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!
I have been absent from all things baseball for a few days, since shortly after things became their most exciting for my team. We had a death in the family, my cousin’s husband. I do not relate this detail here for sympathy – it is very sad, but we’ve all been there and then some. But it is the context of the story. I had planned to spend Saturday at the Big A taking in the spectacle of the press conference. At the time I made my plans it seemed very important, indeed. But once we received that call, well, you understand. I spent the day at the funeral instead without a second thought for the press conference and then it was difficult to collect these thoughts into something cohesive, but I think I have finally hit on what I want to say:
Baseball is magic.
Seriously. Magic. I know, I know. I say “magic” and instantly you start thinking any number of fanciful thoughts having little to do with a bat and a ball. Santa Claus? Disney? Perhaps the darker magic of the Brothers Grimm, pre-Disnification? Well, Santa Claus inspires a lot of seasonal fun for the kiddies. Disney can imbue a child-like sense of wonder in most of us. And those brothers Grimm (being very grim) certainly send the imagination some deliciously scary places. But baseball? Well, it’s the real deal. Magic plain and simple.
So much so in fact, that baseball is even more magical than the everyday OhMyGod!Wow!!DidThatJustHappen! magic that occurs on the field. Baseball is the thing my Dad and I can always banter about over email, no matter how stressful life has become. Ding, Dong the McCourt is Gone! Congratulations on the Pujols signing – this might put your guys over the top. As long as SciosciaMike can keep the pitchers away from beer and chicken, anything is possible, LOL. And suddenly we’re both smiling.
Baseball is the universal ice-breaker for catching up at extended family gatherings. Oh, sure, you have a clue what your scores of cousins are up to these days via FaceBook. But start talking about trades, awards and an Oh My God! World Series and suddenly everyone is lively, chatting warmly and laughing together like they’ve never spent much time apart.
Baseball is the comfortable thing we could discuss before and after the funeral, calming and soothing minds in between tears and hugs and sharing memories with my cousin and her daughters.
Baseball is the one guaranteed safe thing my sister and I can always talk about no matter how on the outs we may be. Another new lineup for SciosciaMike, really? So is Loney actually going to hit the ball this time? I don’t know, is Mathis? Touche.
See what I mean? Magic. The real deal.
Baseball is hardly life or death. It’s a game. A bit of fun. A distraction. It isn’t going to cure cancer or inspire world peace. And finally getting to savor that press conference off of the DVR didn’t make everything all better, not the recent family sadness, nor any of the other stressors I’ve been dealing with. But it made me smile. It relaxed me. It lifted my mood and put me in a better frame of mind to face the week. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.
It all started with an orange speedo…or rather the search for one, as in “Mike Napoli Orange Speedo.” No, I wasn’t the one looking for this, but I started getting search engine hits using this phrase and had to laugh. Initially, I assumed that the legends of Mike Napoli, man’s man, ladies’ man, man about town (gee, can you tell I’ve been watching Down with Love? 😉 ) were finding new inspiration in Texas. But eventually a hash tag clued me in to the fact that this was a Twitter thing. Apparently Naps has been ending most of tweets with #orangespeedo. Color me amused…and also clueless so, hey, if any Ranger fans in the know would like enlighten us, feel free. 🙂
Tracking down the story behind this goofy micro-trending topic got me thinking about Twitter in general and baseball players who tweet in particular. We’ve all heard the wonderful stories of the relaxed atmosphere fans enjoyed around the ballpark during baseball’s Golden Age, how baseball players and fans used to casually interact more regularly. My grandfather and his friends used to shag balls for the minor league Angels during batting practice. My father-in-law remembers being among the random kids who were invited down onto the field to play catch with one another and some of the ballplayers before Hollywood Stars games. Now those were minor league teams, at the time the only baseball we had in Los Angeles, but I have heard similar stories about major league teams on the lucky-to-have-them east coast. The father of a friend and a few of his buddies were occasional Brooklyn Dodgers bat boys, not because they were anyone special. Quite the opposite in fact: because they were neighborhood kids who hung around Ebbets all the time.
It’s not as if the average fan developed close, personal friendships with baseball players in the Golden Age but there was definitely a greater feeling of closeness than, say, I experienced in my youth. Fans got to learn a little bit about the players as people from their own small interactions with them, or from a friend or family member’s interactions with them. When I went to ballgames as a child and a teen, the players were certainly nice to the fans, with plenty of smiles for the kids especially. But I definitely envy the chattier atmosphere enjoyed by earlier generations.
