I’m very excited! Look what the mailman brought me:
World Baseball Classic tickets! Yes, Seth and I are going to spring training this year — a first for both of us! It will be the Arizona Baseball Extravaganza. We have our accommodations set, the requisite time off work and a fun, full list of spring training plans. We have tickets to Angels vs. D-Backs on 3/8, Angels vs. Rockies on 3/9 and the WBC games at Chase field for our evening’s entertainment. Sunday, we’re still not sure. We might go to the WBC game, or see what other ST game we can nab cheap lawn seats at, or maybe just grab breakfast and head back to L.A. So, hey, if anyone else is going to ST that weekend and wants to say ‘Hi’ and/or if any of you ST veterans have a great restaurant, bar and/or other must see suggestions, please let me know in the comments. Like I said, we’re very excited spring training newbies.
The itinerary sounds like heaven to Seth and I, but I am aware that this is a lot of baseball. The last time we tried to baseball all day long, at the Angels/A’s double header, we discovered a noticeable, yet far from unworkable, difference in our baseball thresholds. If you recall, the first game wasn’t exactly a short one and the second game went into extra innings. I wanted the second game to go on for as many innings as necessary for an Angels victory — an Angels victory that, alas, did not materialize — while suddenly, about the 10th inning, after some 9 hours of baseball, Seth was ready to be done. We stayed until the end — because he loves me very, very much and is a wonderful husband — but that last inning was a little much for him.
Now, we have agreed that what this really says is that I am a crazy person and not that he is a wimp. No, really, I would be that insane fan still watching the game from our seats at 2 a.m…in the 18th inning…on a week night…in the rain…with an early meeting awaiting me the next day, while Seth would have more sensibly wanted to go home sometime around midnight or so and at least be dry while catching the end of the game on the radio. However, knowing that this crazy person/passionate yet more sensible fan discrepancy exists is highly useful information and is the reason we’ve left the exact number of WBC we’re attending TBD and Sunday wide open to any whim that might take us. We’ll figure out what makes us both happy this trip, and know better how to plan for future baseball trips. But, however things work out, I know we’re going to have a blast together! We always do.
In the meantime, yes, I know the Angels have yet to win a game. I guess that’s supposed to concern me, but I have a really hard time getting too wound up about the overall record of extra early Spring Training games, when we’re still changing pitchers every single inning, changing the majority of the lineup at the 3rd/4th inning and again at the 6th/7th inning and during which few if any of the regular players are even on the field. And especially not when most of the pitchers MLB-wide are so very, very rusty. This is the very reason we have spring training — so that it’s February and March that look like this, instead of April and May. So, for now, I’m just going to revel in the glorious sounds of baseballs striking leather gloves and the crack of the bat on nicely hit balls — all of which sound so much clearer and more true to the live sounds of the ballpark on a ST broadcast than they do on a regular season broadcast where you have so much more crowd noise and sound-baffling cement – and in the promise of hearing those sounds live and seeing more improved performances and more regular players in just a few weeks.
Yeah, yeah, it would have sounded pretty unlikely to me a few days ago too. But Thursday evening, my wonderful husband took me to our favorite tapas bar for my birthday and, as we waited for our table we both caught up on the last few days’ news. What can I say? All work and no Hot Stove makes Kristen an uninformed girl. Imagine my surprise, given that I had missed all of the rumors. The Angels and the Yankees were in the process of a straight up trade, Bobby Abreu for A.J. Burnett? And folks in the Angels front office thought this was a good idea? Thank you A.J. Burnett, or Mrs. Burnett if some of the subsequent stories are true, for answering a birthday wish I didn’t even know I needed to make! *sigh of relief* Thank you. A.J….er…Mrs. Burnett…heck both of you, for being the voice of reason.
Now I’m not saying the Angels shouldn’t be trying to move Bobby Abreu. I like the guy and he has made excellent contributions to the team in the past but we have quite the backlog in both the DH position and in the outfield (And, really, he can’t play in the outfield except in extreme emergencies anymore. His heart and efforts are in the right place but it just doesn’t work.) and his offensive production fell drastically in 2011. I just don’t see where he fits on the roster anymore. If a team were willing to take on Abreu’s contract, I’d miss the player he was but moving him would be an excellent idea.
