Insanity and baseball fans, two concepts that have nothing at all to do with one another…or do they? Remember, “fan” does come from the term fanatic and fanatic comes from the Latin fanaticus, which means a sort of mad, overzealous enthusiasm pertaining to a temple or other sacred place, temple being fanum in Latin. And you know what? I can still see it. Granted, I am more used to hearing ballparks described as America’s cathedrals, but I think temples is an equally apt description. It is, however, a bit cumbersome for a modern definition. The literal definition of lunatic is someone who becomes crazed by and howls at the moon. I tend to think of a fanatic as one who howls at the television set.
My point is simply this. We baseball fans may be mild mannered, well adjusted people in every other aspect of our lives (or we may not), but when it comes to the team we love, we’re all just a little bit cracked…okay, more than a little bit. Check my logic here…
Moving briefly back to the television set, how would describe your relationship with your TV when your team is playing. Personally, I would characterize mine as loud…and so, no doubt, would my neighbors. Now, do you think this whole yelling at inanimate objects thing is rational behavior? Oh, but of course we aren’t really yelling at the inanimate television set itself, now are we? That’s right, we’re yelling at the tiny images of baseball players on the screen…tiny images of baseball players who can’t hear us…because they’re just images, not actual people. You’re right. That does sound so much more rational. 😉
What about believing in the magical power of random objects to affect to affect the outcome of events? Generally, I think most of us would agree this is not a rational thought. When it comes to baseball however, we have lucky shirts, lucky socks, rally caps, the list goes on. And even though on some level we understand that these objects have nothing whatsoever to do with the outcome of the game, who among us hasn’t left the stadium after a painful loss thinking, amidst all of our ‘players/managers/umpires coulda, shoulda, woulda thoughts,’ something along the lines of ‘Next time I’m wearing my lucky hat’ or ‘I knew I shouldn’t have worn this jacket. It’s blue.’?
And do I even need to bring up the rituals? Yeah, why not. We baseball fans often have “lucky” rituals that rival even those held dear by some of the players. Watching the game from a particular bar, or a special seat at the stadium. Partaking in a specific meal or eating only at specific times during the game. I’ve heard it all and I’m sure we all have stories we could share. Myself, I have a special love for punk music that’s heavy on the bagpipes with a dash of fiddle and I’ve been enjoying it immensely today…because this is the first time I’ve listened to it in weeks. See, from about a week before the Angels start playing the Red Sox until they finish playing them for the year, I cannot bring myself to listen to the Dropkick Murphys or anything that sounds even remotely like them. When someone who wouldn’t understand, read a non-baseball fan, asks, I say it’s because it feels disloyal to listen to such Red Sox loving and beloved band. However, the honest answer is that it would feel like I was thumbing my nose at the baseball gods which, much like spitting into the wind and tugging on Superman’s cape is one of those things you just don’t do. Now, when I’m being rational, I know that my musical taste has no impact whatsoever on unrelated events, but once we start talking about baseball… Oh, and yes, of course the baseball gods exist and are a completely rational concept. Why do you ask? 😉
Oh, and there are plenty of other ways in which baseball fans are not, strictly speaking, sane in their love of team. In fact, I’m sure you’ve thought of a few yourself while reading this. So I’m going to leave it that, point proven, mischief managed…except for one more thing:
So, my Angels. Yes, they’re 8.5 games out of first. Yes, even after sweeping the Red Sox for the season series – and oh how sweet that was! – they’re 4 games out of Wild Card contention. Yes, it’s the last day of August and the Angels only have 30 games left to play in the regular season. And, no, I have not given up on the Angels making the post season at all. Is that more than a little irrational bordering on crazy? Perhaps. But, hello? Baseball fan! Did you not just read my post? Crazy and irrational is at the very core of our being.
So, LeAnne Rimes has this song…
Yes, sometimes I like my country a little pop-py. Don’t judge me. 😉
Ahem. So LeAnne Rimes has this song called Big Deal. It’s a catchy little tune about a young lady who dumped a guy a while back and, while she’s 99.999…% over him at this point, she’s still plenty miffed that her best friend has started dating him and won’t shut up about how amazing he is. So the young lady is encouraging her friend, perfectly politely of course, to adopt a more tactful topic of conversation…right now.
Anyway, last night Seth and I watched the Giants/Rangers game. Ho Hum. But nothing else was on. Certainly not the Kendrys Morales batting cleanup behind Albert Pujols because Kendrys is looking that good game that I actually wanted to be watching even though it’s only a Spring Training game but couldn’t be watching because none of the stupid networks were airing it…*pauses to take a deep breath…finally*…not that I’m bitter about it or anything even though he hit a home run. *pauses to breathe again* 😉 And we capped it off with the Rangers edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days.
