February 28, 2010

Goodbye Tempe; until we meet again

Our time in Tempe went way too fast. It always does. The rain today made it even more brief than usual. The Angels had an abbreviated workout for just a handful of pitchers. We didn’t really get to see much or do much; however, the day wasn’t completely lost.

We ran into our friend Joe, who works at the stadium every spring. He and his wife are snowbirds who travel to Arizona each winter from Somers Point, New Jersey. They both work at Tempe Diablo Stadium during this time of year.

Baseball must be in their blood. Up until last year, they spent their summers working for the Atlantic City Surf; a professional baseball team formerly affiliated with the Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball; however, the Surf ceased operations in March 2009.

Joe’s favorite National League team is the Philadelphia Phillies (don’t worry Joe is also an Angels fan). That Philly connection has apparently bonded Joe and Mike Scioscia (who is originally from Philadelphia). As Scioscia was leaving the practice fields, he commented about the weather to Joe and said something to the effect at how mild this was compared to the winters they had in Philly (it was raining ever so slightly).

I’ve bonded with Joe too. You see; Joe is my shoe twin. Yes, you read that right.

Last year I noticed that he and I had the exact same pair of Nike tennis shoes. We joked about it every time we saw one another. We had our own little shoe club. When Cheryl and I ran into him today, he dangled his foot to make sure I saw that he still had the shoes. I kind of half expected him to not even remember that, but he didn’t forget. Unfortunately, I was a party pooper because I wasn’t wearing the same shoes this time (although they were in the car).

Joe is the kind of guy who has a million stories. I could listen to him all day long. His tales are usually funny and always entertaining. Like Bob (who I wrote about recently) they’re part of the reason spring training is so special; in fact, they’re a big reason.
Lucky for us, Joe even told us a story today.

He told us about the time Arte Moreno was walking out to the practice fields and stopped to say hello to Joe and let him know he had a “buddy” coming to the field and asked Joe if he would let him on the field. Joe told Cheryl and me that he thought to himself, “You’re the owner and you’re asking me if I’ll let him on the field?” It was clearly not something he expected to be asked. Most people in Arte’s position probably would have just told Joe to let his buddy on the field when he arrived; however, that just clearly isn’t Arte’s style.

In any case, Joe told Arte he would direct the gentleman his way. Arte’s buddy showed up, Joe pointed him in Arte’s direction and then the man left a short time later. Joe later learned that Arte’s buddy was actually his pilot.

Joe was very impressed. Not because Arte had a pilot, but because he never let on that he even had a pilot, let alone that this was who was coming to the stadium. That’s how modest Arte Moreno is.

Personally, I think Joe and Arte are cut from the same cloth. They’re both respected gentlemen. All the regulars that come to Tempe Diablo Stadium know Joe and he knows them as well.

Joe had more stories to tell, but Cheryl and I had to run. The few players that had made their way out to the practice fields were headed into the stadium and Cheryl and I wanted to make sure we caught up with them. We were hoping to see Joe Saunders and Sean O’Sullivan one last time.

We told Joe we had to run, but would be back out to say good bye before we left.

Our trip into the stadium proved to be for naught as neither Saunders nor O’Sullivan appeared to be in the group headed to the clubhouse. As we were standing around, Joe came walking down to the field level.

You see Joe is old school. He was ready to leave for the day and instead of leaving without saying good bye, he came and found us to wish us a safe trip home. That made our day because that’s the kind of guy Joe is.

A short time later, Cheryl and I headed out of the stadium and as we were walking to our car, Joe came driving up with his wife. He made it a point to stop and wish us well one more time. Joe introduced us to his wife and I had to ask her about a story Joe had told Cheryl and I last year.

During last season’s spring training a man who works for the company that demolishes old stadiums and builds new ones brought Joe a special present. He gave him a piece of artificial turf and some dirt from the home plate area at Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia. Joe loved the idea that guys like Lenny Dykstra and Mike Schmidt probably spit on that dirt. He wanted to proudly display the jar of dirt and piece of turf on his coffee table, but his wife wouldn’t let him.

I asked her about that story and she confirmed it for us today. She told us, “He kept telling me about all the guys who had stepped on that dirt and I looked at him and said, it’s still dirt!” She told us his little trophy was still in the house, but not on the coffee table.

With that they said their goodbyes and sadly, spring training had come to a close for Cheryl and me.

If you make it out to the games this spring, be sure to find Joe, who will be working out in the lawn seating section in left field. He’s the guy with the warm smile, a firm handshake and a gleam in his eye. Tell him James sent you and ask him about that dirt from Veteran’s Stadium.

One more story before we close – Cheryl did make good on catching Mike Scioscia “later.” She let him pose for a picture with us today (I’m kidding, of course). Joe was kind enough to snap it for us. As we were posing for the photo I had to tell Scioscia that I had recently discovered the Baseball Boogie Video. Scioscia said, “That was a long time ago.”

I’ll end this post with a video of Torii Hunter.

I guess we can file this post under the letter “C” as in “class.” As this post is all about class individuals: Joe, Arte Moreno, Mike Scioscia and Torii Hunter who is featured in the video below.

BallHype: hype it up!

February 27, 2010

More notes from Tempe

I left out a few details from my earlier post this evening. I could either blame old age or the fact that so much happens; it’s easy to forget a detail or two.

In any case – Cheryl turned the tables on Mike Scioscia today, so to speak. As he was walking out to the practice fields, we said “good morning” and he turned and walked towards us as if he was ready for us to hand him something to sign. Without missing a beat, Cheryl looked at him and said, “We’ll catch you later.” It was funny because that’s a line the players usually give to the fans when they’re heading out to do their work and can’t stop to sign.

Cheryl was just saying that because we didn’t expect him to stop and sign and knew he was in route to run the players (and apparently himself) through the paces (see photos from earlier today).

We also delivered two unmarked packages to a couple players today. Don’t worry; the packages aren’t of the performance enhancement variety. Nope, they were the two photo albums and CD’s I mentioned last night.

Both Joe Saunders and Sean O’Sullivan were very appreciative. I think they’re always surprised when fans give them something instead of asking them for something.

O’Sullivan said that his wife (Sabrina) “would really enjoy it” when we mentioned that we met his wife last season at the Pet Adoption Day. The album (as I mentioned yesterday) was of O’Sullivan’s first major league start and it was up at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Funny story about that day – Cheryl and I along with our friend Wendy (another 514 Fanatic) were hanging out at the visiting player’s entrance when a taxi pulled up. Out of the car stepped two players that I didn’t recognize right off the bat. One guy (who looked pretty big) went to the trunk to take a bag out. I assumed this guy was a catcher (again based on his size). The bag was marked as belonging to O’Sullivan; as he grabbed the bag, I remember thinking “How nice, he’s carrying Sean O’Sullivan’s gear.” Turns out he was O’Sullivan and the other guy in the cab was Kevin Jepsen, who I thought might be O’Sullivan. What can I say? I thought Jepsen’s blond hair matched the Irish name O’Sullivan.

Cheryl yelled out to O’Sullivan “Go Angels” and O’Sullivan repeated it back to her with a smile. We felt kind of silly later when we learned that he was Sean O’Sullivan. Doh!

And in case you’re wondering, we didn’t share that story with O’Sullivan today.

Saunders was also very appreciative. We talked with him about how we thought his starting on Opening Day last year was pretty special (the album and CD had photos from that start). He admitted it was a big deal for him too.

One more follow up to yesterday's blog. Turns out Mike Napoli wears #44 because "that's the number he was given." I guess I'm surprised he didn't have more say in the number he would wear.

Well, another day in Tempe comes to a close. A new chapter unfolds tomorrow.

Below are a couple more videos that I hope you enjoy. I went the Mike Wallace route again and asked deep, probing questions. You probably aren’t falling for that again, right?

First up is pitcher Trevor Reckling, who some consider to be the top Angels prospect. .

Given Reckling's response to my first question, I have to wonder if he's a Yankee fan. After all, he was born in New Jersey. Hmmm.

Next up is Kevin Jepsen.

Well, who knew that?

I have some more videos to upload at a later date; so stay tuned.

BallHype: hype it up!

Seeing is believing

I said this yesterday and I’ll say it again; whenever, you come to spring training you just never know what you’re going to see. All you can count on is that it’s going to be memorable. Such was the case for Cheryl and me again today.

