Tagged: Spring Training

I-5 Bias: The Opening Day Edition

Welcome to I-5 Bias: the Opening Day Edition! This is the third in what we hope will be an occasional, throughout the season collaboration between this Angels blogger and Matt Lowry of Dodger Familia Thoughts, a great Dodgers blogger and friend of this blog. Between two Giants World Series wins in three years (sorry Matt 😉 ), the AL West making quite the exciting splash in September 2012 and the ensuing Postseason, and recent shrewd personnel moves throughout the AL and NL West, MLB’s attention sure seems to be packing up and heading west these days. Matt and I are both incredibly excited by this development and especially by all of the attention our teams’ offseason moves have brought to my Angels and his Dodgers. So we thought that we would share our perspective on these two Freeway Series rivals, to entertain, inform and, hey, to spark conversation and debate. Why not! East Coast bias? Nah, forget that. From now on it’s I-5 bias instead!

I-5 Bias - Blog Medium

For this edition, we have posed six Angels and Dodgers oriented questions to be answered on both of our blogs prompted by the end of spring training and the World Baseball Classic and, of course, Baseball Fans’ Christmas Morning, otherwise known as Opening Day. We hope you enjoy this continuing freeway collaboration and, hey, if anyone has any burning questions for future editions (yes, even snarky ones), please ask away:

So, about those less than stellar spring training records? Are you concerned? What, if anything, did you learn about your team from spring training?

Kristen says: I’m not really concerned about the Angels spring training record (or, truth be told, the Dodgers either for that matter). Split squads facing full squads. Pitchers taking the mound in unconventional innings for unusual stretches of time. Players pulled both more and less quickly than they usually would be. Minor leaguers finishing what the big leaguers start. Spring training play is just too different from regular season play for the one record to say anything predictive about the other. Besides, lately the Angels have started off their seasons with a crappy April and early May. The terrible spring training record gives me a small, odd hope that they’ve somehow gotten it out of their systems earlier this season. Now, having watched more spring training games than not, I can tell you that I am still really concerned about the Angels bullpen and only somewhat less concerned about the back end of the starting rotation. Here’s hoping that I’m just a hopeless worrywart without cause.

Matt says: as far as the records I’m not concerned at all because if you look at spring training most of the time it’s the minor league guys and Non roster guys playing so no need to worry at all. As far as what I learned in Spring I learned a few things. 1- the Dodgers minor league system is in great hands and 2- Dodgers have depth.

After watching spring training, what player(s) have particularly impressed you? What player(s) you look forward to seeing this upcoming season?

Matt says: One player I am really looking forward to seeing and Impressed by is Josh Beckett and here’s why. While Beckett isn’t going to be a Cy Young Award winner he is going to produce for the Dodgers. I believe the change of scenery will really help him this season. Another player that impressed me was Hyun Jin Ryu. Ryu will have to adjust to the MLB style of play but without a doubt he can for sure get it done. He will be a treat to watch this season. Yasiel Puig also impressed many Dodger fans this spring. Even though he was sent to Double A due to no room on the roster he will be something else once he’s called up.

Kristen says: I’m still head over heels enamored with the Angels outfield — Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos and Josh Hamilton. They had their rough games and bouts of butterfingers this spring training but I really got the impression they learned to work well together. Watching Bourjos get his centerfielder’s confidence back after a season spent largely on the bench was a kick and a half, as was watching Hank Conger kill it at the plate.

This is the first season with two 15 team leagues and interleague play every day. In fact, the Angels are one of the teams opening the season with an interleague series. What are your thoughts on this?

Kristen says: I’m an oddity among hardcore baseball fans in that I actually enjoy interleague play and look forward to all of the odd matchups — perhaps it’s a throwback to my childhood and all of those great DC/Marvel comic mash ups. 😉 So, on many levels, I am excited to see the Angels take on the Reds. In fact, my only annoyance with the Angels season opener is not that it’s against a National League team. It’s that the series takes place on the East Coast and most of the games are early, sticking me with the unappealing choice of either catching games that take place while I’m at work only in bits and pieces on the radio and in phone updates, or watching them on delay knowing full well that there is no way I will be able to avoid knowing the outcome of the game prematurely unless by some miracle I can avoid the entire internet, the radio, television and basically all human contact until I’m finished watching the game. I know. Not bloody likely.

As for this being the first season with two 15 team leagues, I love having an equal number of teams in both leagues at last, but still have some serious reservations about that equal number being an odd one. We’ll see how this works out.

Matt says: I honestly believe is a pretty cool yet odd thing. With Opening Day it’s the start of the season and you always want to start the season off on the right foot. Interleague games to start the season will be an odd one but will also be fun. A good example is Angles and Reds. The Reds pitching staff against the Angels line up at Great American Ballpark is a game that catches many eyes. AL vs NL contenders. I believe it is a great treat for baseball fans.

What are your thoughts on your team’s Opening Day 25-man roster? Do you have any issues or just plain surprises?

Matt says: Justin Sellers is a player that surprised me. I would’ve thought Alex Castellanos or Ellian Herrara would be on the roster but Mattingly wanted to go with Defense. Paco Rodriguez is also another surprise but the kid shown that he can pitch. That’s for a fact. He can really pitch and has a bright future with this team. Other than that I see no other surprises on the 25 man roster. Most are healthy which is great.

