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!
Holy Angels Lineup, Batman! They hit! They steal! They knock in runs! And they score and score and score again! I am so happy with the Angels offense right now that I am beaming as I type this. I hope this carries over into the regular season and grows! It sure looks Albert Pujols was the missing piece this lineup puzzle needed because all of the good pieces we had going last season are now working in conjunction with one another to create multiple, multiple run innings instead of little tiny offensive outbursts. They look almost as good as the starting rotation – and that ‘almost’ reflects more on the high bar set by the starting rotation than anything else. Speaking of which, I’ll bet that as pleased as the fans are, the run support starved starting rotation is even more so.
That sticky third base question…seems to be a lot less sticky than folks were predicting actually. We have now seen Mark Trumbo play third base and it worked out pretty darned well. He played the grounders hit his way well, including one that took a nasty hop. He made a great diving catch. In all of the discussion about the possibility of Trumbo at third, his arm was never once in doubt…even so, it was really nice to see that this assessment was accurate. And he did all of this while enjoying a good day at the plate which included his first Trumbomb of Spring Training. It’s only Spring Training. It was a very small sample size. But I actually think this could work. The stats and logic behind Clubhouse Confidential’s much more dire predictions a few weeks back did seem to make an unfortunate amount of sense. But people had the same predictions for Trumbo at first base last season with the same logic and, while he was certainly no Gold Glover, he turned out to be a competent, reliable first baseman who kept improving all season. I was hoping he would demonstrate the same caliber as a third baseman and, after watching him, I think that’s exactly what we can expect.
Those crazy MLB video game commercials. MLB 2K12? MLB 12 the Show? Which is better? I certainly couldn’t say. I don’t play video games much and when I do I tend to gravitate back to something old school like Gauntlet or Heretic. But I do know that the commercials for both MLB video game franchises are usually something special and this year is no exception. Justin Verlander’s Randy Johnson impersonation in the MLB 2K12 commercial has me laughing out loud every time. It almost makes up for his attempts at comedy on Conan O’Brien. As for the other? Granted, it’s not that hard to make me cry these days, but a video game commercial? ‘Fraid so. That darned Cubs Win! MLB 12 the Show commercial actually made me tear up…er…makes me tear up. He’s just so sad at the end! (Of course, we all know who they tried to get to be in that commercial and that’s just plain mean.) Suffice to say, both ads were very well done.
Don’t forget your towel. According to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a towel is “about the most massively useful” item you can bring on any journey, local, interstellar, or somewhere in between. Apparently David Price agrees to disagree with the vaunted Guide on this front. Don’t panic, David, you are not alone. Many of us suffer bizarre abuse at the hands of seemingly innocuous inanimate objects. I have a friend who threw out her back showing her daughter how to put on nylons. I have another friend who received a scar from a Rock Band guitar pretty much just as she was just walking by – we refer to this as her Rock Band stage diving scar, by the way. And there’s a good tip for you. If you can’t somehow make the inanimate object injury sound less silly, go for making it sound epic instead.
As for me? Doors are my personal bete noir. Car doors. House doors. Cupboard doors. Heck, even door jams. They all attack me and bruise my arms and legs on a regular basis. See, you are far from alone. Though I must admit, it is nice for the rest of us to be reminded yet again that even Major League baseball players can suffer from occasional bouts of klutziness too…and that that the rest of us only have to answer to the mockery of our friends and family, not the national media. Of course, as a woman, attending a small liberal arts college and having the only honest answer to “Where on Earth did you get that bruise?” be, “I ran into a door.” was more than a little awkward too, as you might imagine.
I was very excited to see the “fully” mic’d game between the Indians and the D-Backs today, even though Seth and I had been joking about the Observer Effect all week – the idea that you can’t really observe a thing without somehow changing it. I figured the players would be very conscious of the microphones and that that would kill a lot of their chatter, but I was hoping for a little taste of the banter on the field. Yeah, not so much. The players were so self conscious – and/or were barraged with reminders to watch their *#!% mouth, grannie back home could hear every word they said – that they didn’t say much of anything that wasn’t of a strictly business nature…or maybe it was the game itself that subdued them? Today the role of Captain Obvious was played by Kirk Gibson: We just aren’t doing many things well today.
Still, it was an interesting experiment and we did hear and few worthwhile, useful and even entertaining things:
- Hearing the base coaches talk to their runners. Even already understanding many of the strategies, hearing how these talks actually work was very cool. Steve Smith was especially good at this and his conversation with Shin Soo Choo following the line drive that had him hitting the decks was hilarious.