Mike Napoli was heavily featured in this MLBN preseason rundown, naturally, and, also naturally, we kept watching because we both like the guy. He was a great Angel and one of those players you wish all the best…just much, much further away than Texas in an ideal world. It was enjoyable and yet not so enjoyable at the same time and, as Dan Plesac and the Rangers began laying on the Napoli accolades thicker and thicker I was eventually moved to begin singing LeAnn’s catchy ditty: Yeah, you call yourself a friend, but you just keep rubbing it in. Big Deal. So what!…
Seth began cracking up almost immediately and took up the refrain: Who cares! You just got lucky that’s all. It was. Shut up! I swear…
But here we paused and looked at each other giggling, unsure of how to go on because the “candle light and long stem roses nd how you’re falling head over heels, in love…”of the next line, unlike its predecessors, hardly fit Mike Napoli and the Rangers.
Seth: If I hear another word about…?
Me: If I hear another word about…?
Seth: If I hear another word about…?
Ah hah! Inspiration. Me: …about catching right and grand slam home runs and…and…
Seth, grinning: and…? And…and World Series MVP! So what. Big deal!
And by that point we were both laughing too hard to extemporize any further…and to follow the thread of the rest of the analysis truth be told. Anyway, we both thought we were pretty darned funny…perhaps the Friday night wine ritual helped that sentiment along a bit, but it still seemed worth sharing, especially this weekend. With Rangers/Angels match ups both today and tomorrow, I am sure the Napoli trade and his stellar 2011 season couples with the Angels anemic 2011 offense will be rehashed ad nauseum along with both teams’ offseason acquisition exploits.
Besides, the song, both the original lyrics and our little reworking of them, fits my feelings on the situation perfectly. I’m over the Mike Napoli trade. I am. I didn’t want him traded away, but it’s not like fans have any choice in the matter, and it’s not like he played like this for the Angels anyway. (And don’t bring up playing time. He actually had significantly more playing time for the Angels in 2010 than he did for the Rangers in 2011. The whole playing time thing is a myth.) Don’t get me wrong, last season was painful in bold 48 pt. font italic all caps covered in sparkles, just for good measure…awful, Twilight Vampirey sparkles. *shudders*
…But trading Mathis and acquiring a catcher that seems capable of hitting above the Mendoza line has helped a lot. Retooling the offense has helped even more. I’m absolutely not saying, ‘Who needs Mike Napoli?’ But I am saying, it’s over and done with. I have moved on. I really like the team we have now and I am at peace with the whole trade ick. But, much like the main subject of LeAnn’s song, that doesn’t mean I will ever enjoy hearing the announcers, the press and everyone else go on and on. And on. And on about the whole thing.
Saturday, country singer Dierks Bentley and his band helped the Big A get a little bit Sideways following a killer 9 to 3 victory over the Mariners for the second concert in the Angels 50th Anniversary Summer Concert Series. Of course I went to the game too, and that was even more fun than the concert, but it was faster to write about the concert first…so stay tuned for the game/series/sweep! notes, same bat station, same bat blog…or something like that…but enough of that. Back to the concert.
The grounds crew move the stage into position and the is stage firmly in place behind second base and ready to rock and roll…er…with country flair?…well, I think country rocks just as hard as my rock and roll faves anyway, so you get the general idea. Anyway, when I was choosing tickets for this game, I was having a hard time picturing how the stage would be set up and didn’t find a lot of help online. So, Angels fans or anyone else planning on taking in one of the other concert offerings this summer, take a look at the pics below and think of the favorite places in your price range from which to view Aybar or Kendrick diving for a ball on the grass just behind second base.
Dierks Bentley and his bad move out to the stage. Hey, it was almost as cool as Downs or Walden making an entry from the bullpen. 😉
Dierks Bentley rocks out with his guitar and invites a fan to “come a little closer.” I liked Dierks Bentley before this concert. My husband turned me on to country about the time we got married and Bentley is one of many acts I have come to love for his clever, oft sarcastic lyrics, rich voice and rocking guitar. But hearing the band perform live, I love them all the more – especially after the bluegrass rendition of U2’s Pride they performed in honor of our grounds crew and their herculean efforts to prepare the Big A for and rehab it from the U2 concert last month.
Angels players enjoy the concert! Interested Angels and their families watched the concert from in front of the dugout. It was nice to see the guys enjoying themselves one game away from ending a fantastic home stand. I have identified Angels players where I could, but some of these guys could be staff or Mariners players joining their friends. (There are no intentional shots of family members here.) Show me a headshot of any of the Angels in uniform and I can tell you who it is, but in street clothes I freely admit that I can’t identify most them. Sadly, I would be the fan who couldn’t recognize some of her favorite Angels if she accidentally sat next to them in a bar…until they spoke that is. That’s just how my memory works. I once sat in front of Martin Sheen at a performance of Death of a Salesman and had no idea it was him until he spoke.
Closer shots of the bass and fiddle players. I am a sucker for instruments beyond the typical “Rock Band” set up of guitar, bass guitar, drums and keyboard. The Barenaked Ladies bass. Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murpheys bagpipes. Boingo’s horn section and “rumba phones”. Jethro Tull’s “heavy metal” flute. I adore them all! So is it any wonder I started liking country music largely for the fiddles, banjos and bass?
