March 31, 2011

One down, 161 to go

Opening day in Kansas City is a big deal; as it should be! When we awoke this morning, we turned on the local news and we watched station after station conduct live remotes from the stadium in anticipation of the opener. By the way, we turned on the TV at 6:00 a.m. As I said, Opening day is a big deal.

The parking lot opened at 8:00 a.m.; seven hours before the first pitch. And yes, hundreds and hundreds of cars were in the lot and tailgating when we arrived at the stadium a little before noon today.

Kauffman Stadium is absolutely beautiful. The huge screen in centerfield is incredible; the players appear larger than life and it’s something you really have to see in person to believe.

Cheryl, Larry, Cathy and myself soaked it all in. We walked around the stadium, taking pictures and making notes of all the food choices in the stadium. It was cold (45 degrees at game time), but baseball was definitely in the air.

The pre-game activities were simply awesome. The Royals went out of their way to honor their alumni including George Brett, Frank White, Bo Jackson and John Mayberry. The first pitch was thrown out by long time Royal Mike Sweeney, who recently signed a one-day contract so that he could retire as a Royal.

We had a fly over by a B-2 Bomber from Whiteman Air Force Base.

And then there was the game…

The Angels had their “hitting shoes” on big time; pounding out 12 hits. Torii Hunter would be the first Angel of 2011 to go yard. Jeff Mathis would be the second. Every starter had at least one hit, except for Mark Trumbo. Weaver picked up where he left off in 2010 with a stellar 6 1/3 innings of two-hit baseball. He also struck out six.

Three Royals would make their major league debuts (out of the bull pen); Aaron Crow, Nate Adcock, and Tim Collins. The Royals made it interesting with Jeff Francoeur and Mike Aviles each hitting a solo homerun.

The Angels bull pen wasn’t sharp, but they got the job done as Jordan Walden, Kevin Jepsen, and Michael Kohn each got credit for a hold and Fernando Rodney recorded his first save of the season.

It was cold out at the park, but watching the Angels win made it worth every bone chilling moment.

After the game we decided to sample some more KC barbecue and headed to Jack Stack’s. As we were leaving the restaurant we ran into Peter Bourjos who was celebrating his birthday with Hank Conger, Rich Thompson, Chris Pettit and others.

When I saw Bourjos I let him know that I was the person who put the video of him learning how to "strut" with Torii Hunter on the web. I knew he had seen it because I learned last Sunday at the Angels/Padres exhibition game that he talked about it (and even demonstrated the strut) while being interviewed at Fan Fest. Bourjos smiled and said, "that was you?" Pettit quickly chimed in with "we've had a lot of fun with that video."

"P-Bo"(Bourjos) was gracious enough to pose for a picture with Cheryl and me; the perfect ending to a perfect day.

And with that I’ll close. Cheryl is fast asleep as I blog and I can barely keep my eyes open myself.

More to come…

March 30, 2011

Kansas City here I come...

Somebody pinch me because it can't get any better than this; a baseball road trip to Opening Day... Kansas City here we come.

Actually, we're already here and we are ready for some Angels baseball, baby!

We got up really, really early this morning for a 6:10 a.m. flight out of Los Angeles and we're more than a little bit tired; however, I don't know if we'll be able to sleep because tomorrow is opening day! Let me say that again - tomorrow is opening day! It's finally here and we're more than a little bit excited; in case you hadn't noticed. Can I get a Woo-hoo?

To make the trip even more special; we're being joined by Cheryl's cousin Larry and his wife Cathy, who flew in from New Jersey to join us!

It's cold here, but baseball is definitely in the air. We've been proudly wearing our Angels jackets and people have been striking up conversations with us left and right.

We stopped in a coffee shop and the Barista noticed Cheryl's Angels jacket and said to Cheryl, "I hope Jered Weaver does well tomorrow; he's on my fantasy team."

Later we went to the legendary Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue and ran into a few more baseball fans standing in line behind us. One of them asked us if he made a good late round pick up in Peter Bourjos for his league. You know we gave him the big thumbs up on that deal (the same guy actually took our picture).

Looks like the Angels are big in Kansas City fantasy leagues. I'm just saying, don't you know.

By the way... we have to give it up for some awesome KC BBQ at Oklahoma Joe's. It's an institution around these parts... located in a gas station of all places! We're having a blast and a single pitch hasn't even been thrown yet. Tomorrow should be extra special.

