He’s back! He’s back! Kendrys Morales is back! And he looked pretty darned good too, with a single in his first at bat in an Angels’ uniform since Memorial Weekend, 2010 and another in his third at bat. He’s running. He’s sliding!! And all in more or less regular form. I tell you, it brought a tear to my eye…okay more than one.
Flushed, cheering and bouncing around the room from excitement, I posted something similarly gushy on FaceBook. And what stupendous outpouring of love did I receive for this momentous announcement? Pray tell, how many ‘hell yeahs!’ and ‘Right ons!’ exactly? *crickets* That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Nothin’ but *crickets* I say this with extreme affection, but baseball philistines the lot of them. 😉 And this, in a nutshell, is why I blog. Whoever you root for, you’ve been there before. You all get why this news is so amazing!
I haven’t posted a whole lot about Kendrys lately. I haven’t been documenting his progress religiously in this blog and I’ve avoided making impassioned predictions about his ability to return. And, trust me, it’s not because I haven’t been tracking his progress since his second surgery with keen interest. And it’s not because I haven’t been hoping that he could make it back to the roster this season with all of my little old baseball lovin’ heart. No, it’s just that I’m a practical person and, while I do tend toward optimism, it’s a cautious, guarded sort of optimism.
After last season’s disappointment, hoping and rooting for Kendrys to play again and then the setbacks, the second surgery, and another season on the DL, I had to take all of the reports this offseason of his impending 2012 return with several cups of salt – forget those measly grains. Foot and ankle injuries are terrible. Even when they heal, scar tissue can prevent the injured foot from ever working properly again, from ever functioning without a great deal of pain again. And that’s just for those of us who expect normal things of our bodies. For a professional athlete who requires so much more strength and dexterity from his body? Yeah, it’s just that much harder.
So I promised myself that I wasn’t going to get excited about Kendrys until I saw him stride up to the plate, bat in hand, in a regular season game. And I meant it. No, seriously. I promised. Not until the regular seas…yeah, and that all flew out the window today watching that perfectly quirky, half pigeon-toed batting stance. You know the one. Yeah! And then the foot twist and the kick when he swings. And the sound the ball makes when it flies off his bat?! It was exactly like the old Kendrys…okay, with some rust. But you can see the old Kendrys not too far underneath the rust. Promise now thoroughly defenestrated, I can’t stop thinking about a regular season lineup with Kendrys batting 4th right behind Albert Pujols. A prediction? Why, yes. I think it’s absolutely going to happen and I couldn’t be more excited.
A belated Happy Saint Patrick’s Day from the Emerald Isle!…
…Yeah, I wish. 😉 Though as not-Ireland places for a St. Patrick’s weekend getaway go, Paso Robles, CA is plenty nice enough. And although the particular shades of green in this landscape are all wrong for Ireland, it is still quite lovely and the mist and rain were at least accurate. So what’s a diehard Angels fan like me doing in a place like Paso Robles when there are games going on Arizona, you ask?
Well, with Pujols-mania bringing folks out to Tempe in droves, hotel stays and such suddenly got more expensive and harder to book, so we decided to wait and go to Spring Training another year. Oh well, I was a little sad but that does mean more money for the regular season ticket budget, which certainly makes up for missing out…and, besides, it’s the Zinfandel Festival which means I just spent a lovely weekend going through my own little baseball blogger’s Spring Training, which came none too soon if you ask me. Between Albert Pujols heating up the lineup, the rest of the bats following right long, the starting rotation looking great and even more formidable with the addition of C.J. Wilson, and what is looking more and more like the very real possibility of Kendrys Morales returning to the 25-man roster, this could be a very special season in the making. A blogger’s got to prepare. Training and drills are a must.
Okay, training and drills. Fine, you say. But at a wine festival? Of course at a wine festival! Where else could I get all of this practice and prep in? Take photos, for example. If you read this blog last season – first off thank you! – you know I like to take photos when I go to Angels games so that I can pepper my posts with photos that are as much mine as the commentary. Well, taking baseball game photos can be tricky. There’s a lot of action. Your subjects are constantly on the move, sometimes in unpredictable ways. It’s all too easy for the rusty blogger to end up with a large collection of photos like this one, which I like to call Not-So-Still life with Aybar:
Or even this one. Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos were both well in frame and in focus when I started to take the photo…:
You’ve got to warm up for tricky action shots. Practicing on things that don’t move but require a lot of detail and focus can be helpful, like this vineyard (I love the gnalred, wintery vines and the lines created by the three distinct fields with vines running at three different angles):
Or this gorgeous tasting room:
Then you can move on to some simple action subjects, like these Paso Robles wild turkeys:
I say a simple action shot because, although this is an impressive little dominance display here, with a lot of action going on, turkeys (the real ones with feathers at any rate) don’t generally muck up photos by adjusting themselves. Still, although no Spring Training can ever replicate the real thing I think I have gotten enough “innings” in with the camera to be ready for the regular season.
