September 26, 2016

Missing Jose

On May 9, 2014 Cheryl and I drove down to San Diego’s Petco Park to see the Padres take on the Florida Marlins.  We went specifically to see Jose Fernandez pitch.  My thought was all about the possibility of seeing something amazing. 

Going into that game, Jose had a 1.74 ERA and the Padres’ offense wasn’t setting the world on fire.  I thought… maybe, just maybe we’ll see Jose throw a no-hitter.  Seriously, that was one of the reasons why we made the trip.  It was a hunch and an excuse to see one of the brightest young stars in the game.

I can count on one hand the number of times I made a trip to a ball-park to specifically see a certain player.  As season ticket holders, I know if I’m patient I will eventually see everyone there is to see in the game.  It says a lot that I would make a special trip to see one guy away from Angels stadium.

Jose was that special.

I knew he was a special talent, but even beyond that - I loved the way he played the game.  I love watching players who not only have swagger, but also have a genuine love for the game and play the game with unbridled joy.  Jose was everything good about baseball and we wanted to see him pitch, knowing he was capable of doing something extraordinary any time he stepped on the field.

Unfortunately, Jose didn’t come close to perfection.  In fact, he had one of his worst games of the year. We would learn afterwards that he was sick and battling a high fever along with vomiting.  We would also learn that game would be his last of the year as he would need Tommy John surgery.

Baseball is rarely predictable.  It often shows you the opposite of what you expect. It has a way of making the brightest stars look mortal and even has the ability to elevate role players into the stratosphere when they do something spectacular. 

It was disappointing to see Jose not be all that he was capable of being that day, but we walked away thinking - maybe next time…

Fast forward to Sunday – September 25, 2016 and the news of Jose’s tragic death.  The moment I heard the news, my heart sunk.  I immediately put my hand over my heart.  It was just my natural reaction to horrific news.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  A rush of thoughts came to my mind – the May 9, 2014 game we went to, his infectious smile and zest for the game and thoughts of Nick Adenhart who was also lost to us tragically at a young age.

Jose was the kind of player you want on your team.  Not just because of the talent alone, but because some guys just make you love the game more and he was that kind of guy.  Jose was easy to cheer for and I will miss having the chance to do that ever again.

Mourning the loss of a public figure is different for everyone.  These kinds of tragedies are different from losing someone close to you, but they can be profound never-the-less.  They can certainly make us sad and reflective and they definitely bring life’s priorities into focus.

I can’t stop thinking about Jose Fernandez.  I can’t stop thinking about the joy he brought to those who watched him pitch.  I can’t stop thinking about how special he was.  That word “special” will always be the word I associate with Jose Fernandez. 

Back in 2014, we were reminded that even the great ones are human.  More than two years later – we are reminded that no one is invincible and how brief life can really be.

I am saddened by his death, but grateful that we had the privilege of seeing his talent and personality shine so brightly for the short time he was here.

September 13, 2016

You know you're done when...

I can’t remember wanting a baseball season to end more than this one.  I’m kind of ashamed that I feel this way, but it’s true.  It’s been pure drudgery to watch the Angels this year – even with Mike Trout doing Mike Trout things.  I’m sorry, but I have all but checked out and I wish the season would just end.

I know I’ve checked out when I don’t know who’s scheduled to pitch on any given day.  I know I’m done when I don’t know the name on the back of the uniform and I don’t bother to find out who they are.  I’ve stopped looking at the standings and I only occasionally even look at the box scores. 

I have hated the season early and often.  I have hated the fact the Angels threw good money at the likes of C.J. Wilson and Josh Hamilton without any ROI.  I hated knowing that the Angels went into the season with question marks in LF, 2B and in the rotation and bullpen.  It aggravates me to think this was the best team they could actually field.

It also makes me anxious to think the Angels are wasting the years they have Mike Trout. It actually makes me a little sick to my stomach.  I could do a whole week of blog posts just on this, but it would probably kill me in the process to think it that much.

