When I get sad, I stop being sad and be AWESOME instead! True story. – Words to live by from the immortal Barney Stinson
So games 2 and 3 of the Angels opening series didn’t go exactly the way we had planned…or, you know, anything remotely like we had planned. Opening Night was pretty darned awesome! And more of an indication, I think, of what the season will be like than a pair of extremely early season games where, while this was not the only issue, two ace quality, workhorse pitchers were working through a bit of the old dead arm.
So, the morals of this weekend are:
- Don’t be sad, be awesome instead – and this goes triply for the fans.
- Dead arms and early season fielding jitters will pass of their own accord, as will some of the plate issues. And even with those plate issues, the offense already looks better than that of the last two years. But, even so, let’s stop swinging a) for the fences and b) at stupid pitches.
- Relax and just play your game.
- Clearly Seth and I need to be at these games. I mean, hello? They won when we were in the stands. (Of course, I am completely joking about that last point. Of course. *whistles innocently* But if say, anyone extra superstitious in a position to just happen to let a pair of season tickets fall off a truck and into my hot little hands felt the need to take me seriously, who would I be to say no? And I would like to state, for the record yet completely apropos of nothing of course, that said theoretical tickets would not have to be Diamond Club, or anything fancy like that. Quite the contrary, we would be perfectly happy continuing to root, root, root for the home team from mere mortals’ seats, so long as they’re in decent camera range. 😉)
*relieved sigh* Well, that’s out of the way. Now let’s all concentrate on the sheer Angels awesomeness we are sure to see sooner rather than later this month. And, to get you into that frame of mind, I give you a visual recap of the complete awesomeness that was Opening Day…and if you think I have used variants on the word awesome a few too many times in this post, I ask you, what would Barney Stinson say to you? Uh huh. Thought so. ;):
Opening Days tend to have the same ingredients MLB-wide – the giant flag covering the outfield, the local military color guard, the players from both teams lining the base paths as their names are called, the military flyover and the VIPs throwing out the first pitch. But that certainly is not to say that every Opening Day is the same, or that these details aren’t special. In fact, the universality of this format is part of what makes it special, lending the affair a ceremonial, special occasion air like a wedding or a graduation. And, much like the parties involved in those examples, each team manages to make the details their own:
The energy from the crowd was absolutely unreal. I have been to Opening Days before and I have been to well attended games before, but this was something completely different. And while I am sure that many in the stands were brand new Angels fans, brought to the stadium by the hype and excitement of the Angels well publicized off season acquisitions, I’m not going to join in the griping about that. I say, welcome. Come join us. Get to know the team and stick around for the seasons to come. However the rankings fallout by season’s end, this is going to be fun!
So, the game itself. Just how good was the game? It was so good that I was hoarse until evening on Saturday. So good that I kept thinking Saturday was Sunday. No joke. That first regular season ballpark experience of the year was so much fun and excitement packed into one game that it seemed to me like it must be an entire Saturday, not just a Friday night. And here are a few of the reasons why:
And, just because this is my blog, here’s some silliness too:
And if that isn’t enough awesome to get you in the right frame of mind for the next few series, just wait. The Angels will get you there eventually. I’m sure of it.
Tuesday evening was clear in Los Angeles. Clear, balmy and gorgeous. Perfect weather for a ball game! As we headed out to Dodger Stadium for game two of the traditional Freeway Series before the regular season begins, I was filled with nostalgia. I remember bouncing around my parents’ house with my sister, waiting for our dad to come home from work so we could head out for the Freeway Series. This was long before Interleague Play, back when this was the only time each season that my father’s Dodgers would play his father’s – and now my – Angels, and we tried to attend one of the games each year. I remember Dodger ball caps and Mom making sure we packed our jackets. I remember keeping score in the pages in the program with my loopy, little girls’ handwriting and I can almost taste the salty, sweet combination of rollo candy bar pieces and ballpark peanuts I preferred back in the day – clearly this blogger was a fiend for salted caramel long before it became a thing. See, Mom and Dad weren’t big on us eating candy bars – smart Mom and Dad! – but on game nights, my sister and I each got to pick out one from 7-11 to enjoy during the game.
And it was in this frame of mind, jonesing hard for a live baseball game, and smiling with happy memories, that we arrived in Chavez Ravine. The view from historic Dodgers Stadium is stunning. From the vista over Downtown Los Angeles on the 110 freeway side of the parking lot, to the view of the mountains behind the centerfield wall, to gates of the stadium itself, it is nonstop pretty.
