A belated Happy Saint Patrick’s Day from the Emerald Isle!…
…Yeah, I wish. 😉 Though as not-Ireland places for a St. Patrick’s weekend getaway go, Paso Robles, CA is plenty nice enough. And although the particular shades of green in this landscape are all wrong for Ireland, it is still quite lovely and the mist and rain were at least accurate. So what’s a diehard Angels fan like me doing in a place like Paso Robles when there are games going on Arizona, you ask?
Well, with Pujols-mania bringing folks out to Tempe in droves, hotel stays and such suddenly got more expensive and harder to book, so we decided to wait and go to Spring Training another year. Oh well, I was a little sad but that does mean more money for the regular season ticket budget, which certainly makes up for missing out…and, besides, it’s the Zinfandel Festival which means I just spent a lovely weekend going through my own little baseball blogger’s Spring Training, which came none too soon if you ask me. Between Albert Pujols heating up the lineup, the rest of the bats following right long, the starting rotation looking great and even more formidable with the addition of C.J. Wilson, and what is looking more and more like the very real possibility of Kendrys Morales returning to the 25-man roster, this could be a very special season in the making. A blogger’s got to prepare. Training and drills are a must.
Okay, training and drills. Fine, you say. But at a wine festival? Of course at a wine festival! Where else could I get all of this practice and prep in? Take photos, for example. If you read this blog last season – first off thank you! – you know I like to take photos when I go to Angels games so that I can pepper my posts with photos that are as much mine as the commentary. Well, taking baseball game photos can be tricky. There’s a lot of action. Your subjects are constantly on the move, sometimes in unpredictable ways. It’s all too easy for the rusty blogger to end up with a large collection of photos like this one, which I like to call Not-So-Still life with Aybar:
Or even this one. Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos were both well in frame and in focus when I started to take the photo…:
You’ve got to warm up for tricky action shots. Practicing on things that don’t move but require a lot of detail and focus can be helpful, like this vineyard (I love the gnalred, wintery vines and the lines created by the three distinct fields with vines running at three different angles):
Or this gorgeous tasting room:
Then you can move on to some simple action subjects, like these Paso Robles wild turkeys:
I say a simple action shot because, although this is an impressive little dominance display here, with a lot of action going on, turkeys (the real ones with feathers at any rate) don’t generally muck up photos by adjusting themselves. Still, although no Spring Training can ever replicate the real thing I think I have gotten enough “innings” in with the camera to be ready for the regular season.
As for the rest of my blogger’s Spring Training? Well, I got to study plenty of tasty treats in preparation for my Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels nights, like this glorious roast pork panini and sundried tomato salad from Farmstand 46. They call it The Goat:
…or the Zinfandel sliders, the tacos al pastor, the paella or any of the other deliciousness I was too busy nom-ing to take a photo of. Would I really make a roast pork panini or paella just for our Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels enjoyment? *laughs* Will Mike Scioscia change the Angels lineup a minimum of 60 times this season? Hell. Yes.
Speaking of Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels, what better place to stock up the old wine cellar than at Zin Fest? Yes, I think it’s going to be a beautiful season:
I even got my usual pre-season gabfest in with some of the Giants fans at the Barrel 27 pick-up party. Not surprisingly they are every bit as thrilled to be getting Buster Posey back as we are with the positive Kendrys outlook. Not to mention it was fun talking rookies and just barely not rookies with them. The Giants have some great younger players in the mix or soon to be in the mix too – one gent I was chatting with is particularly enamored with Baby Giraffe, Brandon Belt – so our two fan bases have some fun things in common.
So, I have my trusty camera at the ready, my Opening Day tickets in hand…er…inbox, plenty of wine options (seriously if I actually showed you the full collection of options, you would laugh at me!) and my typing fingers limber and warmed up. 19 days until Opening Day and I. Can’t. Wait!
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.
As you might have guessed from my title, sunny Southern California isn’t exactly living up to the hype at the moment. April showers and all that. Normally I would be fine with this. Drought year water restrictions are really annoying and I would like to avoid that. But tomorrow is the Angels home opening day and we have tickets and…and…okay, a rain out would hardly be an epic tragedy but I am starting to get seriously twitchy for a live game and the weather report is just teasing me – bouncing back and forth between dire predictions of a 60% chance of rain all day and then roughly a 30% change of rain in the morning and early afternoon.
