May 30, 2012

Now we're talking

Recently and when I say “recently” – I mean in the last 2+ seasons, I’d get a sinking feeling every time the Angels fell behind early in a game. Monday night was different. Perhaps it was because of the way the team had been playing lately or the fact that Phil Hughes was on the mound; take your pick, I had a sense of calm and confidence that the Angels would come back.

When the Angels rallied for four runs in the bottom of the first inning after giving up 3 in the top of the first, I wasn’t surprised. When all was said and done – the Angels outlasted the Yankees for a 9-8 victory and new day was born.

The team had finally reached a .500 record at 25-25 and the abysmal start of the 2012 season was starting to fade into the past Everything seemed right with the world again.

Tuesday night the United States Air Force declared the Angels outfield a “No Fly Zone” as well hit balls met their demise at the hands of Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos. Apparently, the baseballs had enough sense to not test Torii Hunter. Watching the two young guys run down fly balls in the outfield was a thing of absolute beauty.

The Angels won their eighth consecutive game last night (5-1) and moved to within 5.5 games of the Texas Rangers. Suddenly, the big bad Rangers don't seem so invincible. Just saying.

It’s been a long road – but baseball and more specifically Angels baseball is fun again.

How did the Angels turn things around? Perhaps it was all because of fellow Angel blogger Josh and his wife, who found that by not watching Angel games – the team has gone on their current winning streak. Josh chronicles his superstition on his blog “Angels Nation.”

Perhaps the Angels turn around coincides with Albert Pujols’ family arrival in Southern California to be with Albert during the summer – as it was chronicled in the USA Today. This is something I speculated about earlier as well.

Maybe it has something to do with the departure of Mickey Hatcher or Vernon Wells going on the DL or the recent solar eclipse. Who knows?

Whatever the reason, it all came just in time. I’m feeling less anxious and I’m starting to see a bit of a swagger in the way the Angels are going about their business now. Albert is back. Mike Trout is doing remarkable things at just 20 years of age and Mark Trumbo is just a beast.

And yet… there is still work to be done. The Angels have one more game against the Yankees and then three big games against the Rangers. Things could get very interested, very fast.

I know a lot of fans have hung in there through the struggles of the early season and I also know that some of you are just finding your way back.

Regardless of it all, now is the time for us to rally around this team, fill the stadium, be loud and show the rest of the baseball word how great this fan base can be.

If you’re like me, you’ve been taking names and notes of all the people who had a field day with the Angels struggles early on. If you wanted Mike Scioscia fired – be warned, I’ve got your name on my list. If you ceremoniously handed the Western Division title to the Rangers in April – I know who you are. If you thought Albert Pujols was a bust – I’ve got my eye on you too. After all, that's part of being a fan.

The fun of every baseball season is in the journey and the stories that unfold along the way. This season hasn't had any shortage of stories to be sure. Like the night Jered Weaver threw his no-hitter or even Monday night when the Angels overcame Weaver leaving early because of a back injury.

There is so much baseball still be played and so many more stories to be told.

My hope is that you have a chance to experience as many of them as possible. Join us in the journey because folks, this is going to be fun. It's time people; so break our your red and get your Angel game face on. Let's do this together!

May 21, 2012

Still we watch

It’s been very tough being an Angels fan this year.  If you’re one – you know.

Watching the Angels try to score runs these days has been one of the most frustrating experiences of our baseball watching lives  We think; we believe and more than anything – hope that every at bat that takes place with runners in scoring position is going be the one that is going to be the start of something great. 

We say to ourselves, “This is it… the offense is going to come alive and go on a tear without ever looking back.”

Forty-two games in and we’re still hoping. 

Roughly one fourth of the season is done and here we are.  The Angels rank 25th out of 30 teams in runs scored.  They are next to last in the American League, ahead of only the Oakland A’s – but it’s close; 153-150 and guess who the Angels play over the next three days?

This can’t go on.  Things have to change.  We are about to lose our minds.

We go from thinking that things are going to change any moment to hoping they will any day.  From believing this is the inning to – hoping for it to change next inning.  It doesn’t end.  It’s a nightmare that we can’t wake up from.

We walk around in a funk.  We want to punch a wall. 

And yet… we still watch. 

We wait.  We hope.  We might want to stop watching, but some of us just can’t turn away.  We really want to be rewarded for our faithfulness.  It has to be coming, right?  We want to taste the fruits of victory because losing and losing some more has been a bitter pill to swallow.