And I’m not saying that A.J. Burnett is a terrible pitcher. He’s not. I have seen him pitch very well indeed. I am aware that when his stuff is on, it’s scary good. But he is a terribly inconsistent pitcher. And, when his stuff is off…well…look if off means that you can’t win while backed up by a team whose offense usually gives you a nice big fluffy cushion to play with, moving to a team where allowing one or two runs is often enough to cost you the game? (Of course, we do hope that certain offseason moves that may have been mentioned in the papers once or twice will help change that, but it’s all theoretical at this point.) And playing in a division where every single win is likely to be essential in determining the winner? Let’s just say that might not be the best move for any party concerned. I realize that according to the current story, these thoughts did not factor into Burnett’s decision much if at all, that he made his decision based on the need to remain on the east coast for family reasons, but the end result still makes him sound like an unlikely voice of reason to me.
Now, if the Angels could have gotten in on a three way trade with the Yankees and the Pirates, sending Abreu to New York for Burnett and then sending Burnett to Pittsburg for the two minor league prospects the Pirates wound up trading to New York for Burnett? Well, that would have been the best of all possible worlds, even if we never had a need for the minor leaguers. But the Angels have never been big on participating in multiple team deals and I guess that much has not changed…at least not so far.
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.
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.
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*
Today marks the beginning of the final stretch of Interleague play this season. Love it or hate it, you learn a lot about the baseball cultures and traditions of teams from the other league during Interleague and knowledge is never a wasted thing. To that end, before the Angels and Dodgers take the field at the Big A this evening for the second half of the Freeway Series, I thought I would use my bi-baseball-cultural heritage (Dodgers fan childhood, Angels fan adulthood) to answer a few questions and clear up a few misconceptions about our two team’s shared histories in Southern California for the benefit of both fan bases.
First things’ first:
This is not a Dodgers cap.
And I don’t just mean this statement in the Magritte sense. This really is not a Dodgers cap, nor is it an “Angels Dodgers-look-alike” cap as some have called it. This is a replica of the original Angels cap, featuring our original interlocked L and A logo and a halo stitched into the top, a reminder of an era when, for better or worse, baseball uniforms were often a little more literal than they are today. Remember the nautical motif on the 1970s era Pittsburg Pirates cap and on short-lived Seattle Pilots caps and stirrup socks?
So, is it an ugly cap? Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion of course. I tend to think it’s so ugly, it’s completely awesome! But then again, you may have glanced around my blog and noted my subtle little bias.
Wait a minute! The Angels’ original logo was an interlocked L and A? What have the Angels ever had to do with Los Angeles and why were they copying the Dodgers? I have heard variations on this one from both sides of the fan divide as well. The Angels have played at the Big A in Anaheim since the 1966 season…but, from 1961 until 1966 they played in Los Angeles. Yes, Los Angeles. The first year at Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field and for the next four years at – if you’re one of the folks who didn’t know this already, this is going to trip you out even more than the concept of a Wrigley Field in Los Angeles – at Dodger Stadium.
No, Angels fans, it wasn’t our field first. It was always the Dodgers’ field. We just sort of couched surfed there for four seasons until we became established in our career and were able find our own digs. And, really, can you get any more Los Angeles than that? There were occasional issues between the Dodgers and Angels in those years, but they were merely baseball variations on the sort of small slights and annoyances known to housemates of convenience the world over. Hey, I’ll bet the Angels were much better housemates than a former housemate of mine, who shall forever be remembered in my circle of friends as the girl who actually said, with real annoyance in her voice and not the slightest trace of humor, I might add, “But I paid you rent last month.”