Did I mention how excited we are? Yeah, it's baseball season and it's just about the best time of the year for sure.

More to come... you can count on it.

March 28, 2011

Ready or not

The Angels entered the off season a tad bit early last year and the Hot Stove Season was somewhat uneventful. When spring rolled around a number of questions were on the table and the answers are actually still being formulated as I post this.

Most real Angel fans know about all the questions and can even venture to provide some sort of an answer or at the very least, know what still needs to be decided. I’m not going to rehash any of that now; nor am I going to make any bold predictions or try to over analyze what the team will or won’t do. That’s generally not what this blog is all about.

Besides, predictions are basically worthless; something those who have been trying to predict the outcome of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament can attest to. Just saying.

For better or worse, the season starts Thursday and for me it just couldn’t get here soon enough. I’m looking forward and trying not to look back too much. I’m excited; how can any baseball fan not be? I love the unknown about what’s to come.

Face it; this season’s story will be written one day at a time; one game at a time and even one pitch at a time. Who and what will be this year’s biggest stories? What kind of historical moments will we witness? For me it’s all about the memories that we will experience; be it at the ball park or anywhere else.

As an Angel fan there are a few things I’m extremely excited about. I’m looking forward to the Angels’ 50th Anniversary Celebration and all the alumni that will come to the stadium to be remembered, honored and to participate in the celebration.

I’m excited to know we will have another season with Torii Hunter and I am looking forward to seeing what kind of impact Peter Bourjos will have. I’m curious to see what Mark Trumbo can do with any opportunity given to him; how Jered Weaver will lead a top notch pitching staff and how Mike Scioscia molds this team.

I know that I will rise to my feet and scream the first time Kendrys Morales goes yard. I will watch Erick Aybar with a skeptical eye wondering if he will return to his 2009 form and how Vernon Wells will mesh with his new teammates.

I’m looking forward to the baseball season simply unfolding before my eyes.

I wonder how many hotdogs I will devour. How many peanuts will I shell? How many times will high five the 514 Fanatics around me.

I am ready; I am ready for a season of highs and lows and hope the good times outweigh the bad. I’m ready for baseball. I’m ready for Angels baseball and it is my hope that we see a return to what has made this team competitive over the past ten years.

I want to see an offense that is relentless and puts pressure on the defense all game long. I want to see a pitching staff that goes after hitters, doesn’t back down and closes out games with authority.

I want revenge. I want to see my team pummel the Rangers, Red Sox, Yankees, the A’s and the rest of the league. I want the Angels to baffle the experts and analysts and exceed expectations and projections once again.

I will admit that my emotions are all over the place. I’m confident and anxious at the same time. More than anything, I’m simply ready for the season to begin.

I hope along the way that this blog adds to your baseball experience in some small way. I hope to bring you unique stories, a different perspective and just plain old fashioned fun. Yes; fun. This blog has to be fun this season. Somehow, some way, we will have a good time talking Angels baseball; I promise you that.

Ready? Let’s get after it.

March 21, 2011

Walk this way

One of the great things about spring training is seeing the players up close and personal in a more “relaxed” atmosphere. Sunday prior to leaving for their game with the Rockies the Angels were gathered in Tempe for a little stretching and batting practice. Torii Hunter was being; well, Torii Hunter. Torii was teaching Peter Bourjos how to walk with rhythm. Rather than try and explain how he did this, let’s just go to some video…

Bourjos appears to be everyone’s little brother. When fans called out for Bourjos to encourage him, Howie Kendrick made sure we all knew that he should be referred to as P-Bo.

This is the kind of fun stuff you learn at spring training. I also learned that Joel Pineirio is a funny guy. He was having a lot of fun with Bobby Abreu Sunday. Abreu was playing catch and Pineiro was giving him grief about even bothering with playing catch; saying “you’re a DH now, your life is in the little circle (referring to the on-deck circle).” A short time later, Abreu who was pretending to be a catcher (Vernon Well pretended to be a pitcher) – missed a ball that skipped off his glove. Pineiro (who was sitting the time), got up and handed Abreu his bat and glove, as if to say – “I told you so.” It was classic.

Equally classic was Reggie Willits hitting one out of the park during batting practice and then taking a bow as the crowd began to cheer. Cheryl and I had seen something along these lines before….