As for the rest of my blogger’s Spring Training? Well, I got to study plenty of tasty treats in preparation for my Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels nights, like this glorious roast pork panini and sundried tomato salad from Farmstand 46. They call it The Goat:
…or the Zinfandel sliders, the tacos al pastor, the paella or any of the other deliciousness I was too busy nom-ing to take a photo of. Would I really make a roast pork panini or paella just for our Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels enjoyment? *laughs* Will Mike Scioscia change the Angels lineup a minimum of 60 times this season? Hell. Yes.
Speaking of Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels, what better place to stock up the old wine cellar than at Zin Fest? Yes, I think it’s going to be a beautiful season:
I even got my usual pre-season gabfest in with some of the Giants fans at the Barrel 27 pick-up party. Not surprisingly they are every bit as thrilled to be getting Buster Posey back as we are with the positive Kendrys outlook. Not to mention it was fun talking rookies and just barely not rookies with them. The Giants have some great younger players in the mix or soon to be in the mix too – one gent I was chatting with is particularly enamored with Baby Giraffe, Brandon Belt – so our two fan bases have some fun things in common.
So, I have my trusty camera at the ready, my Opening Day tickets in hand…er…inbox, plenty of wine options (seriously if I actually showed you the full collection of options, you would laugh at me!) and my typing fingers limber and warmed up. 19 days until Opening Day and I. Can’t. Wait!
Holy Angels Lineup, Batman! They hit! They steal! They knock in runs! And they score and score and score again! I am so happy with the Angels offense right now that I am beaming as I type this. I hope this carries over into the regular season and grows! It sure looks Albert Pujols was the missing piece this lineup puzzle needed because all of the good pieces we had going last season are now working in conjunction with one another to create multiple, multiple run innings instead of little tiny offensive outbursts. They look almost as good as the starting rotation – and that ‘almost’ reflects more on the high bar set by the starting rotation than anything else. Speaking of which, I’ll bet that as pleased as the fans are, the run support starved starting rotation is even more so.
That sticky third base question…seems to be a lot less sticky than folks were predicting actually. We have now seen Mark Trumbo play third base and it worked out pretty darned well. He played the grounders hit his way well, including one that took a nasty hop. He made a great diving catch. In all of the discussion about the possibility of Trumbo at third, his arm was never once in doubt…even so, it was really nice to see that this assessment was accurate. And he did all of this while enjoying a good day at the plate which included his first Trumbomb of Spring Training. It’s only Spring Training. It was a very small sample size. But I actually think this could work. The stats and logic behind Clubhouse Confidential’s much more dire predictions a few weeks back did seem to make an unfortunate amount of sense. But people had the same predictions for Trumbo at first base last season with the same logic and, while he was certainly no Gold Glover, he turned out to be a competent, reliable first baseman who kept improving all season. I was hoping he would demonstrate the same caliber as a third baseman and, after watching him, I think that’s exactly what we can expect.
Those crazy MLB video game commercials. MLB 2K12? MLB 12 the Show? Which is better? I certainly couldn’t say. I don’t play video games much and when I do I tend to gravitate back to something old school like Gauntlet or Heretic. But I do know that the commercials for both MLB video game franchises are usually something special and this year is no exception. Justin Verlander’s Randy Johnson impersonation in the MLB 2K12 commercial has me laughing out loud every time. It almost makes up for his attempts at comedy on Conan O’Brien. As for the other? Granted, it’s not that hard to make me cry these days, but a video game commercial? ‘Fraid so. That darned Cubs Win! MLB 12 the Show commercial actually made me tear up…er…makes me tear up. He’s just so sad at the end! (Of course, we all know who they tried to get to be in that commercial and that’s just plain mean.) Suffice to say, both ads were very well done.