The band takes a “huddle” post concert. All told, Bentley and band gave us nearly an hour of great music. The set list was as follows: Feel That Fire, Every Mile a Memory, Am I the Only One, Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go), Trying to Stop Your Leaving, Settle for a Slowdown, Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do, Up on the Ridge, How Am I Doin’, Pride (In the Name of Love), Come a Little Closer, Sideways, What Was I Thinkin’. And, let me tell you, jotting that down at the concert gave me pleasant flashbacks to my college days, noting the set lists for Nine Inch Nails and the last Boingo Halloween concert to post on Occidental College’s usenet group for my less fortunate friends to enjoy. How’s that for the way back machine, ladies and gents? 😉
All told, I give the summer concert series a huge thumbs up. It was a lot of fun to cap off the win rocking out in the stands with other fans. The music was great and the sound was even decent considering the sheer amount of cement involved in stadium concerts. The Angels grounds crew and special events staff did an amazing job getting the concert set up quickly after the game and Bentley and his band absolutely did not disappoint. And they were so gracious and charming. Bentley repeatedly praised the Angels organization, grounds crew and players. He admired the fans’ tailgating expertise and kept telling us how tickled he was to be performing in a well lit stadium where he could see all of us. Apparently he’s a real baseball fan too and roots for the D-Backs.
I have but one small complaint. I have extremely eclectic taste in music. I was raised on classic rock. I went through a hair band and metal phase. I came of age during the alternative and grunge movements. I love, love, love punk, especially with bag pipes. I really like country music from the traditional to the poppy. I like ska, jazz, blues, surf rock, rockabilly, big band, Dixieland, Irish folk music, classical, some hip-hop, funk and pop, and the list goes on. And yet, there was only one out of the four concerts I wanted to attend. Granted, I really wanted to attend this one, but I anticipated drooling over at least two or three of the four. But even if that were to be the case every year from here on out, I would still vote for continuing the concert series promotion long after the anniversary. Way to go Angels!
Okay, so that title could accurately describe most Angels games this season, including games we win. But, after scoring only 10 runs in the last 6 games (or the month of June so far, if you prefer), I felt it was particularly appropriate today. Mercifully, and quite improbably, the entire AL West lost on both Monday and Tuesday so this hasn’t hurt the Angels as badly as it could have, though it means we missed to stellar opportunities to gain ground on Texas and Seattle. I’m not seriously pushing the panic button yet, but Klaatu barada nikto already! Angels stop the team’s self-destruction now, while we still can without an extremely difficult slog uphill!
I spent the majority of Monday’s game against the Rays alternately begging, pleading and threatening in the direction of the TV for the Angels to just score some runs in the plural. No dice. Last night was sadly much of the same, but it was bittersweet. The loss was a blow, but any night at the ballpark, especially an unexpected one, can only be a good one. Yes, an unexpected night at the ballpark. My husband called me just before four yesterday, obviously very busy at work, and barely had time to listen to my excited “Hell, yeah!” response to his “If I told you we had the company seats tonight could you run into Pasadena and pick up the tickets?” before rushing me off the phone with an OkayThanksCallYouLater. Tease.
Except he wasn’t teasing. (Also, he wasn’t rude. We give each other leave to outright hang up on one another at work if necessary. Business is important and when it has to come first, well then, it does with no whining or hurt feelings.) Long story short – sales contest, Angels tickets reward, amazing company seats and your intrepid blogger’s mission, which she ecstatically chose to accept, was driving from Whittier to Pasadena for the tickets, to Azusa for the Angels gear and camera, to Brea to pick up the husband and then to Anaheim for the game. A journey of 75 miles, in less than 3 hours, in L.A. rush hour traffic…and we just made it inside the stadium by first pitch, whoo hoo!
The view from the seats – yes, that is home plate you see. We were ten rows back from the sign in front. Just, wow! I only wish we could have seen an amazing comeback from these seats. If I were ever so lucky as to be outrageously wealthy, I wouldn’t have a box, I would buy season tickets someplace like this – on the field, home team side, close to plate but still on the dangerous side of the net and as close to the front row as I could get.
Dan Haren on the mound, executing the brief pause in his delivery. I call it the antici…..pation delivery. This was Haren’s first time back on the mound after the back pain that delayed his originally scheduled Saturday start – because he was able to pitch in the same spin through the rotation, it counts as a delayed start, not a missed start, so his personal record remains intact. He was really working for each pitch in the first four innings and my initial thought was that he started back too soon. But he worked back into a strong rhythm after that and looked as good as ever by the 5th. I guess the guy really did just need to get out there and pitch. My hat’s off to you Dan. Even with the rough patch, you pitched well enough to win.
Bobby Abreu in left field. Because he is Mike Scioscia and this is what he does, but more so lately because of the team’s miniscule RISP, there have been quite a few lineup shakeups the last few weeks. Sorry Bobby, but last night’s lineup resulted in one of my least favorite outfield configurations – Bobby in left, Vernon Wells in center and Torii Hunter in right. We have absolutely zero speed on the left side of the outfield with this configuration and less speed than ideal in the center and on the right. Also, Wells is much better these days in the smaller area of left field and he just plain doesn’t play our center field wall well. The end result was a triple to left that should have been a double and a double to center that should have been an out, among other issues.
