[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*
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? 😉
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, 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.
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. 🙂
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.