Kristen says: The 25-man roster is more or less what I expected. There were no surprises for me in terms of the starters and I am completely happy on that front, ecstatic even. I was thrilled, though not surprised, that Hank Conger made the roster. Hopefully 2013 is his year to really make an impact! I was pleasantly surprised to see Andrew Romine make the bench list and am excited to see what he can do. I’ve had a soft spot for the kid ever since I saw him pull off a tough force play at third with a long distance slide across the bag with the ball, just ahead of the runner. He’s rough around the edges and needs work at the plate but has good instincts and an appealing versatility. My only issue is that even, with a large personnel shuffle in the bullpen, I still don’t trust them to be consistently reliable. Prove me wrong guys. I would love nothing more than to be making heartfelt, happy mea culpas to the bullpen at the end of the season.

The World Baseball Classic was big news and now the media are debating the impact it will have on the regular season. What are your thoughts?

Kristen says: I think it’s a mixed bag and that the effects will differ from player to player. I’m thrilled silly that the Angels’ participant, Erick Aybar, emerged from the WBC with a May and June like hot bat that he shows every intention of maintaining. In the case of Aybar, who regularly plays pretty much year around between the regular season and the Dominican League, I think he actually has a chance of maintaining it and other teams will be in this same, happy little boat. Other players may start out hot but fade early having, effectively, started playing hardcore, competitive baseball a month earlier than their teammates. And, of course, WBC related injuries — many of which would not have happened during less intense ST play — will be an issue for a few teams, including the Dodgers. What we have to remember, however, is that if the unfortunate end of the WBC related effects spectrum is enough to tip the seasonal balances for any team, then one of any number of the sort of injuries/issues that managers have to anticipate during the regular season might well have had the exact same effect.

Matt says: I honestly believe it will. Hanley’s injury was something that could’ve Happened in a Spring Training game. What many fail to realize is that the WBC gets players into 9 innings shape instead if slowly getting into that game by game. It gets them ready and going and if their teams make playoffs then the atmosphere will have them set to go. So I believe for the good it will have them ready.

Bonus Bloggers’ Bias Question: So, Opening Day. Do you have tickets to your team’s home opener and what, if any, Opening Day traditions do you have?

Matt says: yes I absolutely do. This is my first FULL season as a season ticket holder and I am looking forward to it. A tradition I always have is I check my stuff the night before and put it in one place. Then I get there the next day for batting practice and to see all the festivities. Opening day is really great.

Kristen says: I am bouncing off the walls excited! Yes, we do have tickets to the Angels home opener, though it’s just about the latest home opener for any team this season so I still have a ways to go before I get to see my guys play live. For the last three seasons, our tradition has been to go to the Angels home opener. In seasons like this one where that doesn’t coincide with Opening Day, our tradition is just to watch as much baseball as possible and really soak it in after the long winter without, preferably accompanied by a nice bottle of red…or two. Sadly, this year all traditions will be bucked. I’m sick, so no wine, and the Angels are playing at 1 p.m. on a weekday so, really, no Angels. Thus this year’s ‘tradition’ is apparently watching not my team and being frustrated until the Angels hit Texas. But, you know what? Today umpires will call out those magical words, ‘Play ball!’ twelve times in regular season play, so I simply can’t be bothered to wipe the big, silly grin off of my face long enough to be upset about much of anything. Baseball is back!

The Annual Baseball Extravaganza, Spring Training Edition: Friday Evening, USA vs. Mexico

Finally sitting down to write again while watching the final games of the World Baseball Classic, I tip my hat to Puerto Rico for defeating reigning champion Japan, but I also have to belatedly tip my glass to Team USA. While I wish they could have made it this far and clearly theirs was not as great a finish as we’d hoped — certainly not as great a finish as the players had hoped — it was much better than I expected after catching the USA vs. Mexico game. And, hey, I have the last of the Balvenie RumCask in the glass I am tipping, so I can honestly say that a) this is a quality toast and b) that I may actually shed a tear or two in a moment…though certainly not for Team USA. 😉

And can we get a standing ovation? Well, we were standing and clapping for everything anyway -- this was a delightfully excited crowd -- so why not. R.A. Dickey and J.P. Arencibia head for the dugout after warm ups. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And can we get a standing ovation? Well, we were standing and clapping for everything anyway — this was a delightfully excited crowd — so why not. R.A. Dickey and J.P. Arencibia head for the dugout after warm ups. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Giancarlo Stanton warms up in right field right in front of our seats. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Giancarlo Stanton warms up in right field right in front of our seats. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Taking the not-particularly-way-back machine to one week ago, I return to the subject of our Annual Baseball Extravaganza, Spring Training Edition. For Seth and I, this was a trip filled with firsts — our first trip to Spring Training and our first World Baseball Classic game. Friday afternoon we left Tempe Diablo stadium when the Arizona sky opened up and poured water and ice, checked into our hotel, wrung as much water as we could from our jeans (serves us right for trying to pack light, I suppose) and headed to Chase Field to watch Team USA and Team Mexico battle to move to the next round in the WBC. Yes, that’s a lot of baseball. *Big silly grin* My kind of vacation.