I think Twitter and other social media brings a little bit of this closeness back to the player/fan relationship. As with the Golden Age, the average fan is not going to develop a close personal friendship with his or her favorite players over Twitter. But, depending on how they choose to tweet, we can learn a little bit more about them as people. A lot of it is every bit as unentertaining as our thoughts are to other people. But some of it is sweet, funny or interesting. Mike Napoli and Torii Hunter still talking a little trash over who is the reigning dominoes king of the Angels clubhouse – my money’s on Torii ;). Howie Kendrick has taken up photography and, like CJ Wilson, occasionally shares his work with the fans on Twitter. And so on. In a way, this is even more casual and relaxed than what our grandparents experienced…just not in person.
Sadly, just as insurance and safety concerns along with fans venturing to the ballpark in greater and greater numbers brought an end to the casual chats and games of catch of the Golden Age, easy Twitter access to ballplayers is bound to come to an end at some point. As more and more people get Twitter accounts and begin following their teams and others, instances of jokes or comments take out of context or just plain taken the wrong way will increase, the occasional truly inappropriate breach of clubhouse confidentiality will occur, or something else will happen (perhaps even an outright MLB rule requiring such 😦 ) that will lead to players keeping their public accounts very bland and public relations-ish indeed, or shutting them down altogether. So it’s best to enjoy it while it lasts. Just think, eventually our grandchildren will listen to our glory days stories and exclaim in a mixture of awe and disbelief “You mean they really used to tease each other and crack jokes and post their favorite workout mixes and stuff right there on the Internet for everyone to see?! Wow, you were so lucky!” …you know, after we re-explain such quaint technologies as the Internet and Twitter to them for the 14th time.
- From a baseball standpoint, Saturday and Sunday were as heartening as Friday was disappointing. Outside of baseball, the whole weekend rocked. I didn’t bring a single project home from work this weekend. Go team, me! Okay, I work from home for half the week so, technically, I didn’t bring a single project out of my computer bag for the weekend, but you get the general idea.
- Jered Weaver, fresh off the plane from his grandfather’s funeral in Oregon (My sincere condolences on your loss. Losing a grandparent is extremely difficult and the bruise on your heart may fade, but never leaves.) worked his heart out on the mound for five innings on Saturday but his control was, understandably, far from his usual precision. It was a thing of beauty to see the rest of the team, offense, defense and bullpen alike, pick him up and get Jered the win. It was an ugly win to be sure, but the guy’s had so many pretty losses that he more than deserved this.
- Food Truck Wars alumni Nom Nom Truck, Grill ‘Em All and the Grilled Cheese Truck too? Believe the hype, they really are worth spending 45 minutes in line. They fact that in doing so we also contributed to a fundraiser for the local high school band? Pretty cool way to kill a Saturday afternoon.
- Joel Pineiro looked amazingly like…well…Joel Pineiro on Sunday and I cannot tell you how gratifying it was to see that. My hat’s off to him for working his way through his troubles with such a good attitude and I hope this is a sign that his rough times are over.
- Holy Angels offense, Batman! Torii and Aybar and Trumbombs. Oh. My! Not to mention hard, clutch knocks from Bourjos, Callaspo, Conger and Wells! Keep it up, gentlemen. This is how we win ballgames.
- With 25 homeruns to his name, Mark Trumbo is getting closer to matching and perhaps surpassing Tim Salmon’s franchise rookie homerun record of 31 from 1993. Whether or not he gets there, that’s pretty darned slick. Go Trumbo!
- As distasteful as it was, I actually rooted for the Red Sox this weekend…which is probably why they lost. Stinky Red Sox. Hmmm. Do you think they know that my love was merely a matter of temporary convenience? *nods* It’s the only rational explanation. 😉
- While my husband tends to see the Aybar as half Gilligan (serious props to True Grich for the all too often spot-on nickname), I tend to see the Aybar as half highlight reel. But there’s no denying he could go either way in a given game. Flip a coin.
- Midnight Vineyards Malbec is an excellent tater tots wine…yeah, I cracked up typing that too, hear me out. Inspired by our food truck adventures, we made gourmet burgers on Sunday, topped with blue cheese, mounds of sautéed mushrooms and a veritable tossed salad of baby greens, red onions and balsamic vinaigrette. We paired it with tater tots accompanied by curry ketchup and siricha ketchup dipping sauces. So this was a wine worthy meal…that also happened to prove the truth of the initial statement.