After the Angels left for the Rockies game, we headed over to the minor league complex where a couple of Single A games were taking place agains the Cubs. We managed to get a brief glimpse into the future when we saw Kaleb Cowart.

Below are a few more pictures from Sunday.

First up, raise your hand if you're the ace of the staff! Next, anyone seen an Angels legend lately? Could that be Bobby Grich? Why, yes it is! Next... Joel Pineiro is having a good time:

More pictures... Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos, Dan Haren....

More pics... Looks like Bobby Grich is doing a little mentoring with Howie Kendrick; Vernon Wells plays a little catch, and that's Reggie Willits chewing the leather.

And yet a few more... Jered Weaver with Hisanori Takahashi, Jeff Mathis (don't say it...), and Maicer Izturis walking with Howie Kendrick.

It was just a great trip over all and the perfect way to get ready for the 2011 season.

March 19, 2011

Let the good times roll

Justin Masterson and Scott Kazmir are just a little more than a year apart; Masterson turns 26 years of age March 22 and Kazmir just turned 27 in January. It’s hard to believe that Kazmir is only 27; after all, he’s started 178 games in his career. At this point in time, you’d think he’d be a veteran just getting ready for the season and yet, he’s a man still searching for the stuff that once made him among the best left-handers in the game. Masterson has only started 54 games in his career and is still trying to establish himself.

I suppose it was somewhat appropriate that the two squared off today in day two of Cheryl and my brief trip to spring training. Neither pitcher impressed today nor did either one seem close to establishing themselves as solid starters for the coming season. There was a scout in our section today and I got a glimpse of the radar gun he was holding. Kazmir was only hitting 87 to 89 miles an hour in the first inning. The scout then moved and I didn’t see any more results.

The Indians won 10-7.

Highlights of the game included Brandon Wood going two for two with a walk, and two runs scored. Wood didn’t start the game and came in for Maicer Izturis. I’m not sure why Izturis came out of the game, but one always has to wonder if he’s hurt whenever he’s not on the field. Wood is now hitting .255 and I’m hoping he came continue to make progress and contribute this year.

I have to tell you that both Cheryl and I really want to see Wood succeed. He’s easily one of the nicest players in the game. He always makes time for the fans and maintains such a great attitude. You’d never know that he’s had struggles on the field. I admire him for the way he handles himself and hope somehow, some way that he finds a way to be the player we all hoped he would be.

In other highlights – Howie Kendrick had a couple hits to go with two RBI’s. He’s hitting a solid .372 this spring.

Prior to the game, we spent some time interacting with fans and taking pictures of the players.

We also spent a little more time with Joe who had another story or two to share. He told us about an umpire (the name escapes me) who shared a joke with him.

As Joe recalled, the umpire had been married for 17 years and was trying to decide what to get his wife for her birthday. He asked his wife, “What would you like for your birthday?” She said, “I want a divorce.” The umpire said, “I wasn’t planning on spending that much money.”

You never know what you’re going to learn when you come to spring training. Every day is different and the memories are always unique. Today a little boy yelled out to Brandon Wood “hit another homerun like you did yesterday!” Wood smiled and said, “We’ll do.” Spring training is packed full of little stories like this and it just never get’s old.

It was a good day. We got to interact with Rich Thompson, Francisco Rodriguez, Hank Conger, Brandon Wood, Trevor Bell, Chris Pettit, Mark Trumbo, and Matt Palmer among others. We didn't see any of the regulars out on the practice fields, except for Kendrys Morales who is still trying to get ready.

Morales did stop to sign a few autographs, but not for long; much to the dismay of a lot of fans.

It was another fun day and we topped it off in grand style with dinner at Don & Charlie's in Scottsdale with fellow 514 Fanatics Bob and Stephen.

While we are dining Ned Colletti, the general manager of the Dodgers came in with some folks and sat at the table next to us.

Again, this is the kind of unexpected stuff that happens at spring training all the time.

Good times.

March 18, 2011

Hello old friend

Today reminded me of an old Eric Clapton song… “Hello old friend, it’s really good to see you once again.”

That “old friend” is spring training and Cheryl and I made our way to Tempe, Arizona today to see the Angels take on the Padres and some other “old friends” in former Angels’ pitching coach and now Padre Manager - Bud Black, ex-Angels - Dustin Moseley (who started the game) and Kevin Frandsen (who managed to homer today).