You know the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, in the case of the photos below, words can not possibly describe what you’re about to see. “Funny” doesn’t begin to describe the site of Mike Scioscia running the bases during some drills today at Tempe.

Now, I thought of all kinds of captions for the photos of Scioscia including, “Angels add some speed to the team” or “Eat your heart out Bengie Molina.” I bet I could come up with these all night long and I’m sure you could too. Feel free to post them in the comments.

The photo in the bottom left hand corner is of Joe Saunders giving Scioscia a cup of Gatorade. Looking on (from left to right) is Brian Stokes, Ervin Santana, and Jason Bugler.

The photo on the bottom right hand corner is none other than Jered Weaver who looks like he’s about to bust a gut.

This is spring training and these are good times.

One of the reasons these are such great times is because of the people who work at Temp Diablo Stadium. They’re some of the nicest people you will ever meet.

One such person is Bob Emerson, who has a cool business card that reads “Retired” - “If I get the urge to work, I lie down under a tree until the urge passes.” Bob calls himself a “sun bird.” He lives in Arizona all year long (unlike the snowbirds that migrate to Arizona in the winter).

If you make your way out to the Cactus League games at Tempe this spring, you’ll notice the Angels have a brand new scoreboard. What you might not know is that our friend Bob will be operating that scoreboard. He’s pretty excited about the new board and the cool graphics it will show during the games.

Cheryl and I also ran into a dad and his son, who we had actually met yesterday. Frank and his son Giovanni were back for a second day of fun. Frank is the first person I’ve met (that I didn’t know previously) that has read this blog. That was kind of cool and surprising at the same time.

Frank told us he was a regular on the Halos Heaven web site. He hails from Irvine and got the bug to come to spring training a couple years back when another Angel fan posted pictures on the web from Tempe. He’s hooked now.

We also had the pleasure of meeting another young family from Costa Mesa. Blake, his wife Bernie and their two sons Landon and Roman were making their first trip to Tempe. The back of Landon’s Angels jacket was covered with autographs from Angels.

Funny story – Landon (who is 4 years old) plays T-ball and when he found out he had to wear a Dodger uniform this season; he told his mom and dad, “I’ve been traded!” He wasn’t too happy about the idea of not wearing Angel red. Sounds like a die-hard fan to me.

The family is pictured with Robb Quinlan. Not pictured is 5 month old Roman who is hiding somewhere behind the group.

Again, these are fun times – but they don’t just happen before your eyes all the time. You really need to put in the time and effort to get the most out of the spring training experience.

I’ll post some videos from today later tonight. Right now Cheryl and I are off to one of our favorite restaurants – Don & Charlie’s – which is a restaurant I mentioned in my previous post – A fan’s guide to spring training.

BallHype: hype it up!

February 26, 2010

Postcard from Tempe

This never gets old. No matter how many times you come out to spring training, every trip is fun and exciting. You never know what kinds of stories you’re going to take away with you and the anticipation of seeing the team after a long winter is huge.

You know how people frequently say they love the smell of freshly cut grass when they walk into a stadium? You hear it so much it almost becomes a cliché. Well, it’s true, that smell greets you like an old friend. When the players were done with their workouts, the grass was cut and that sweet aroma filled the stadium.

Every spring is kind of like a mini family reunion. The players probably don’t see it that way, but we fans sure do. We arrived late in the morning today and didn’t get to see all the guys, but it was good to see Robb Quinlan, Joe Saunders, Brian Fuentes, Brandon Wood, Jered Weaver, Maicer Izturis; newcomers Hideki Matsui and Brian Stokes among others.

So what stood out in my mind today? I learned a little bit about Terry Evans’ E Fellowship blog. It was something he started with some teammates from his days in the St. Louis Cardinals system. It’s one of the ways they stay connected.

Cheryl welcomed Hideki Matsui to the team and told him that we really need him for the World Series. That got Matsui to look up and smile. I don’t know how much English Matsui speaks, but he definitely knows “world series.”

The stories about the Japanese media following him every where are true. When he came out of the clubhouse to sign autographs, they were on him like… well, like white on rice. Here is a guy who’s every move is photographed and recorded and he seems to handle it all with great calm and amazing grace.

I thought Johnny Damon was a rock star (at least in his own mind), but Matsui appears to be is baseball’s version of the Beatles in Japan.

One of our favorites (we have so many) to see every spring is Brandon Wood. We kind of feel like we’ve watched him grow up. He’s been in the system so long that some of early pictures we have of him look like he walked straight out high school… which he basically did.

Cheryl and I both told him, “This is your year.” Cheryl went on to say that we’ve been waiting for this (his shot) for a long time and that her husband (me) shouts out “Free Brandon Wood” every year. Wood smiled and told Cheryl “I like that.”

It was also great to see Jered Weaver who has to be one of the most fan friendly players in all of baseball. He’s always cordial and accommodating. He chuckled when I had him sign a picture from his recent outing at the Dirt Bags intra squad game.

We also arrived just in time to see Joe Saunders walking back to the clubhouse after his work out. It looked like he had quite a work out. He gave us a quick hello, asked us how long we’d be in town and then said he’d see us tomorrow.

Saunders doesn’t know it yet, but we have a surprise to deliver to him tomorrow. We put together a photo album and CD from his opening day start last year. We did something similar for him when he made his major league debut.

Speaking of pitchers who made their debut, we also have an album and CD ready to give Sean O’Sullivan. Hopefully, we’ll see him tomorrow as well.

I tried to do a few impromptu interviews with my Flip video and it looks like I need to practice on that. I did get Brian Stokes and Howie Kendrick to tell me who their favorite teams and players were growing up.

Yes, True Grich asks the tough, hard hitting questions. You might say this is the blog that asks the questions the media types avoid.

What can I say? I’m always going to be a fan first.

I also tried to get Reggie Willits and Mike Napoli on video as well, but I messed that up some how. I guess it’s spring training for some fans too. Give me an “E-10” on those two plays today.

I did learn that Napoli’s favorite team was the Florida Marlins, but his favorite player was Darryl Strawberry. Strawberry wore #44 when he was with the Dodgers. I wonder if that’s why Napoli wears the same number. Perhaps I’ll have to ask him that tomorrow.

I have to tell you that when I hear someone’s favorite team is the Marlins, it reminds me how young some of these guys are. I mean the Marlins haven’t been in baseball all that long (formed in 1993); so it’s not the team I would expect to hear an adult say is their favorite. I must be getting old.

Please check out the videos below to learn about Kendrick’s and Stokes’ favorites.

One of the best parts of spring training is meeting other fans. Today Cheryl and I met a nice couple from Salt Lake City (Kirk and Lorri) who are Angel fans that follow the Salt Lake City Bees. They were making their first ever trip to spring training and their smiles said it all. They were loving every moment; getting autographs, having their picture taken with players and simply soaking it all in. They’ll be back.

It’s great being here again. It’s the eighth year in a row that Cheryl and I have come together. My spring training experience goes back to the days when the Angels played in Palm Springs, but it’s bigger and better than it ever was back then.

This is a great place to create memories. The smallest things making lasting impressions. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

Two Questions for Brian Stokes:

I have to tell you, I had to chuckle when Stokes told me who his favorite team was growing up. If only he knew....

Two Questions for Howie Kendrick:

BallHype: hype it up!

February 24, 2010

Rocky Balboa would love this team

I love Rocky movies. Yup; I’m that guy. I enjoyed all six of them. Sure some were better than others, but I’m glad I saw them all. I’m the kind of guy who can’t get enough of stories about under-dogs and people or teams that overcome the odds to come out on top. If Sylvester Stallone is still making Rocky movies when he’s 80, I’ll check them out. Like I said, I’m that guy.

You could say I get attached to characters and stories. I can watch the good ones over and over again. It doesn’t matter if I know the outcome, I’ll still watch. Movies like “Remember the Titans” get me every time. I can be channel surfing and if I stumble on this classic, I’ll stop and watch it again. I’ll quote my favorite lines (you’re killing me Petey!) and still get choked up during certain parts of the film.

It’s like that with baseball too. Come opening day, I’ll be all-in with this Angels baseball team. I’ll want this team to win. Not the team I imagined we would have or the team I hoped we would have. I will be all about this squad; the team that’s in Tempe right now and the one that will start the season on April 5, 2010.