Don’t forget your towel. According to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a towel is “about the most massively useful” item you can bring on any journey, local, interstellar, or somewhere in between. Apparently David Price agrees to disagree with the vaunted Guide on this front. Don’t panic, David, you are not alone. Many of us suffer bizarre abuse at the hands of seemingly innocuous inanimate objects. I have a friend who threw out her back showing her daughter how to put on nylons. I have another friend who received a scar from a Rock Band guitar pretty much just as she was just walking by – we refer to this as her Rock Band stage diving scar, by the way. And there’s a good tip for you. If you can’t somehow make the inanimate object injury sound less silly, go for making it sound epic instead.
As for me? Doors are my personal bete noir. Car doors. House doors. Cupboard doors. Heck, even door jams. They all attack me and bruise my arms and legs on a regular basis. See, you are far from alone. Though I must admit, it is nice for the rest of us to be reminded yet again that even Major League baseball players can suffer from occasional bouts of klutziness too…and that that the rest of us only have to answer to the mockery of our friends and family, not the national media. Of course, as a woman, attending a small liberal arts college and having the only honest answer to “Where on Earth did you get that bruise?” be, “I ran into a door.” was more than a little awkward too, as you might imagine.
Spring Training has sprung and with an array of early news beginning to trickle out of the camps, I had a lot of thoughts bouncing around in my brain, none of which was really a post in and of itself – much like a kid at the Lego store. Ooo, shiny! …Ooooo, shinier!! …Oooooooooo…you get the general idea. Instead of trying to force too much concentration to interfere with all of the excitement, here are some of the things that are pleasing, concerning, amusing, and annoying me right now:
- They’re all there now, in Arizona – okay and in Florida too. Actual ballplayers running actual drills! Live baseball footage on MLBN, even if it’s only batting practice, bullpen sessions and drills, makes me a very happy girl.
- Peter Bourjos says that the hip he was rehabbing over the winter feels 100%…but it’s a bone bruise and he’ll still most likely have surgery after the season is over. Ummm…so why didn’t he take care of this this offseason? Apparently, he didn’t get the MRI until around Thanksgiving so there wasn’t enough time. Ummm…okay. I think. So those rumors that Bourjos is actually part golden retriever? Hip issues certainly aren’t doing a lot to dispel them, kid. All joking aside, I am crossing my fingers that he stays as close to whatever approximates 100% for ballplayers throughout the season. I want Mike Trout to join Bourjos in the outfield ASAP, not come up to replace him during a DL stint.
- Live games start this Saturday and Angels individual game tickets go on sale this Saturday. That makes this Saturday kind of like Christmas…well…until Opening Day and then that’s even more like Christmas…until a game comes along where I have particularly good seats and it’s a particularly exciting game and then that’s more like… Hey, they say we’re supposed to keep the spirit of Christmas alive throughout the year, right? 😉
- Mark Trumbo took a line drive to the face – as you do when you’re learning a new position – but doesn’t want to have the doc take a look at his nose. My husband will laugh uproariously at me when he reads this, but you have doctors on staff for a reason, right? Your foot? Bourjos’ hip? Go see the doc, you know, just in case. But way to really go for it at third! And way to be flexible and roll with the changes.
- C.J. Wilson is really growing on me. I think Terry Smith asked him the perfect questions this afternoon to draw out his love of baseball in addition to his love of his extra-curricular activities. I thoroughly appreciated what he had to say about baseball, about loving the challenge, living for the competition and his gratitude for his adult successes after a childhood of never being the big, highly athletic kid. Very cool stuff. Hearing that, I am reassured that he does have his mind on the game and am leaning back towards, he’s so well rounded. Isn’t that cool! And, hey, a writing major. I did not know that, but gotta love those crazy writing types…especially when they finish a season with more than 200 strikeouts.
- When did “effort” become a verb on MLBN, as in ‘I efforted that,’ ‘we’re in the process of efforting that’? I first noticed Greg Amsinger using it last week and now it seems to be a thing. Okay, the English language, cobbled together, mismatched, uneven, patchwork quilt of a thing that it is, lends itself well to a certain fluidity. And I love words. I love playing with them with even more – I know, you are all shocked! – and I frequently find myself applauding the creative prose of sports announcers. But, efforting? No please. Stop it right now.
- It’s February 29th. Happy Birthday, Frederic! Still nose to the grindstone on that apprenticeship? 😉
Well, Spring Training is at any rate and that’s good enough for me. So, I was all set to write one more ___ Days Without Baseball post but the fact of the matter is I’m just too darned cheerful. Yay! Oh, those posts were very much tongue in cheek, of course, but it still takes a certain amount of melancholy to write them and, wonderfully enough, I’m just not feeling it. Angels 2012 season billboards are beginning to bloom, the sports analysts are tweeting and there is a hint of baseball in the air.