If you’re an Angels fan and you’ve come to the point of not being able to watch, I understand.  Still, I bet you check your phone even when you’re not watching live.  You’re looking for any little reason to be drawn back in.  Thinking about the struggle is too painful, but you’re keeping hope alive in your own little way.

If you’re an Angel fan who continues to hang in there despite it all, I applaud you.  I’m right there with you.  You’ve tried everything from lucky charms to strange rituals.  You think… “Maybe if I eat this or wear that“ and it’s to the point where you’re running out of ideas.

I know.  You’re tired of saying “Maybe tomorrow.”  You’re really tired of your Dodger fan friends and the fans of any team that’s doing better than yours.  You avoid the subject of Albert Pujols all-together.  You wince when people try to blame Mike Scioscia.  It seems like every time you experience a little bit of joy – it’s followed up with more frustration and pain.

This isn’t fun.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  How can this be happening?  Reading this blog post probably isn’t helping either.

What do you do? What do WE do?

We focus on Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout.  We wait for Torii Hunter to come back.  We embrace every moment that Jered Weaver is on the mound.  And… we wait; like a dog waiting by the door for his master to come home; we wait.  We stare off into the distance and we wait for the next game, the next at-bat and the next pitch.

This is either going to be the most frustrating season of our baseball watching lives or one of the greatest ever.  This team doesn’t have mediocrity written all over it.  It has greatness written on it and if they should fail – the failure will be catastrophic; even monumental.  It will be beyond our comprehension and understanding and it may even drive us mad.

I’m betting that doesn’t happen.  I’m trying to think ahead to a happier time; a time when we can look back at these first 42 games and know that we didn’t give up and that we watched our team overcome adversity. 

The next two weeks are huge.  When they are over one-third of the season will have been played and we will no longer be able to say “It’s early.”  Seven games this week against the A’s and Mariners and then three with the Yankees and those stinking’ Rangers.

Its go time folks.  The Angels have to trim some games off the eight game deficit they’re facing between now and the time they face Texas.  This is what we are clinging to right now.  We want a chance because deep down inside, we believe that if this team gives itself a chance – good things are going to happen.

I believe.  Yes, I do.  It ain't easy, but baseball isn't supposed to be easy.

Who’s with me?

May 16, 2012

You don't have Mickey Hatcher to kick around any more

Say what you will about Mickey Hatcher; but know this, a good man lost his job yesterday.  His detractors were many and they were loud and they were harsh. Whether or not Hatcher was deserving of such criticism is up for debate –but the consensus among Angel nation is pretty clear – he almost certainly had to go.

While a great many Angel fans are dancing in the street today; I have a different view.  I want to remember the man for the way he carried himself.  Despite the constant criticism, Mickey Hatcher never appeared angry, frustrated or even defensive.  He always seemed to be smiling and positive.  He certainly showed more class than many of his detractors.

Hatcher’s dismissal raises a boat load of questions and there is certainly no shortage of speculation in around baseball right now.  How will this move impact Mike Scioscia’s authority?  Why now?  Did this come down from Arte Moreno himself or is this Jerry Dipoto sending a message to the players and coaches that there is indeed a new man in charge and he’s not messing around?

I am in no position to judge whether or not Mickey Hatcher was a good hitting coach.  Is there even such a thing?  I know about as much about hitting as I do piloting a space ship.  I do know that the Angels have had an approach and philosophy that was all about being aggressive and making the effort to put the ball in play. 

It’s a style that I have loved to watch; and yet – it has appeared to me that so many things; maybe too many things had to always go right for the Angels offense to be successful.  I also know that Mickey Hatcher got his marching orders from Mike Scioscia and the Angels’ approach wasn’t necessarily Hatcher’s – it was most definitely Scioscia’s.

It’s a new day and it will be interesting to see how things unfold from here.  All eyes will be on Scioscia to see how he responds to all of this.  This can’t be easy.  Clearly he and Hatcher are close and have been through a great many things together.  I won’t blame him if he’s a little on edge, all things considered.

A lot of people are going to make this all about him and I believe that will make him uncomfortable.  People are going to talk about his contract that runs through 2018 (although he can opt out after 2015).  The focus and the scrutiny are going to be more intense.  Scioscia doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy, who likes having the focus on him,

Think about this – whenever the Angels are part of a national broadcast and there is an interview of a manager in the dugout – you don’t see Scioscia on camera.  He has always put his coaches in the position to answer the questions that are being asked.

Scioscia never makes it about himself.  When Nick Adenhart died and reporters asked over and over again about how the team was handling things – Scioscia always said “it’s not about us – it’s about Nick’s family and doing what we can to help them.”