Mark Trumbo and runner Casey Kotchman (At least, I’m 90% certain it’s Kotchman based on the order of the photos. Let me know if I am wrong) move with the pitch. This was partially just me playing with the camera from our close to the field vantage, but I like the photo. Mark Trumbo has been a bright spot in terms of hitting for power and continuing to produce during the team’s at the plate slump. It was a shame that his leadoff double turned triple by an error in the 7th was wasted.
Hank Conger maneuvers behind the plate. This is partially another Kristen was playing with camera again (see the ball), and partially a Kristen really loves catchers photo. I can’t help it, most of my favorite players are catchers (or centerfielders…or short stops…or more or less anyone in an Angels uniform 😉 ). What can I say? I admire the guy who calls the shots on the play, holds the pitcher together when things are getting rough, and faces down major league freight trains bearing down on him several times a game, while he blocks the plate like a badass. Catchers rock! And I think Conger is shaping up to be a very, very good one.
Joe Maddon says, oh and one other thing during an argument with the umpires. I still haven’t watched the replay myself, wherein it sounds like Johnny Damon was in fact out at the plate, as it appeared from my vantage pretty much right there, but it was a really close play. Great throw from Torii to the plate and great execution by catcher Hank Conger either way. And wow, Damon really is playing like his younger self again on the Rays.
Howie Kendrick at the plate with Bobby Abreu on deck. Howie, less than a week off the DL, had a strong ground rules double hit this evening and Bobby continued his streak at the plate, going 2 for 4, both of which were bright spots.
Torii warms up before his final at bat. I really hate it when Torii strikes out and especially in the last inning, because you can see in his face how much not coming through bothers him. But he went 2 for 4 this game so maybe things are falling back into place for him.
Erick Aybar looking sheepish – as well he should after those plays at short. This photo montage wasn’t meant to be a litany of the Angels ills last night, but it’s hard to be a complete Pollyanna. Aybar is one of my favorite short stops most of the time. But every few games he starts making errors and missing plays such that it boggles the mind to think it’s still the same guy at short. This was one of those games, though he did help out with a hit to open the first inning and his outs at the plate came early enough in each inning that he was not one of the game’s rally killers.
Kevin Jepsen takes the mound. Jepsen had a refreshing outing for the last one and one/third innings – one hit, one intentional walk (I hate this play, and question it almost every time even though I know it is well accepted strategy.) and one very well timed and important strike out. When Jep pitches like this, I love to see him on the mound. Even though he is no longer number 65, he’s started walking out to Rob Zombie’s Thunderkiss ’65 again which is always a fun one to hear, especially if it helps Jep bring back the swagger of some of his better outings in years past.
And that was my impromptu evening at the ballpark. Yay for the ballpark. Sob for the loss. Hopefully the Angels bring their clutch bats to the final game because I am about to leave for the game…with more planned tickets this time.
I suppose I should add an addendum to my Support Your Starting Pitchers plea from the other day. Run support that doesn’t materialize until the 9th inning a) typically does not qualify as supporting your starting pitcher, though I do applaud giving plenty of love to the bullpen too and, b) only really counts if you can actually pull off the win at that point. Scoring early and often is the better way to go – it supports the whole pitching staff equally. I know, I know. If only it were that easy!
So, Thursday. Ugh. What to say? Brett Anderson was on. The Angels’ bats were off. Joel Pineiro didn’t have his greatest start. And the A’s bats were on. It wasn’t a terrible game, but it was hardly a recipe for a win. And so we split the series with the A’s, Texas and Seattle did similar things with the ends of their week and less than two games separated the last place team from the first place team in the division heading into Friday’s games. And that’s just the way it is in the Wild, Wild AL West this season – a little frustrating and very, very exciting! Praise the Angels and pass the defibrillator.
And because I didn’t like Thursday’s game and I’m not liking this evening’s game much at all so far – which we are watching on delay so Seth can see every pitch too per the Friday Night Ritual – Let’s take a step back to Wednesday’s game. I was there. It rocked! Games like Thursday where things are okay but just not quite good enough are going to happen a fair number of times in a season. Here’s hoping that the Angels can play more like they did on Wednesday for the rest of this road trip!
