The saying from my title is from a pun-ny billboard advertising a Chumash casino off the 101 on the way up to California’s Central Coast wine country. I thought it was clever and it made me smile thinking, more like only 11 days until win country. Baseball season is just around the corner! As you can probably guess from this introduction, Seth and I spent the weekend on the Central Coast for the Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival, our it-fit-the-budget-better-than-SpringTraining March trip. Wine, parties under a patio in the rain, eclectic conversation (We went into this great little used bookstore. But when you stepped inside it was really huge, like a TARDIS, for the win.) and, even without Spring Training, plenty of baseball talk. It was a great weekend.
Paso Robles is a wonderfully casual place. There is wine, very good wine even, aplenty. But the winemakers have the perfect fun attitude about their craft and for festival weekends, they throw great laid back parties featuring pairings like wine and street tacos, Pinot and paella, or wine with Santa Maria style barbeque or sliders. It’s common to have winery parties centered around MLB playoffs or, this weekend, around college basketball games. It’s anything but stuffy, which is why I always have so much fun up there. And, seriously, for a town located about as far away from professional baseball as you can get in the state of California, there sure are a lot of baseball fans in Paso.
This trip I ran into an unusual number of Angels fans too. The winemaker’s wife who went to Villa Park high school in Orange County with Bert Blyleven and Bob Boone’s sons. The casual fans up from Orange County for a visit (Vernon Wells, who?). Dissecting the starting rotation and the Kaz question over a Methuselah – a six liter bottle of wine, truly awesome in its absolute absurdity – of a lovely meritage blend. The local who literally tugged on my sleeve at another event after noticing my jacket. So do you think they’re going to make it this year? Ah, the eternal question.
We also made a special trip to Rio Seco, the baseball winery, hoping for a spring training tie-in. Former minor league pitcher, retired scout and winemaker Tom Hinkle and friends were actually at Spring Training though. No matter, the wine was great as usual, from the Grand Slam and the MVP to the “futures” barrel tasting. Hinkles’ wife and daughter, who run the winery alongside him, are as knowledgeable and hospitable hosts as one could ask for…and they told me that Tom thinks the Angels made some good decisions in the offseason and are ready for a great year. *huge grin* Hey, come for the wine, stay for the season predictions. Rio Seco is hosting a summer kickoff wine and seafood event in June, and Seth and I are planning to make the trip back up again at that point. I jokingly asked if they would have the game on, and my wonderful hostess replied, Here? Are you kidding, we’ll probably have several of the games on, before noting “big Angels fans” next to our names on the guest list. I have a feeling that will be a great party.
In Angels news this weekend, It’s official, Kendrys Morales will start the season on the 15 day DL. (Yes, Kendrys. Apparently they mucked up his name on his original visa, which is more common than you’d think) I am disappointed but I am also relieved. He’s hitting. He’s fielding. But it sounds like his ability to run at the level required to play hasn’t improved much since Spring Training started and now there is a problem with his big toe and narrow cleats – injuries to your feet and ankles suck. They take forever to heal and complications as they heal are common. So, suffice to say. Slow down. Heal fully. Come back strong and ready to enjoy a productive career.
But the rest of you Angels, please, stop trying to be trendy. Just because so many of the cool kids are going on the DL this spring doesn’t mean you have to do it too. Trumbo, Pineiro, Bourjos, I’m looking at you. All joking aside, Pineiro’s sholder strain concerns me. Bourjos is back playing after hip tightness. Trumbo is due back any day now from groin tightness but no word on Pineiro since he was pulled from the minor league game he was pitching in today. I’m glad the team is taking precautionary measures with minor injuries and such during Spring Training, but let’s be careful not to need the precautionary measures in the first place, shall we?
Funny news from today’s game? Scioscia was thrown out for arguing that a third out tag had beat the runner scoring. If this were the regular season I might feel more outrage or annoyance – it does sound like the ump was a little overzealous – than amusement but, seriously, who gets thrown out of the game in Spring Training? Too funny!
Your fielders successful in whatever they do,
May your rookies play well, and your veterans all shine,
Except, of course, for when your teams are playing mine. 😉
Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone out there in the ‘Sphere!