When you know that about Scioscia it makes this situation all the more interesting.

On XM radio’s Power Alley this morning – Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette spent the first half hour of their show talking about the whole thing and Duquette said it’s clear to him that for the first time ever – Mike Scioscia is on the clock. 


I say “wow” because Duquette is probably right.  How did it come to this?  All the good will that was developed from 2002 through 2009 is gone.  Again, it’s a new day.

Baseball may be America’s favorite pastime; but the blame game is probably a close second.  Lots of fingers are being pointed these days in Anaheim and there is unrest and frustration the likes of which I have never seen.

Angel fans have gone from the highest of highs with the announcement of Albert Pujols coming to  Anaheim to the lowest of lows with each and every time the Angels get shut out (8 times now).  Something had to give and unfortunately for Mickey Hatcher – it was his job.

I am curious as I’m sure most of you are about how Scioscia is taking this, but I also know that we aren’t likely to ever know.  I imagine the world is a little bit of a lonelier place for him right now and that he is searching within himself for answers. 

And then t here’s Jerry Dipoto.  Since his arrival the team has shipped off long time Scioscia favorite Jeff Mathis to Toronto, acquired a high on base percentage type of hitter in Mathis’ replacement – Chris Iannetta; demoted Jordan Walden; shipped Kevin Jepsen to AAA; released Bobby Abreu, promoted Mike Trout and put him at the top of the order, and fired Mickey Hatcher.  Dipoto also signed Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, LaTroy Hawkins and acquired Ernesto Frieri.

And let’s not forget that Dipoto totally cleaned house in the front office.  There is no question what-so-ever as to who is in charge and whose will is being exerted in Anaheim.

Mike Scioscia’s fingerprints are all over the organization.  His philosophy and style of play has been infused at every level.  He has been the face of the organization for many years now.  When you think about the Oakland A’s – Billy Beane immediately comes to mind.  When you think about Red Sox recent run – you associate it with Theo Epstein.  For the Rangers – the face is Nolan Ryan.  In most cases – the face of an organization isn’t the manager, unlike in Anaheim.

Jerry Dipoto clearly has a plan and he’s definitely on a mission.  He too has a philosophy and it appears that it is direct conflict with the way Scioscia approaches the game.

Can the two co-exist?  I’m not sure.

The public perception of Scioscia is that he is stubborn and unwavering.  Whether or not that’s true to who he really is remains to be seen.  If true – his tenure in Anaheim may be in peril.  Something has to give and if it comes to that it will be a sad day because I believe Scioscia is the best thing that has ever happened to the Angels, period.

At the end of the day we all want the same thing – we want the Angels to be back on top – not only in the west, but in all of baseball.  The expectations are high and they should be. 

The most disappointing thing about all of this is that instead of talking about how well the Angels are playing; we are focused on all the things that have made this season a disaster so far.  That’s incredibly sad.  It was supposed to be like this.

The organization is experiencing growing pains and we should emphasize the word “pain” for sure.

In closing, I wish Mickey Hatcher well.  I will always appreciate his enthusiasm and happy-go-lucky nature.  I admired the way he handled adversity.  We should all be so classy.

May 14, 2012

Mad as heck and confused as ever

Angel fans are mad.  More than anything we are frustrated.  Nothing is more deflating to a sports fan than to see their favorite team thumped in a big game against a bitter rival.  Watching the two losses to the Texas Rangers over the weekend was torture.  Worse yet – it was a slow torture.

This is ugly.  The worst case scenario is here staring us all in the face.  Enthusiasm has turned to rage.  Hope has turned to fear.  Angel fans are fighting mad. They are pointing fingers and they want some heads to roll.  They’re lighting up the phone lines for radio call-in shows, and burning up message boards on the internet like a wild fire.

And… I love it.

Even though it’s hard to listen to the ranting of Angel fans and just as hard to read what they have to say – I’m glad it’s happening.  It’s good to see that Angel fans care because the alternative is apathy and that’s a death sentence to a franchise.

More than ever, Angel fans are emotionally invested in their team and it wasn’t that long ago that we couldn’t say such things. 

That being said – this can’t go on.  It has to stop.   If the Angels don’t start showing signs of life soon; especially Albert Pujols – the fall out will be severe.  Attendance is already down; that despite the reported uptick in pre-season sales. 

Face it – So. Cal fans are fickle.  They have way too many options for their entertainment dollar and if the Angels continue to struggle – all the good will created from 2002 through 2009 will be a distant memory. 