I won’t long for a player on another team or a free agent we didn’t get. Nope. Come game day, I’ll be focused on the team on the field. The past will be a distant memory. So long Figgy. Bye, bye Lackey. Adios Vlady. Hello Joel, Hideki and Fernando. Welcome to the family; now let’s get it on.

Following a baseball team is all about the journey. Following the Angels can be all consuming. I’ll live and die with every play on the field. The joy of winning probably won’t last as long as the pain of losing, but I’m counting on the winning to come much more frequently.

There will be moments when I will want to skip to the end to see how it all turns out, but given the choice, I really wouldn’t want to miss a single moment. When it’s the bottom of the 9th and the Angels are down a couple runs with two outs and the bases loaded, my eyes will be wide open. I won’t turn away because it will be time to embrace the experience.

When James Earl Jones’ character in movie "Field of Dreams" said, “they will come;” he wasn’t kidding. We are ready for some baseball and opening day can’t get here soon enough.

This will be my team for better or worse. If Robb Quinlan wins a job, he’ll also win my support. He’ll be one of us and I’ll pull as hard for him as I would for Kendry Morales. If Brian Fuentes blows a save, I’ll burry my head in my hands, but then I will hope he comes back the next day to do a better job. Even if some fans call for his head, I’ll cheer for him to get another chance. I will want that in the worst way because I want to see a guy get up after being knocked down; dust himself off and come back for more. Remember, I love Rocky movies.

To tell you the truth the season is actually more enjoyable when a team overcomes a little adversity. Cakewalks are boring. You start to take the winning for granted and then you become too complacent. I want that eye of the Tiger. I want to be engaged in a season and have a reason to watch. I want some swagger. I want to watch the Angels look the competition in the eyes, not blink and push on.

I want to see how they handle the best shots from the competition. I want to see them playing hard and never giving up. I want tenacity and determination. I want to be inspired.

I want Brandon Wood to silence the skeptics once and for all. I want Howie Kendrick to fulfill his potential and for Torii Hunter to remind me why I love watching him play the game so much. I want to feel like I did after game 7 of the 2002 World Series.

I want memories and tears of joy. I want victory.

It’s only February, but I’m feeling it. The season is drawing near; she’s stretching her legs in the Arizona sun. Opening day is coming and I’m ready.

BallHype: hype it up!

February 23, 2010

This too shall pass

It hit me today. Big Daddy Vlady is a Texas Ranger. The thought was kind of rattling around in the back of my brain, but I hadn’t really focused on it until today.

Michael Schlact, a pitcher in the Rangers organization tweeted “Coolest part of my day so far....seeing Vlad Guerrero show up to camp. What a beast!!!”

Seeing that hurt just a bit. I might have even grimaced just a tad. It just didn’t sound right.

Now, I’ve never been a huge Vlady fan; at least not of the die hard variety, but I remember how thrilled I was when the Angels signed him prior to the 2004 season. It was one of reasons Cheryl and I took the season ticket plunge. I used to tell myself all the time that I was pretty dang lucky to see a future Hall of Famer playing on my favorite team all the time.

I understand the reasons the Angels let him go. I even agree with them, but it doesn’t take away the fact that his being in Texas just seems weird. It’s like the planets are out of whack or something.

There’s also that little voice inside my head that keeps saying, “what if…” What if Vlad has a couple of monster years left in him? Heck, what if he just has one and it’s this year? How am I going to feel? To tell you the truth, I’d rather not think about it, but that voice keeps chirping.

All I know is that I’d cope with this a little better if he wasn’t in Texas. I want him to be successful, but I sure wish he was with a team outside the AL West.

This is the hardest part about being a fan in today’s sports world. Players change teams all the time. Loyalties are broken and new alliances are drawn up every day. Take Johnny Damon (you knew this was coming). As soon as he signed with the Tigers, I predicted he would say that Detroit was always his first choice. Johnny is good like that. He’s as predictable as poop in a baby’s diaper. Guess what? That’s exactly what he said.

I should be used to it by now, but I guess I’m not. (Not the Johnny Damon thing, the thing about players changing teams all the time).

The business part of baseball has changed over the years, but the funny thing is most fans haven’t changed a bit.

Think about it. Have you been following the mess up the 5 Freeway? I feel bad for Dodger fans; I really do. No fan base deserves an owner like Frank McCourt (well, except for maybe the A’s) and yet the overwhelming majority of Dodger fans won’t abandon that sinking ship.

A fan’s allegiance (not just Dodger fans) to his or her team is almost supernatural. Most people aren’t even as committed to their personal relationships as much as they are tied to their baseball team. If something goes wrong in a relationship; they bail; however, they will let their baseball team play with their emotions, rob them of their hard earned money, lie to them and do all kinds of things to make them miserable and they will simply keep coming back for more. They just won’t leave because that’s not an option.

Kind of funny, don’t you think?

The divorce rate is probably much higher than the rate at which fans switch teams. Better to leave a spouse than to be labeled a bandwagon fan, I guess.

I know my fair share of disgruntled Dodger fans, and I sometimes kiddingly invite them over to the Angels side. They give me that death stare. You know the one.

It’s like this everywhere.

Cub fans wear their fandom for the “loveable losers” like a badge of honor, but suggest they find a new team to cheer for and some will probably tell you they’d rather die.

All these thoughts came to my mind today because Schlact was excited about seeing Vald in his camp. It brought back memories and conjured up a small twinge of regret and maybe a little bit of jealousy. It’ll pass (already has), but it got me to thinking.

It’s easy to get excited about the new kid in town. That part of the game never changes; especially when they come with a reputation. Texas has the “beast” and we have “Godzilla.”

I should be more excited than I am about Hideki Matsui. Maybe I will be the first time I see him in person. I’m guessing all this probably resonates with Angel fans who wanted to see the team make a big splash in the off season.

Everyone wants to have that new car smell experience. I’m thinking we can have that with Brandon Wood, but a lot of fans think differently.

To them, Vlad Guerrero in Texas is like their neighbor getting a classic muscle car. They’re not sure they want one, but since their neighbor got one, they want something too. They look in their driveway and see a used car on its last legs (Matsui). Never mind the fact that their neighbor’s car may be a mile or two from dropping its engine (Vlad). It’s all about keeping up with the Joneses.

It would probably be easier to just switch neighborhoods, but that’s not going to happen.

This is going to be an interesting year. I’m not looking forward to seeing Chone Figgins in Seattle or Darren Oliver in Texas. I’m sure I’ll eventually get used to it. Seeing how the Angels play their division rivals 19 times in the course of a season, I’ll have plenty of time to let it soak in.

It’s just weird. This is the biggest transition year in the Angels recent history. Change can be good, but people are usually resistant to change.

Imagine Tim Salmon changing teams during his career. Or John Lackey… oh wait.

Forty one days until opening day.

BallHype: hype it up!

February 22, 2010

In a word (or two)

The Angels are going to win the west. I said it because I believe it. Now, I could give you a long list of reasons as to why that’s the case, but I don’t really need all that many words to make my case.

I have one word for you and that’s pitching. Think about this; in 2009 the Angels sent 14 different pitchers to the mound to start a game. What would happen if your team had to use 14 different starters in a given season? How does the word “chaos” sound to you? Better yet, how about “panic?”

Think about this; last season, three Angel pitchers made their major league debuts in Sean O’Sullivan, Anthony Ortega and Trevor Bell. The Angels started someone other than their projected rotation of John Lackey, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver and or Kelvim Escobar/Scott Kazmir 41 times. That’s 41 starts from players they didn’t expect to contribute in 2009. How did they do that? I have another word for you… “Depth.”

One of those 14 guys was Matt Palmer who had a solid 3.93 ERA; who despite winning eleven games and putting up that nice ERA may very well start the 2010 season in the minors or be added to the bull pen. That’s called depth. They have it and chances are; your team (especially in the AL West) doesn’t.

The Angels overcame injuries to Kelvim Escobar, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders and John Lackey, who all spent time on the DL. And let’s not forget the tragic death of Nick Adenhart. How does a team do that? Depth, baby; depth. It’s all about having arms in your system. Face it; your team wants this kind of depth. Your team would give anything for this kind of depth.