- The umpires. By and large I think they were the most comfortable with the microphones and, while at times a few of them were playing for the back row, we heard reasonably natural sounding banter and job talk. It was interesting to see how much they just chat with players and coaches in between innings and sometimes in between plays.
- So, can the players hear the fans? If the sounds from this game are any indication, oh boy can they! …or at least those fans seated closest to the field. And those whiney little kids begging for a ball sounded obnoxious from where I sat. Not all of the kids by any means, just those ones.
- Jason Kipnis cracked me up. I get the impression that only some of the singing was intentional, like maybe he often sings to himself in the infield and wasn’t thinking about the mic at first. He looked genuinely uncomfortable when caught, but then did not hesitate to ham it up. And go Adele, making it on to more players frequent play lists – or so one would infer – than I would have thought possible.
- With all of the mics, the sounds of the ball smacking gloves and flying off the bat were a lot closer to the sounds of actually being there at the game. Granted, I can usually hear these things reasonably well during Angels home broadcasts, but this was better.
- While I have no doubt the managers also held back a lot because of the mics, there were a few great Kirk Gibson and Manny Acta one liners, like the Gibby quote I mention above.
- Although the players dialed down the banter to near mute, as the game played out they became more and more comfortable with their usual business talk, and that was in and of itself educational. They’re better at it, obviously, but in calling the ball, calling the plays and encouraging teammates, they don’t sound too terribly different from baseball and softball players of all ages playing the game at any level.
I would love to hear what the players really say to one another on the field. In fact, if I could choose a mutant super power it might be some sort of controllable mutant hearing – hey it would be useful in business too! But, barring a bite from a radioactive owl, I don’t see that happening any time soon. And I certainly don’t want to change the way they communicate with one another for anything more than the occasional exhibition game. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to continue making up conversations for them like I did last season:
Okay, so it’s only Spring Training. The sights and sounds of the game are never going to be the same in Spring Training as they are when the real deal begins. Still, after so many long days without, they sound pretty darned musical to me. So, after two entire Angels games, one of which only aired on the radio and one we watched this evening via that faithful friend of the working stiff, the DVR, I have a few thoughts.
It’s only Spring Training. And believe you me, if it were going badly I would absolutely be emphasizing how much Spring Training games don’t really mean anything, a fact I don’t forget just because things are going well. However, it makes me really happy to see:
- Albert Pujols and that gorgeous swing looking good from the first at bat.
- C.J. Wilson looking like he’s in season shape already or pretty darn close to it.
- The regular infielders doing their regular season thing in the field and at the plate.
- One possible incarnation of the outfield doing their regular season thing in the field and at the plate.
- Alberto Callaspo belting the ball and playing his position with an “Ahem. I’m still here!” swagger and chip on his shoulder.
- Angels infielders turning two in March with a decidedly May kind of ease and precision. Have you ever noticed that the sound of the ball slapping the glove during a solid 6-4-3 or 4-6-3 is just a little different than it sounds during any other play? Three fast, solid thunks in precisely measured succession. It’s a lovely sound!
- Power from the catcher’s position!! Yeah, yeah, yeah. Spring Training ball parks. Blah, blah, blah. I don’t care. I have now seen current Angels catchers look like they actually know what they are doing in the batter’s box in two back to back games. And after last season? Yeah, that’s a big deal.
- Angels ball players looking relaxed, rejuvenated, and very at ease with one another…until they start talking about the coming season and then there is a fire in their eyes. Love that!
Meh. It’s only Spring Training:
- Oh my word, the errors. With every team, in every game. Balls zinging out of gloves. Sailing lazily past gloves. Dropping softly at the outfielders’ feet… Throws going into the outfield. The backstop. The dugout. The stands… And some of the pitching and hitting? Ugh. Yes, this is why we have Spring Training but it is also why Spring Training will never be as good as the regular season.
- I’m not particularly impressed with most of the Angels kids so far. Not last season’s rookies or Mike Trout who spent a fair bit of time in the Bigs last year. I think my appreciation of their efforts and the breath of fresh air they bring has been thoroughly documented on these virtual pages. No, I mean the younger prospects. I really like Alexi Amarista whose gutsy, athletic, maximum effort style of play in a diminutive package reminds a bit of Dustin Pedroia. And I like Andrew Romine who has demonstrated great instincts and a gift for pulling plays out of thin air in the past. Other than that, I don’t see anything that impressive yet…of course, I wasn’t that impressed with Tyler Chatwood last Spring Training, so I can’t claim to have the best eye for the subtle nuances of a rookie-to-be’s performance.