Adrian Gonzalez went one for two and that one...well, it was a monster. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Adrian Gonzalez went one for two and that one…well, it was a monster. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

So, is it a homerun or not? (J.P. Arencibia and R.A. Dickey) World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

So, is it a homerun or not? (J.P. Arencibia and R.A. Dickey) World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

I don't know. Is it a homerun? (Eric Hosmer, David Wright, Brandon Phillips and Jimmy Rollins) World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

I don’t know. Is it a homerun? (Eric Hosmer, David Wright, Brandon Phillips and Jimmy Rollins) World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Rats -- or something like that -- sadly the umps confirm it's a homerun. (Giancarlo Stanton, Ryan Braun and Adam Joes) World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Rats — or something like that — sadly the umps confirm it’s a homerun. (Giancarlo Stanton, Ryan Braun and Adam Joes) World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

The energy walking into Chase was incredible. Our seats were excellent, in the third row just a section and change behind first base. In my opinion half of the fun of the WBC is seeing our MLB players in different uniforms, playing for their home country or for Team USA. It was an absolute kick to see so many players I adore but don’t get to watch nearly as often as my Angels – R.A. Dickey, Giancarlo Stanton, Brandon Phillips, Joe Mauer, Eric Hosmer and the list goes on – playing together in red, white and blue, especially on the same field with Adrian Gonzalez, Sergio Romo and everyone else playing for Mexico. Sadly, the game itself was one sided and ho hum. Mexico hit, ran and hit and ran some more while USA played like…well…like an MLB team in their second or third week of Spring Training. I had the wrong angle to tell if Dickey was having an off night or if Mexico simply has no issues hitting a knuckleball. Not that it mattered, because the outfield couldn’t seem to make a play to save their lives, a development I was not expecting given the quality of the players involved. Mind you, I had a blast and am excited we had tickets to see the game but, in the end, my excitement and enjoyment were more because we got to see a WBC game than because the game itself was anything special.

Okay, clearly I need my own Spring Training with the camera to get my shutter finger back up to speed but, still, love R.A. Dickey's face here. If I were the runner off the bag, I would have been intimidated. *nods* World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Okay, clearly I need my own Spring Training with the camera to get my shutter finger back up to speed but, still, I love R.A. Dickey’s face here. If I were the runner off the bag, I would have been intimidated. *nods* World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Adrian Gonzalez and Ramiro Pena join Luis Mendoza for a meeting on the mound. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Adrian Gonzalez and Ramiro Pena join Luis Mendoza for a meeting on the mound. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

A couple of observations:

The strangest thing about the game: Oddly enough, I scould not get used to the sounds. As I mentioned, it poured in Arizona that Friday so Chase Field wisely took advantage of all modern conveniences and this became the first baseball game I have ever watched under a closed roof. I was plenty grateful for the roof, mind you, especially sitting there still damp from the epic deluge and hail that ended the Angels game that afternoon. But at the same time I was reminded how much the traditional sounds of the game are part of the whole experience for me. Under a roof you still get the crack of the bat, etc., but it’s flatter and somewhat muted. It just doesn’t sound right…kind of Langoliers-ish for any of you out there who devoured Stephen King to the degree I did as a child. Now, don’t get me wrong. Baseball played underneath a retractable roof is decidedly better than a game called for inclement weather, or than sitting in the stands dripping wet, cold and absolutely hating life for that matter. But the game is still best enjoyed outside.

Spoiled Southern California girl, part of one? Oh, hey, that's me. Yup, this was my first time watching a baseball game under a roof. And what an imposing looking roof it is. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Spoiled Southern California girl, part of one? Oh, hey, that’s me. Yup, this was my first time watching a baseball game under a roof. And what an imposing looking roof it is. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

The best thing about the game: As I said, the energy was incredible! You hear a lot about games with a playoff atmosphere. Now, I have yet to afford the privilege of being at an actual playoff game — though that is indeed one for the bucket list — but I have been at several hard contested, end-of-the-season games that folks later describe as having a playoff atmosphere and I can definitely attest to the fact that that kind of energy is wild, intense and wonderful. I also had the luck of being at the Big A for every pitch of Jered Weaver’s no hitter (No, I probably won’t stop mentioning that for a few seasons yet. Why do you ask? 😉 ) and the energy at that game was positively electric to the point where you could feel it on your skin. The energy at the WBC game was palpable, like that, but less intense. It was a rowdy, fun, the-crowd-is-absolutely-into-it-and-hanging-on-every-pitch kind of energy and, yet, at the same time it was casual. This wasn’t a playoff atmosphere, it felt like everything a simple every day game can and should be, and this during a relatively lopsided, uneventful game. If every regular season MLB game could feel like that? Well, I would probably love going to baseball games even more, something I did not think possible.