Prior to the game, it was nice to have a chance to welcome back old friend Chris Pettit who is finally healthy. It was actually just great to see all the familiar faces before the game.

During the game, there were a lot of familiar things that we saw and I’m not just talking about the guys now wearing Padre uniforms who once wore red.

There were some all-too-familiar mental mistakes as Bobby Abreu and Jeff Mathis each managed to get picked off first base. Stuff like this makes me crazy – even if it is only spring training. Speaking of which, I noticed Erick Aybar has one stolen base in three tries. Oh boy… that’s an all-too-familiar stat for sure.

On the bright side – Peter Bourjos showed off his speed with his fourth stolen base of the spring and Maicer Izturis also swiped a bag today (his second of the spring).

Brandon Wood said hello to his homerun swing, blasting his third of the pre-season and Bobby Abreu hit a pair of dingers (his first two of the year). The Angels came away with a 7-6 victory, reminding us all of the best old friend of all… winning.

It was especially nice to see Wood having a good day (he also doubled) and made some solid defensive plays. It’s clear there are fans out there who are really tired of seeing him, but a fair number of us also still support him as much as we can. I just can’t help but wonder if he’ll still be an Angel come opening day.

Last, but certainly not least – we also got to see our old friend “Joe” who works at the stadium. Turns out Joe got a little promotion and now works down on the field during games (as opposed to out in the outfield grass). Joe even took one for the team recently; he took a batted ball hit off his back side from none other than Adam Dunn. Ouch. Fortunately, he wasn’t hurt and he told Cheryl and me he was disappointed it didn’t even bruise him; otherwise, he might have asked Dunn to autograph his… well, you know.

Today we also had to bid an offical farewell to an old friend in Scot Shields, who announced his retirement today. I'm going to miss Scot, as yet another link to 2002 hangs up his cleats.

And on that note, we’ll call it a day; after all, it’s been a long one that started with us leaving home around 5:00 a.m. I’m tired, but as is always the case with spring training; it’s a good-kind-of tired. More to come…

March 16, 2011

Spring Fever is back

Admit it. You’ve got a little extra pep in your step these days, don’t you? It’s okay; after all, it’s spring and baseball is back and opening day is just around the corner.

As the season gets closer and closer, I’ve got a few things on my mind that I’d like to share with you regarding the Angels. Before I get to that; my apologies to all of you who have been checking for updates only to find nothing new of late. I’ll be updating this blog more frequently moving forward, starting this weekend. Stay tuned because I hope to have some fun and interesting stuff to share with all of you. And thank you – thank you for taking the time to actually read this blog.

First things, first…. Mark Trumbo is a beast and I mean that in the most flattering way possible. The guy is giving the Angels every reason to keep him on the 25 man roster. He currently leads the Cactus League in homeruns with five and is hitting a .348 as of yesterday (3/15/2011). Granted, it’s hard to get too excited about numbers in spring training, but when you look at Trumbo’s body of work going back to last season and the winter league, he looks like he could have a huge impact.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to see what he can with some regular playing time right off the bat. Assuming that Kendry Morales is healthy, I’d even be fine with the idea of having Peter Bourjos sit; move Hunter back to center field and put Trumbo in right. This offense can use all the fire power it can get and Trumbo could be huge. “Could be” is a huge if, but I’d like to see if his potential is real.

The homerun he hit yesterday was off a change-up. That’s a good sign. Any batter can tee up a fast ball, but when hitters are able hit the off speed stuff, that’s definitely a positive.

I’m just saying it’s time to give the local kid (went to Villa Park High School) his shot.

Speaking of shots, it looks like Maicer Izturis is going to get the first shot at the starting job at third base. Even though I like Izturis, I can’t help but yawn at this idea. I just can’t get excited about a 5’8” third baseman. Izturis is best served as a utility man in my opinion. Face it, he’s not about to break Cal Ripken’s iron man record either.

This is just another one of those head scratchers for me.

Of course, nothing makes me scratch my head more than the thought of Jeff Mathis as the everyday catcher. We’ve been down this road before and I’d rather not go into all the reasons why I hate the idea again.

Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m all doom and gloom because I’m not. I’m very excited about this team and what they can do on the field. I’m looking forward to seeing Kendry (or should I say Kendrys?) Morales back in the lineup. I can’t wait to see Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells leading the way. I an especially excited to see Jered Weaver assume the role of team ace and club house leader on this team.

Speaking of Weaver… it’s funny what you find when you search the internet for stuff about a favorite player.

Here’s a couple of youtube videos that you might enjoy. First is an interview with Weaver and the second is a song recorded by a big Jered Weaver fan named Afton MacDonald, who co-wrote the song with her sister Ellie.

The lyrics are a little hard to hear, but I think the singer sings something along the lines of "I'd ask you out on a date simply because of your ERA." Face it, True Grich brings you the best stuff about the Angels. It doesn't get any better than this. Oh and don't blame me if you end up humming this tune in your head all day. I'm just saying.

Speaking of the best - let me say again how much I am looking forward to seeing Kendry Morales back. I am betting the rest of the AL West isn't too thrilled though.

I found this little commercial featuring Morlaes and Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners that's pretty funny. I don't know when this was done - but I hope Morales still has some of this swagger...

Last but not least - here is yet another song dedicated to an Angel... this one happens to be a rap dedicated to Torii Hunter. I've said it before and I'll say it again - Hunter is just my favorite baseball player, period. He's just a great all-around guy and even though he's a fine baseball player; he's an even better person. I can't wait to see him again this season and I plan to enjoy every moment that he's on my favorite team.

March 4, 2011

Baseball is in the air

The way I see it the 2011 season has a very different feel to it. It feels as if we are on the verge of some sort of turning point in Angels' baseball history. It’s more than just the 50 year anniversary for me; it’s about turning a significant page. I can’t really put my finger on it. Let’s just say that I get a strange vibe when I think about where the Angels are and where they are going.

It all began when Scot Shields announced he would retire after the 2010 season. Granted, Shields had not been anything like his “old self” of late and it was time; but it was more than that. We are seeing player after player from the 2002 World Series team hang up their cleats for good. It’s as if an era is coming to an end and a new destiny is being forged.

This week Garrett Anderson announced his retirement. David Eckstein and Troy Glaus are without contracts. Bengie Molina has basically retired; although I have not heard of any official announcements from him. They’re joining Tim Salmon, Darin Erstad, Jarrod Washburn, Troy Percival and a host of others from the 2002 team that are no longer playing baseball.

A handful of guys are still out there; guys like John Lackey, Francisco Rodriguez, Chone Figgins and Jose Molina, but the list is dwindling and none of the remaining players are a part of the current Angel team.

At the same time – there are a few new faces on the roster; most notably, Vernon Wells. Other players like Brandon Wood and Jeff Mathis are at a turning point in their careers. It’s do or die time for them. To a lesser degree the same might even be said for guys like Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar.

Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter are in the twilight of their careers. Young players like Hank Conger, Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo are trying to make their mark and then there’s the prospects like Mike Trout and Tyler Chatwood both of whom loom big on the horizon.

It’s as if the team is going in a million different directions and I’m not sure what to expect. Maybe that’s a good thing. I haven’t really decided yet.

I know my blog has been relatively quiet lately. Mostly because of just being busy, but also because I’ve just been thinking; thinking about this team and trying to wrap my mind around what I might expect. I haven’t really come to any conclusions yet.

A lot of focus in the AL West seems to be on Texas and Oakland. In some ways, I like that. Even though I’m optimistic about this team’s chances, I am also waiting for an identity to emerge that I can embrace.

My hope is that this team plays the game with a bit of a chip on its shoulder. This team has something to prove and I believe they will get down to the business of winning the AL West again. I expect them to grind to and to play hard in an effort to make things happen as opposed to watching things happen.

I get the sense that this is becoming Jered Weaver’s team and I like that notion quite a bit. I have a feeling that a couple players will emerge from the shadows and shine brightly when it matters most. I expect Vernon Wells to silence his critics and for Danny Haren to return to being an all-star caliber pitcher.

When all is said and done, I believe people will once again marvel at the job Mike Scioscia has done and many will be ashamed for ever doubting this organization.

It’s spring and I want desperately to believe. After all, this is what fans are supposed to do. Writing this post has helped me sort some things out in my head. Putting words on paper once again has given me some renewed energy.

Baseball is definitely in the air and I’m ready for some. Are you?