- The usual: No one stays in the game for very long, even when they’re doing well. Small stadiums make for quiet games. Even the announcers…heck, even the sound and picture quality seem to be in training right along with the players.
We got to watch baseball. Real, current – if not precisely live – baseball over dinner for four days running now. And this evening my husband looked from the game to me with a very contented smile, all of the strain of the day gone from his face, and sighed. This is a nice evening, he said. It’s great to have the back game on. I couldn’t agree more…and that part needs no Spring Training specific header. That part is universal.
Spring Training has sprung and with an array of early news beginning to trickle out of the camps, I had a lot of thoughts bouncing around in my brain, none of which was really a post in and of itself – much like a kid at the Lego store. Ooo, shiny! …Ooooo, shinier!! …Oooooooooo…you get the general idea. Instead of trying to force too much concentration to interfere with all of the excitement, here are some of the things that are pleasing, concerning, amusing, and annoying me right now:
- They’re all there now, in Arizona – okay and in Florida too. Actual ballplayers running actual drills! Live baseball footage on MLBN, even if it’s only batting practice, bullpen sessions and drills, makes me a very happy girl.
- Peter Bourjos says that the hip he was rehabbing over the winter feels 100%…but it’s a bone bruise and he’ll still most likely have surgery after the season is over. Ummm…so why didn’t he take care of this this offseason? Apparently, he didn’t get the MRI until around Thanksgiving so there wasn’t enough time. Ummm…okay. I think. So those rumors that Bourjos is actually part golden retriever? Hip issues certainly aren’t doing a lot to dispel them, kid. All joking aside, I am crossing my fingers that he stays as close to whatever approximates 100% for ballplayers throughout the season. I want Mike Trout to join Bourjos in the outfield ASAP, not come up to replace him during a DL stint.
- Live games start this Saturday and Angels individual game tickets go on sale this Saturday. That makes this Saturday kind of like Christmas…well…until Opening Day and then that’s even more like Christmas…until a game comes along where I have particularly good seats and it’s a particularly exciting game and then that’s more like… Hey, they say we’re supposed to keep the spirit of Christmas alive throughout the year, right? 😉
- Mark Trumbo took a line drive to the face – as you do when you’re learning a new position – but doesn’t want to have the doc take a look at his nose. My husband will laugh uproariously at me when he reads this, but you have doctors on staff for a reason, right? Your foot? Bourjos’ hip? Go see the doc, you know, just in case. But way to really go for it at third! And way to be flexible and roll with the changes.
- C.J. Wilson is really growing on me. I think Terry Smith asked him the perfect questions this afternoon to draw out his love of baseball in addition to his love of his extra-curricular activities. I thoroughly appreciated what he had to say about baseball, about loving the challenge, living for the competition and his gratitude for his adult successes after a childhood of never being the big, highly athletic kid. Very cool stuff. Hearing that, I am reassured that he does have his mind on the game and am leaning back towards, he’s so well rounded. Isn’t that cool! And, hey, a writing major. I did not know that, but gotta love those crazy writing types…especially when they finish a season with more than 200 strikeouts.
- When did “effort” become a verb on MLBN, as in ‘I efforted that,’ ‘we’re in the process of efforting that’? I first noticed Greg Amsinger using it last week and now it seems to be a thing. Okay, the English language, cobbled together, mismatched, uneven, patchwork quilt of a thing that it is, lends itself well to a certain fluidity. And I love words. I love playing with them with even more – I know, you are all shocked! – and I frequently find myself applauding the creative prose of sports announcers. But, efforting? No please. Stop it right now.
- It’s February 29th. Happy Birthday, Frederic! Still nose to the grindstone on that apprenticeship? 😉
Well, the Mariners started workouts this weekend at any rate. But everyone else’s pitchers and catchers are reporting this coming weekend, the Angels on Sunday. Yay! Yay! Only 16 more days until they start playing live baseball! Okay, it will be rusty, working the kinks out, preseason, completely unofficial live baseball but I think we can all agree that after several months of nada, live is the only important word in that sentence…for a few weeks at least, until we grow tired of it and beg for the regular season to begin. But, for the time being, I’ll just sit here bouncing in my chair. The Angels have not released their Spring Training broadcast schedule yet, but I can figure some of it out based on the Dodgers posted broadcast schedule and, wow, live Angels baseball is on the horizon. The prospect makes me giddy. *boingy boingy, boingy*
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So, remember what I was saying about this being the Hot Stove year of the mystery team? Did anyone see Oakland coming on the Yoenis Cespedes deal? Seriously, anyone? Way to go Oakland! Um…I mean…I know we’re rivals and all that, a rivalry I especially enjoy I might add, and I really want the Angels to beat you soundly every single time our two teams meet, but how about the AL West this season? It’s really nice to be an oft discussed, and with respect no less, division again. It’s been an exciting offseason and I see even more exciting results coming this season. Thank you for continuing the crazy streak of key signings. I mean, seriously. AL East who? They still play baseball out there? 😉 And on the NL East front, I’m sure “AL West” is now a four letter word as far as the Miami Marlins are concerned.