Brandon Phillips at the bat. Sadly baserunners were an issue for Team USA, namely getting them. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Brandon Phillips at the bat. Sadly baserunners were an issue for Team USA, namely getting them. World Baseball Classic, USA vs. Mexico, March 8, 2013. Photo by This is a very simple game…

The Annual Baseball Extravaganza, Spring Training Edition: Friday Afternoon, Angels vs. D-Backs

The trip did not start as planned. We were supposed to leave for Arizona on Thursday evening right after work. But then Seth worked much later than intended and ended his day much further from home than intended. I’m coming to the end of a particularly obnoxious bout of insomnia (any day now, body!) so Thursday evening found me just this side of the walking dead. Now, in the early days of our relationship, our much younger, crazier selves would have hopped in the car anyway. Why not? It’s 364 miles to Tempe. We got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses. Hit it! But with age comes wisdom…if, by wisdom, I mean a sort of occasional resigned acquiescence to some obvious shortcomings. *sigh* So, anyway, we set off bright and early Friday morning instead and continued to run afoul of Murphy’s law the rest of the day:

Angels NRI Outfielder Randal Grichuk begins his swing. This is one of the few photos I have from this first game. I really didn't want to use the camera too much in the rain. March 8, 2013, Angels vs. D-Backs at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Angels NRI Outfielder Randal Grichuk begins his swing. This is one of the few photos I have from this first game. I really didn’t want to use the camera too much in the rain. March 8, 2013, Angels vs. D-Backs at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Photo by This is a very simple game…

We left very early. Very, very early. Which means we beat the traffic — yes!! — but were running as much on liberal infusions of coffee as gasoline.

It rained.

It rained some more.

Oh yeah, and then it rained some more.

Now, I usually enjoy the rain immensely but not when I have places to be quickly and need to deal with other California/Arizona drivers. Some of us can manage driving in the rain just fine, thank you. Sadly, many, many more prefer living up to the stereotype.

In between bouts of rain there were dust storms and tumbleweeds. Yes, rain and dust storms. Kind of together. Welcome to eastern California and western Arizona.

As I teased up above, it’s over 360 miles to Tempe from our home and the route is long and kind of out in the middle of the boonies – hence tumbleweeds. This part actually had its perks though, namely little traffic and a generous speed limit I took pleasure in abusing as often as was safe and practicable…which turned out to be quite a lot actually, even in the rain. *big silly grin*

We packed hurriedly and lightly and consequently forgot to pack a few items whose absence would prove to be somewhat inconvenient.

We arrived at Tempe Diablo Stadium just in time for the rain delayed Angels/D-Backs game to begin. But the rain kept returning, first in waves, then in torrents, until weather ended the game in the third inning…just before the hail came. Yes, hail. Pea sized hail. Giant grey English peas, that is.

Players -- including a bare headed Kole Calhoun in the back -- hang out in the dugout in the rain during the Angels at bat. March 8, 2013, Angels vs. D-Backs at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Players — including a bare headed Kole Calhoun in the back — hang out in the dugout in the rain during the Angels at bat. March 8, 2013, Angels vs. D-Backs at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Prior to the hail, sitting in my seat, I realized that there was no way my soaked to the skin jeans would be even remotely dry by the World Baseball Classic that evening…and possibly not by the following morning.

Similarly, I realized that I would be wearing 3.5” heels, my out to dinner shoes, to the evening’s game because my sneakers were every bit as wet as my jeans. Oh well, it would not be the first time I’ve had to do this. Side note to baseball fans: Whenever next you see a lady striding through the stadium in such wholly inappropriate-to-the-situation shoes, before you mock you her for not being a “real fan” consider the idea that perhaps she had no choice and that by coming to the game despite the fact that she was stuck in her heels (which, for the record, blow when you’re already trying to find space for your legs in the stands), she is displaying a greater degree of diehard fan badass-ery than your own. 😉

Here’s the thing though. All of the botched plans, the gaffes and the Murphy moments? None of it mattered. Not one bit. I had a day off work and was on the road with my husband. We hung out and laughed. I had a huge smile on my face before my butt even hit the stadium seat. And then? Oh, then there was the baseball. Yes, it was wet. It was rain shortened. It was played by the kids so that none of the names risked injury. But, it was the crack of the bat on the ball. In fact, it was all of the sounds of the game up close and amplified by the more intimate surroundings. It was double plays. It was dives back to the bag. It was live baseball in March, one month earlier than my usual first game. It. Was. Glorious! Running back to our car through the hail, I had an even bigger grin on my face and was laughing. Besides, the sun was due to come out the next day…

 

And that was just my first taste of Spring Training. Impressions of the USA vs. Mexico WBC game and Saturday’s full Angels vs. Rockies game to follow.

I-5 Bias: the Early Spring Training Edition

Welcome to I-5 Bias: the Early Spring Training Edition! This is the second in what we hope will be an occasional, throughout the season collaboration between this Angels blogger and Matt Lowry of Dodger Familia Thoughts, a great Dodgers blogger and friend of this blog. Between two Giants World Series wins in three years (sorry Matt 😉   ), the AL West making quite the exciting splash in September 2012 and the ensuing Postseason, and recent shrewd personnel moves throughout the AL and NL West, MLB’s attention sure seems to be packing up and heading west these days. Matt and I are both incredibly excited by this development and especially by all of the attention our teams’ offseason moves have brought to my Angels and his Dodgers. So we thought that we would share our perspective on these two Freeway Series rivals, to entertain, inform and, hey, to spark conversation and debate. Why not! East Coast bias? Nah, forget that. From now on it’s I-5 bias instead!

I-5 Bias - Blog Medium

For this edition, we have posed six Angels and Dodgers oriented questions prompted by spring training, the World Baseball Classic and recent media commentary, to be answered on both of our blogs. We hope you enjoy this continuing freeway collaboration and, hey, if anyone has any burning questions for future editions (yes, even snarky ones), please ask away:

What player(s) should we keep an eye on during spring training? Are there any young minor leaguers Angels/Dodgers fans should pay special attention to?