Despite having a pitching staff that faced one adversity after another, the Angels won 97 games. Don’t dismiss that number. Think about it. Think about what the Angels had to overcome and then focus on that number again.

Yeah, that’s right; you’re starting to see what I’m talking about, aren’t you?

That’s not just depth; that’s crazy good depth. Most teams are struggling to find five starters that won’t embarrass them and give them a chance at winning (Dodgers anyone?). Most teams can’t survive an injury to one or two pitchers, let alone a ton of them and stay competitive. Most teams aren’t the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

A lot of talk has been made about the pitchers in the AL West. But not enough of that talk has been about the Angels in my opinion. Folks have taken them for granted. They keep talking about the loss of John Lackey. They’ve forgotten about those 41 starts and everything the team overcame in 2009.

Let’s do this already. Let’s get to the 2010 season. I’m bored with this talk about how Seattle is going to take over the west. I’m not amused by the projections for a Rangers pennant.

I say bring it. Come on Seattle, Texas and even you Oakland. Show us what you got. Because the bad news for you is that the Angels staff will be better than last year’s group. Five solid guys and organizational depth means the AL West pennant still goes through Anaheim and if your team wants it, they’re going to have to come and get it.

If you’re not fired up about the Angels pitching staff, check your pulse. Better yet – look in the mirror and make sure you’re not wearing an A’s cap.

I know some of you are going to rattle off names like Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez and then you’ll start to mumble. All I ask is that you do the math. Five solid starters beat two great ones. I know the baseball experts are trying to ignore that equation, but they’re just whistling in the dark. You can’t possibly believe your team has the pitching to beat the Angels, right?

I know right now you might not see it now. After all, it’s spring time. The birds are chirping, the air is cool and crisp and everything seems quiet and peaceful. Well, that’s just the calm before the storm and that storm is definitely coming.

And don’t even get me started on why having Mike Scioscia puts the Angels head and shoulders above everyone else in the west. Don’t make me do some more math and talk about the 900 wins over ten seasons as the manager, which comes to 90 wins a year.

Let’s do this. Let’s get the 2010 season started. I’m ready for that new “Tradition” slogan the Angels are using for this year. I’m thinking the tradition is winning the west, outperforming the projections and proving the experts wrong – again.


BallHype: hype it up!

February 19, 2010

Hey John, why is your nose so brown?

So here’s the deal; Jeff Biggs was on his radio show this afternoon quoting John Lackey today. Lackey allegedly said something to the effect that Angel fans lacked passion. Those weren’t the exact words, but that’s the gist of it.

Unfortunately, I can’t find a link to that statement anywhere. I do not doubt that it happened; I just wish I had something concrete to focus on and actually link to.

Never-the-less, I’ve got a thing or two to say; but you expected as much, right?

John Lackey has moved on. He doesn’t give a rip about us Angel fans. He’s done and apparently, he doesn’t even respect us. Let that sink in a bit.

How does that feel?

John Lackey doesn’t like us, doesn’t miss us, and he just doesn’t care about us.

Are you getting this?

With all due respect to Buck O’Neil, I need to get a few things off my chest. I have tried to move beyond the defection of Lackey to Boston, but it’s not as easy as just letting it go. Stuff like this (his alleged statement) makes me want to blog. I might even punch a wall, but I’d probably break my fingers and not be able to type and I can’t have that.

I suppose I should thank Lackey for giving me something to write about tonight. Whatever.

Let’s cut to the chase. If you’ve been feeling sad over the loss of Lackey or if you’ve been romancing his time with the Angels; stop it. Just stop it right now. It’s a new day and lines are being drawn in the sand.

You see in sports, it’s about taking sides and you’re either with us or you’re against us. Lackey is one of them now. He was an Angel, but he’s not any more. He’s done here. He’s a Red Sox. So, if you’re one of those sentimental types that want to applaud him when he returns to Anaheim, it’s time for you to have a reality check.

Lackey’s got a new family. He’s got new fans. He’s making nice with the New Englanders. Don’t be hurt when he doesn’t even acknowledge you. He’s gotta do what he’s gotta do.

So do we.

Don’t cheer for Lackey. Save your applause for the 20 year reunion of the 2002 World Series. In the mean time, you need to treat Lackey like the enemy because guess what? He is. Lackey is a part of an organization that thought it would be nice to have Dave Henderson throw out the first pitch in game 3 of the ALDS this year. It’s too bad Henderson couldn’t help them that day.

Maybe they thought it was cute and maybe they thought they could get in the Angels’ heads. I don’t know. All I know is that it was bush league and they got what they deserved that day.

If Lackey really thinks the Angel fans lack passion; he’s got a short memory. I mean did someone give him a lobotomy? I have to wonder.

Angel fans have plenty of passion.

And let’s dispel the myth of Red Sox fans being some sort of supernatural group of people. I’ve been to Fenway. It’s a great park. A wonderful place to see the game, but I have news for you; I saw Red Sox fans come in late and leave early. I sat in a row where a guy and his girlfriend made frequent trips to the concession stand. Their concessions must be the best in the world because apparently it sure beat watching the game.

They have plenty of people who are there to be seen and not necessarily to watch baseball. They’re no different from any other fan base.

Now sure, Boston is a great sports town and they love the Red Sox. I’m not saying their fan base doesn’t have passion because they do; however, they don’t bring that to the stadium every stinking night. Yes, they get loud, but being loud doesn’t necessarily equate to passion. In fact their fans are probably loudest when they’re singing “Sweet Caroline.” I guess they’re passionate about Neil Diamond, right?

Look, all I’m trying to say is that Lackey has moved on. We’re a distant memory. He’s put us in his rear view mirror and he’s stepping on the gas. He doesn’t care if we choke on the fumes. He’s going to be buddy, buddy with Stephen King, Ben Affleck and Jimmy Fallon. He wants to brown nose the Red Sox fans and take some cheap shots at Angel fans. His true colors are on display.

He’s probably not done dissin’ Angel fans either. Get used to it. Better yet, be prepared to give a little back. Check that. Be prepared to dish a lot of it back. He needs to know he made the worst decision of his life. Not about signing with the Red Sox (because it's hard to argue with $82.5 million), but in his decision to take a shot at Angel fans.

Like I said earlier; it’s time to draw a line in the stand. It’s time to take sides. This is baseball and taking sides is part of the game.

BallHype: hype it up!

February 18, 2010

Damon Watch 2010 and other more important things

My little post about Erick Aybar created quite a stir across the internet. Baseball writers by the hundreds wrote in to tell me I was way off base and that Erick Aybar was the perfect lead off solution for the 2010 Angels.

*Tries to keep a straight face*

Okay, maybe there wasn’t so much as a blip anywhere on the internet regarding my post about Aybar. However, my cat did meow at me a little funny and I took that as a sign that someone actually cared. But now that I think about it, she was probably just hungry.

Fact is I wanted to follow up on my last post and this was the best introduction I could come up with.

So, on this the day; the day after Angels’ pitchers and catchers report for spring training, I have some burning questions to ask.

First of all, how can spring training begin without Johnny Damon? Damon hasn’t signed and quite frankly, I’m concerned. I’m concerned because the moment he does sign, the news is liable to preempt the Olympics, Tiger Woods’ press conference or anything else going on in the world. I’m liable to miss some historical event or bigger than life happening because someone will determine that Damon is more important.

I can see it now… we interrupt this broadcast from NASA where an alien ship has been captured to bring you breaking news about Johnny Damon.

I’m telling you if Johnny doesn’t sign somewhere soon, they might call off the whole baseball season. *Shutters*

Boy, I have to tell you it feels pretty good to get my first shot in at Johnny Damon this early into spring training. Yup, I’m in mid-season form.

I guess when you follow mlbtraderumors and also follow all the baseball writers and bloggers on twitter and see reports like “no news on Damon” you get a little snarky. I’m not exaggerating when I say there are almost as many non-Damon reports as there are actual Damon rumors.

Moving on…

Next up, mark this date down: June 11, 2010. What’s so signficant about that date, you ask? Okay, maybe I asked. Whatever…

It’s the day the Oakland A’s will declare they’re no longer in the race for the AL West pennant and will begin to entertain offers for Ben Sheets and anyone else on their roster who they can trade for prospects.