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The Angels need a Truck Day! I mean, of course they do have one in the sense that there are trucks that staff must pack full of all of the necessary Spring Training goodies and at some point these trucks do leave the Big A bound for Tempe, AZ. Some fans may even be aware of the date and show up to see the trucks off for all I know. But this is the extent of any Angels Truck Day and that’s only if that last part is anything more than theoretical. I know that I live in L.A. instead of Orange County but, really, if there were a big celebration to see the trucks off, I would have heard something. And a big celebration is what I want – crowds of fans gathering to cheer the end of the offseason, speeches from VIPs, a sort of Angels state of the union if you will, open gift shops with some of the newer 2011 items that haven’t officially debuted yet on sale early and, heck maybe even an opportunity to taste that first ballpark hot dog of the year.
You know, I want what a lot of other teams have. Is that too much to wish for? Oh, and while we’re at it, a multiple day extravaganza of a Fan Fest would be nice too, you know, like other teams have. And, and…basically I wish this was more of a baseball town. Yes, we have two teams in close proximity in the general Los Angeles/Orange County/west end of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties area both of whom routinely fill, nearly sell out or outright sell out, the considerable number of seats in their large stadiums…well, both of them, when folks aren’t justifiably livid with the McCourts that is. But ticket sales do not a baseball town make, at least not on their own. Crazy passionate bleeding team colors fans make a town a baseball town. And while I would argue that the Angels and the Dodgers boast just as many crazy passionate bleeding team colors fans as the next team (check out the blogs if you have any doubt), we just don’t seem to get credit for that.
My unscientific but credible theory on this subject is that our percentages get skewed and diluted by the sheer enormity of the total population out here. Yes, many baseball teams throughout the U.S. reside in populous counties, several of them in counties sufficiently populous to land on the top 15 most populous counties list according to the last census. However, the four California counties I just mentioned (L.A., Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside) plus San Diego to our immediate south make up one third of the top 15 most populous U.S. counties list. We have a lot of people out here, which I think means that we have just as many diehard fans, but significantly more casual fans and non fans (not that I’m complaining about them, enjoy the game however you like) than other places and the combined impression that creates is not one of a crowd that would appreciate, say for example, a Truck Day. Or, maybe it’s just So Cal’s notoriously too hip for the room attitude keeping us from having nice things yet again? 😉
Well, Spring Training is at any rate and that’s good enough for me. So, I was all set to write one more ___ Days Without Baseball post but the fact of the matter is I’m just too darned cheerful. Yay! Oh, those posts were very much tongue in cheek, of course, but it still takes a certain amount of melancholy to write them and, wonderfully enough, I’m just not feeling it. Angels 2012 season billboards are beginning to bloom, the sports analysts are tweeting and there is a hint of baseball in the air.
And to top it all off? Mark Trumbo, one of the Angels two big question marks heading in to Spring Training was cleared to resume baseball activities this week after spending the offseason healing a stress fracture in his right foot. Can he continue last season’s offensive outburst? Can he make a transition to 3rd? Will the injury have any lingering effects? Oh and what about Kendrys? He’s a big part of the offense puzzle too, you know. Well, you kind of have to play the games first, but I sure think so. We’ll have to see. I don’t know. I really don’t know. Oh, and statement. One-Love.
Okay, so the Angels still have a few important questions to answer but that’s part of what Spring Training is all about. We have one new answer to add to Jerry Dipoto’s serious answers to all of fans’ Hot Stove questions. We have a lot of hope, a sense of infinite possibility, and I for one have more excitement than any one person can reasonably be expected to contain. And that right there – hope, possibility, excitement – is the larger part of what Spring Training and indeed the entire concept of Spring is all about.
So surely that groundhog’s gone senile. Real spring is just around the corner. Besides, out here in Sunny So Cal we haven’t even seen winter. This isn’t bragging, mind you. It’s darned odd actually. We may not get snow and ice storms, but we do generally get rain and several weeks of weather in the 30s and 40s. Today it was 70. Weird! So I’m not buying this six more weeks stuff.