Relishing the feeling of just being at the ballpark – and the view from my stylists’ season seats in the second row of the upper deck right behind the plate! – I took a few photos of the warm ups while the light was still good. It is not surprising to see Dodgers and Angels hanging out chatting before the game. How many players have moved along the 5 freeway switching the red hat for the blue one or vice versa? How many sets of brothers have we had playing against one another in these match ups? Exactly.
Of course, then the Dodgers took the field and they read the lineups. Albert Pujols at first. Ervin Santana on the mound with his trusty catcher Bobby Wilson. Good, good. All very good. Alberto Callaspo at third, Erick Aybar at short, Torii Hunter in right. Very good. Bobby Abreu in left, Vernon Wells in center and Maicer Iztuis at second??? Okay, so we’re playing with the B+ team today. Ho hum. And, sad to say, I knew this was going to be one of those Spring Training games where we didn’t push very hard just from that fact alone. I’m not saying the B+ team can’t win games, just that in an exhibition game starting with the B+ team on the field (no Fleet Pete in center, no white hot Kendrick and Trumbo bats in the lineup in and around Pujols’) when you know that, as the innings progress, we’re going to switch to the B, B- and C+ teams for practice? Exactly.
Oh well. Being at the ballpark is seldom if ever a bad time. The group of season ticket holders around my stylist’s seats is really nice. We told them not to mock Sue too hard over our red hats as she had already given me plenty of grief over them and that got some laughs. They all greeted one another with a cheery “Happy New Year!” in honor of the new season. I love it! And there were a few a great plays to enjoy even as parts of the complete A team languished in the dugout.
What do you want, it was a weird little exhibition game. They played nine full innings even though the Dodgers had already won, just like the day before when the Angels had already won, because that’s what the managers wanted. The Dodgers were even nice enough to let the pinch hitting Kendrys Morales bat a second time, calling him the DH that time which so funny over the National League speakers. That’s why I say, as much as this is a rivalry, it’s a relatively sibling like one. Eventually we saw more of the A team come back out to join the rookies, though I must say in a Regular Season game I would prefer to have both Trumbo and Pujols’ bats in the lineup rather than having Trumbo replace Pujols.
Loss and all, it was still a fun evening and a nice little tide me over until Friday’s season opener. And while I do love Angels Stadium more, we certainly don’t have anything like this view:
[The Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer] claimed to produce the widest possible range of drinks personally matched to the tastes and metabolism of whoever cared to use it. When put to the test, however, it invariably produced a plastic cup filled with a liquid which was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. – Douglas Adams, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe
If you think about it, once you get past the excitement and spectacle of actual, live ballplayers doing their thing on a real baseball diamond during that first broadcast game, Spring Training bears a strong resemblance to Arthur Dent’s doomed quest to get the machine to produce the perfect cuppa…or even a halfway decent cuppa. The end result is something which is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike baseball. Spring Training is practice and working through the rust. It’s a try out and a breaking in, a stretching out, loosening up and learning to play together. Spring Training is a lot of different things, all of them important but, as much as I find myself longing for it in January as a more palatable alternative to nothing, it is not baseball, not really. It’s more like proto-baseball. The real thing is a few days off yet.
The annual Freeway Series exhibition games back at home in Anaheim and Los Angeles, however, are almost an exception to this rule. Yes, the ghosts of September Call-ups future are still playing, most of the starters are flipped out before the 8th inning, and there are a few odd rules – in this case that a full nine innings, no more, no less will be played. (Ten shalt thou not play, neither play thou eight and one half, excepting that thou then proceed to nine. Eleven is right out…*snerk*) But even so, the games are played on the Angels and Dodgers Regular Season turf, at night. And they typically draw an approximation of a Regular Season crowd. This is closer to real baseball. And with the longstanding rivalry between the two teams – much like siblings who probably really love each other…deep, deep down…probably – adding a certain passion lacking in your typical ST game, this is closer still to real baseball and a tradition I have seldom missed since I was a child.