- I’m going to the game on Monday! It’s the perfect way to cap off the last weekend of summer. And I wound up getting field box seats so cheaply, I’m almost embarrassed. Thanks guys, but this better just be just a holiday weekend vacation thing, because although my last post is still true and this will take work and luck, we’re still in this!
Jered Weaver and the Angels reach a 5-year, $85 million deal
Major sports news in 2011 breaks more like an avalanche than like the smooth flowing waves of the pre-social media days. It starts with a small flurry of tweets and rumors that quickly progress into larger and more detailed blasts from other forums, Facebook, independent blogs, insider blogs, press blogs and then the full crescendo of completely confirmed new articles comes crashing down. And all of this occurs 24 hours or more before the official press conference, which these days serves more as an opportunity to get feelings and impressions about that which everyone already knows, takes place.
When this particular avalanche began, I was on my way back down the highways from Yosemite, ecstatic about the Angels perfectly timed sweep of the Orioles, contemplating everything I needed to do to get ready for Monday morning and it just didn’t register. But as the avalanche grew Sunday night? Well, have you ever seen a grown woman restraining herself with effort from turning cartwheels in the living room? Yeah, it was like that. If I thought I was excited about Angels news earlier in the day, well that was nothing compared to how I felt by evening time.
So, Jered Weaver is now an Angel until 2016, with a full no-trade clause to boot. *Cue happy dances and shouts of joy* I’m not going to say I never worried about him leaving the Angels, because as my blog will attest, that isn’t true. But the full no-trade clause confirms my long held suspicion, as my blog will also attest, that Weaver wants to stay in Anaheim as much as the fans and the organization want him to. Everything I’ve ever read about Weaver says he’s a Los Angeles/Orange County boy through and through. He grew up here. He went to college here. He still lives near his folks, who come to many of his games. I’ve gotten the impression from interview snippets that he’s known his fiancé and many of his best friends since high school or longer. He has been an Angel since day one, and although signing the initial contract with him after the draft took some doing, he never once indicated he wanted to look at playing anywhere else. This has always charmed me about him. I know I feel the same way about continuing to live in the same county I grew up in, near family and old friends. A lot of us do. It’s alI very human and relatable…and I hoped that a) I was reading between the lines correctly and b) this meant that if the front office didn’t muck things up, Weaver would work with them to stay in an Angels uniform.
I had my concerns. The Angels are known for being pennywise and pound foolish about contracts. Weaver’s agent Scott Boras is well known to prefer his clients to go through lucrative free agency bidding wars and players often like to test the free agency waters themselves to get an idea of what’s out there. But in the end, the hometown kid, who just happens to be one of the best pitchers currently in the game, stays with the hometown team that really appreciates and needs his killer stuff and all is right with my baseball world! I know many Angels fans were miffed when the organization didn’t make any trades in July. (Not me, because I didn’t see anyone out there who would make enough of a difference to the Angels to justify what we would probably have had to give up, but that was the subject of another blog post…) Now that we know what the front office had in mind instead, I hope this news makes up for any lingering disappointments on that front.
Jerome Williams Notches a W
I love Jerome Williams’s story of perseverance and dedication, making it back to Major League Baseball, but I was uncertain about starting him Sunday. It’s not like we have a lot of other options. But I thought his relief outing against Texas was inconclusive. No runs or walks, but two hits and he was behind in a few counts in the one inning he pitched. Clearly he deserved extra slack for his first inning back on the mound in the Majors but still, to me it was inconclusive. Well darned if he didn’t pitch a heck of game on Sunday! No walks, six strikeouts and only one earned run and six hits in seven innings to complete the Angels sweep of the O’s. That would have kept the Angels in the game even if the offense hadn’t shown up. Welcome to the rotation Mr. Williams! And if you keep pitching like this, I hope you stay a good long while!
As ecstatic as I was about the Weaver news and the Angels victory and the fact that the Angels bridged another game along the gap to first place (Thank you White Sox! I promise I loved you all the way up until sunset today. 😉 ), I was just too tired from having fun to post about it all until today. My husband’s family has a cabin in Yosemite, literally inside the national park on private land surrounded by federal land. Trust me, I know how lucky I am. Not only are my in laws absolutely lovely people, they have all of these wonderful toys. They are rebuilding the cabin this summer from the original 1920’s construction (you know, giving it a foundation and other modern frills, he he) so the family gathered en semi masse in the park this weekend to make a few decisions about the construction and play in Yosemite Valley.