It is definitely spring in California! We have a couple more rainy days coming up in the forecast – and we still need that rain even after last month’s deluge, so no complaints here – but the temperatures are slowly trending upwards. With the occasionally 70s weather and the beginning of daylight saving time it’s finally starting to feel like Opening Day is less than two weeks away!
Catching snippets of games here and there – there hasn’t been an Angels game on TV since the 8th – I have been thrilled to see that our bats are continuing to wake up. I actually went to lunch on Tuesday just in time to catch that great 4th inning against the Padres. Torri homered. Vernon Wells homered off the very next pitch. (By the way, I like this one-upmanship, gentlemen. Please keep this up in the regular season.) Then Howie got a hit, Aybar struck out and Mark Trumbo homered again. Nice! And almost everyone else is hitting too. There are now a lot of averages at or over .300 and I am much happier.
Of course, I was not happy to see that the injury bug, which seems unusually prevalent this Spring Training, struck the Angels too. Scott Downs broke his big toe and will start the season on the DL and Mark Trumbo sat out part of today with groin tightness, though that move was only precautionary. Speaking of the DL, If Kendry Morales isn’t healthy enough to start playing in this week, he will start the season there as well. As much as I want him with the team for the whole season, I really want Kendry and the Angels to take this slow. March 20th, this Sunday, is his drop dead date, as we say in Marketing. If he can’t play in that game, he won’t be ready for Opening Day. He just started running base to base though and I don’t want him to play before his body can handle it. Suffice to say I’ll be listening to Sunday’s game with even more interest than usual – that one’s not televised either.
Even with the bad news, it’s hard not to be excited with the regular season just around the corner. And one week from Sunday, I get to go see live baseball! We have tickets to the exhibition game against the Padres at the Big A on the 27th and to Angels Fanfest that morning. Yes, Fanfest is back after a three year absence, and I am really looking forward to it. I’ve never actually been able to smell the grass from the stands, even from the front row, but the crack of the bat, the sound of the ball smacking leather? It’s. Almost. Time!
My latest big project at work is updating and rewriting our entire course catalog and student handbook…in a little over a week. In the words of the late great Douglas Adams, I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they go flying by! Seriously though, I am a professional. I have everything planned and moving along on schedule, from the legal requirements review, to all of the rewriting, to the occasional panic attack over the deadline. And they said all of that late night paper writing in college wouldn’t be useful in the real world. Ha! (All joking aside though, I love my job and this is a pretty cool assignment, if a little intense.)
Needless to say, I am just a wee bit catalog and course description focused at the moment and Spring Training is all about learning and practicing, so you can see how they might start to jumble together a little in my brain. Watching the games and reading the articles coming out of Arizona, I think I can make a pretty good guess about a few of the spring session catalog’s course offerings at Mike Scioscia’s LAAU:
365. Advanced Astronomy: Okay, so only Mark Trumbo is actually putting the ball into orbit this spring (and Maicer Izturis and Brandon Wood once each) which is a little worrying but many key players are getting high marks with Trumbo, Bobby Wilson, Howie Kendrick, Peter Bourjos, Alberto Callaspo and Jeff Mathis (Really? Cool!) are all hitting over .300…still, after last season, I won’t consider this course successful until more of the starting lineup names are on this list.
342. Physics of Linear and Non Linear Trajectories: The starting rotation is…coming along. They started slow. They’re easing into it. I’ve seen great stuff and silly mistakes. The last appearances were better than the first. For the most part, their 2011 ST stats are comparable to or better than their ST stats in ’10 and ’09. Eh, it’s not great, but I’m just not worried here (except about the 5 spot). To my eye it looks like the rust is coming off on schedule.
450. Fahrenheit 451 and the Art of Closing the Game: Bullpen pitchers are often referred to as firemen. But what happens when your firemen occasionally accelerate or actually start the fires themselves? A lot of offseason dollars were spent wrestling with this “philosophical” delimma and at ST midterms the grades are all over the place. Many of the pitchers the Angels will look toward for relief are making good grades, including Scott Downs, Jordan Walden, Rich Thompson, Hisanori Takashi and Michael Kohn. As for the actual closer? Love Ray Bradbury though I do, Fernando Rodney needs to find some different reading material, stat…as does everyone who has been playing in the 8th and 9th innings for the last few games, ouch.
