means offsets six straight losses, even when the rest of the division helpfully loses again. But I never think numbers tell the whole story, especially in early June. They’re more like a guideline, actually. 😉 This was a good solid win, a pretty win if you will, the end result of several missing pieces coming together for the Angels all at once while other team strengths continued. If the Angels can capitalize on the momentum from this game heading into interleague, I think they can start putting together enough wins for significance from any standpoint!
Friday (and Saturday!) Gourmet, Wine & Angels
This week’s Friday Night Ritual (wine, “gourmet” dinner and the Angels game) spread? Well, the chefs – read, Seth and I – were tired after a long week and indulged in a bit of lazy cooking: grilled turkey and cheese sandwiches with bacon and TJ’s guacamole (hence the lazy). Quick and dirty, but tasty. And the wine was amazing – Mitchella’s 2007 Cabernet which tastes of black currants and dark chocolate. Yum!
We were better rested on Saturday and grilled up a feast for the evening game. Tri-tip, rubbed with olive oil, crushed garlic, cracked black pepper and kosher salt, which my husband grilled to that perfect state where the meat has an amazing crust, but is a gorgeous medium to medium rare throughout when you slice into it. Tri-tip is an absolutely glorious cut of beef that I am sorry to say we Californians have not shared much with the rest of the country. Trust me, you are very sad. You just don’t know it. 😉 We served it with black beans, fresh tortillas and queso fresco and squash lightly sautéed with garlic and black pepper. Paired with Dead Nuts, Chronic Cellars luscious Zinfandel, Petite Sirah blend, it was a fantastic meal…and the Angels won, so if I were inclined to superstitions on that front I would say they prefer us to make more of an effort for the game, LOL.