Hey, it may not be precisely real, but it’s certainly fun. The Angels took the first game this evening and the first five innings or so were a pretty good game. Dan Haren looked sharp, so did the Dodgers starter Jamey Wright. A solid Trumbomb here, a spectacular Matt Kemp catch there. *shakes fist at Kemp* A good game…but there were the errors, and then the abrupt pitching changes on the Dodgers side, and before you know it the starters were being pulled for the kids, the score deficit grew and grew (as it most likely would not have during a Regular Season game), and that Spring Training game feel became inescapable. Oh well, so it’s only mostly like a Regular Season game. But we only have two more of these, which promise to be equally fun for most of the innings, and then the real games begin! *boingy, boingy, boingy*
So, everyone’s getting really excited about the first Regular Season games starting in just a few hours, right? I mean, we’re all getting up extra early, with elaborate brunch, beer and calling in late to work plans so we can watch the games, right? *crickets* Yeah, that about sums it up. While I like the idea of exhibition games in Japan and other countries, I think that having the Mariners and A’s play two regular season games there is just ho hum. The timing will always be awkward, both in terms of fitting the games into the Regular Season calendar and in terms of the games themselves taking place at a time when the teams’ U.S. fans can easily watch. For this reason, I doubt MLB will ever get teams that are predicted to contend to participate and so what we’re left with is just blah. Two games stuck in a weird sort of baseball limbo. They count towards the regular season record, so they’re not quite exhibition games. But most folks aren’t paying any attention and the games are occurring completely outside the Regular Season calendar, well before the official Opening Day on April 4th, so it’s almost as if they aren’t really Regular Season games either, leaving me for one wondering, Why bother?
I’ll tell you what is exciting though, Magic Johnson buying the Dodgers. Ding Dong, the McCourts are gone. The wicked McCourts are gone! Yes, I root for the Halo’d ones down in Anaheim, but I’m an L.A. girl raised going to games in Chavez Ravine by a Dodger lovin’ family. As long as we aren’t specifically in the middle of a Freeway Series, I will always have a soft spot for the boys in blue. Besides, I like to think that baseball fans everywhere were rooting for the Dodgers to come out on top of all this – Come on Giants fan cousins of mine, you know you were rooting for them too…come on. Hey. That’s not the gesture you really want to be making. Seriously, knock that off right now or I’m telling your mom. See, that’s much better. Don’t you feel better now? Ummm…never mind. 😉
Anyway, moving right along…Magic Johnson is a shrewd businessman who has managed to create businesses that are simultaneously good for the community, good for local sports and entertainment, and also profitable. And for those of you who don’t have a lot of experience with business and politics in L.A., trust me, that’s no easy feat. Plus, Magic Johnson has been an L.A. guy by choice since his retirement. I see him as the kind of owner who will cultivate a good team on the field (and it’s not like he doesn’t have plenty of good players to work with already), while pleasing fans and leaving the important traditions intact. At least, this is what I hope will happen…even though I still hope they lose every single Freeway Series game. Hey, Dodgers soft spot, Angels heart. My goodwill is extensive, but not boundless. 😉
Which brings me to news even more exciting than that: Kendrys is hitting over .600 since his Spring Training debut and continues to see regular playing time, and I saw my first lit Halo of 2012 driving through Anaheim the other night. Okay, so it’s only a lit exhibition Halo, but still. Lit. Halo! The Regular Season – the real Regular Season – is so close I can taste it!
Driving down the 605 freeway to work today, what wondrous sight should greet my none-too-thrilled-to-be-office-bound-on-such-a-gorgeous-day eyes but this stupendous new billboard! What a lovely Valentine for the fans! Okay, so I actually telecommute three days a week so this billboard could have been up since last Wednesday night and I would have been none the wiser. But I saw it for the first time today, so I’m going with ‘lovely Valentine.’ Besides, this billboard is so much less ephemeral than roses, doesn’t require one to make reservations or deal with crowds and won’t take up valuable bed real estate unlike a teddy bear or other stuffed animal. It’s perfect! 😉
There are several of these billboards along my commute, a small series of them apparently, because another one a little further down the way had the same design but said “Now Playing” with the Angels logo for the A again. Passing the first one made me giddy with the reminder of the approaching baseball season. Passing the second one made me smile a little wider still. Passing the third one made me swell with pride over my team…and then frown a little as I started to question the whole ad campaign. Are we really only advertising Albert Pujols this season? Seriously?
Not that I’m complaining about featuring Pujols on billboards. I mean, he’s only the best or one of the best, depending on who you talk to, player in the game. And it’s not like he designed the ad campaign, or even requested such treatment. It’s just…well…we have other players too. Other wonderful players who are either already stars in their own right or on their way to becoming so. Guys who kept the team in contention last season right up until the end even though they ultimately fell short of the mark. You know, Jered Weaver. Dan Haren. Mr. Ervin “No hitter – I finally got that Cleveland beast off my back” Santana. Torii Hunter. And, heck, after last season Mark Trumbo. I’d like to see some of these guys on billboards too.
