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!
They will not force us. They will stop degrading us. They will not control us. We will be victorious.
The Angels are haunting me. Seriously. The lines in italics above? They’re lyrics from the song Uprising by Muse and lately, I hear this song everywhere I go. On the radio at home. In my car. At the office. When I walk into one of our schools. At my favorite local Sushi restaurant – every time I walk in, be if for dine-in or take out. Seriously. Every time. I realize that my local sushi restaurant only has one iPod mix of about 90 minutes in length and this song is included in that mix, but every time? Even when I just stop in to pick up a phone order? Seriously, what are the odds? Yes, the Angels are definitely hunting me.
Perhaps I should explain. This song is played at every Angels game right before the bottom of the 1st inning. I love music and form a strong memory connection to certain songs. My ear will pick up on the background music at restaurants and even in the middle of a loud Vegas casino so, for me, the music played at the ballpark is noticeable and very memorable. Some team songs or walk up music will forever be linked to specific person or team for me. I doubt I will ever hear Guns n’ Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle again without thinking stand back, Mark McGuire’s coming to the plate. Take Me Out to the Ballgame, oddly enough, still has tinges of Dodgers association for me because theirs is the first name I belted out in lieu of “home team” many, many years ago. With other songs, like The Who’s Baba O’Riley, which the Rangers play before each game, I remember the baseball relationship to the song but hearing it doesn’t make me cringe because other memories formed a more powerful association long ago – in this case, listening to my Dad playing records.
Most of the songs played at Angels games have formed a very strong Angels baseball association for me. Train’s Calling All Angels, which is played during the historical highlight reel before the start of every game. Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky, which plays as the Angels start to take the field for the first time. And, of course, Uprising. I hear these songs, and I get my inevitable anticipatory goose bumps and chills. Oh, I didn’t mention the goose bumps? Yeah, whenever I know something exceptionally cool is about to happen or I see something creative that is just beautifully done, I get literal goose bumps on my arms, often chills. Previews for a movie based on a book I’ve read or a part of history I’ve studied where they get the scene just right? Concert announcement for a band I’ve been dying to see? New book release from a favorite author? A particularly well done cover song? Witty dialog? Angels game is about to start? Goose bumps in every instance.
So, Uprising plays, or Spirit in the Sky or Calling all Angels, and there I stand, Pavlov’s Angels fan with anticipatory goose bumps on my arms because my ear is absolutely certain that the game’s about to start. But, of course, I know it’s only January and I’m on my way to work, out with friends eating sushi this evening or whatever and I shake my head at my own silliness and sigh. Haunted I tell you. Now where did I put that countdown of the days until pitchers and catchers report? Because I’m sure I calculated something wrong. It’s moving way too slow.
(Editor’s Note: Build Me Up Buttercup is a notable exception to the whole Angels music/goose bumps thing. When that song plays during the 7th inning stretch, I sit down and mull over finding the poor misguided creature whose idea it was to use that song and politely suggesting that they turn in their marketing card. Right now.)