So, Wednesday Ervin Santana was his controlled, nasty best – six strike outs and only one earned run (with six hits and two walks so many thanks to the Angels stellar defense too!)…
…Which means that a lot of A’s batters looked like Daric Barton here, looking back almost confused as the umpire prepares to call a strike:
…Here Josh Willingham finds himself in similar straights:
Of course, Willingham did walk that at-bat and then successfully stole second base, but it was a close play – short stop Erick Aybar waits for Hank Conger’s throwdown:
Our seats were front row of the upper deck again but only a section behind 1st base this time, so I could see into the Angels dugout which was fun for a change. I didn’t take too many pictures of that. I prefer to watch the game, but I did like this one – Jered Weaver and Dan Haren obviously sharing a joke about something, with Tyler Chatwood intent on the game beside them. Perhaps they are saying “Wow, run support. I thought that was only a myth.”:
Of course, this means our seats were right above the A’s dugout. I like this one too because it makes one wonder what they’re talking about. “Hey, Coco. How far did Torii hit that ball?” “It went far Andy. All the way over there.”:
Mark Trumbo dives back to first to avoid the tag from Daric Barton. I’m of two minds about the recent acquisition of Russel Branyan and Trumbo is the reason. On the plus side, Branyan fits in well with the team and could be a nice big bat in our lineup – though based on his batting average it does seem as if he hits homeruns or nothing at all. And he’s cheap, so if he doesn’t work out we can easily release him. But I don’t want to see Trumbo get any less playing time. He’s slumping a little bit at the plate at the moment, but he’ll heat up again and I really, really like his reflexes, glove and intelligence at first:
This game also saw scrappy utility player Reggie Willits get his first hit for the season (two swings after this one) and a crucial early sacrifice bunt as well. Reggie spent most of Spring Training and part of April on the DL for hamstring issues and has taken awhile to get back into the swing of things…so to speak. Peter Bourjos, in the on deck circle behind Reggie, also snapped a hitless streak Wednesday:
Rookie Alexi Amarista takes a nice swing. Playing second for the evening, Amarista had a heck of a game too. He went two for three at the plate and his uniform is quite clay covered in this photo from diving all over the field playing a very acrobatic human ball trap all night – yet another Angels rookie I am thrilled to have on the team this season. I wish I had photos of his diving catches at second:
Jordan Walden and Rich Thompson warm up in the bullpen. Hats off to the bullpen this game! Scott Downs had another great outing. I love having him on the team this season and am instantly reassured when I hear 8 Second Ride start to play and know he’ striding up to the mound. Rodney also had a nice outing. Apparently the key is to start warming up another reliever the second he walks someone:
Jordan Walden on the mound. Believe it or not, this was the first time I have seen Walden pitch live. For better or worse depending on the game, I have not been present for any save situations this season. Very, very impressive! Walden changed his walk-up music for this homestand. He used to emerge from the bullpen to the classic guitar riff from Smoke on the Water now it’s Robb Zombie’s Dragula. I love Deep Purple, but I have to say I approve. Robb Zombie is a little more bad ass, which is what this young closer is rapidly becoming:
I don’t have any good Torii Hunter photos from the game itself, which is a shame because he had a great game between the homerun (immediately followed by a homerun from Alberto Callaspo!) and a couple of great plays in right that are just so many blurs on my camera. So we’ll go with this photo of his much deserved post-game interview:
Now that was a fun game. Jered Weaver pitched his first complete game of the season, allowing only one run and remains…you know…I think I’m just going to leave that sentence unfinished. You all understand. Anyway, it was a good game all around. Matt Harrison pitched through hitless innings until the Angels figured him out. And then? Howie Kendrick sent another one into the stands. He’s currently sharing the AL homerun leader’s spot in good company – in a three way tie with Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira. Maicer Izturis continued his hitting streak. He is currently the AL batting average leader. Peter Bourjos hit a triple and made another highlight reel catch in centerfield just for good measure. Jeff Mathis got a hit.
Vernon Wells hit his first homerun in an Angels uniform with his dad at the stadium to see it. I imagine feeling like you have the chance to show off and make your folks proud doesn’t ever get old, even for a major league baseball player. It was touching to see the camaraderie in the dugout as the team first gave Wells the silent treatment – with barely suppressed grins and shaking shoulders – usually reserved for rookies and then mobbed him, all smiles and laughter, to extend their congratulations. I think that clubhouse chemistry is one of the more important intangibles and I am thrilled to see so much of it in the Angels this season.
And now? Ah, first place. Alone at last. 😉 But, as we all know, it’s only April, there’s a lot of baseball left to play and here come the Red Sox. While I was never one of the folks who expected this Red Sox team to win 100 games, I certainly don’t expect them to stay well below .500 for the season either. They are a much better team than their initial play indicated and have extra incentive to prove it as soon as possible. There’s a lot of history between the Red Sox and the Angels and it usually inspires both teams to…well…to put a polite spin on things, to play just that much harder. I am nervous and excited for this series and set to watch a couple of great match-ups starting this evening when young Tyler Chatwood goes head to head with Josh Beckett.
I have already removed the Dropkick Murpheys CD from my car for what will probably be the rest of the month in anticipation. Yes, this is my “superstitious” fan quirk. I don’t have a lucky shirt. I don’t have specific things I eat before or during games. But I can’t bring myself to listen to music closely associated with a certain teams while we’re playing that team. It’s not really a superstitious thing. I don’t think the Angels will lose if I slip in the odd Fields of Athenry here or there when the Red Sox are in town. It just feels really disloyal. Even though I have preferred my punk to come with bagpipes since long before Papelbon went Shipping Up to Boston. So, cue the Train and let’s play ball.
I’ll spare you the unnecessary Dickens parody. Suffice to say this weekend’s games against the Blue Jays were two very different wins for the Angels, one ugly but ultimately effective and the other, as pretty a pitching clinic as one could ask for.