And to top it all off? Mark Trumbo, one of the Angels two big question marks heading in to Spring Training was cleared to resume baseball activities this week after spending the offseason healing a stress fracture in his right foot. Can he continue last season’s offensive outburst? Can he make a transition to 3rd? Will the injury have any lingering effects? Oh and what about Kendrys? He’s a big part of the offense puzzle too, you know. Well, you kind of have to play the games first, but I sure think so. We’ll have to see. I don’t know. I really don’t know. Oh, and statement. One-Love.
Okay, so the Angels still have a few important questions to answer but that’s part of what Spring Training is all about. We have one new answer to add to Jerry Dipoto’s serious answers to all of fans’ Hot Stove questions. We have a lot of hope, a sense of infinite possibility, and I for one have more excitement than any one person can reasonably be expected to contain. And that right there – hope, possibility, excitement – is the larger part of what Spring Training and indeed the entire concept of Spring is all about.
So surely that groundhog’s gone senile. Real spring is just around the corner. Besides, out here in Sunny So Cal we haven’t even seen winter. This isn’t bragging, mind you. It’s darned odd actually. We may not get snow and ice storms, but we do generally get rain and several weeks of weather in the 30s and 40s. Today it was 70. Weird! So I’m not buying this six more weeks stuff.
Way to go Tigers, coming out of nowhere to land the big free agent bat! That was almost…well…Angelic. 😉 …Ooooh. Kay. And reminiscent of many other teams in other seasons too. But this is an Angels blog. I’ve kind of got this slant going on. And with that slant I have to say, I don’t know which outcome of the deal amuses me more, the fact that this move keeps Prince Fielder out of the AL West? Or the thought that with Migueal Cabrera moving to third base according to today’s reports, Angels fans are likely to see a lot more of Justin Verlander’s “That’s bushleague!” scowl? Pssssst…Angels players bunt. Often and generally very well. Pass it on.
In all seriousness though, I do like the way this offseason is turning out and the role this deal played in it. The Tigers and the Rangers, both already strong teams, were able to make improvements without outright dominating. The Tigers filled the potentially devastating void left by Victor Martinez’ season ending injury in a way that also bumped up their offense. The Rangers did not further bump up an offense that was already pretty much the scariest in the AL, but they did improve their starting rotation. Yes, I know Darvish is unproven, but I just can’t imagine a pitching acquisition that Nolan Ryan approved of so highly turning into a flaming failure.
And the Angels? The Angels made sure they can compete, adding power to a lineup in serious need of just such an infusion and restoring their starting rotation to the promise it had at the beginning of the 2011 season. Remember, for all that our pitching was impressive last season it was primarily spots one through three that did the impressing. The four and five spots were a rotating mixed bag of frequent awfulness speckled with the occasional gem. Other teams patched potential problem spots too. I like the Yankees pitching additions…all the more because they’re both pitchers the Angels hit. I find it interesting and potentially beneficial that the Red Sox have gone out of their way to add good clubhouse guys into the mix with their All Stars. Don’t worry, I’m not going to beat a dead, repeatedly reanimated as a zombie and then beaten dead again and again and again, Bostonian horse here. But suffice it to say, I think this may prove to be a more powerful strategy than folks are currently giving it credit for.
And no, this isn’t me being some sort of Mary Sue saying, Yay, everyone is equal now. Let’s get out there, give the other team a big hug, and don’t bother keeping score. This is me, the passionate baseball fan saying, I see a lot of well matched, hard fought, competitive as all get out, great baseball games on the horizon in 2012, and that prospect makes me downright giddy. Spring training, you slacker. What’s taking you so long to get here? Come on, pick up the pace already!
* * * * *
So, I’ve been less than present in the MLBlogs community for the past week now and probably will continue to be so for a few days yet…or not, who can say. No, I’m not one of the bloggers packing it in. And I didn’t finally go off the deep end from some sort of baseball depravation induced psychosis. Heck, I would prefer that. I lost a close friend Sunday. The guy both Seth and thought of as brother. The third of our goofy Three Musketeers band of degenerates. He was only a little older than me, which is to say way, way too young…as if there were a good age for this. He’d been in the hospital all last week and devastated doesn’t even begin to cover it.
