October 11, 2013

Yes, it really was that bad

The Angels had an opportunity to bring their fan base a little bit of joy at the end of the season when they headed to Texas for a four game series.  As it turned out – had the Angels won a single game during that road trip they would have been responsible for knocking the Texas Rangers out of the play-off picture all-together.

Wishful thinking.

Not only did the Angels stink up the stadium – they provided their fans with a great deal of frustration, anguish, anger, and outright disgust.  Take the second game of the series as an example. 

In the bottom of the second inning with the score tied and one out, C.J. Wilson gave up a line drive base hit to Elvis Andrus.  With Alex Rios batting – Wilson uncorks a wild pitch that sends Andrus all the way to third base.  Rios then walks.  Wilson then hits the next batter Adrian Beltre to load the bases.  Up steps A.J. Pierzynski, who also gets plunked by Wilson to walk in a run.  Up steps Jeff Baker and Wilson uncorks another wild pitch and Rios scores.

That inning – was all too familiar in a season of pathetic play.  You have to work really hard to have an inning like that and watching it is like suffering a slow, anguishing death (not that I’ve actually experienced such a thing).  It’s enough to send a sane man into a fit of rage (no, I didn’t do that).  After an experience like that – you feel like part of you just died and that your life was shortened considerably because of what you just absorbed with your own eyes.

I imagine that a lot of televisions were turned off at that point or at the very least the channel was changed.  In some cases, I’m guessing an object found the front of the screen at a high rate of speed.

Even though the game wasn’t over and there were two more games on the schedule, I knew then that the Angels would probably be swept and that the Rangers would live past 162 games somehow.   All I wanted was a little bit of joy in having the satisfaction of seeing my team knock the Rangers out of the play-off race; but no, that just wasn’t going to happen.  Of course not.

Obviously, it was too much to ask.  Thankfully, the Rays would take care of the Rangers’ post season dreams instead.

Throughout the season, I wanted this team to respond to adversity with a purpose and silence the critics.  Instead, they rolled over when the going got tough. There were times when they couldn’t get out of their own way and they couldn’t give away runs and opportunities to the other teams they faced fast enough.  It was worse than a bad movie because this was real and it unfolded day after day before our eyes.

To a fan that is emotionally invested in a team – it was one of the most frustrating and agonizing seasons ever. 

There was a time when I wasn’t nearly as emotionally invested in the Angels.  Even though I am a longtime fan, my “fandom” didn’t really escalate until Cheryl and I became season ticket holders.  Sometimes, I long for those days when being fan didn’t necessarily mean that I would live and die each day with the team and my mood wouldn’t be affected by how they played.

Ok, maybe I’m not that bad – but there are days when it all takes its toll.

So the season is over and it’s time to dust ourselves off and get back to waiting for the spring and the optimism that it brings. 

I don’t know how to fix this team.  Sure, I have some ideas – but what does it matter?  As a fan, I have to wait and watch to see what is going to happen.

Here’s what I do know.  The Angels need more players like Kole Calhoun.  There’s something about a guy who actually looks like he loves playing the game and can actually play it pretty well that’s compelling.  His kind of enthusiasm has to be contagious in the club house.  He’s already become one of Cheryl’s favorites and who can blame her?

This guy plays hard – smiles a lot and shows no fear.  I haven’t noticed any deer-in-the-headlights moments from him unlike oh… I don’t’ know… perhaps, Howie Kendrick for example. 

I know a lot of baseball people and even fans will say that chemistry and all the intangibles aren’t real – but I don’t buy it.  I love players who have a chip on their shoulder and bring a certain intensity to the game.  I don’t think you can have a whole team of individuals like this – but having some who can have an impact in the clubhouse has to help.

Look at what happened in Boston.  That organization set out to change the culture in the clubhouse and it worked.  They brought in high character guys like Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino who helped change the mindset on that team.  In the process they traded away guys who look great on paper  - but not so good on the field.  Seemingly overnight, the Red Sox were transformed into a team that  brought a bull-dog-like mentality into every game. 

This make over extended to their pitching as well.  You know, there’s a fine line between being intense and being a jerk and they got rid of the jerk in Josh Beckett and in the process they freed up John Lackey to be the John Lackey.  I have my issues with the things Lackey said about the Angels fan base on his way out of town, but I have to say, part of me misses the guy who loves to compete and it’s clear to me that guy is back.

I don’t like the Red Sox, but I certainly respect what they did in the last year to bring that franchise back to relevance.

When I look at the Angels – I see a team without a soul and with no identity.  That all died the day they let Torii Hunter go to Detroit.  When you think of the Angels now – you think of the stoic Mike Scioscia, the angry Arte Moreno and two highly paid and underachieving players in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.  You almost forget that this is a team that has Mike Trout who is arguably the best player in the game.

Fans are so focused on the bad stuff that some of them miss the opportunity to enjoy Trout on a regular basis.  I’m not kidding.  There is so much that is wrong and frustrating about the team – that not even Mike Trout is enough to draw them in.

That’s sad.  We’re talking about a once-in-a –generation type of player who is playing historic baseball.  He’s doing things that have never been done and he’s doing it as player who just turned 22 in August.  Some are so disgusted with the team that they spend more time speculating that Trout will leave when he becomes a free agent rather than enjoying him in the here and now.

What does that tell you?

This off season is one of the most important in the history of the Angels franchise.  Whatever gains they made during the years following the 2002 World Series is dissipating.  A great many season ticket holders aren’t going to renew.  They’re fed up.  They’re moving on.  I imagine that if and when the team gets back to being relevant, they’ll be back – but they’re done for now.

The team needs a make-over – not necessarily a total redesign, but a make-over.  They need Arte Moreno to step up and publicly hold himself accountable.  He needs to face the music – and by that I mean the local media.  He needs to take the shots and he needs to respond by showing true leadership.  Sports fans love fearlessness in their athletes and the same trait should be demonstrated in the front office and most certainly in the ownership.

We don’t want to see an owner who takes punitive action by moving the media down in the right field corner – we want an owner who’s not afraid to stand toe to toe and fight for his team. 

I’m encouraged by the recent news of a united front between Mike Scioscia and Jerry Dipoto.  I believe the news that they’re now working together as a team to fix it all.  This had to happen and I’m hopeful in the outcome.

Sports is supposed to be fun and baseball is supposed to be America’s pastime.  It’s time to put the fun back in being an Angels fan and ownership needs to take the responsibility of making that happen.  The last thing anyone wants is for their favorite baseball team to be a source of angst when it should be a source of joy.

Right now – there is very little; if any actual joy.  This can change.  It’s going to take hard work and patience from the fan base, but it’s possible.  After all, its baseball and we know anything is possible in baseball.

I know this post is overdue.  My apologies.  I won't make any promises about what is to come - but there will definitely be more to come.  Thanks for reading.