It was a fantastic weekend! We biked through Yosemite Valley and Wawona, hiked a few of the more popular trails (I’ve been on most of them at one point or another, but we were there with our young niece and nephew, so it was a minimal hiking, trail highlights kind of weekend. They’re good kids and did really, really well!) and goofed around together taking in the sheer breathtaking beauty of it all. One of the many things I have enjoyed about this blogging community is all of the fun details I have learned about other teams and also about life in other parts of the country. Yosemite definitely offers a non-traditional view of California, so I thought I would share a few photos. I posted about the trip in more detail here, and with more photos, if anyone is interested.
As I said in my last post, I think they can do it, but the Angels have a tall order ahead of them if they would like to have an October. However, with three wins in a row since then, two of which succeeded in eating up a little needed distance in the standings, the Angels are tackling that tall order head on!
…And I have been desperately trying to follow their progress each evening after the family goes to bed early on a sketchy WI-fi connection from the cabin where we are staying for the weekend in Yosemite National Park. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Stunning natural beauty. Freedom from electronic leashes. Relaxation in the great outdoors far away from the encumbrances of modern technology. Trust me, during the day I am all about that. But come 8:30 p.m. or so, I want to know the score and I want to follow the last few innings f at all possible.
Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo are on absolute hitting terrors. Torii Hunter’s hit streak continues. Bats, gloves and arms are growing steadily more clutch. We have Hank Conger and, best of all, Mike Trout back up from the minors, which means I am seeing various incarnations of my dream, Bourjos in Center, Trout in one of the corners, 2012 outfield right now in 2011…or, at least I will be seeing it Tuesday once I’m back in town. I couldn’t be happier!!
Okay, that isn’t entirely true. I could be happier if a few of our pitching woes were solved, namely the number 4 and 5 starting rotation spots and some unnecessarily exciting fellows in the bullpen – why did we go to Fernando Rodney again? Why? I don’t know what to make of Pineiro’s outing, exactly. Nine hits and four runs in six innings but he didn’t walk anyone and the runs were clustered in one bad inning plus a solo homerun. Is he a little better and likely to get better still? Were the Angels just damn lucky to score enough runs this time and might not be so next time? It’s tough to tell not having actually seen it. And then we have Jerome Williams making his first major league pitching start since 2007 for us on Sunday. I wish him all the best, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have concerns. Trust me when I say I really don’t want to have to start referring to this rotation as Santana, Weaver and Haren, then two days of swearin’. I think that’s a little too nostalgic, even for the 50th anniversary.
* * * * *
More often than not, the rules determining which pitchers are credited with wins, losses, no decisions, saves, holds, blown saves and the like work well enough. But occasionally they can lead to some serious injustices. Take Saturday’s game against the Orioles for example, two outs, bases loaded, Rodney is inexplicably called to the mound and proceeds to do what Rodney does best – okay, second best, he didn’t walk anyone – he gives up a single after two pitches and a run scores, two with Torii’s throwing error. But the Angels rallied in the bottom of the inning, winning in walk off fashion. So, Pineiro gets a no decision, Jordan Walden, who did allow the game to become tied in the first place but then came back for a spotless second inning gets a blown save and Rodney gets the win? Does that seem fair to you?
I think we need a new stat, indicating which relief outings are truly quality and which are…shall we say…unnecessarily exciting. Why not? We have a stat for everything else, right? Thinking of the most egregious crimes a reliever can commit, I propose something to the effect of Win/Save – (Walks + Earned Runs + Extra Base Hits)/# of batters seen. Basically, this would create fractional wins and saves for relievers. A quality win or save would be a 1 or only slightly lower, a .9 for example. But a barely deserved win might be a .25 or even a -.25. We could call this new stat something as mundane as a Weighted Relief Record, but what fun would that be? I propose instead that we call this new stat the Specific Criteria Adjusted Relief Index, or SCARI, as in Rodney may have gotten the win, but his SCARI was, well, pretty darned scary…
…because, of course, I’m completely joking around here…okay, make that mostly.
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.
* * * * *
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*