Why June 11? Well, they will have completed the last game (the previous day) of a three game series with the Angels. They will have been swept and fallen helplessly behind the division leading Angels.

Sweet; I got a shot in on the A’s and Johnny Damon on the same day.

I know; I know I’m always picking on the A’s and Johnny Damon (among others). Perhaps I need a new target or two to spice things up around here.


I’ve got another question. I wonder how well Vladimir Guerrero is being received by Ian Kinsler? I mean I wonder what will Kinsler say the first time Guerrero (and Darren Oliver for that matter) steps on to the field (the same field he told all Angels to get off of in 2009)?

Kinsler is the new A.J. Pierzynski, don’t you know. Only difference is AJ has actually won something.

Speaking of teams that haven’t won anything; how about those Mariners? You know a lot of fuss is being made over the new dynamic duo of Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee. Well, did you know that in 16 career starts against the Angels, Hernandez is 4-5 with a 4.20 ERA? Okay, last year he was pretty good with a 2.30 ERA, but he only won one game in four starts.

Cliff Lee on the other hand is 5-3 in 8 career starts against the Angels with a 3.32 ERA, but didn’t face the Angels at all in 2009. However, we also should note that in four career starts in Anaheim, Lee hasn’t faired so well. He’s 2-2 with a 4.44 ERA.

All I’m saying is that the AL West title still goes through Anaheim and the Mariners are going to need more than just Hernandez and Lee. Their offense has to figure out five starters (Weaver, Saunders, Kazmir, Santana, and Pineiro) and that’s not going to be an easy task for that offense.

Texas on the other hand seems like a more legitimate contender. In fact, a lot of the projections I’ve seen have the Rangers winning the west; while a lot of baseball writers are picking the Mariners.

I say we ignore everyone and just tap into the wisdom of Bert Blyleven, who said, “…the Halos have created a big gap in their division, have a strong minor league system to help replace free agent losses, and despite the improved competition, are still the team to beat.”

Put that man in the Hall of Fame!

BallHype: hype it up!

February 16, 2010

See Erick run; run Erick run

Maybe it’s my imagination, but I keep seeing an elephant in the room that no one is talking about. Then again, it’s kind of hard to just "imagine" an elephant in the room, isn’t it?

There’s no way to sugar coat this; Erick Aybar is not a base stealer. There, I said it and it feels good to get that off my chest.

Here is a guy who many see as the heir apparent to Chone Figgins; a guy with tremendous speed and THE guy most are penciling in as the lead off hitter for the 2010 Angels.

Hello? Are the stat heads asleep at the wheel? For every two bases Aybar steals, he get’s thrown out the third time. A 66% success rate just ins't cutting it. Last year he stole 14 bases and was caught stealing 7 times. In four seasons, he has 26 stolen bases and has been caught 13 times. In his minor league career he has 186 stolen bases and has been thrown out 98 times. Are you seeing what I’m seeing? There’s a trend here and that Aybar may be fast and he may steal bases, but the effort comes with obvious risks.

In 2004 while playing for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes he was caught 36 times. He was caught stealing more times than he walked! People love to talk about his speed, but for some reason they neglect to mention how ineffective he is despite that speed. I just don’t get it.

I think it’s safe to say that Erick Aybar is not a prototypical base stealer. He’s kind of a train wreck, if you ask me. You want your train to pull into the depot without incident; well if Aybar is your train, you’d better tighten your seat belt.

I suppose there is hope though. Last year he overcame his reputation for being a player prone to stupid mistakes. Some claimed he lacked any real baseball IQ and was know to make a bone head play for every spectacular one he’d make. There was a time when routine wasn’t always so routine with him.

Face it, Aybar is the player most likely to run to third base instead of first. I'm just saying. At the same time, he's also the guy most likley to bunt for a double or intercept a screaming ground ball, do a cart wheel and then flip the ball in the air and kick it to first base to throw out Carl Crawford.

Aybar is the one guy on the team who's most likely to make me say, "did you just see that?" And the genesis for my reaction could be either positive or negative.

That being said, I have to admit that as the 2009 season went on, he made fewer and fewer bad plays and still managed to do the spectacular now and then.

He also made strides to improve his OBP going from .314 in 2008 to .353 in 2009. His overall offensive production took a big step forward.

Basically, he made Scioscia look like a genius when most Angel fans were ready to dub Maicer Izturis as their every day short stop. Scioscia is good like that. Makes me crazy (in a good way) sometimes, but I wouldn’t want to see anyone else guiding this team.

So, what can we expect from Aybar in 2010? Bill James projects 18 stolen bases to go with 9 times being caught. The consensus at FanGraphs has Aybar stealing 26 bags while failing 13 times. Is this an area of concern? If he Angels are going to play the brand of baseball they’ve been accustom to under Scioscia, I have to believe it’s at the very least a question mark.

We know he has talent. He flashed that talent often last year. The question I have no answer for is how good does Aybar want to be? I’ve heard he’s a hard worker, but I haven’t heard anything about his ability to learn. I’m not saying it’s bad; I just haven’t heard. Can he become a better base runner and stealer? I really don’t know, but I guess we’re about to find out.

It’s easy to pencil Aybar in as the lead off hitter in 2010, but it’s not easy (at least not for me) to feel comfortable seeing him in that role.

Aybar is 26 years old. He’s young enough to still have some upside, but he’s also been around long enough to demonstrate that he’s already getting better at every aspect of his game. He improved his hitting and became a more consistent fielder in 2009. I guess if he takes one thing at a time (a reasonable goal), we could see him improve on his effectiveness on the base paths this year.

Fortunately, base stealing is only one aspect of being a good lead off hitter. I'm probably worrying about nothing. At least I hope that's the case.

The fun part of all this is that we will get to see it all unfold on the field. I'm hoping for the best. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Pitchers and catchers report tomorrow and it’s about time.

BallHype: hype it up!

February 15, 2010

Tales from Tempe

As the day pitchers and catchers report draws closer and closer, I thought I’d share a story from last year’s spring training that still brings a smile to my face every time I recall the event.

This is my 100th post on True Grich and I thought this would be the perfect time to recount one of my favorite stories.

It was the spring of 2009 and the Angels were taking batting practice and Reggie Willits was about to take some cuts. All of a sudden, as if on cue Torii Hunter pops out and yells out to the crowd “$500 if he hits it out.” This caught everyone’s attention and apparently Reggie’s as well.

Reggie played up the challenge, digging in and taking some serious hacks. The effort was there, but the results weren’t. Let’s just say he wasn’t looking like Albert Pujols or Big Daddy Vlady.

Hunter was looking pretty confident and then all of a sudden a ball started looking like it had a chance to go out. Reggie was giving it some body English and it ended up hitting the top of the fence and falling back in the playing field. Hunter breathed a big sigh of relief and Reggie buckled at the knees, his back arched backwards with his eyes looking up. It was as if his whole body was saying, “Oh man!" We all thought it was going out.

The fans began to cheer Reggie on; which of course got Hunter going as well. He started yelling “don’t cheer him on, he’s going to cost me money!” Reggie was soaking up the attention; which isn’t really like him when you think about it. More than anything he was being a good sport. He was definitely enjoying the moment.

And then it happened. Reggie put a charge in one and the ball sailed over the left field fence. Willits had hit one out. The fans cheered, Reggie took some bows and Hunter started laughing. He couldn’t believe what he had just seen and said, “I’ve been bamboozled. I didn’t think he could do it. Let this be a lesson to you kids, don’t gamble.”

It was a special moment and the kind of thing you can only see by putting time in at spring training. Reggie Willits has yet to hit a homerun in 804 major league plate appearances, but on that spring day he might as well have been Babe Ruth. Willits went yard and those are three words you just don't hear every day, if at all.

Pitchers and catchers report in three days.

BallHype: hype it up!

February 13, 2010

Talking baseball with Marlins Scout Roger Jongewaard

Today was my lucky day. My wife Cheryl and I headed over to one of our favorite restaurants in Long Beach this morning; Jongewaard's Bake n' Broil (a place I mentioned in an earlier post) and while we were waiting to be seated, our friend Andy who manages the restaurant told me his father-in-law Roger Jongewaard was just finishing up his breakfast and asked if I was interested in talking to Roger.