405. Field Biology: Quite the bell curve going on here. The starting outfield is A’s across the board. Howie and Erick Aybar are looking good at 2nd and short. A nice fight to set the curve at catcher looks promising. The corner infield positions, however, are cause for concern. Trumbo is working admirably hard to overcome a needs improvement at first, which is good because we may need him in April. But third? We’ll see how the final exams play out. As to the kids? The 8th and 9th innings lately are making me think the kids are not alright…at least, not yet.
201. Basic Anatomy (prerequisite for all students intending to declare pre-med): It is often said that the true indicator of a successful spring training is having all of your players make it to the regular season in good condition. So far, the Angels are passing with a B+, which we will elevate to an A as soon as Kendry Morales makes up last semister’s incomplete.
And what of Mike Scioscia’s special core seminars and colloquia, the ice-breaking, team-building and often hilarious “research assignments” he doles out to rookies and veterans alike for morning meeting presentation? Well, sadly Ostrich Wrangling 101 does not appear to be among the course offerings for 2011. However, the following classes are moving right along towards ST midterms:
204. Social Networking: When young Mike Trout ostensibly broke the rookies should not speak until spoken to rule, Jared Weaver took it upon himself to encourage the lad to share his gift for socializing with the fans instead…by posting his phone number on the scoreboard during a spring training game with an invitation to fans to “call Mike Trout with all of your baseball questions.”
305. Trickle Down Economic Theory: So, apparently, Vernon Wells has a rather large contract. Were any of you aware of this? I’m not sure the news has covered this particular detail. At any rate, Wells has been nominated to take the rookies out to dinner and Scioscia has stuck him with the tab after several team meals. Clearly this is a popular course. Sign up early.
515. Artisan Leather Craftsmanship: (this is my favorite by the way) minor league pitchers Matt Meyer and Ryan Chaffee have been assigned a special project, designing a catcher’s glove and fielder’s mitt from scratch and then using them during batting practice. Reporters and players tell us the gloves are still in the prototype stage.
The Angels appear to be excelling at some of these classes and in need of a few visits to the campus learning center for others. As we all know, the specific marks you get in school don’t have much of an impact on your overall performance once you enter the “real world” so we’ll have to wait until May or so before we really know the results of all of that schooling. It will be interesting to see who has learned their lessons…and how jealously Mike Trout guards his new cell phone number.
Sunday was such a gorgeous day out here in Southern California that it just begged to be enjoyed outside. So, Blithescribe, it’s clear and unseasonably warm. It’s been rainy and cold for the last few weekends. What are you going to do now? I’m going to Disneyland! Seriously, that’s what we do a fair bit. If you’re local and you love the mouse, you maintain an annual pass. It’s sadly only a little more expensive than a normal ticket anyway and gives you a truly locals’ indulgence, the ability to go grab a bite to eat and run around the park for a few hours say Friday after work, or on a Sunday afternoon. Any time you want and, for seven months a year with a smaller mostly locals crowd, at that. Not this Sunday. As we found out when we arrived, Disneyland was hosting the Junior Nationals Cheerleading Competition but we decided to tough it out anyway.
Waiting in longer than anticipated lines is the perfect opportunity for the baseball addict to check up on the game. Go go Gadget, smart phone. I hear a lot of baseball fans say that MLBN changed their life for the better but for me, even more so than MLBN, it’s web access from smart phones. Seth and I “watched” the Angels/D-Backs game, just the MLB.com play by play because the Gameday function shreds batteries, in between chatting and goofing around, of course. This is nothing special. We’ve all resorted to watching the game on the phone any number of times. What was new, to me at least, was the sheer number of other people doing the same thing. Now, my test group was a little skewed. The Lakers were playing a big game that afternoon but, even so, everywhere we looked as the lines twisted and folded over themselves, someone, often a couple or group of someones was checking out basketball or baseball on their phone. When we chatted with other people in line, we ran into a significant number of folks doing the same thing we were, though the teams of choice were all over the map.