I sure hope the rain clears out in time for the game. Seth and I could not be more excited and have a whole evening planned it. We’re even both leaving work early enough to carpool and still get there in time to watch batting practice, unheard of on a weekday. It will be nice to start the home opener on a high note after a 5 to 1 win over the Rays. Dan Haren picked up the win. He pitched very well and was no doubt pleased with the Angels generous, early run support after their stinginess last season. Though many were initially confused by the nasty stuff of Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, the bats were alive and well. Jordan Walden had his second outing since assuming the closer role and it was another one, two, three inning. I am so happy with this change! But I think that contests to give Walden a nickname and snazzy walk up music are a little premature. Let’s actually watch the kid play first before we saddle him with a nickname.
Oh, and the tickets arrived today! My husband and I will officially be travelling for baseball this summer. Fairly late in the 2010 season, I was commiserating with an old college friend about the state of our teams. Neither of us liked our chances for a post season and we both knew we would be experiencing withdrawal like symptoms all winter. Of course, his team’s ranking at that point was just so much more torture and it all turned out pretty darned well for him in the end. But we had so much fun goofing around, chatting about the game that he proposed an annual fan exchange program – in 2011 he and his guy will take my husband and I to a Giants game and we will take them to an Angels game. So we are heading up to San Francisco in July for the Giants/Dodgers game and we have great seats! For any family who may be lurking on the blog, first, thank you for reading 🙂 and, second, I will not be wearing either team’s colors but will wear my Angels hat instead.
The Giants game happens to be the same weekend the Angels are in the Bay Area to play the A’s, so I also nabbed good seats for the planned Angels vs. A’s single admission, double header on that Saturday. Single admission, double header! Doesn’t that sound like a great throwback to childhood?! I am so excited, I can’t wait…for this weekend or for that one!
It will be fun going to the Big A on Friday for the Angels Home Opening Day for all of the obvious reasons, but now I have an additional one. I can’t wait to talk closers with Barbara, whom I doubt I am alone in calling my favorite usher. A diehard Angels fan, Barbara is kind of our den mother in the Right Field Pavilion, smiling, chatting baseball and shaming drunken idiots into behaving themselves as needed to ensure a good game for all. We hashed out all the problems of the bullpen and our closing situation many times over the course of the season and, of course, like armchair managers everywhere, we had all of the answers. And both of us wanted the Angels to just bring Jordan Walden in to close already. I imagine she is as thrilled with today’s news as I am.
That’s right, it’s official. Mike Scioscia told reporters today that Jordan Walden is the Angels closer while Fernando Rodney works out his issues. This is an open ended decision. If Rodney recovers, he might join the regular bullpen or he might resume his closer role. If Walden seizes this opening and runs with it like I believe he can, he may be the Angels closer for the rest of the season. Quite possibly because the 23 year old Walden does not look old enough to convincingly order champagne 😉 – even with the beard – he instead celebrated his new role this evening by retiring the side in the 9th inning to cement the Angels 5 – 3 victory over the Rays. Good show, Jordan. I raise my glass to you.
I am a realist. I know this is a lot of responsibility to put on a 23 year old arm and psyche and I am sure there will be rough outings here and there. But, so far, the kid does extremely well under pressure and between last season, spring training and this week, Rodney was getting to the point where he walked batters every appearance, increasingly with disastrous results. As long as the quality outings are in the majority, we’re significantly ahead of where we were this weekend. If Rodney recovers, the Angels can find any one of a number of uses for him. If he doesn’t, better to eat his check then deal with the blown saves. Seriously.
As for the rest of this evening’s game? (Okay, it was an evening game for us. If we want to actually watch the east coast games, we have to DVR them and watch them when we get home from work.) The bullpen still needs some calming down. Mr. Kohn, please settle down. You are often amazing but enough with giving up the homeruns already. It is anxiety inducing, not to mention letting my geek show just a little too much, to be shouting “Khaaaaaaaaaan!” loudly enough for my neighbors to hear so many days in a week. Other than that, it was a great game. Jered Weaver pitched a good one – 6 strikeouts over seven innings. Three walks though, which is unusual but didn’t cost us too badly in the end. There’s a reason we have phrases like mid-season form. He’s getting there.
Young catcher Hank Conger got the start and his first major league homerun. Howie Kendrick continued his hot bat streak and we’re scoring runs early, something we failed to do most of last season. Four stolen bases, a couple of great fielding plays, oh, and the season is now official – we had one truly terrible umpire call. Maicer Izturis made a diving catch and clearly caught the ball but the second base ump ruled that the ball hit the ground first. It was annoying, but ultimately didn’t cost us anything. In those situations (where it doesn’t cost anything), it’s actually funny to watch Scioscia’s usually impassive face become extremely animated and expressive. My husband and I frequently make humorous suggestions as to what Scioscia and the umpire might be saying to one another. Although, in this case, you could read Scioscia’s lips loud and clear several times.