Andy and I had been talking about setting up a time for me to interview Roger for this blog and as luck would have it, today ended up being the day. Even though I was caught a little off guard, I knew I couldn’t pass up this wonderful opportunity to talk a little baseball with a man who has spent more than forty years in the game.

My wife Cheryl grabbed a pad of paper and some pens for me and Roger and I headed off to chat about baseball.

Roger is presently serving as a scout for the Florida Marlins. His primary duties are to keep tabs on the Angels, Padres, Mariners and Rockies. He attends about fifteen regular season games for each team, on top of trips to their minor league affiliates. His job is to be the eyes for the Marlins should they enter into any trade discussions with any of the four teams. It’s a job Roger loves doing as he never gets tired of going to the ball park, even at the age of 73.

Roger was drafted by the Milwaukee Braves out of Long Beach Poly High School. Had he wanted to, he could have gone to play at the University of Southern California (USC), but opted to play pro baseball instead. In his early days in the game, Roger had the chance to play with Hall of Famer, Hank Aaron while they were both in the minor leagues.

Roger remembers one spring training where the Braves were having a hard time catching up to the heat being thrown by an opposing pitcher. He said, “Guys kept striking out and Aaron steps in and hit a homerun down the right field line (the opposite way). When Aaron came back to the dugout, he was comenting that he couldn’t get around on the ball and we looked at him and said, yeah, but you just hit it out!” What Aaron viewed as a failure, others would have considered a tremendous success.

When Roger’s playing days ended, he could have taken a job as a manager of one of the Braves minor league teams, but opted to return home to California. He worked a few years and realized that if he was going to get into upper management; he’d most likely have to relocate. He decided that wasn’t what he wanted to do and didn’t like the idea of working for someone else anyway and went into the restaurant business by opening Bake N’ Broil in 1965.

One day he got a call from Rocky Bridges who was with the California Angels at the time. Bridges said they needed someone to fill in as their bull pen catcher and asked if he’d be interested (Roger was a catcher). Roger had wanted to get back into the game and saw this as his chance and took the job.

Even though Roger loved being in the game, he wasn’t thrilled about the travel. He had a growing family at home and wanted to be close by. After spending a few years as the Angels’ bull pen catcher; one thing led to another and he was hired as a part time scout by the Texas Rangers and was later signed by the New York Mets as a full time scout. Roger covered the Southern California area which fit his lifestyle; allowing him to be at home at the end of each day to sleep in his own bed and be with his family.

Along the way, he signed players like Darryl Strawberry, Kevin Mitchell, and Lenny Dykstra. When he first saw Dykstra, he thought he might be too small; however, he was very “muscular.” When questioned about his physique, Dykstra told Roger he got into some really good “vitamins.” I had to chuckle. Roger went on to say Dykstra had a much better career than he expected.

Mitchell (who he signed at a try-out camp) ended up being another player (like Dykstra) who exceeded his expectations. Roger said, “I really didn’t know how high of a ceiling he had offensively.”

If you’ve read the book “Moneyball” you no doubt know that Roger also signed a young prospect named Billy Beane. I asked Roger why he thought Beane never panned out as a major league player and Roger said, “He was too smart. He over thank the game instead of letting his natural ability work for him.”

After leaving the Mets, Roger scouted for the Detroit Tigers and earned himself a World Series ring in 1984. He then spent 20 years with the Seattle Mariners, where he held a variety of positions including Vice President of Scouting and Player Development from 1989 to 2003.

Jongewaard is often mentioned as being responsible for signing both Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey, Jr.

In Junior’s case, it’s been well documented that the Mariners’ owner George Argyros really wanted to sign a pitcher named Mike Harkey.  I asked Roger about that. Roger said, “The owner kept asking me if Harkey could help the team right now and I said, yes he could. He would then say, but you’d rather we signed this high school kid; why?” Roger would say, “he’s special.” Argyros would then remind him that he had said the same thing about Patrick Lennon, who was the Mariners first round pick in 1986 and 8th overall.

Lennon wasn’t panning out quite so well, but that didn’t deter Roger’s confidence. He knew Junior was extra special and stuck to his guns. Roger explained, “the owner told me if he didn’t make it, it was going to be my (butt). That didn’t really phase me because he said that a lot.”

I had to chuckle and thought to myself that Roger must be a pretty good poker player. It never occurred to me that scouts had to have nerves of steel.

Roger said that Junior was “the best left handed hitter he had ever seen.” When asked who was the best right handed hitter he’d seen, he responded with “Manny Ramirez.”

He went on to tell me more about the process involved in going after Ken Griffey, Jr. He was worried that Junior wouldn’t be "eligible.” When I asked him about that, he said they gave prospects “character” tests to measure their “desire” and other areas of their character. Ken Griffey, Sr. had warned Roger that Junior wasn’t really motivated in the classroom. He told Roger he was a smart kid, but he didn’t have the patience for tests.

Roger explained that Junior went to a high school in Ohio that was a football power house and when Junior decided he didn’t want to play football; he didn’t quit. Instead he let his grades slide so that he would become ineligible. The test would be a key.

Roger had to get Junior to take the test three times. The first time he took the test he didn’t finish it. There were about 90 questions and Junior looked at all the questions and simply didn’t want to finish the exam. The second time he answered the first half really well and then took a break. When he came back, he just answered questions randomly. It wasn’t until Roger told him that if he wanted to be the first pick in the first round he had to complete the test.

Junior finally relented and took the test for a third time and scored well.

As we continued our conversation, I could see Roger had a great deal of confidence in his abilities to spot talent. He admitted that there were times when he was wrong and guys didn’t pan out for one reason or another, but that clearly didn’t stop him.

He told me he really believed Ryan Anderson was going to be a #1 starter. Ryan was 6’11” and had electric stuff; however, three surgeries cut his career short. He also mentioned Tim Leary, who he also believed would be a #1 starter. Leary did carve out a career in the major leagues from 1981 to 1994, but never lived up to Roger’s expectations.

Roger even told me a story about a catcher he signed named Ryan Christianson, who he signed out of high school. At the time Scott Boras told him he didn’t think it was a good idea to sign a high school catcher because they had the lowest odds of panning out. To which, Roger told Boras, “Yeah, that’s true, if someone else signs them.” Christianson didn’t pan out and spent his career in the minors. Roger now admits that Boras was “right” in this case.

I really loved this story because even though Roger is clearly a confident man, he has a humble side. Getting a peak into his personality was such a treat. He has rubbed elbows with so many greats in the game and it probably has never occurred to him that he himself is pretty great.

Since we were on the subject of catchers, I had to ask Roger about the Angels’ own Hank Conger. Roger said he saw him when he was at Rancho Cucamonga and said, “He looks like he can really hit. He might end up being a DH.”

Now that I had him talking about the Angels, I had to ask him about who he had seen in their system that impressed him. The first name he brought up was Nick Adenhart.

Roger said, “Before we (the Marlins) traded Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers, we talked to the Angels about Nick Adenhart, but they wouldn’t budge. I really liked him and thought he would be very good.”

Other players he liked a lot included Erick Aybar and Joe Saunders. When he mentioned Saunders, I knew Roger was my kind of guy. Saunders is a favorite of my wife and me (as I’ve noted several times on this blog).

I asked Roger what he thought of Brandon Wood and if he reminded him of anyone. Roger said, “He reminds me a little bit of Ralph Kiner.” He went on to say, “He has the ability to put the ball in the air really well. That’s something we try to teach. He can hit a lot of homeruns.”

I then asked Roger what he thought of Mike Scioscia. Roger didn’t hesitate. “He’s great. I tried to hire him when I was in Seattle.” Mike had had a meeting with then Dodger GM Kevin Malone who told Scioscia he wasn’t in their plans. Roger offered him a job as the manager for their AAA affiliate in Tacoma; noting that they already had Lou Piniella as their manager, but giving Scioscia an indication that he could possibly slide into the manager position down the road; after all, “Piniella was pretty volatile.”

As Scioscia was considering the opportunity, the Angels came calling. Roger said, “Mike called me up and told him that the Angels had offered him the job as the manager of their big club.” Roger then said to Scioscia, “You mean to tell me you’d rather manage the Angels than the Tacoma Timbers?” To which Scioscia chuckled.

