July 25, 2011

Looking back at Mike Trout's major league debut

Back on Friday – July 7, 2011 Cheryl and I came to the stadium not to get a glimpse of Mike Trout, but to hopefully get the full “Mike Trout experience.” After all, it’s not every day that baseball top prospect makes his major league debut in your home stadium.

The stadium had a bit of a buzz to it and the anticipation of what was to come was hanging in the air. It was clear that a great many Angel fans knew exactly what was taking place and many were on hand for the specific reason of getting their first look at Trout.

Cheryl and I had seen him last year when the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes were in the play-offs and again at spring training. Never-the-less, it was clear by the loud ovation Trout received when introduced, that the fans knew exactly what was up. We’ve been in the stadium when other players made their major league debut and fans around the stadium would wonder out loud “Who is that?” Not on this night; not on the night that Mike Trout started his first game.

It was kind of fitting that a kid named Trout would make his debut across the way from an arena that was once called “The Pond.” This was no fish out of water; he looked like he was totally comfortable in his new environment and ready to soak it all in.

We got our first look at Trout in his 1990’s throw-back uniform when he came out to warm up a little less than a half hour before the game. As he stretched and warmed up, I saw him shoot glances into the crowd. Perhaps he was searching for familiar faces or perhaps he was just soaking it all in or some combination of both.

As we watched and snapped photos, we heard someone behind us yell “Millville Representing!” Turns out Trout’s cousin – Justin Trout was standing behind us. Justin lives in the Los Angeles area and had driven down to see Mike make his major league debut. Cheryl struck up a conversation with Justin, telling him how excited we were that he was called up when she learned that Justin was his cousin.

Justin went on to tell her about how much better Mike was at “everything” in sports – be it basketball, baseball or whatever. He told Cheryl how he always stood out and was always just so much better than everyone else.

Justin also told Cheryl that Mike’s parents were still mid-flight and hoped to get to the game by the later innings.

I don’t know when or if his parents made it to the game in time to see him play. One thing was clear, his “new family” was there to support him regardless of whether his real family could.

As I watched Trout warm up and then run to center field to assume his position I tried to gauge if he was nervous or not. I couldn’t tell. His motor was definitely running like that of a 19 year old though, that was for sure. He couldn’t stand still… he bounced, stretched, and moved around like any antsy teenager would.

In the top of the second – Just Smoak of the Mariners hit a ball into left center field; it looked like Trout would get his first chance at a put-out only to see Vernon Wells take the ball instead. The crowd moaned… Torii Hunter smiled and threw his hands up in the air as if to say, c’mon Vernon – let the kid have that one. Hunter and Trout exchanged some smiles and I imagine Hunter was jokingly telling the kid to call Wells off.

It was a light moment and it was fun to watch.

The whole game was fun to watch (to add to the fun I also ran into
RevHalofan of Halos Heaven) and even though Trout didn’t get a base hit, he didn’t strike out or look over matched in any way.

The following night Trout did manage to get his first hit. With Mark Trumbo on second base and Hank Conger occupying first base, Trout laid down a bunt that he managed to beat out. Trumbo would score on a throwing error and although Trout wouldn’t get an RBI, he definitely showed that his speed made him extra dangerous; defenses can’t take it easy when he’s running down the line.

Trout would end up scoring on a Torii Hunter fly ball, walk and score again in the 5th and with all of that Trout had officially arrived for sure. Perhaps it was fitting in some way that Trout would get his first hit on the same day that Derek Jeter would achieve the mile stone of getting his 3,000th hit. One thing for sure, the day - July 8 will be memorable for a variety of reasons.

Trout has continued get some playing time since that first series and has even managed to stay on when Peter Bourjos returned from the disabled list. He even managed to hit his first major league homerun in front of friends and family on July 24. How long he stays up with the “big club” isn’t’ clear, although it’s likely to be a stint that does not last. In any case, one thing is for sure; Trout will be back and I can’t wait for that day.

I can't wait because Mike Trout is a legitimate talent and represents the hope that every fan has that one day their team will produce a talent that's special and among the best in the game. Time will tell if Trout is that guy; regardless, it is something I look forward to watching develop one pitch and one play at a time.