Saturday’s game was quite the weird one. When I spoke longingly of single admission double headers a post or two ago, this is not quite what I had in mind. Matt Palmer had a rough start and wasn’t quite able to complete five innings. This is a shame. I really wanted to see him prove himself. Then we proceeded to work through all seven pitchers in the bullpen with mixed results before Dan Haren – yes, that Dan Haren, from the starting rotation – finished the game and earned the win in the 14th inning. Can I just say, this is why I adore Dan Haren. He’s old school, stepping in to do whatever the team needs when the team needs it. I believe he would still make his start tomorrow if the team let him…and I wish they would. Early pitching woes aside, this game was a great battle of the bats for four innings – we were up, then the Jays and so on. Then the runs dried up and hijinks ensued for the remaining ten innings as bad base running, walked batters, butterfingered position players, outright errors and stranded runners abounded on both sides.
There were good plays too, successful pick offs from Jeff Mathis and Rich Thompson, an out at home plate, etc… But the weird overshadowed the good in my opinion and I do not share the announcers’ enthusiasm for the bullpen’s performance in this game. Yes, they were troopers and prevented runs from scoring for 10 innings, which is no slouch, but they did it with too many walks, too many instances of bases loaded and too many innings that barely ended in disaster. They pulled it off, which is an improvement, but they way they pulled it off makes me question their ability to pull holds and saves off in the future. In the end, the Angels prevailed because of a, shall we say, questionable yet favorable runner’s interference call that prevented the Jays from scoring in the 13th, two timely hits in the 14th and the fact the Peter Bourjos is lightening fast. Bourjos hit a two-out double and Maicer Izturis brought him home with single. But it was Bourjos’ amazing speed, beating out Juan Bautista’s strong, quick throw to the plate by centimeters that really won the game. There is a reason this play was number 9 on MLB’s plays of the week this evening.
Sunday’s game, on the other hand, was fantastic. Jered Weaver pitched a gem of a start, beating his own single game strikeout record of 12 Ks with 15 Ks in seven and 2/3rds innings. He even managed a pickoff at first base, unusual for Weaver whose long limbs and cross body delivery don’t always lend themselves to catching the runner off the bag. It was truly a commanding performance all around and just what the bullpen, completely wiped out from the previous evening’s 14 inning marathon game, needed. Hisanori Takehashi came in to get the crucial last out in the 8th inning and Fernando Rodney, closer by default based on the number of pitches he and the other bullpen pitchers threw yesterday, looked like a closer today: three batters, 12 pitches, three outs and done. I am loathe to trust him again, but must give credit where credit is due. He looked good today. Unlike so many of Weaver’s starts last season, he had run support this game, including a Peter Bourjos two RBI triple in the 4th inning. I actually think that for most batters, this would only have been a double and that Mark Trumbo might have stuck around at third if Bourjos wasn’t on the verge of lapping him, so once again Fleet Pete makes quite the impact.
Any Angels win is a good day in my book, but I really hope to see more like Sunday’s this season than Saturday’s if at all possible. Of course, if winning this season winds up meaning a lot of 14th inning stretches, I’d rather sing extra Take Me Out to the Ballgames than the alternative. Saturday’s abuse of the bullpen (Of? By? Little of column A, little of column B?) has already had a huge impact on the 25-man roster. The Angels optioned Michael Kohn and Kevin Jepson down to the Salt Lake City Bees, activated Scott Downs from the DL and brought youngster Tyler Chatwood up from the Bees. The 22-year old Chatwood, another one of the local prospects the Angels like to recruit, is supposed to get his first major league start against the Indians on Monday in order to give Haren an extra day’s rest. I am interested to see how this turns out. I saw flashes of brilliance in Chatwood during Spring Training but also the need for a lot more work. Of course, this means I will get see Haren, one of my two favorite pitchers, start on Tuesday when Seth and I have tickets to the game again…assuming the Angels can wrap up Monday in a mere nine innings and he doesn’t close again, of course. 😉
Submitted for your approval: one normally mild mannered couple travelling companionably together down the 57 freeway as they do several times a month without incident. But this time something is different. Their voices grow louder and more excited and their gestures more enthusiastic. Their hearts beat faster, their anticipation increases to a child-like pitch and gooseflesh rises on their arms. Little do they know that they’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of lights out pitching and the sounds wooden bats striking balls, but of mental toughness; a dimension of wins and of losses, sadly this time the latter; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are a couple of chalk lines, a wall and a series of time honored rules startlingly complex in their seeming simplicity. That’s the signpost up ahead – it says exit Katella for Angels Stadium. Their next stop? The Baseball Zone. *Cue theme music. No! Not Buttercup. Never Buttercup!*
Friday night, as planned, we took ourselves out to the ballgame, to watch the Angels Home Opener against the Blue Jays. The weather was seriously touch and go for a while there, including a complete downpour as I was leaving my house. But it stayed dry in Anaheim through the game and the Friday Night Fireworks that followed, only starting to pelt us with a few fat rain drops as we headed out to our car. Would that my Angels had held the lead anywhere near as well as the clouds held back the rain.