Kristen Says: Well, I don’t think I have to tell anyone to keep an eye on the usual suspects. 😉 In fact, at least this early on in spring training, I wish fans would keep less of an eye, or at least a more casual eye on some of the bigger names. Josh Hamilton going 0 for 3 in his Angels February spring training debut merits a top Yahoo headline today? Really? *shaking my head and laughing* As for some of the players who aren’t already on every fan’s radar but should be, with Bobby Wilson no longer on the team, Hank Conger will be trying to make this season finally be the season that sees him start and stay on the 25-man roster. His batting average was the only thing standing in the way before and this spring he’s off to a great start. Peter Bourjos spent 2012 on the bench but is slated to finally share the outfield with Mike Trout in 2013. He should be both thrilled to play again this spring and extra eager to prove himself. Outfielder Kole Calhoun and short stop Andrew Romine will start the season in the minors on the 40-man roster but are exciting up and comers likely to become 25-man roster fixtures in the seasons to come.

Matt Says: Well for the Dodgers there’s two players that fans should keep an eye on. Yasiel Puig and Zack Lee. Puig as you know was the first major International signing that the Dodgers made in the middle of the season. Many scouts say he has good Power but is still Raw and needs more coaching. Fans will finally get to see what he is all about this Spring and we’ll get to see if he is ready or needs more time. Zack Lee is another player who is listed as the #1 Prospect in the Dodgers Organization. This is a guy who I believe will be called up this season (If any injuries are to hit). If not we will see him in Triple A.

Teams often find a hidden gem in a non roster invitee. Which NRI player(s) have the best shot at making the Roster come opening day?

Matt Says: Dodgers tend to find hidden gems with the NRI players. I will say one who has a good shot would be Peter Molan and Mark Lowe. The Dodgers want to add a Veteran presence in a young bullpen and both of them have a good shot at making it but will have to beat out Stephen Fife and Josh Wall just to get on the 40 man roster. Molan you may remember was with the Braves last season but was hit with Injury problems and Lowe was with the Rangers as well but didn’t play as much. Only one of them will make it on the 40 man roster in my opinion.

Kristen Says: Barring any injuries or other oddities *knock on every scrap of wood in a 40 mile radius!* I think the Angels came in to spring training with the 25 and 40-man rosters pretty much set in all respects except perhaps the bullpen. I think that if NRI relief pitcher Hiroyuki Kobayashi continues to have a good Spring, he will have a shot at making the roster for Opening Day but I don’t expect any of the other Angels NRI players to make the roster for a couple of seasons yet.

From 2012's Spring Training Freeway Series games: Matt Kemp swings at a nasty Angels pitch and misses with Hank Conger catching...oh how I hope the Angels starting rotation can deliver this season!! Angels at Dodgers, April 3, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

From 2012’s Spring Training Freeway Series games: Matt Kemp swings at a nasty Angels pitch and misses with Hank Conger catching…oh how I hope the Angels starting rotation can deliver this season!! Angels at Dodgers, April 3, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Are there any issues or unanswered questions that you hope to see your team work out in spring training?

Kristen Says: For me, at least, the biggest question still facing the Angels is the starting rotation. I’m thrilled with the addition of Jason Vargas, but once I get past Jered Weaver and Vargas, I am full of questions. Will C.J. Wilson’s bone spur surgery mark the reappearance of the strong, reliable, successful C.J.? And will we get to see this C.J. in the second half too? Which Tommy Hanson will we see? And so on. I bounce back and forth between optimism and queasiness on the subject and really hope that spring training ultimately gives us a strong indication of positive answers to those questions. A secondary question for me is how quickly will the planned outfield configuration of Trout in left, Bourjos in center and Hamilton in right shape up? I don’t ask how well because I don’t really think that’s a necessary question — an all young, talented centerfielder outfield is a pretty drool-worthy prospect. At the same time, Trout and Hamilton are both used to calling the shots in their respective outfields and Bourjos spent most of 2012 — unfairly — on the bench so it may take him a few games to get used to taking charge again and will definitely take all three of them a few games to get used to each other’s range and working together. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what spring training is for – and I do love the fact that so many games are on TV now so that we get to watch the process.

Matt Says: Well for sure it isn’t Chemisty haha. I honestly think there’s a few questions and issues that I would like to see the Dodgers workout. One is being Hanley at Shortstop. Hanley isn’t the best defensive Shortstop out there and we all know he was at 3rd for a reason with the Marlins last year. Hanley will have to get fielding down at short and only has so much time with the Dodgers before he goes and plays in the WBC with the Dominican Republic. The rotation after Kershaw and Greinke is also a mystery as well. Dodgers had a deep rotation which could see guys either traded or moved to the bullpen. #3-4-5 will be up in the air pending on how Capuano, Harang, Beckett, Billingsley, Lilly, and Ryu pitches through the spring. Right now it’s projected to be Beckett, Billingsley, and Ryu but that could all change.

The Dodgers are well represented in the 2013 World Baseball Classic with five players participating. The Angels only have one player participating. How do you feel about this? Do you think it’s more important to have the cream of MLB represented in the WBC or for teams and players to conserve their talent for the regular baseball season?