What do you know? Technology helps the baseball addict leave the house – at least, that’s what one lady in line said of her husband. Seriously though, there are 162 games, after all. We have to work. We have social commitments. Things need to done around the house. We’re going to leave the house and often quite happily. It’s nice that technology has found ways to let the game come with us sometimes. Of course, as far as technology for the baseball fan has come, there has yet to be an invention that can replace fortunate timing 100% of the time. For example, the baby shower for my husband’s cousin on the Saturday of the Angels home opening weekend? I did my own little home plate celebration – without injury! – when I realized it will be over in plenty of time to catch first pitch. Because you can’t ditch one time only family events for baseball – yeah, um, I’ll be there for the next kid’s shower? – and you can only check a cell phone discretely so many times during a party.
As for the game? Well, it was a lot better than today’s strange Keystone Cops on both sides at times 14-13 loss to the Cubs, I can tell you that – I used the phone for highlit…er…updates for this one too. Work and all that. Jered Weaver pitched a decent three innings. Rich Thompson and Jason Bulger, both competing for bullpen spots did very well. And Francisco Rodriguez came in to close in the 9th and finished the game by delivering three outs in five pitches. Niiiice! Almost everyone was hitting. The Angels stole bases, made a couple of great plays in the outfield and more double plays in the infield. It was Angels baseball again. Like I said, better than today’s game of which the best I can say is at least Dan Haren pitched three solid, scoreless innings and everyone was hitting, including bombs for Mark Trumbo and Brandon Wood. Yes, Brandon Wood. Keep it up, kid!
With a few more, significantly less than stellar, spring training games under our belt, Angels fans have learned several new things. For example, ouch, those Rangers guys sure can hit! Oh. Wait. We knew that already. I’d blame the loss on the kids – the Angels were playing with a mostly minor league squad that day – but it was really the homeruns that killed us and the first two – of four! – were off of regular pitchers and enough on their own to ensure a loss. At least Dan Haren was mad at himself about the homerun hit off him. A little anger can be motivating and spring training is the time to get motivated and shake off the rust.
But, Mark Trumbo can also hit! A line drive Wednesday and another bomb Thursday. It’s great to see he’s getting used to Major League pitching! Especially because Kendry Morales’ progress sounds steady but very slow. Kendry’s unlikely to be ready to play any time soon. Based on the fact that Trumbo has seen the most playing time of any Angel so far and all of it at first, I think it’s safe to assume that he’s Scioscia’s primary first base back-up plan. Trumbo’s still mixing a lot of clumsy plays in with the good ones, but with his bat coming around I’m softening up on this idea lot. Keep practicing hard and taking notes, kid, and this might just work out!
Torii Hunter found his bat today. Jeff Mathis and Howie Kendrick continue to find theirs while Brandon Wood temporarily misplaced his on the bus or something. And if any real conclusions could be drawn from this small sample size, I’d be dangerous. 😉
Ervin Santana may be the most unfortunately die hard Star Trek fan ever – convinced that in odd numbered years he’s supposed to suck. Yes, melodrama for humor’s sake is a perfectly reasonable coping mechanism. Why do you ask? I’m not actually panicking. I know it’s his first outing. I know he’s working on a new pitch. I know it’s just one spring training game. I know I still would have liked it a lot better if he’d nailed it.
Mike Napoli is a pretty classy guy and is handling the inevitable interview questions about the trade as well as anyone could ask. He’s being truthful – he appreciates the trade because it means he’s likely to get more playing time – while speaking well of both his former team and his new one. I still don’t like seeing him in another uniform but I wish him well and this takes a little bit of the sting out of the “just business” side of baseball.
Spring training doesn’t count for anything more than a means of everyone getting their work in and preparing for the regular season. Spring training records do not necessarily give any indication of how the team will look in the coming season. But boy do we scrutinize every pitch, swing and play anyway. It’s kind of like the initial stages of a new relationship. You know it’s going to take a while to get to know the person, so you try to keep your attitude light and casual. But every interaction still takes on exaggerated meaning as you try to figure out, does this have the potential for just an okay couple of dates, a really fun fling or something longer and more meaningful? Something that might even keep you cheering all the way through October?
Angels great Garret Anderson announced his retirement on Tuesday after 17 years in the majors, 15 of them with the Halos. A key member of the 2002 World Series winning team, Anderson still holds numerous Angels franchise hitting records including those for hits, extra base hits, runs and RBIs. I will always remember him for his clutch performances both at the plate and in the field and for that gorgeous, graceful swing, one of the most beautiful swings in the game.