The game itself? It started off well enough. Ervin Santana pitched like the good Ervin, the one with control who can throw strikes. Peter Bourjos is amazing to watch in center, flying across the grass, making difficult catches look effortless. We had a few good hits, scoring one in the 1st inning and another in the 3rd for an early two run lead. The Jays were slipping and sliding all over the outfield. Everything was off to a great start, and then we started to strand runners. Vernon Wells failed to cash in on runners in scoring position. Additional batters started to strand more runners. A two run lead is not a very safe thing deep into the game and it didn’t last. Santana gave up three runs aided by a few sloppy plays in the outfield.
By the time they brought in Fernando Rodney in the 9th – I know, not a save situation, but I was surprised! – I felt absolutely deflated. Rodney performed acceptably, allowing one runner on, but no walks and no additional runs. However, bringing him out just cemented the frustrating sense of one step forward, three giant steps back I was having after the stranded runners. Oh well, you never know what wonders or horrors you might witness when you visit: the Baseball Zone! I prefer wonders myself but I suppose that, in the end, a bad Friday night at the ballpark is probably better than a good Friday night almost anywhere else…and it’s only April 9th…But Conger needs to stop swinging for the fences, Wells needs to find his bat and work on running forward to make catches, and everyone else needs to work on hitting with runners in scoring position. I’m not panicking. All of this will come in the next few weeks. But…seriously!
The Opening Day experience outside of the game? It was fantastic, from the first goosebump raising view of the field coming up through the stadium to our seats, to that first bite of wonderfully nasty ballpark hotdog that I have been jonesing for, for months. Eli Grba, the first Angel selected in the team’s first draft and the Angels’ first opening day pitcher threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Grba is the first of a planned string of Angels alumni to perform this duty throughout the season. He was so cute in the interview before the game, talking about how nervous he was to throw out the pitch after so many years and how his friends would make fun of him if he bounced it on the ground. He did just fine, but it’s amusing to note that friends are the same everywhere no matter what the generation, and your best friends are the ones who’ll affectionately give you the most grief when necessary…or when not so necessary.
The front office has switched up some of the music and the pre-game slide show for the 50th anniversary and, while I need to see it a few more times to remember all of the details, I’m enjoying it so far. The flashback 1980s uniforms were a trip and a half. I remember these uniforms well from any number of Freeway Series I watched as a kid, though I was rooting for the other guys back then. I am amused that the concept of flashback uniforms extends to colors, logos and jersey designs, but the cut of the pants remains identical to the modern uniforms – no skinny pants fashion faux paus for the sake of historical accuracy here. Actually I laugh mostly because I can picture the players emphatically vetoing the silly looking and, no doubt, less comfortable 1980’s pants.
Fortunately, win or lose, here’s the thing about the Baseball Zone. It’s absolutely addicting. The first question I asked my husband this morning? So, do want to go to the ballgame tonight? He reigned me in a little – someone needs to sometimes! – but only just a little. We’re going back on Tuesday night and trying it out in the view level this time because my no more than $15 per ticket and try to keep it under $10 except for very special games rules are in full effect. Sometimes I reign myself in too. 🙂
Hopefully this evening’s game, which is about to begin, will be better. Kaz is conveniently injured and on the DL. Maybe he really did hurt his back, maybe he didn’t but he always seems to go on the DL right before his first start back after being obliterated by the opposing team. Either way, I’m excited to see how Matt Palmer does. Hey Angels, how about a little run support please? And by a little, I actually mean a lot.
I was out running errands this afternoon listening to a pretty decent punk set on one of our local radio stations – Bad Religion, Social D! – when the DJ threw House of Pain’s Jump Around into the mix, a fun hip hop song from my high school days now known to Angels fans everywhere as the Rally Monkey’s song. I was already kind of rocking out in my car to the Social D but I happened to be at a stop light when House of Pain came on and, I couldn’t help myself, a full on car dance ensued. That song has so many great memories for me – fun with friends, school dances and many, many Angels rallies – that I did not care who saw my goofy display. What? Like they’ve never given in to the urge to car dance before? Anyway, Jump Around lead to Blitzkrieg Bop and then what do you think the DJ played next? Yeah, no joke – Muse’s Uprising, the song played in the middle of the 1st inning before the Angels’ first at bat. Strange Clear Channel pre-programmed play list coincidence or Angels fan DJ in mid-Winter withdrawals? My evidence is entirely circumstantial, but I prefer to believe the latter.
My point in sharing this (other than offering yet another example of how Uprising has been following me everywhere, haunting me all winter long and hopefully a small amount of entertainment) is that, in addition to my usual instant goose bumps, Angels related songs are finally starting to make me feel giddy excited again instead of just wistful. Pitchers and catchers report in a little over two weeks!! I am excited about the Angels 2011 season, something I definitely was not a few weeks ago when every free agent so many of us coveted for a Halos uniform donned other baseball caps instead.