Okay – so here we are.  You want answers, right?  Well, so do I.  We can devote this post to placing blame and suggesting solutions – but if I did that, I’d be like a lot of other blogs and I’m not going to do that.

I will give you some of my thoughts on Albert Pujols and you can file these comments under “Everything you hear isn’t true…”

People keep saying that the Angels should be winning games regardless of Albert’s struggles.  Really?  Well consider this – in his career he has hit .370 with a 1.184 OPS when his team wins.  When his team loses?  He has hit .269 with a .822 OPS.  The difference is significant.  Teams go as Albert goes or at least that how it appears to me.

New league; new pitchers – does it make a difference?  I couldn’t find any statistics to analyze for this scenario, but I did find something interesting.  The more Albert sees a pitcher in a game, the better he hits.  When he faces a starter for the first time his BA is .312 and with each AB, that statistic goes up.  Second time:  .321; third time: .360; fourth time (or more): .362.

I’d say there is a correlation; wouldn’t you?  If he hits a pitcher better the more time she sees him in a single game, I would think the same would be true over the course of a season.

People (and I believe Albert himself) say he’s not a pull hitter.  Really?  For his career, he has hit .468 when his hits have been pulled to left field; .321 when they’ve gone up the middle and .304 to the opposite field.  Consider this – 213 of his 446 career homeruns have been to left field.  He has hit 93 to left center, 71 to center, 40 to right field and 29 to right center.

What does it all mean? Heck, if I know.  I guess my point is that everyone has an answer, but some of those observations are based on who they think Albert is and not necessarily who he really is.  

Confused?  Yeah, me too.  That's baseball for you.  Just consider it all food for thought as you sit there licking your wounds from the weekend.  That’s what I’m doing.

It’s a new week and there are new opportunities.  Keep the faith folks – this has to turn around soon. 

May 9, 2012

Jered on Letterman

Jered Weaver is still riding the wave of that no hitter the threw. He made an appearance last night on David Letterman's show to deliver the top ten signs that you'll never throw a no-hitter. I know Jered is a pitcher, but in this case - he knocked it out of the park.

May 3, 2012

No-no? Yes!

The “thought” entered my mind in the third inning. I know it was early, but when I looked up and saw the zeros, I thought about the possibility that Jered Weaver could throw a no-hitter.

When the fifth inning rolled around, the game didn’t feel like a typical game and I began to hope.

After six innings, people in my section began to talk in code, not wanting to say the words “no hitter” – but it was clear what was on their minds. I began to contact friends via my cell phone to make sure they were watching Jered throwing a “gem.”  I don't really believe in jinxes and such, but when it comes to baseball, I play along just for the fun and tradition of it.

I began to think about how blessed Cheryl and I were to be in the stadium.

Bo, who is a die-hard Angels fan who goes way back and sits to my left one row in front of me – turned and looked at me. We didn’t say a word to one another, but we were sharing the same thought. I thought about fellow 514 Fanatics John and Linda, who sit to Bo’s left, who don’t miss a lot of games – but took last night off to celebrate their anniversary. I thought about Ann and John, who usually accommodate them to every game.

I thought about my dad and how I wished he was still alive because I wanted to call him.

I thought about a post I had written last year about Jered Weaver that I titled “You should have been there.” It was something I had written after Jered had recorded his sixth win of the season to put him at 6-0. I had written it because a mere 37,115 fans showed up that night.

Whenever Jered takes the mound – it should be must-see theatre. He’s that special and I’ve been thinking and saying that ever since he began his career with the Angels. The 27,288 fans who were lucky enough to be at Angels Stadium last night know what I’m talking about.

I still don’t understand why the stadium isn’t packed every single time Jered takes the mound. I’m not begrudging people who can’t go for whatever reason; but for those who could and choose not to, I don’t get it.

The game rolled on and Weaver continued to make magic.

I watched. I listened to Terry Smith and Mark Langston call the game beautifully on the radio. I focused. I prayed. I kept an eye on his pitch count and I shot glances at the bullpen even though I knew I wouldn’t see anyone warming up.

I was soaking it all in. Sometimes when I’m at a game, it’s all a blur. There are conversations and distractions and things that happen around me that make me miss a play or two and when the night is over, I sometimes feel like I wasn’t even there.

That wasn’t the case last night. Jered was in the zone and so was this fan.

Cheryl was wearing her “We BeWeave” shirt. I had on my 2011 Weaver all-star shirt and a Dirtbag hat. We always wear something with Weaver’s name on it when he takes the mound. It’s our tradition.

When the 8th inning rolled around I was as nervous. Could it be? Is this really happening? I had to make sure some of my buddies were watching and sent them messages again to make sure.