July 22, 2011

Seeing is believing

If you had told me that after losing 7-0 one night, the Angels would turn around and come from five runs down to win the next night and then follow that up with a game where they only had two hits and won 1-0, I would have politely smiled at you and looked around the room for someone to come and take you away in a straight jacket.

And yet… that’s exactly what happened in the Angels final two games of their most recent home stand with the Texas Rangers. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it for myself. That’s the thing about baseball – every time you go to a game, you just never know what you’re going to see or what might happen and there is always a chance you will see something amazing or unbelievable. Baseball is beautiful that way.

There was a point Wednesday night where I thought to myself the season was on the verge of spiraling out of control and I thought about the possibility that the Angels could find themselves 7 games out of first. There was a point where my utter disgust for the team was hinging on being at an all-time high.

And then… slowly, but surely things began to happen and just like that – my attitude began to shift and I began to believe the team could not only win the game, but go on to win the division. To say this team showed me something is an understatement of sorts. It’s not like this is the first time this season that they’ve come from five runs down to win. They did it Tampa Bay and in Chicago and I now believe they’re capable of doing this on any given night.

That kind of knowledge and faith speaks volumes. It allows a fan like me to believe anything is possible and when you go to and watch games with that kind of perspective; it’s a lot more fun.

Thursday’s game was beyond words. In some ways it was typical of the kind of run support the Angels have given Jered Weaver all season long and on the other hand, the outcome was exactly the opposite of what has been typical this year.

I’ve mentioned in this blog a time or two about the margin of error and how small it is for the Angels this year. The last two games against Texas are exactly the kind of things that go a long way to making a difference in that margin in my opinion. That being said – losing three out of four in Oakland just prior to the Rangers’ series definitely hurts.

The bottom line is that as I sit here today and look ahead, I have hope and that’s the one thing any fan wants. This team has holes and issues with its offense, but it also has championship caliber pitching and a one-two punch in Jered Weaver and Dan Haren that is second to none.

And how about Jered Weaver? If you have yet to see him pitch a game this year; you owe it to yourself to make it to a game where he starts. He’s having a season that goes beyond the usual superlatives. Saying that he’s amazing or incredible just doesn’t do it justice. In a day and age when superlatives are used to frequently and often inappropriately, the normal praises just don’t do Weaver justice.

A sub 2.00 ERA is just unthinkable in the American League. A 1.81 ERA and a .095 WHIP is just draw droppingly good.

John Lackey was never this good. Most pitchers can’t even dream about doing this well. Jered Weaver is going beyond anyone’s expectations and he has emerged not only as the team’s ace and unquestionable leader – he has emerged as a truly exceptional talent. I simply love to watch him pitch and compete. I can’t remember a pitcher who has brought me more joy as a fan.

Again, do yourself a favor and make it to a game where Weaver starts so that years from now you can say – I saw Jered Weaver in 2011. Granted, there are many more games to play and we don’t know how things will turn out – but the possibility for true greatness is possible. This is a baseball memory that you will want to have. Don’t miss out. Even if you’re not an Angels fan – if Weaver is coming to a stadium near you (Hello Cleveland and Detroit!), you should make the effort to see him pitch.

Regardless of what happens this year, I will never forget what Weaver has done thus far. It’s been amazing to watch.

Switching gears…

Not so amazing… well, you know that would be Jeff Mathis. Now why would I bring up Mathis yet again?

Well, I happened to tune into to Angels talk on Thursday with Jason Brennan and Rex Hudler and “The Wonder Dog” had an interesting observation about Mathis. The Hud-man believes the Angels sent Hank Conger down to get regular playing time so that he can be ready when the Angels trade Jeff Mathis in the next two weeks.

That’s right… TRADE Jeff Mathis. Granted, this is all speculation on Hudler’s part, but he made his observation with conviction and insight and has the strong impression that the Angels are “show casing” Mathis for a trade right now. According to Hudler there are a couple teams interested in Mathis.

Back to back improbable wins and then the rumor about Mathis? Somebody pinch me.