Matt Says: I for one Love the World Baseball Classic. I like that the Dodgers are well represented in this because they’re playing for their country which is something they don’t get to do that much. I honestly would like to see the MLB’s best play in the classic but can understand if the Player don’t want to play..Notice I said player because I feel it’s up to them if they want to play in the Classic. Through the past few weeks we have seen teams step in a block players from play in the tournament and that I think is not fair. I get that teams don’t want guys hurt playing but it’s the same risk if you have them play in a Spring Training game. In my opinion I think it’s more important to have players ready for the Regular season but the WBC is played in the Spring and the players will have their rest before the Season starts but that’s for the players to decide. You see players like Mike Trout who declined to play to work with the Angels and that I can understand and respect.

Kristen Says: I think it’s great for the Dodgers to be so well represented in the WBC and most years I would be happy to see the Angels equally well represented. However, after all of the injuries of 2011 and 2012 and with so many very young players still learning how to keep positive momentum all the way through the second half of the regular season, I am glad that this Angels team largely opted not to participate. There will be other WBCs with more Angels participation. In general, while it would certainly be exciting to have all of the best in baseball playing in the WBC, I think this is a question best left up to the individual players. As with the Angels, I completely understand when players, knowing their own pre-season training needs, decide that they would prefer just to concentrate on the regular baseball season and skip out on the WBC. Look, half the fun of the WBC is seeing MLB greats playing for their home or ancestral countries, so excellent MLB participation isn’t going to guarantee a strong USA team regardless – though I do think we have a strong, competitive team this year and am excited to have tickets to the USA/Mexico game in a few weeks. I also don’t think that teams should step in to block players from participating in the WBC unless there is a legitimate injury concern in the sense of a frequently or recently injured player.

From 2012's Spring Training Freeway Series games: Peter Bourjos entertains Mark Trumbo and other teammates on the bench...a location I sincerely hope neither Bourjos nor Trumbo will be seeing much of this season. Angels at Dodgers, April 3, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

From 2012’s Spring Training Freeway Series games: Peter Bourjos entertains Mark Trumbo and other teammates on the bench…a location I sincerely hope neither Bourjos nor Trumbo will be seeing much of this season. Angels at Dodgers, April 3, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

We had a Freeway Series showdown — naturally! — during the MLB Network’s recent Face of MLB contest and Matt Kemp beat Mike Trout. Thoughts? Reactions?

Kristen Says: On the surface, the Face of MLB contest is just a fun, silly way to pass the offseason time. On a deeper level though, I think the results demonstrate the effect of changing technology on the way fans interact with the game. With the increasing popularity of social media, constant MLB-wide highlights streaming across a baseball dedicated cable channel and all of the different ways we have to stream games online and watch out of market games on TV, baseball is no longer about just getting to see “our team” and the handful of, primarily East Coast teams, that at one point held an almost “National Brand” status. There was a time, not so long ago, when West Coast ballplayers would have been eliminated in the first round of any such competition. Now we fans still root the hardest for our own teams – as it should be! — but we are also aware of the daily exploits of talented players on every team regardless of rank and market size and I think that’s wonderful! As for Matt Kemp beating Mike Trout in this competition quite handily, this season I think that’s as it should be. Both are exceptionally talented players but Trout is a brand new face while Kemp is an established a team leader with several MVP level seasons to his credit. However, as Trout continues to live up to his potential, I expect that the results of any such future contests will quickly start shifting in Trout’s favor. 😉

Matt Says: I didn’t vote or anything for this because I don’t see the point in it but I find it to be something that adds for the fans. Last year Mike Trout was in the same position Kemp was in 2011. Great season only to not be named MVP due to his team not being in the Playoffs. Honestly I believe this is a great honor for both players to be recognized but in my opinion this was for the fans to make that call which we all knew who everyone was voting for. I just want to know outside of Dodgers/Angels fans who voted for who haha.

Bonus Bloggers’ Bias Question: As a fan, do you look forward to spring training or can you take it or leave it?

Matt Says: As a fan yes I do and for many reasons. One it signals that Baseball is back after a long off-season and seeing Free-Agents sign and moves being made in the winter. Also allows fans to get a good look at players like a Kershaw and Kemp play and get their pre-season done, New players like Grenkie and Ryu play with their teams for the first time, and get a good look at the Top Prospects in the farm system play in MLB Uniform and see if they’re the real deal. Best part is actually going to see Spring Training and actually getting to meet the players. Yes people spend a lot of money to attend opening day or Opening night but it’s the only time fans can catch Baseball at a cheap price and in a location (Well to me and Kristen) where it’s not far at all. This year will be my first trip to Spring Training in Arizona and I am honestly looking forward to it. I understand some fans say they’ll wait till Opening Day to see what the team is about and that’s fine but with me being such a Baseball Junkie I like to see the Prospects and NRI guys just to see what my team will be working with.