As we concluded our discussion, I asked Roger what he liked most about baseball. He said, "The people." He tried to retire once and when he moved to Fallbrook, California he thought he'd spend his time "picking fruit" but baseball kept calling to him. He went on to say, "going to the ball park beats picking fruit any day."

I could have talked with Roger for hours; but I wanted to be mindful of his time and besides, I still hadn’t had breakfast and it was now lunch time. It was worth it though. You could say that I had my dessert before my meal because talking baseball with a legend was certainly a treat.

Below is a photo of Roger Jongewaard with one of his grandaughters (Amanda) and Film-maker Steven Soderbergh (When Roger was being interviewed for the movie "Moneyball"). Photo courtesy of Andy Child.

Five days until pitchers and catchers report.

BallHype: hype it up!

February 11, 2010

Looking inside my crystal ball

I’ve got a prediction. Between now and the start of the 2010 baseball season thousands, if not millions will make predictions on everything from who will win it all to how many times Lou Piniella will get ejected from a ball game.

This is what we Americans do. We love making predictions; it’s almost as if making predictions is a bigger pastime than baseball itself. Everyone loves to make them and everyone loves to say “I called it” when theirs comes true. Some people even manage to make a living out this; only they call it “projections.”

Our predictions aren’t limited to the final score or final standings; oh no, they happen continuously. How many times have you turned to someone and said, “so and so is going to… fill-in-the-blank… right here!”? (Yes, 514 Fanatic Dave, I’m thinking of you right now).

Do we make these statements in hopes of a pat on the back? Is it to bring us luck? Or is it just fun? I have no idea and it probably doesn't even matter.

The funny thing is no matter how many times we’re wrong and I’m guessing most of us are wrong a lot (except for my friend Dave); we keep doing it. I wonder what would happen if there was a limit to the number of predictions one could make in a given year.

Knowing me, I’d probably exceed that limit in the course of a single ball game. It starts early for me. Before every game my wife Cheryl and I predict who’s going to hit the first homerun for the Angels. Before you know it, I’m predicting sacrifice bunts, pinch hitters, the attendance, whether or not a play is going to end up on ESPN as a “web gem” or how many hot dogs one of the 514 Fanatic will eat in a given night.

Most of the time I would venture to guess that we have no rhyme or reason for our predictions (unless you’re using sabermetrics, of course). We just throw stuff against the wall and hope something will stick. See my free agent projections here, here and here for the perfect example of that. Oh and here too. Boy was that painful.

Clearly, anyone can make a prediction and maybe that’s the thing. Making predictions is an equal opportunity deal. Anyone can do it; you don’t even have to know much about the subject to make one. I have a couple of co-workers who are Dodger fans and they’re living proof of that. Now don’t get me wrong because I’m pretty sure not all Dodger fans are like them. I’m just saying.

Anyway the point of all of this chatter is basically to introduce you to the True Grich Predictions for the 2010 Baseball Season. Now before you roll your eyes, please note these aren’t the carefully planned predictions of say FanGraphs or something you’d expect to read on ESPN. No sir, this blog is better than that.

I predict that at least once a day, I’ll hear a Dodger fan label an Angel fan as a bandwagon fan. I also predict 75% of these fans will be wearing Manny Ramirez jerseys.

Speaking of jerseys, I predict I’ll see at least five Oakland A’s fans wearing Reggie Jackson jerseys with the #44 on their backs. It’s a sure thing that I’ll laugh every time I see that, knowing that Jackson actually wore #9 when he played for the A’s.

While I’m at it, I also predict I’ll make more than 5,000 snarky comments about the A’s over the course of a season; however, I may even be a little low on that one.

I predict the Red Sox and Yankees will be on ESPN more times than Brittney Spears will be on TMZ. Yes, that much! I predict non Red Sox and non Yankee fans will complain early and often about it too.

I predict Erick Aybar will lead the team in web gems and bloopers. I also predict yet another hairdo for the player formerly known as Vald’s mini-me.

Speaking of Vlad, I predict a standing ovation for Vladimir Guerrero when he returns to Anaheim and I predict he hits at least 30 homeruns, but I’ll hope that all of them are against the A’s, Yankees and Red Sox. I also predict Vlad will hit at least one homerun that would have been a wild pitch to any other batter.

I predict Chone Figgins will attempt to steal bases early and often whenever he faces Jeff Mathis or Mike Napoli. I also predict he’ll be left standing on second base at the end of a lot of innings while the PA systems blares “please, celebrate me home” by Kenny Loggins.

There’s a part of that song that goes “Please, celebrate me home. Give me a number. Please, celebrate me home. Play me one more song that I’ll always remember. That I can recall whenever I find myself too all alone (may I add on second base?). I can sing me home.” Sorry Figgy, it doesn’t work like that; someone has to drive you in.

I guess I’d better predict some boos for that analogy.

I predict a sportswriter (or two) somewhere will continue to bash Mark McGwire and then turn around and cheat on their taxes. I will also predict that we won’t see McGwire photo in the post office, but some will continue to label him as baseball’s public enemy #1.

I predict Ben Sheets will struggle early on; be traded to the Cardinals and have a banner year. It’s like the A’s are the Cardinals farm team some times. What? You have to remember I have a goal of 5,000 snarky A’s comments!

You know, I could do a whole blog on Mike Scioscia predictions (but don’t worry, I won’t). But, for the purposes of time and space, I’ll highlight just a few.

I predict Scioscia’s team will out perform their projections; he’ll get labeled as the best in the game almost as many times as a fan from another team will label him as being over-rated.

I predict we’ll never see Scioscia wearing a jersey and instead see him in an Angels' jacket even when it’s more than 100 degrees. What’s up with that?

You can count on the fact that I’ll disagree with something he does at least once a week and find out I was wrong just about every time. I hate it when that happens.

That being said, I might as well get this out of the way now and say that I predict I will moan and groan every time Scioscia platoons Brandon Wood; which ties into my prediction that if he gets a minimum of 400 AB’s, he will hit at least 20 homeruns.

I predict that nearly every time I hear someone say; “you heard it here, first” it really won’t be the first time.

I predict I’ll say “can you believe that?” at least 50 times, say “wow” 100 or more times and scream “that’s what I’m talking about” several dozen times.

I predict that I will hear at least one outlandish trade proposal on the post game radio show every single night. So let’s get this straight now; no, the Cardinals aren’t trading Albert Pujols to the Angels for Juan Rivera, the rally monkey and Gene Autry’s cowboy hat.

I predict many people (myself included) will have long memories when it comes to predicting things right and short memories when we’re wrong. Come to think of it, I’ve never been wrong. Just don’t ask my wife to verify that.

I predict the Angels will win the west even though most “experts” will pick the Mariners. I say the Twins will win the AL Central (and not receive the kind of credit the Oakland A’s receive as a small market club) and the Yankees will win the East. Look for the Rays to win the wild card and send the Red Sox to an early vacation.

I predict the Diamondbacks will win the NL West, the Phillies will be the team to beat in the east and Albert Pujols will have an MVP season as he leads the Cardinals to top of their division. I’ll also take the Florida Marlins as the surprise wild card team.

And just so we’re clear, I also predict that at some point before the season starts or shortly after it begins, I will change my mind! After all, spring training hasn’t even started yet.

I predict that I’ll see something I’ve never seen at a game before. Last year at spring training I saw my first ever triple play in person. I have no idea what I’ll see this year and to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

When all is said and done the fun part about baseball is not knowing what’s going to happen. Sure, we like to predict what we think will happen, but the fun is in watching stories unfold before our very eyes. Stories like Kendry Morales having a break out season or Joe Saunders out dueling Zach Greinke 1-0 as both pitchers go the distance.

Seven days till pitchers and catchers report.

By the way... guess who's baaaaaack?

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Robb Quinlan signed a minor league deal with the Angels. He could end up as Kendry Morales' back up.

BallHype: hype it up!

February 10, 2010

Right on time

I mentioned last week that I started reading a great book called “The Soul of Baseball” by Joe Posnanski. Well, today I had just finished reading the very last word just as my train arrived at my destination. I thought to myself this must be symbolic. Here, I had just completed this amazing journey through history at the exact moment my train came to a stop. I realized that even though I was done; I had really only just begun.