Watching him struggle on the Dodgers last year was hard. Seeing him fumble two hard hit balls against the left field fence at the Big A during the Freeway series was harder. I’m sure retirement was a difficult decision but I think it was time. I understand and applaud the drive to try and push out one more year and then another and another, but I really like to see the players retire while their peak years are still a lot fresher in the fans’ minds than the rough years at the end. My hat’s off to you Garret Anderson. Congratulations on your retirement. (For a great Garret Anderson tribute with wonderful personal stories, please visit fellow Angels’ blogger Mo’s Angels.)
Silly as it sounds, after Sunday’s game I felt somewhat deflated. But two better spring training outings for the Angels was all it took to return the buoyancy to my mood. First and foremost, the regular pitchers and most of the core bullpen candidates both days looked good – a little rust here and there, a couple of instances where the pitch placement could still use a little work, but on the whole very good.
I got to see the debut of our most likely new outfield configuration – all centerfielders, all the time with Vernon Wells in left, speedy Peter Bourjos in center and Torii Hunter in right. I loved it! Between the three of them they cover a lot of ground and seem to work well together. Bourjos seemed to have a little trouble calling off Wells at first, but he came around much like he did last season with Torii and Bobby Abreu.
I think I have now seen the real Mike Trout and I too am impressed. That was a heck of a catch at the end of this afternoon’s game and he made it look absolutely effortless. And when he does get the bat on the ball, you can see the power there. I like this all centerfielder outfield idea and think Trout will fit in just fine when the time comes to replace one of the centers currently in the corners.
We’re nailing the double plays!! One of the first indications I had that things were amiss in 2010 was how few and far between the jaw dropping double plays, once an Angels hallmark, had become. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see the guys nailing that 6-4-3 or 4-6-3 again! Also, the fielding so far has been error free, which is especially nice to see so early in spring training.
We have bats! Everyone who should be hitting has had at least one good solid hit in the last three games (remember, each player in question has only played about one full game worth of innings in those three games) except Torii, and Torii’s bat usually doesn’t really heat up until late April. I would jump for joy if it happened earlier, of course, but I’m not going to panic when it doesn’t. Yes, this does mean that Jeff Mathis, Peter Bourjos, Erick Aybar and even Brandon Wood all had hits – Wood’s a hard hit double in his spring training debut today. I don’t know if this will last in all cases but it sure was good to see.
Certain old bad habits were still evident. Eighth and ninth inning excitement: Monday’s game against the A’s was 8 to 2 Angels going into the eighth inning and the final score was 8 to 7. Stranding runners on the bases: seven runners were left in scoring position in today’s game against the Reds. Failing to strike again: today’s game was another score in the first inning and never again outing. Aybar’s base running: he’s like the little girl with the little curl and today’s game was one of the horrid outings. But I’m not really concerned about this, this early on. These observations, good and bad, are all based on one two-game snapshot and I think early spring training games, where the pitchers change every one to two innings and all of the regular position players are out of the game by the 6th inning, are not the best representation of how the regular season will progress. I’m just grounding myself by taking note of the worrisome things along with the hopeful ones.
The baseball fever is so thick in my house that my husband actually convinced me to go play catch with him in the park the other day. Seth never played baseball growing up, not beyond the usual neighborhood pick-up games. I played softball in the local park and rec ponytail league from t-ball up through the beginning of high school but I haven’t touched a glove with any intent beyond catching a ball at batting practice in more than 15 years. So it was odd that he would ask and odder still that I would accept. I think that maybe seeing all of the young minor leaguers play a day game in such a small setting brings more nostalgia for the games you played in your own youth than a regular baseball game.
Playing catch? It’s not like riding a bicycle. Not after more than 15 years anyway. My arm is so much spaghetti, it’s embarrassing and, after this much time, it actually stings to catch the ball bare handed. But I’m still reasonably reliable with the glove and was even able to jump and stretch high to catch a few like back in the old days. And the unmistakable thunk of a perfect throw landing solidly in his glove the few times I managed a good one is absolutely addicting – childhood, laughter and fun all bottled up in a single sound. Yes, I will do this again. It was a lot of fun and I am way too stubborn not to give it another try. Besides, I’m not talking trash here but, um, I’m not the one with the sore shoulder today…he he he.