Okay, so the Angels do have a tie to Los Angeles, but what about that logo? The interlocked L and A isn’t a copy of the Dodgers logo. It was intended as a nod to the minor league Los Angeles Angels who were the first team to use an interlocked L and A logo and played at Los Angeles Wrigley Field in several incarnations for decades before the Dodgers moved to California. I suppose that one could argue that the Dodgers copied the logo from the minor league Angels, but it’s a little more complicated than that. O’Malley had bought the minor league Angels and moved the team to Spokane when the Dodgers moved out west. If I am reading the meandering history of this particular minor league franchise correctly, the original Los Angeles Angels turned Spokane Indians went through several more incarnations and are now the Tucson Padres. Regardless, it was too cool a logo to remain unused, so I commend the Dodgers for keeping it alive.
Bet the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim doesn’t sound so silly now does it? …Okay, actually, it still does. Terribly so. Really. Which brings me to our final question:
Okay, so what about that crazy name, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim? Well, if you were to tell me, biased though I am, that this mouthful of a name is kind of stupid, I would be inclined to agree with you. After all, we don’t refer to the A’s as the Philadelphia Athletics of Oakland by way of Kansas City, now do we? Once the Angels moved out of Los Angeles, the California Angels was my favorite name, though I liked the Anaheim Angels well enough too. Throwing in the Los Angeles was silly in my opinion, and the reason given for doing it – associating the team with a larger market – was even sillier. As we just discussed, the Angels have a legitimate historic tie to Los Angeles, and I for one am going to wear my awesomely ugly haloed LA hat with pride, but legitimacy doesn’t make the current name any less silly.
This concludes our brief, and hopefully entertaining, Angels and Dodgers history lesson. The game is about to begin. So go forth to the ballpark or get thee to the pub and enjoy one another’s company in spirited rivalry, safe in the knowledge that your heckling can now be every bit as accurate and knowledgeable as it is biting and sarcastic. And may the best Angels team win!!! Hey, my baseball heritage may be “bi-partisan’ but my adult loyalties are anything but.
The Angels announced their initial 25-man roster late this evening, following a 5 – 1 win over the Dodgers in their final preseason game. I say initial because, of course, there will be considerable roster shifting in April and possibly into early May as Scott Downs, Kendrys Morales, Joel Pineiro and Reggie Willits come off of the 15-day DL. So, for now, the 2011 Angels are:
Jered Weaver (RHP)
Dan Haren (RHP)
Ervin Santana (RHP)
Scott Kazmir (LHP)
Jason Bulger (RHP)
Kevin Jepsen (RHP)
Michael Kohn (RHP)
Fernando Rodney (RHP)
Hisanori Takahashi (LHP)
Rich Thompson (RHP)
Jordan Walden (RHP)
Trevor Bell (RHP), Matt Palmer (RHP), Francisco Rodriguez (RHP), and infielder Andrew Romine were optioned back to AAA Salt Lake.
Not a whole lot of surprises there. Okay, I was a little surprised to see Hank Conger stay on the roster. I figured he would stay in AAA so he could get work in every day. But I don’t know who I would have kept up instead, this may change when they need roster space for guys coming off the DL and, besides, carrying three catchers is becoming a Mike Scioscia tradition. Given his hot streak since the surgery, I wish they found a way to keep Palmer up. I know Bulger is out of options, but he didn’t have a very good spring, or late summer for that matter… I’m pleased to see Chris Pettit getting another shot after missing all of 2010 due to shoulder surgery. I don’t know how long that experiment will last once guys start coming off the DL but we’ll see.
I’m excited! Yes, I pretty much knew who would make the cut, especially given the limiting injuries. Even so, just seeing the official roster really drives home the fact that Opening Day is Thursday! And I’m hopeful. We may have platoons at both of our infield corners indefinitely, but today it doesn’t bother me. So far it seems to be working, better than I expected. And if Trumbo’s bat holds up during the regular season, I think the first base platoon will be resolved quickly, even if Kendrys isn’t able to come back full time any time soon.
I’m so ready for Thursday. We have Weaver on the mound, the triple centerfield patrolling the outfield and a couple of guys whose bats really, really love Kauffman Stadium. Bring on the Royals. Play ball!!