As I walked out of the train station, my mind began to think about all the people I could tell about this book. Words probably can’t justify how beautiful this book is and yet, I feel the need to try. I feel compelled to try and convince you or anyone else that will read this or listen to me in person that they need to know about a man named Buck O’Neil and his journey through life.

I suppose I could quote various passages from the book, but my fear is that you will somehow feel like you’ve received the gist of it all and decide you don’t need to read it for yourself. That would be a tragedy. Trust me; you’ll only be cheating yourself if you don’t. So, I’m not going to quote it at all; instead, I implore you to get a copy for yourself and when you’re done reading it; pass it on to someone else.

Prior to reading this book; I knew very little, if anything about the Negro Leagues. I don’t know why I never bothered to learn more about it and I’m guessing that like most of you, I had this image of what I thought it must have been like back then. My image wasn’t a pretty picture. Well, I was wrong; in fact, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Posnanski (through the eyes of Buck O’Neil) paints a picture of the Negro Leagues that is fascinating, uplifting, inspiring, entertaining and hopeful. Amazing images danced through my mind as I read about Buck O’Neil’s journey through life. I could envision Baseball fields I have never visited in my mind. Men, whose faces I have never seen came to life on the pages in this book. Stories I had never heard before became something special for me to share with others. And one man’s life became an example of what it means to be truly blessed.

Buck O’Neil has given me many more reasons to not only love baseball more; he’s also shown me how to appreciate life itself. It’s a precious gift for sure.

O’Neil often said he was “right on time” when it came to where he was at any point in his life. He didn’t wish to be born at a different time and had no desire to change anything about his life.

I believe the end of my train ride today combined with my reading the final word in the book at the same time some how relates.

Whenever I get off the train and head up the escalator and out into the city; I’m often greeted with the stench of urine in the air. I always feel like my senses are being assaulted. Things like this tend to taint my view of downtown L.A. and I can’t get out fast enough.

However, today was different. As I walked to my office, I searched the faces of the people walking or standing about. I wondered about their stories and believe it or not, I wondered how the life lessons in a book like the Soul of Baseball might impact their lives.

O’Neil was a man who had every reason to be angry or bitter or even sad and yet instead; he was loving, gracious, humble, and kind.

Posnanski’s life was changed by his relationship with O’Neil. No doubt O’Neil impacted many lives in positive ways over the course of his lifetime and his wisdom and strength to do that was born out of his love for baseball.

You have to love a game that can do that.

Eight days until pitchers and catchers report.

BallHype: hype it up!

February 8, 2010

How to beat the blahs on Mondays

I came across this crazy video from Bill Plunkett of the OC Register. Trying to do an introduction just wouldn't do it any justice. I will warn you though; make sure you're not eating or drinking anything or else it may end up on your monitor...

Just watch:

And YES, that's Mike Scioscia in the background wearing the green jacket!

If that doesn't brighten your day (in a disturbing way). There's always this classic that can't help but make you laugh:

Still funny after all these years.

February 6, 2010

Good will Hunter

I’ve been a Torii Hunter fan since long before he ever came to the Angels. When he signed with the Angels; I was beside myself. Since landing in Anaheim, he’s been everything I had hoped for and more.

Here is a guy who loves the game, appreciates the fans and doesn’t take anything about life for granted. He’s great in the community and isn’t afraid of the spotlight.

So imagine my surprise when I learned some Twin fans didn’t miss him. I read some things that caught me totally off guard when checking out the fine blog “The Daily Something.” Bill who publishes that blog and Mike from another great blog called “The Common Man” painted a different picture of Hunter; one that threw me completely.

Mike wrote in the comments section of a post on The Daily Something, “I think many fans (and I count myself in this group) don't miss his self-aggrandizement and his tendency to criticize other players in the media. In particular, he threw both Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau under the bus for not playing through injuries. I wish him well, but am ok with him playing elsewhere (especially for that much money).

Bill added “His general treatment of the Twins and their fans during his last year was just pretty questionable overall.”

These statements puzzled me; after all, Torii Hunter is very well respected athlete and widely recognized as a great club house presence. Hunter received the Branch Rickey Award last year, an award given out for exceptional community service. He also won the Marvin Miller Award in 2007, which is awarded annually to a player who’s on the field acts inspire others. The other barometer by which I measure a player’s character is by whether or not the Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia wants that player on his roster. If he’s good enough for Scioscia, he’s good enough for me.

Hunter had some solid years in Minnesota. I had never heard or read a bad word about Hunter and I had to wonder how could two die hard Twin fans could feel this way about him?

And then it hit me. Hunter is an Angel now. He’s not one of them; just like John Lackey is no longer an Angel. When players move on to other teams, our thoughts about them can quickly change. Perhaps it’s a way of justifying the loss. It’s easy to find things to “hate” about a player when they leave. I hated the idea of John Lackey in a Red Sox uniform. It didn’t matter how great he was prior to the day he signed with Boston; all the good he did was forgotten in an instance. In both cases their team wanted to keep them, but couldn’t. It’s hard to let go of players who have basically been the faces of their organizations.

When I really stop and think about all the great things Lackey did as an Angel, it really shouldn’t overshadow his going to Boston. Same goes for Hunter’s days in Minnesota. Okay, he said some things he shouldn’t have said and he signed a deal that was clearly out of the Twins’ price range. That doesn’t change all the great things he did in Minnesota.

Mike and Bill found Hunter’s comments (about Mauer) hypocritical. They’re right, his comments were very much that. Thing is, we are all hypocrites now and then. We all do one thing and say something else now and then. Hopefully, the good things we do over shadow those moments when we might not use the best judgment. Hopefully, people can forgive us when we slip up because we’ve done most everything else the right way.

I don’t think Mike and Bill harbor any deep resentment for Hunter, but it’s clear they’ve found reason (right or wrong) to move on without him.

Their loss is my gain. Well, not just my own, but the gain of all Angel fans. We are lucky to have a guy like Hunter on our team.

Last year at spring training Torii Hunter was in rare form. One day when he was done with his routine he did what he always does – signed autographs for fans. Some of the adults were a little aggressive and Hunter took note. He paused for a second to say, “Some of you adults should be ashamed of yourselves cutting in front of the kids. I know we’re all kids at heart…” With that a silver-haired lady said, “I’m waiting right here (down the line) for you Torii.” Torii looked up at the lady and said, “I’ll sign for you because you’re hot.” Next thing you know the camera was out and Torii was posing for a picture. Vintage Hunter.

Another time I saw a fan hand her cell phone to Torii who struck up a conversation with whoever was on the other end; someone he obviously didn’t even know. Who else does that?

Hunter goes above and beyond for fans. Every time I’ve seen him and I mean every single time, he’s been just awesome. Fans frequently heap their praises on him and he just smiles and says he’s just having fun. He makes every fan feel like a million bucks. You could say Torii Hunter has a little Buck O’Neil in him.

There’s no question that Hunter loves the spotlight and isn’t afraid of a camera or microphone. I’m good with that. I don’t see it as a bad or a selfish thing. It sure beats those athletes that go through their whole career avoiding the media, the fans and everyone else. When in the spotlight as much as Hunter is, you’re bound to slip up once in a while. After all, Hunter is only human like the rest of us.

I also know most of those who are sabermetricly inclined will also be quick to tell us how over-rated he is. They will talk about his OPS and his UZR and other such things. I don’t doubt it. He’s not as great statistically as some of his contemporaries – but when he’s robbing the opposing team of a homerun in the 9th inning, I’m not thinking about his UZR, I’m on my feet, screaming my head off and glad he’s on my favorite team. He’s a human highlight film and I go to games to see the incredible and Hunter often delivers just that. Years from now I’m not going to remember his UZR, but I will never forget catches like that.

Now, my friends in Minnesota might label me a casual fan because of that – but I’m betting I attend more games than either one of them. There's nothing casual about my passion for the Angels. I think those who aren’t as into sabermetrics get labels attached to them that are neither accurate nor fair. I’m fully aware of the trends evolving in baseball as it relates to statistics and I think it’s great. I just think that if the stadiums were full of people that made those things their primary focus going to baseball games wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

The Angels have historically been the whipping boys of sabermetrics and yet under Scoscia they have averaged 90 wins a season. They consistently outperform their projections and the last time I checked, winning is the object of playing the games.

BallHype: hype it up!