A large part of my excitement stems from reports that the Angels and Jered Weaver are starting to talk long term contract extension instead of just the standard salary arbitration talk. Honestly, if the Angels can make this happen and keep Weaver in a Halos uniform well beyond 2012, I would consider this a pretty successful offseason. Seriously, pay the man. It doesn’t sound like he’s being unreasonable and, to all appearances, last year was just a taste of what he’s capable of achieving in the years to come. Even more important? It’s my birthday in a little more than two weeks and a long term Angels contract extension for Weaver would be simply the best birthday present this girl could ask for. Yes, I am sure the Angels understand the significance of the birthday argument and care deeply. Why do you ask?
Another part of my excitement? I keep reading and listening to more interviews with Vernon Wells and, I have to say, his excitement about joining the Angels and assertions that this is a competitive team that doesn’t sit at home in October are infectious. I may be a stat loving (recovering) math geek, but I am far more moved by those intangible player traits – heart, clutch, grit – and my own gut reaction to certain players. Yes, he’s streaky and I understand about the splits but I have a good feeling about this. Right now, listening to Vernon Wells’ interviews, it sounds like he is genuinely excited to come to Anaheim this season, ready to move to wherever the team needs him to move in the line-up and in the outfield and eager to get out there and win – all traits that remind me of other successful Angels players and make me think Wells will fit right in. I recently learned that Torii Hunter had been lobbying hard for the Angels to sign Wells – silly perhaps, but that endorsement carries a lot of weight with me. Perhaps my gut is overly optimistic but right now it’s telling me that 2011 is going to be one of Wells’ strong years…and I say that after never having felt truly optimistic going into the 2010 season.
Oh, and most exciting of all? Kendry’s coming back!! This is reason enough to prompt its own happy dance, car, Angels related music or no. Hey, it’s been 11 whole days since I’ve mentioned this and I thought it was worth repeating…yes I counted. Recovering math geek, not recovered math geek. Now where did I put that iPod? I feel a little House of Pain coming on!
It’s about 226 miles to Cambria, we’ve got a full tank of gas, a hot thermos of coffee, it’s dark (and so late it’s nearly early) and we’re not wearing our sunglasses. Hit it.
We’re heading up the coast to meet old college friends for a long weekend in Cambria and Paso Robles – oh yes, there will be wine! …and local micro breweries and gourmet food and live jazz and…yeah, it’s that kind of place. Having finished my half of the driving duties up through Gaviota Pass I am free to blog about baseball for the rest of the ride so long as I keep my husband awake and entertained sharing news articles and your blogs.
The only problem? Ugh! After the news and rumors today I don’t want to blog about baseball. Manny!?! Yes, I know the rumors have been linking his name with the Angels off and on all offseason but now they’re starting to sound serious. I do not want Manny Ramirez on the Angels. I don’t care if he does hit a ton every third season or so. I like baseball players, not drama queens. Let Manny be a diva…er…I mean Manny anywhere else. The thought of Manny in an Angels uniform is enough to make that optimism I was starting to feel dry up again for a while. If they really want to sign an aging DH with no real ability to play the outfield anymore, sign Vladdy please. Professional, clubhouse leader, not a diva bone in his body, swing at anything and hit it more often than anyone rationally should be able to Vladdy.
So enough thinking about baseball for one evening if the rumors only annoy me, right? Okay, then music it is. I just noticed that there is a profound lack of Journey on the radio stations in SLO county this evening. Now anywhere else in the country this would be business as usual. But this year, from the Northern most tip of Santa Barbara up through Paso Robles (and I would assume all the way up the coast to San Francisco) the amount of Journey on the radio stations increased exponentially with the Giants fortunes as the season progressed. The last time we were up here, during the playoffs, Don’t Stop Believin’, Lights and the like were like Law and Order reruns on basic cable – at any given moment, they were playing on at least one station. Not so tonight. This is almost eerie. Can it be they’ve finally tired of it? …Yeah, back to baseball and still annoyed thinking about the Manny rumors. This isn’t working.
Let’s try this again. This is an absolutely gorgeous drive, even late at night. Ocean, forest, orchards, vineyards, plenty of reminders that California is a huge state with far more farms and open spaces than city even still…though that is changing slowly but surely. The cities stretch just a little bit further every year. Driving up here late after work is great because then you don’t eat up four hours of your day off getting to the vacation. The only drawback? Bring your own coffee because, seriously, trying to find decent coffee in Santa Maria or thereabouts after one in the morning is kind of like Mariano Rivera blowing a save. It’s technically possible. You’ve heard of it happening before. It may even have happened once or twice while you were watching. But just how often does it happen really? Yeah, I have a one track mind this evening and this is a lost cause. Okay that’s it. I’m putting this post away and thinking about friends and wine for the rest of the evening…er…morning.
And, of course, what song came on the radio right as I was about to put down the Blackberry? Yep, you guessed it. Uprising by Muse. Haunted I tell you. Well at least it isn’t Don’t Stop Believin’ because even if Giants fans aren’t tired of it, I am. 😉
Have a nice weekend everyone!