Kristen Says: I love spring training and look forward to it every year! Yes, this is partially because of how stir crazy I get in the offseason. However, a big part of my spring training love is the glimpse it gives us inside the teams’ preparations for the season. I love watching my favorite players shake off the rust and work back into their regular season form and I enjoy watching new players and/or existing players in new positions work to blend seamlessly into the team unit. No, the games aren’t the same quality as regular season games, especially this early on. And, yes, once we get past about March 15th, I will be Jones-ing hard for the regular season to start. But the more casual vibe of spring training has an undeniable charm all its own and serves as the perfect appetizer before the regular season main course. (I decided that this was a more mature metaphor than Foreplay/Long Time, if you will. Aren’t you all so proud? 😉  )

From 2012's Spring Training Freeway Series games: Angels jack of many trades and chief bomb hitter, Mark Trumbo, and Dodgers catcher Tim Federowicz move with the pitch. Angels at Dodgers, April 3, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

From 2012’s Spring Training Freeway Series games: Angels jack of many trades and chief bomb hitter, Mark Trumbo, and Dodgers catcher Tim Federowicz move with the pitch. Angels at Dodgers, April 3, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Ar-i-zo-na, here we come! Out where baseball’s starting from!

I’m very excited! Look what the mailman brought me:

20130226 WBC Tix - blog

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.

Play Ball!! Okay, Maybe Practice Ball is More Like It + an “Ode” to Ticketmaster

I turned on my TV this morning and — hip, hip and ten thousand huzzahs! — there were men playing baseball! Live! Right there on the prettiest green grass you even did see…well, since October at least. Oh, it was glorious! And then I got to listen to the Angels game on the radio! I tell you, hearing Terry Smith’s voice calling a game, complete with all the old, familiar names and phrases, after the long, long winter without? It was a veritable symphony to these offseason ears.

It was almost enough to make up for the sheer horror of dealing with Ticketmaster this morning when Angels individual game tickets went on sale…

Ah, Ticketmaster. How do I loathe thee? Let me count the fees…er…ways.
I loathe thee to the depth and breadth and height
Of your soulless reach into every event in sight
For the never ending fees and tolls and charges…
I loathe thee to the level of every event’s
Monopolized need to use your stupid, inefficient, outrageously priced, services…

 

Ummm…yeah. I won’t bore you with the rest. It’s mostly loud swearing from that point on anyway…loud swearing punctuated by the sound of throwing things hard enough to soundly strike walls. Sort of a Beat thing. And angry, improvised Victorian/Beat poetry fusion thing. Oh yeah. I’m bringing it back. But I digress…

Back to Spring Training games! Okay, okay. So the Angels lost. Badly. To the Cubs. Eh, it isn’t officially Spring Training at all until the Angels have been clobbered by at least one team you might not think had it in them. And, I know, all manner of outfielders need to work on communication, the infield fielding is suspect and the pitchers need to work on, well, everything. Angel ERAs are pretty much double (digits that is) or nothing after today. Heck, even Stephen Strasburg looked like his control is rusty during the Nationals/Mets game…of course, the look of sheer terror on the young Met batter’s face when he realized this was laugh out loud funny and one of the highlights of my morning.

But, even so, glorious I say! All of this is part of the charm of Spring Training. The players are working to ready themselves for the season and we get to see a glimpse inside the process, warts and all. I really wouldn’t worry about any issues unless they continue to be issues with no sign of improvement in late March. Be they every so rusty, gaffe ridden and filled with unknown faces, Spring Training games are still baseball. And, quite simply, there’s no game like baseball!

Oh, I know that after two weeks or so of this, I will grow bored of Spring Training games for all of the same reasons I just listed as charming and a few others besides and begin Jones-ing hard for the regular season to start. I might even whine about it on this blog. Might But the fact of the matter remains that with the start of Spring Training games, Opening Day just isn’t that far away, I have tickets to the Angels home opener (and a few more games so far, besides), and my Angels are on TV tomorrow. This is a great weekend.

Oh Josh, You Fell for One of the Classic Blunders!

…You know. Never get involved in a land war in Asia. Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line. And, only slightly less well-known, never ever speak of the fans in less than complimentary terms…because it will live forever online…or something like that. But I’ll get to that in a moment. First…

Hey there Major League Baseball, you great big sweetie. Don’t think for one second that I didn’t notice and appreciate your thoughtful Valentine, having position players start reporting on February 14th. We fans have enjoyed live video of actual baseball players on the field, in uniform, getting ready for the season all over MLBN and our favorite sports sites ever since. Hitting and pitching and live player interviews, oh my! It’s the best thing ever! …well, the best thing since October at any rate. See boys and girls, even if our teams appear to have a funny way of showing it at times, baseball really does love us back. 😉

Of course, the return of players to ball fields and the happy increase in player interviews that inevitably follows does also lead to an increase in player gaffes. For truly it seems as if no Spring Training is complete without several players contracting a case of foot in mouth disease. Among the most recently afflicted is one of our newest Angels, Josh Hamilton.

“It’s one of those things where Texas, especially Dallas, has always been a football town. So the good with the bad is they’re (the fans) supportive, but they also got a little spoiled, at the same time, pretty quickly. You can understand like a really true, true baseball town — and there are true baseball fans in Texas — but it’s not a true baseball town.”

Yikes. So…um…I can’t understand how Texas fans took offense at that, can you? 😉 Seriously though, this isn’t pick on Josh Hamilton day for me. He’s not the first player and I doubt he’ll be the last to say something controversial well before Opening Day, and anyone watching the interview rather than just reading cold words on a page can see that Hamilton’s intentions with these comments were not malicious. He wasn’t trash talking, he was making his own honest observations in response to reporter questions.