Of course, this is hardly unique to the Angels. Most teams who land a big free agency signing do the same thing. The whole Dodgers Mannywood campaign comes most immediately to my mind, perhaps because those billboards were in the same places on my commute as these new Angels billboards not so very long ago. And I am sure you all could provide me with quite an array of additional examples. But the fact that this is a common, traditional ad campaign style doesn’t make it a good one, in my opinion. To me the real story here isn’t just that Albert Pujols is an Angel now. For all that he is amazing, Pujols couldn’t be a baseball team of one if the rest of the team was ineffective. No, the real story is that Albert Pujols is donning an Angels uniform alongside our existing players, that he has the potential to take an already good team to the next level.
I would prefer to see several different individual player billboards – half of them Albert by all means, but the other half featuring a handful of others. Then, as you actually hit Anaheim, I would like to see a billboard or two with all of the featured players on it together. I think that billboard campaign would tell a more powerful story. …Then again, what do I know about copy, design and marketing? Oh, yeah. Never mind. 😉
Well, the Mariners started workouts this weekend at any rate. But everyone else’s pitchers and catchers are reporting this coming weekend, the Angels on Sunday. Yay! Yay! Only 16 more days until they start playing live baseball! Okay, it will be rusty, working the kinks out, preseason, completely unofficial live baseball but I think we can all agree that after several months of nada, live is the only important word in that sentence…for a few weeks at least, until we grow tired of it and beg for the regular season to begin. But, for the time being, I’ll just sit here bouncing in my chair. The Angels have not released their Spring Training broadcast schedule yet, but I can figure some of it out based on the Dodgers posted broadcast schedule and, wow, live Angels baseball is on the horizon. The prospect makes me giddy. *boingy boingy, boingy*
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So, remember what I was saying about this being the Hot Stove year of the mystery team? Did anyone see Oakland coming on the Yoenis Cespedes deal? Seriously, anyone? Way to go Oakland! Um…I mean…I know we’re rivals and all that, a rivalry I especially enjoy I might add, and I really want the Angels to beat you soundly every single time our two teams meet, but how about the AL West this season? It’s really nice to be an oft discussed, and with respect no less, division again. It’s been an exciting offseason and I see even more exciting results coming this season. Thank you for continuing the crazy streak of key signings. I mean, seriously. AL East who? They still play baseball out there? 😉 And on the NL East front, I’m sure “AL West” is now a four letter word as far as the Miami Marlins are concerned.
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The Angels need a Truck Day! I mean, of course they do have one in the sense that there are trucks that staff must pack full of all of the necessary Spring Training goodies and at some point these trucks do leave the Big A bound for Tempe, AZ. Some fans may even be aware of the date and show up to see the trucks off for all I know. But this is the extent of any Angels Truck Day and that’s only if that last part is anything more than theoretical. I know that I live in L.A. instead of Orange County but, really, if there were a big celebration to see the trucks off, I would have heard something. And a big celebration is what I want – crowds of fans gathering to cheer the end of the offseason, speeches from VIPs, a sort of Angels state of the union if you will, open gift shops with some of the newer 2011 items that haven’t officially debuted yet on sale early and, heck maybe even an opportunity to taste that first ballpark hot dog of the year.
You know, I want what a lot of other teams have. Is that too much to wish for? Oh, and while we’re at it, a multiple day extravaganza of a Fan Fest would be nice too, you know, like other teams have. And, and…basically I wish this was more of a baseball town. Yes, we have two teams in close proximity in the general Los Angeles/Orange County/west end of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties area both of whom routinely fill, nearly sell out or outright sell out, the considerable number of seats in their large stadiums…well, both of them, when folks aren’t justifiably livid with the McCourts that is. But ticket sales do not a baseball town make, at least not on their own. Crazy passionate bleeding team colors fans make a town a baseball town. And while I would argue that the Angels and the Dodgers boast just as many crazy passionate bleeding team colors fans as the next team (check out the blogs if you have any doubt), we just don’t seem to get credit for that.
My unscientific but credible theory on this subject is that our percentages get skewed and diluted by the sheer enormity of the total population out here. Yes, many baseball teams throughout the U.S. reside in populous counties, several of them in counties sufficiently populous to land on the top 15 most populous counties list according to the last census. However, the four California counties I just mentioned (L.A., Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside) plus San Diego to our immediate south make up one third of the top 15 most populous U.S. counties list. We have a lot of people out here, which I think means that we have just as many diehard fans, but significantly more casual fans and non fans (not that I’m complaining about them, enjoy the game however you like) than other places and the combined impression that creates is not one of a crowd that would appreciate, say for example, a Truck Day. Or, maybe it’s just So Cal’s notoriously too hip for the room attitude keeping us from having nice things yet again? 😉
As an Angels fan, I am used to not seeing my team on the national radar – sports news covers or features, popular culture, public awareness, generic poll via number of ball caps seen in random unexpected places, or otherwise. This is hardly a gripe – actually, I kind of like it – it’s just an observation. As I’ve mentioned before, I was raised a Dodger fan. And the Dodgers, while they aren’t the Yankees or, more recently, the Red Sox, are frequently on the national radar…not always for good reasons, sad to say, especially lately, but still, they’re there.