Seriously, if Tony Reagins can shed this team of Mathis and somehow manage to improve the squad, you will be able to color me duly impressed (actually shedding Mathis would definitely be addition by subtraction regardless of who they got in return). I’m not going to hold my breath, but the idea almost makes me giddy.

Last, but not least – big time congratulations to Jordan Walden for becoming the first Angels rookie to save 23 games in his first season. Walden was hitting 100 MPH Wednesday night and is clearly finding his groove. That being said, it’s interesting to note that he has blown six save opportunities along the way, but for some reason most Angels fans haven’t complained much or maybe they simply haven’t noticed. I suppose there is a blog in that observation… (Maybe later).

In any case – I’m loving this season and watching it unfold one game at a time. Let’s keep this ride going because it’s just too much fun to stop.

July 20, 2011

Really?

A funny thing happened on the way to the big game last night… one team (the Angels) decided not to show up. Oh they were there physically, but their game was noticeably absent. They didn’t just lose, they were shut out 7-0 and to make matters worse, Angels cast-off and current Ranger Mike Napoli had a banner evening. Heck, he’s having somewhat of a banner year (especially if you compare what he’s done to say… Jeff Mathis).

What a letdown. I mean, we wait and wait for the Rangers to come to town; we anticipate highly charged and competitive games and then… pfffft; all the air just gets sucked right out of you.

Looks like those Rangers are pretty good. In fact, let’s dispel some of the myths surrounding them… like the idea that they can’t pitch. Alexi Ogando looks like he can pitch just fine. He’s 10-2 with a 2.72 ERA. Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty good.

Speaking of pretty good… how about Adrian Beltre? Remember how the buzz in the off season was that he only performs in contract years? Well, Beltre is killing it with 20 homeruns and 74 RBI. Yeah, signing him would have been a huge mistake… I mean we’re set with Alberto Callaspo, right?

As good as the Rangers are right now – they showed us last year that they’re not afraid to make moves to get better. I won’t be surprised if they add a few key pieces for the stretch run. Color me worried.

Whatever.

Look, I know it’s just one game and the season isn’t over – but when my favorite team plays like crap, I get a little upset. They didn’t just lose last night; they got their lunch handed to them. It’s not fun to watch and there were more than 43,000 on hand to watch. I can only imagine what Angels talk was like last night (I didn’t bother to tune in).

In other great news (not) Hank Conger was sent down. Granted, that was probably the right thing to do, but knowing that also means more Jeff Mathis just adds to my frustration for all the obvious reasons. Love that .191 batting average and that .240 OBP.

And on that note… I’ll just look forward to the next game and hope it brings better results. Oh and I guess the Angels didn’t want to win last night’s game for Gene Autry. How nice.

July 19, 2011

The streak stops here

I never thought this day would get here. Here we are in the middle of July and 96 games into the season and the Texas Rangers are finally coming to town. Seriously! I mean who put this schedule together?

In any case – I’m looking forward to the three game series which begins tonight. Never mind the Angels debacle in Oakland (losing 3 of 4) and never mind the Rangers current winning streak (they’ve won 11 in a row). Throw all of that out the window. Yeah, that’s right – momentum, streaks and the like are all subject to change at any given moment. And now would be a perfect time for the recent fortunes of each team to change in my opinion.

This is a big series; at least from a fan’s point of view. I mean we all know Mike Scioscia and the players will all say it’s “just another game/series;” however, fans like me look forward to stuff like this. It’s just too bad the Angels are four games back and can’t overtake the Rangers during this short home stand.

The way I see it, the Rangers are due to start losing and the Angels can’t play any worse than they did in Oakland. Yup, the way I see it is that the way things are setting up perfectly. Seems like every time something (be it a player or a team) is going one way it all changes the moment they hit Anaheim. Opposing pitcher winless in last seven starts? Bingo, he’s going to pitch like Cy Young in Anaheim. Opposing hitter smacking homeruns like Hank Aaron? Bam, he’s going to go hitless in Anaheim.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not superstitious in the slightest (okay, maybe just a smidge), but it’s uncanny how this stuff works out. I can’t tell you how many times Terry Smith will be saying something positive or negative about a player or team’s recent history and as soon as I hear that, I’ll look at Cheryl and say something to the effect that the opposite is sure to happen next.