My friend – the best bad influence a girl could have, as I called him with fondness – was, among other things, the gent who taught me how to play blackjack. Not the rules, but how to really play – strategies, calculating probabilities, fearlessness. But as anyone who has ever spent serious time at the tables knows, no matter how well you work the probabilities, sometimes the cards just don’t fall in your favor and you need to do something different to change your luck. I haven’t been able to put pen to paper in days. Not for work. Not for blogging. Not for nothing. But today, I made myself bang out this post in response to news that genuinely excited me, in an attempt to “change my luck” by doing a few “normal” things. To quote Marcellus Wallace, I am pretty f-ing far from okay. But I think I am moving closer to a place where I am better able to honor his life with memories that bring smiles rather than floods of tears.
With this week’s news that the Angels have reached one-year deals, avoiding arbitration with both Eric Aybar and Alberto Callaspo, the team appears to be mostly set for the season. Although, I don’t think anyone would mind another reliable arm for the bullpen, should it just happen to present itself and, you know, except for the “will they be ready or won’t they” injury situations with Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales. Hey, you can’t have everything, right? …except, perhaps, when Jerry Dipoto is starting off his Haloed tenure with a bang, so we’ll see. *whistles softly*
At any rate, traditionally this is the time to start predicting lineups, rotations and such. But, let’s be honest. Being an Angels fan adds a certain layer – or, like 10! – of, shall we say, complexity to this age old pastime. Oh, I can predict the starting rotation with ease and a fair bit of certainty: Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson, Ervin Santana and Jerome Williams. And don’t think I didn’t all kinds of delicious little shivers up and down my arms typing that list of names just now. The 2012 starting rotation rocks. Hard. But moving past that and on to predicting the lineup? That’s another story. This is, after all, a Mike Scioscia team, she types with affection.
The boys at Hot Stove proposed this starting lineup shortly after Albert Pujols was signed:
And as lineups go, it makes a certain amount of sense. But it has two major flaws. 1) Relegating Trumbo to a part time DH role (What a waste! At that point, trade him.) and, even more importantly, 2) it only allows for 4 different variations. Four…Amateurs! 😉
First, let’s consider the leadoff spot. Sosh will never stick to just one leadoff man. Yes, Aybar will fill that role frequently no doubt, but expect to see Peter Bourjos and Macier Izturis (provided he isn’t eventually part of trade for say, a bullpen arm, just to pull something completely out of thin air) in the leadoff spot a fair number of times as well. And then there will be those really random days, when Sosh is either feeling extra spicy or he thinks the guys need a kick in the pants. On those days we might find Howie Kendrick, Mike Trout or even Alberto Callaspo striding to the plate ahead of everyone else. You just never know with Scioscia.
Then there’s the cleanup spot. Albert Pujols is clearly the logical choice. But sometimes Scioscia likes to mix things up and bat the toughest slugger in the 5th spot. At that point you might see Trumbo or Morales take a turn batting 4th. And should the offense start to enter any lengthy slumps (Which you won’t do in 2012, right guys? Right?) expect to see some downright crazy things take place with the cleanup spot. In 2011 Maicer batted 4th in, I believe, two games.
And, really, that’s only the beginning. Torii’s natural place in the lineup is batting 3rd. But when he has an off week or two, expect to see him moved to batting 2nd…at which point he is likely to change his walkup song to Movin’ On Up again because, is there anyone who has more fun during a game than Torii? As much sure, but more? Nah, didn’t think so.
You can be sure that Trout and Bourjos will play in the same game many times throughout the season. And, in addition to taking the leadoff role some of the time, Bourjos will probably bat 2nd a few times as well. And the minute Trout comes into his own at the plate, Chris Iannetta is likely to see some time in the 9th spot – it’s an Angels catchers’ tradition, after all. Alberto Callaspo consistently has one of the highest batting averages on the team. He’s sure to spend some time batting 2nd or 3rd. And what of Bobby Abreu? So far I haven’t heard any noise about trading him. If he’s still with the team come Opening Day, I’m sure there will be several lineup variations featuring him at DH too…
…And this? This is just what I have come up with typing darn near stream of consciousness for a few minutes. Imagine what Scioscia will come up with given an entire season to plot and plan? That said, is any of this constant lineup shifting effective? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. On the average, I’d say it’s probably neither a good thing, nor a bad thing. It’s just Scioscia’s thing. And we fans gripe about it when the team is losing and joke about it with affection when the team is winning. Either way, I’ll not be attempting to diagram all of that variation into one master lineup, slash marks or not, thank you very much. 🙂