When you want to set a scene as being definitively in Los Angeles, you reference the Dodgers or show a glimpse of the stadium in a scan of the scenery. Dodgers Stadium isn’t as frequently filmed as the Hollywood sign, nor as oft destroyed in Hollywood natural disasters as the Capital Records building or those darned Angelyne signs, but it’s there never the less. (Yes, the Angels had top billing in that one movie but, seriously, I’m trying to forget that one. 😉 Remember the Naked Gun, by all means, but please forget that other one…er…ones, apparently. I stand corrected. See comments below.) You are likely to see Dodgers caps in random places, ditto shirts and other paraphernalia. Yankees gear is more common, but you get the general idea. I grew up thinking this was normal attention for your average baseball team, even though fans of 25-ish other teams could have told me otherwise. Now I get it. Sightings of Angels on the cover of, the TV screen of, or head or back of anything or anyone becomes increasingly rare the further you get from the general Orange County/Los Angeles area. This is normal attention for your average baseball team. And as a direct result, any random Angels sighting – National news feature, gear seen in a movie, ball cap on the head of a random fan in, say, Olathe, Kansas, never fails to give me a giddy little thrill.
Needless to say, those giddy little thrills have been quite the frequent occurrence since, oh, say December 8th. Go figure. Signing two of the biggest free agent names in the same day will do that for a team. And the best part is, they aren’t getting any less giddy or thrilling as they continue to multiply. So, imagine my delight this morning in the doctor’s office, when I spied this bright, shiny treasure:
My Angels on the cover of ESPN. Yes, it was bright and shiny. I swear, it glowed like Excalibur in the Disney cartoon. Why do you ask? And, yes, I am probably the only baseball blogger who didn’t already know the Angels were on the cover. January has been quite the suck for me. But not knowing made the thrill just that much more giddy-making. No, I don’t see this getting old anytime soon. While I liked the homey feel of non-attention, I could certainly grow to appreciate attention.
Random Thoughts on the article itself:
- Jerry Dipoto is a rockstar. Mind you, this is just a confirmation of my existing opinion of the guy, but, yeah. Total. Rockstar. However these signings turn out – and I certainly hope it’s a meets or exceeds expectations kind of scenario – he’s proven that he has the negotiating skills, brains, guts and personality to do well by the Angels for years to come.
- It really is interesting how very normal typical player concerns are when they’re deciding which offer to accept. Yes, I do understand, it’s much more about the money than anyone is going to actually come out and say. But even when you boil that down, it’s typical job stuff. Compensation. Job security – length of contract and no-trade clauses. Will my family be happy? Will I get to do the specific job I like to do? Will I like my boss/coworkers? etc…
- Except, of course, for C.J. Wilson whose pros and cons list was, between the screenwriting opportunities and possible sponsorship of his racing team, unique to say the least. Maybe it’s because I was hot and cold on the rumors that Angels were going after him in the first place? But whenever I watch or hear an interview with Wilson where he talks more about his – incredibly interesting, I’ll admit – hobbies than about baseball, I am torn between thinking “Wow, what an intriguing, well rounded guy” and “Nooo! He’s not Barry Zito. He’s not Barry Zito. He is. NOT. Barry Zito.”
- The part that made me laugh? One call from Albert Pujols apparently pulled Arte Moreno away from a movie date with his wife. They were in the middle of watching Melancholia. Okay, I like arty, abstract movies but please tell me that Arte wasn’t thanking Albert in more ways than one as soon as he saw the mighty bat’s name displayed on his cell phone. Oh, darn. Whoops. Sorry, honey. I am so disappointed to miss this boring drivel…er…I mean stirring dialog, but I gotta take this.
- Apparently a random woman reading ESPN magazine in a doctor’s office is still considered an oddity. I got a literal thumbs up from one gent when I picked up the magazine and several odd looks from other parties. Of course, the fact that I took a photo of the cover with my phone may have had something to do with that. I suppose that could be considered odd in some circles. 😉
- Did I mention that Jerry Dipoto is a rockstar?