The quote I used for my headline? It was easily the best comment of the night at Taps Fish House and Brewery where Seth and I decided to go for a late dinner in the bar Saturday. We were giddy from the live baseball treat of the afternoon – and scoring opening day tickets that morning! – wanted more and figured it wouldn’t take much effort to sweet talk the Taps bar staff into putting the Rockies/D-Backs game on one of the TVs. It didn’t. Our favorite bartender, the Angels fan who pumps us for details every time we hit Taps after a ballgame’s, eyes got huge when we asked for a channel change. “There’s still a game on! I thought I missed them all today.”
Well thank goodness for the MLB network’s delayed airing because I think all of the baseball fans in the bar were in the same boat. No one apparently thought to put the game on before we arrived, but the minute it was on the TV half of the eyes in the bar were glued to it…and it’s not like there were any Rockies or D-Backs fans in the bar, just a bunch of baseball starved locals. The headline comment came shortly after that from a guy sitting at one of the tables behind us. One of his friends chided him for paying so much attention to the game and this was his response, delivered loudly, with a great deal of passion and a sweeping gesture at the screen. We at the bar, several bartenders included, responded with approving hollers.
It was a great evening. Out with my husband, an honest to goodness game at the bar, good food, tasty beverages and a lot of baseball fans to talk to – from the friendly, talkative Red Sox fan beside me, to the Angels fans on both sides of the bar who echoed our boo when he used the term “rebuilding year” in reference to the Halos. In many ways, Taps is my ideal game day bar. I would spend more games there if I didn’t also spend so much money there every time I go.
So imagine my excitement about the Angels/Dodgers game today! Meh. As it turned out, I would have been a lot happier if they had aired yesterday’s game instead. Today the Angels gave the starters and most of the second string the day off and let the kids have a work out. Alas, against the Dodgers first string, the kids were not alright. I’m aware that this is the nature of spring training. It’s more about giving everyone a workout, giving the kids some experience and a tryout and working through any issues before the season starts than it is about winning. But still, 5-0 ouch.
With the spirit of spring training in mind, I think there were a few important take aways. First, Kaz was throwing hard and throwing strikes! Even in the first inning and Scott Kazmir is prone to rough first innings. Granted, the Dodgers hit him – five hits and three earned runs in the two innings he pitched. But I think this was inconclusive, and I am not inclined to make excuses for Kaz. I think if he had the Angels starters behind him, that stat would have been better, more like two or three hits and one run. But you never know. I want to see more before the season starts but the fact that I do want to see more at all is positive. Maybe…maybe…well, we’ll see.
Here are some other thoughts I had watching the game. Bobby Wilson is taking spring training very seriously and looked strong both behind the plate and at bat. His increased speed and agility was a bright spot in the game for me. Hank Conger on the other hand looked rusty. I’m not really worried. I’ve seen him do a lot better than that, but if he wants a shot a starting catcher he needs to pick up the speed on his throw down to second a lot. I don’t know what to think of Mike Trout. He hit a nice solid single in the first inning and made one catch in center that his speed made look a lot easier than it was. Other than that, however, he looked like he kind of phoned it in, which I don’t like. But it is just one game. Mark Trumbo needs a lot of work at first. He made some good plays and some really clumsy ones. He’s wearing Mike Napoli’s Angels’s jersey number 44 this season and between the homerun yesterday and, alas, the lack of performance with runners in scoring position today, this seems appropriate. Fernando Rodney’s rustiness looks suspiciously like right where he left off last season.
Watching this game, it was obvious that, like most teams, the Angels have a lot of minor league players who will never be major league players. Andrew Romine, on the other hand? I liked his instincts when he came up this September, sliding across third with the ball to get the seemingly impossible force out. He had a good solid hit today and made one nice diving play at short, his throw just missing getting the speedy runner out at first. I look at him and think, interesting, maybe in a few years? Suffice to say, I need to see a lot more of spring training and the kids – and some of the veterans – need to play a lot more before I form stronger opinions. Fortunately, this was only game two and tomorrow the regular starters are supposed to play. And it’s all still exciting. In the words of random Taps bar guy, these aren’t just spring games. It’s live baseball! It’s been like four months, man!