[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*
My latest big project at work is updating and rewriting our entire course catalog and student handbook…in a little over a week. In the words of the late great Douglas Adams, I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they go flying by! Seriously though, I am a professional. I have everything planned and moving along on schedule, from the legal requirements review, to all of the rewriting, to the occasional panic attack over the deadline. And they said all of that late night paper writing in college wouldn’t be useful in the real world. Ha! (All joking aside though, I love my job and this is a pretty cool assignment, if a little intense.)
Needless to say, I am just a wee bit catalog and course description focused at the moment and Spring Training is all about learning and practicing, so you can see how they might start to jumble together a little in my brain. Watching the games and reading the articles coming out of Arizona, I think I can make a pretty good guess about a few of the spring session catalog’s course offerings at Mike Scioscia’s LAAU:
365. Advanced Astronomy: Okay, so only Mark Trumbo is actually putting the ball into orbit this spring (and Maicer Izturis and Brandon Wood once each) which is a little worrying but many key players are getting high marks with Trumbo, Bobby Wilson, Howie Kendrick, Peter Bourjos, Alberto Callaspo and Jeff Mathis (Really? Cool!) are all hitting over .300…still, after last season, I won’t consider this course successful until more of the starting lineup names are on this list.
342. Physics of Linear and Non Linear Trajectories: The starting rotation is…coming along. They started slow. They’re easing into it. I’ve seen great stuff and silly mistakes. The last appearances were better than the first. For the most part, their 2011 ST stats are comparable to or better than their ST stats in ’10 and ’09. Eh, it’s not great, but I’m just not worried here (except about the 5 spot). To my eye it looks like the rust is coming off on schedule.
450. Fahrenheit 451 and the Art of Closing the Game: Bullpen pitchers are often referred to as firemen. But what happens when your firemen occasionally accelerate or actually start the fires themselves? A lot of offseason dollars were spent wrestling with this “philosophical” delimma and at ST midterms the grades are all over the place. Many of the pitchers the Angels will look toward for relief are making good grades, including Scott Downs, Jordan Walden, Rich Thompson, Hisanori Takashi and Michael Kohn. As for the actual closer? Love Ray Bradbury though I do, Fernando Rodney needs to find some different reading material, stat…as does everyone who has been playing in the 8th and 9th innings for the last few games, ouch.
405. Field Biology: Quite the bell curve going on here. The starting outfield is A’s across the board. Howie and Erick Aybar are looking good at 2nd and short. A nice fight to set the curve at catcher looks promising. The corner infield positions, however, are cause for concern. Trumbo is working admirably hard to overcome a needs improvement at first, which is good because we may need him in April. But third? We’ll see how the final exams play out. As to the kids? The 8th and 9th innings lately are making me think the kids are not alright…at least, not yet.
201. Basic Anatomy (prerequisite for all students intending to declare pre-med): It is often said that the true indicator of a successful spring training is having all of your players make it to the regular season in good condition. So far, the Angels are passing with a B+, which we will elevate to an A as soon as Kendry Morales makes up last semister’s incomplete.
And what of Mike Scioscia’s special core seminars and colloquia, the ice-breaking, team-building and often hilarious “research assignments” he doles out to rookies and veterans alike for morning meeting presentation? Well, sadly Ostrich Wrangling 101 does not appear to be among the course offerings for 2011. However, the following classes are moving right along towards ST midterms:
204. Social Networking: When young Mike Trout ostensibly broke the rookies should not speak until spoken to rule, Jared Weaver took it upon himself to encourage the lad to share his gift for socializing with the fans instead…by posting his phone number on the scoreboard during a spring training game with an invitation to fans to “call Mike Trout with all of your baseball questions.”
305. Trickle Down Economic Theory: So, apparently, Vernon Wells has a rather large contract. Were any of you aware of this? I’m not sure the news has covered this particular detail. At any rate, Wells has been nominated to take the rookies out to dinner and Scioscia has stuck him with the tab after several team meals. Clearly this is a popular course. Sign up early.
515. Artisan Leather Craftsmanship: (this is my favorite by the way) minor league pitchers Matt Meyer and Ryan Chaffee have been assigned a special project, designing a catcher’s glove and fielder’s mitt from scratch and then using them during batting practice. Reporters and players tell us the gloves are still in the prototype stage.
The Angels appear to be excelling at some of these classes and in need of a few visits to the campus learning center for others. As we all know, the specific marks you get in school don’t have much of an impact on your overall performance once you enter the “real world” so we’ll have to wait until May or so before we really know the results of all of that schooling. It will be interesting to see who has learned their lessons…and how jealously Mike Trout guards his new cell phone number.