We need less excitement from the bullpen. We need to start scoring runs in the middle of the game too. We have improved but still need to do better with runners in scoring position. We need to do something about Scott Kazmir. But, hey, we won. We have a fix in place for the closer situation. We have Scott Downs coming off the DL any day now. We’re hitting and we’re working on those other issues. Optimism, returning. What a difference a win makes but, more importantly, what a difference a closer going one, two, three makes.
Friday, literally before dawn, we rolled out of Los Angeles for Yosemite National Park to clean out my in-laws cabin for renovations – with great vacation options come great responsibility. Four hours later, we hit Fresno and my in-laws called to say no go, the cabin is snowed in. And I don’t mean, wimpy California snowed in, I mean my husband and I and his cousins digging all afternoon just to get to the shed to turn the power on and then starting on the cabin door, snowed in. So we grabbed shakes at In-N-Out and headed home. Breaking down the weekend so far: failed plans, I need to work a few hours later today to salvage the vacation day for a return trip to Yosemite, an eight hour drive for milkshakes, and unexpectedly getting to watch the game on Friday and Saturday. Hmmm…what does it say about me that I still think this adds up to a win? Sitting here luxuriating over coffee, brunch and an actual, live, for really real it counts, Angels game? I believe it says I have my priorities straight.
My thoughts on the season so far? Opening Day absolutely rocked. Jered Weaver pitched a Gem. Torii Hunter’s bat loves those K stadium fountains. I love, love, love our outfield…as I may have mentioned a time or two in the past. Jordan Walden continues to have my vote for closer of the future. Twelve hits! The bullpen got roughed up but didn’t actually blow the lead. It was a great game, a little too exciting there at the end, but a scary win is absolutely better than a sedate loss.
Mind you, the season is so young it isn’t even in diapers yet, it’s still in those pampers infant swaddling things, but I feel like I am finally watching Angels baseball after a poor imitation last season. The bats. The manufactured runs. The sacrifice bunts turned base hits. Both guys you would (Torii!) and would not (Happy Birthday, Jeff Mathis) expect going yard. Nailing the 6-4-3 and 4-6-3 double plays. Flying outfielders – Fleet Pete! Diving catches. Robbed homeruns. Great plays at the wall – heeelloooo Vernon Wells, and I bid you a hearty welcome to the team, good sir. A bullpen with a flair for the dramatic, especially the “closers.” Yes, unfortunately, that’s a hallmark of Angels baseball too, and one the team really needs to work on if we want to defy all of the predictions this season. I wish we’d pulled off the win on Friday but that one was close and, all in all, this is not a bad start to the season. More please, and by that I mean more like Thursday’s game please!
Edit: I said more like Thursday’s game. Thursday’s game! Grrrrrr…the bullpen…and the stranded runners…and the gorram BULLPEN! *Breathes deeply* Excuse me while I swear loudly and pound the coffee table a few more times.
Imagine my pleasant surprise this weekend when a friend of mine confirmed that I was not mistaken in thinking I saw a familiar face in the new Brian Wilson’s epic beard MLB commercial (below)…other than the obvious one, of course. The fiddle player on the right? An old, old friend of ours I am really glad to see getting some commercial work. It amuses me to no end that he is in this particular commercial given that he knows nothing about baseball. He thinks this is one of the strangest ad campaigns he has ever seen. I told him there’s nothing odd about it. It’s just your standard, every day, run of the mill commercial featuring a closer who says his beard is magic and that he’s a certified ninja assassin with a gimp superhero housemate he refers to as the Machine. What could possibly be odd about that?
Okay, so nobody actually exchanges cheesy greeting cards for Opening Day, but we really should. Hear me out. Opening Day should absolutely be a national holiday, complete with paid time off from work and the whole nine yards. National pastime, national holiday.
…Yeah my boss, awesome though he is, wasn’t buying it either.
But here’s the thing, what do many national holidays have in common? That’s right, cheesy greeting cards. Hallmark is clearly the power lobby in the holiday business. They have even created holidays just for the purpose of selling more cheesy greeting cards. All we need to do is supply Hallmark with another cheesy greeting card money maker and *poof* I’m telling you, national pastime, national holiday. Seriously. You’re reading this on the internet. So it has to be true, right? 😉
Oh well, cheesy greeting card filled national holiday or not, it’s Opening Day. Very, very early on Opening Day as I post this to be sure, but still. Opening Day! Even if your team doesn’t start playing until tomorrow, if that thought alone doesn’t make you giddy to the point where your smiles and good cheer just come bubbling out at random moments, then I don’t know what would.
Happy Opening Day! Play ball.
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!!