The perfect example is when Justin Verlander rolled into town with a big time winning streak and all kinds of success. Next thing you know – Verlander meets up with the Angels and all of that goes right out the window. I’m telling you it happens all the time.

Coincidence? Perhaps. I don’t know what it is… I just know that it happens pretty frequently and I'm counting on Terry Smith to pour it on thick about how great the Rangers have been of late.

So… all that being said, I’m feeling good about the Angels chances over the next three games. I want this. I want this in the worst way. I want to the Angels to send a message to Texas and more importantly to Angels fans that they mean business and Texas is in for a dog fight from here on out. I’m not asking for much. I just want to see my favorite team compete like I know it can.

Okay… now that all of that is out of the way; let me just say that I’ve been extremely busy of late and haven’t been able to update this blog as much as I’d like. I have a few drafts and things in the works that I hope to get up soon – including posts and photos surrounding Mike Trout’s debut. Please bear with me and thanks!

July 8, 2011

The future is now

I don’t know how appropriate it is for men of a certain age to be overly excited about the major league debut of a 19 year old; however, in the case of myself and the debut of Mike Trout I’m practically drunk with anticipation and excitement.

Now, I have tried to best of my abilities to temper my expectations on Mike Trout over the past two years. It hasn’t been easy. I have resisted the urge to jump on the wagon of those calling for his arrival sooner rather than later. I have not let the idea that many consider him to be the best prospect in the game today cloud my judgment and I have remained patient.

But when I got the news today that Trout was called up last night and would likely be starting in center field (for an injured Peter Bourjos) I could not contain my emotions. I called my wife Cheryl right away; I emailed fellow Angel fans, 514 Fanatics, and even my ticket representative Arthur. I ran to the office of co-workers and if I thought anyone would have listened, I would have gone to the roof of my office building and screamed “Mike Trout is coming! Mike Trout is coming!”

Yes, I’m excited. In fact, I’m beyond excited.

I didn’t honestly believe it would happen so soon and I didn’t actually know I would be this enthusiastic; but I am.

If the Angels have any kind of tradition or legacy surrounding its players – it would have to be with who has played center field for them over the years. There is a long list of tremendous defensive players who have roamed that spot in the outfielder over the years. Names like Mickey Rivers, Gary Pettis, Chad Curtis, Devon White, Darin Erstad, Torii Hunter and most recently Peter Bourjos among others.

There has also been one - Jim Edmonds, who just happens to be the man throwing out the ceremonial first pitch tonight as part of the Angels’ 50th Anniversary celebration. How fitting and appropriate is that?

Like Edmonds, Trout is much more than a tremendous defender; he’s the whole package and if his career ends up being anywhere near that of Edmonds – tonight will be the beginning of an incredible journey.

Where will Mike Trout rank among Angels’ centerfielders? The more appropriate question might be to ask where Trout will rank among the all-time Angels when all is said and done and while that’s a huge question – this moment feels that large.

My wish is that tonight be a special night for all the right reasons and that when all is said and done, the young Mr. Trout has fun. He’s 19 years old and I can’t imagine what is going through his mind right now. I’d be willing to be that he’s been preparing for this moment his whole life, as young as that life might be. He’s about to achieve the first of his many goals in life and he’s going to do it before he even reaches his 20th birthday.

I love baseball and being a part of night’s like tonight are special. I feel very blessed and fortunate that I can there to see it happen and to watch the story unfold. I can’t wait to watch Trout run on to the field and make his debut as a big leaguer.

As a fan, it’s all about being there in person.

If you have the choice of being there or watching it on T.V. – my suggestion is that you make your way to the stadium.

I don’t know what’s going to happen tonight or how his debut will go; however, I do know that if you want a chance at being a part of something special – you need to find your way to Angels Stadium tonight. The potential for a special memory has presented itself to us all. We might witness the start of something great and opportunities like this don’t happen every day; they are simply priceless.

I can’t wait.