In fact, I even agree with Hamilton…up to a point. Now hold on a second there Rangers fans before you get angry with me. In my opinion, Hamilton would be equally correct if he’d the same thing about Southern California fans, whether we’re calling them Los Angeles or Orange Country. Much like Texas, we also have great baseball fans in Southern California, but I wouldn’t call any of our towns baseball towns…and I do believe that by not including Anaheim or the greater OC/LA area in the list of “great baseball towns” that Hamilton gave in his attempt at a rebuttal, he was indicating as much himself.

Look, I spent the three day weekend hanging out with my sister-in-law, niece and nephew. They were taking a week’s vacation from their Boston home to warm up on the West Coast. We spent a fair bit of time talking about baseball — Hey, Seth and I are getting ready for a Spring Training trip; my nephew Henry has been enjoying Little League and is very excited about a great baseball camp his Boy Scout troop attended with PawSox players that culminated in a sleepover on the field; Henry’s annoyed with the Red Sox; I was trying with little success to pound out a blog post; the subject came up a lot. Anyway, just listening to my sister-in-law, Laura, and the kids talk, I was impressed once again with how much Boston is a real baseball town. Laura is a Los Angeles transplant and she is continually surprised at how much the average person in Boston knows about the Red Sox both past and current, by how many games they watch, by how frequently games and personnel moves are discussed. Compared to her experiences in Los Angeles, it’s night and day.

And while I’m certainly not complaining, in all honesty I can’t say the same thing about anywhere in Southern California, even if I were to somehow combine Dodgers fans and Angels fans together in my mind as if they were together rooting en masse for some sort of super Freeway Team, LOL! The Angels and the Dodgers both have great fans. Diehard fans. Fans who absolutely bleed their respective team’s colors. I interact with some of these amazing fans on a regular basis on Twitter and on the blogs…but half of the reason I started blogging and turned to the internet is because, when I’m not at a game, I don’t encounter many baseball fans in my daily life. Only once have I worked in a department where there were more baseball fans than not, and that was split evenly between Dodgers and Angels fans. Usually it’s me, myself and I. And in that one case, our department was unusual for the company.

When Seth worked a few miles from the Big A, he worked with a couple of diehard Angels fans (one of whom sweetly gave us season tickets on a regular basis) but their department was unusual for the building and whenever the company’s stadium seats were offered, it was the same handful of people asking for them every time. During the season, unlike what I hear about Boston, you can’t just walk into any bar in either county and expect the baseball game to be on. Some bars yes, and I make it a point to find and frequent those bars, but not every bar. It is common to have to “fight” basketball and football fans for the TV at points where the seasons overlap and, in my experience, it’s common for basketball and/or football to win out based on majority opinion. In fact, if anything, I would say that L.A. at least is a basketball town. Lakers. Blah.

And, correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the impression that the same is true for the environs surrounding Arlington, expect in their case it’s football, not basketball that’s front and center. Yet, I don’t think anyone would accuse Rangers fans of lacking passion for their team – I certainly would never accuse them of such and Hamilton’s comments didn’t either. So there you have it, great baseball fans. Not a “real” baseball town. That said, of course Rangers fans are pissed. I would be too if the cleat were on the other foot, so to speak. In fact, I remember when John Lackey dissed Angels fans during his first Spring Training with the Red Sox. I can’t remember the exact language, but he said something very similar to what Hamilton has said, that Anaheim is not as great a baseball town as Boston. And at the time I was livid. How dare he?! But I’m much more mature about the whole thing now, of course. So, John, how’d that work out for you? 😉 …okay, okay. More mature, but not yet actually mature.

Now, Lackey also accused Angels fans of not supporting him, which was not true and quite offensive. And, if you move past the ‘not a true baseball town’ part of the comment, the point of Hamilton’s entire quote is that those real baseball fans in Texas won’t boo him when he returns to play in Arlington in Angels red, only ‘not true’ baseball fans will boo him. Ummm…yeah. This part would also be not true — especially after this Hamilton interview! — and probably is quite offensive to his former fan base. But I digress because that isn’t the aspect of his comments people are griping on.

Look, I know we fans seem like contradictory creatures and, well, some of us are. We’re always complaining that we want the players to say something real during interviews instead of just spouting the usual clichés and then the minute that something real turns out to be a bit controversial, some of us whine about that…a lot. But that isn’t what this is. I would far rather hear players speak their mind — even when I don’t agree with them! — than the usual, ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint.’ ‘We just have to play them one game at a time.’ Blah blah. Blah blah. Blah blah. However, while players are speaking their minds I would just caution them to remember that speaking about the fans in anything less than complementary tones really is one of the classic blunders. You can’t win. Really. You can’t. Even when you’re right. Perhaps especially when you’re right. Isn’t that right, Chris Perez? 😉 And just so long as players understand that going in and make their own decisions accordingly, we’re all good.

So, in the meantime, how does one recover from an acute case of well publicized foot in mouth disease? I only ask (rhetorically) because, maybe, in our current situation…well…it could prove to be useful information. Well, it’s very simple, one need only keep one’s mouth shut against the possibility of relapses or appearances of new symptoms and wait for the next afflicted player to open his mouth and pull all of the attention his way with a few poorly considered words. And with that, we say thank you, Octavio Dotel — or, at least, so it would appear — and move on. 😉