With every inning, the crowd got a little louder and a buzz was definitely in the air.

By the time the 9th inning came along, the crowd was ready to celebrate. Everyone wanted to see it happen. Fans stood on their feet. Fists were clinched and the air was thick with anticipation. Yes, this was really happening. It could happen. Oh yes… please, let it happen.

The crowd reacted to every pitch; cheering loudly when Jered threw a strike and booing when the umpire Mark Carlson called ball on any pitch fans were certain was a strike.

Then it happened. Jered threw his 121st pitch of the night to Alexi Casilla, who hit a line drive to right field. Torii Hunter began to run back towards the wall. I held my breath. A moment of doubt entered, but it didn’t last. After all, that was Torii Hunter running that ball down. When Hunter reached up and hauled the ball in, the stadium went nuts. I went nuts. Cheryl was snapping photos left and right – we both let out a scream. It was madness. It was pandemonium. It was awesome.

That’s what pure unbridled joy feels like. It was fun. It was magical. It was baseball.

Angel Nation’s favorite son had cemented himself in the history books and enhanced his legacy and legend as a player.

The overwhelming consensus among fans everywhere was that it couldn't happen to a more deserving guy. It was cool on so many levels. It was heart-warming to see him embrace his wife and his mom and dad. His dad never misses a home game and the whole family was treated to something that most can only dream about.

How fitting was it that Torii Hunter hauled in the last out? How wonderful that it happened in Anaheim before fans who adore Jered?

Oh boy that was fun.

Cheryl and I go to a lot of games. Yes, we’re fanatical about the Angels. We know that every time we go to the stadium the impossible is possible. Magic can happen on any given night and that’s exactly what happened last night.

May 1, 2012

A family affair

I have a theory about the possible cause of Albert’s struggles at the plate thus far. I don’t know much about hitting mechanics or how to break down a player’s swing, but that didn’t stop me from coming to my own conclusion about Albert’s poor offensive start.

 I don’t know Albert personally, but I get the impression that he’s quite the family man. What does this have to do with anything? I learned today that his family isn’t moving to California and that they’re staying in St. Louis. Dee Dee Pujols (Albert’s wife) was interviewed by a television station in St. Louis about their foundation (Pujols Family Foundation).

Dee Dee was talking about the foundation’s plans to remain in St. Louis and also expand to Kansas City, Nashville and Southern California. In the course of the interview it was revealed that Dee Dee plans to stay in St. Louis and raise the couple's children while continuing to focus on growing the foundation.

There it is.

Albert is in a new city with a new team and his family is still back in St. Louis. That has to have an impact on a man like Albert. To top it off, Dee Dee is four months pregnant with the couple’s fifth child.

Despite his nickname (The Machine), Albert is anything but that. I’m betting that being apart from his family is taking its toll. Think about it. This is a man who met the love of his life at an early age, married young and lived and worked in St. Louis with his wife and family by his side for many years. He slept in a home where his children were close by and his wife by his side. He had home cooked meals. He had someone to talk to, confide in, etc. after every game.

Not only has Albert had to adapt to new surroundings, new teammates, new pitchers in a different league; he’s had to adjust to life without his family by his side. That can’t be easy, I don’t care who you are.

Some people like Jon Heyman of CBS Sports might even think he’s a little crankier. Heyman called out Albert for calling out Mickey Hatcher.

Apparently, Hatcher told some Angel beat writers what Albert said in a team meeting and Albert took exception to it. Personally, I think Heyman is making a bigger deal out of Albert’s reaction than necessary. Given the circumstances - I'd cut Albert a little slack and I'm guessing Mickey Hatcher isn't all that upset with Albert's comments anyway.  It's not like Albert was blaming Hatcher for his struggles.

Look, Albert doesn’t have his support system around him and again, that has to be tough. Just saying – maybe, just maybe – that’s the root of his struggles thus far.

Albert has said many times that the Angels are his "new family."  I guess that's more true than even he realized.  There has to be an extra added strain to being away from his real family; especially with a daughter who has special needs and a wife who is four months pregnant.  There's the distance, the time difference and so much more.

And consider this - Albert is a man who thrives on routine and process and his whole routine is different now.

Maybe I'm off base, but I'm guessing I'm not and this more than anything else can explain his struggles.

Late addition: Mike Ferrin of SiriusXM's MLB Network radio gave me a link to a piece by Jon Morosi who interviewed Albert about his struggles and touched on the subject of being away from his family. Good stuff (relevant material near the end of the article).