I miss baseball.  Not the way I miss baseball when its winter and there isn’t any baseball being played.  I miss Angles baseball that is relevant and meaningful.  I hate waiting for the season to be over because in an ideal world, I never want baseball season to be over.

I’d like to think things will be better next year, but I really don’t know if they will.  This isn’t fun and baseball is supposed to be fun.  It’s supposed to be a nice distraction at its worst and an obsession at its best.  It’s neither of those things now.  It’s this annoying thing that is taking place on a nightly basis and leaves me agitated, grumpy and even worse – somewhat apathetic.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t stopped going to games, but I know for certain I’ve gone to far fewer than in recent years.  And when I do go, I’m not even excited to go. 

It’s sad to think this could be Jered Weaver’s last year.  I hate the idea that his career could end on such a bad team in such a meaningless season. 

I’m tired of the “let’s get rid of Mike Scioscia” talk.  I don’t have any desire to tune into Angels talk or read any message boards because in my case – misery does NOT love company.  I don’t want to gripe and moan my way through the season and I certainly don’t want to hear to read about how horrible things are from fans.  I’d rather just ignore it at this point.

Then again, by posting this blog – I guess I’m adding to the pile.  Sorry.  I’ll stop now.

May 10, 2016

Show Me Something

There’s a bad news epidemic that’s rolling through the Angels and it isn’t taking any prisoners.  It’s kicking the team’s butt and barreling through it like a tidal wave and that’s not to be confused with a title wave.

Every time I check MLB Trade Rumors, tune into MLB network or just open my eyes – I see one awful report after another.  Good grief, somebody please make it stop.

I guess this is what happens when you don’t show any empathy for other teams who go through seasons with devastating injuries to their team.  I guess this is just the way the ball bounces – like an inning ending double play.  Boom.  Just like that.

It’s only May 10 and I’m not prepared to give up on a season.  The idea of a long, losing season just makes me want to… well, it make me want to puke.  I don’t know if I can stomach it. 

I guess there’s two ways the team can respond.  They can either roll-over and play the “Woe is me” card or they can look each other in the eye and say, “Let’s win this thing anyway.”

I really don’t know what they will do or what they’re capable of doing.  Certainly, things don’t look very good on paper, but we all know that games aren’t won on paper. Time will tell what this team is made of and if they can overcome and become something special. 

This is what I do know…  It’s time for Albert Pujols to step up.  In fact, it’s past time.  I don’t know if Father Time has finally caught up with him or if he’s just on cruise control as he coasts towards Coopers Town – but I’ve been more than patient waiting for some semblance of greatness to show up on a consistent basis. 

There was a time when any team that Albert Pujols in its lineup had a chance.  There was a time when Albert wanted to prove to the world that he was in fact the best hitter in baseball.  He had a chip on his shoulder.  He played with an edge and a fierceness that was awesome to watch.

I don’t know if he still has any of that.  I just don’t.  I don’t know the man personally.  I’d like to believe he still has a fire in his belly, but I’d like to believe a lot of things…

Losing isn’t fun.  Watching a team not compete is just plain painful.  I don’t want or need that kind of aggravation.

I’ll be going to the games against the Cardinals and I’ll be watching to see what kind of effort they put forth.  If I don’t see guys battling like they’d rather die than make an out, let alone lose a game – I won’t be happy.  I want to see a team that is out to prove the doubters wrong and to show the rest of baseball that they’re not done.

The great Jim Valvano once gave a great speech about how ordinary people do extra-ordinary things every day.  Well?  It all starts tonight and I’ll be watching.  

April 25, 2016

Way faster than a speeding bullet

I’m not going to do the play justice, but let me post this just the same.

Saturday night, a ball was hit by Kyle Seager of the Seattle Mariners deep in the hole at shortstop.  Now, usually when I watch a game, the game and each play has a certain rhythm and timing to it all; at least that’s normally the case.

On this particular play the ball went into Andrelton Simmons’ glove and .5 seconds later was on its way to first base for what looked like a routine out.  The play was anything but routine.  I don’t know if you realize how fast .5 seconds is, but when a play happens that fast – you think your eyes are playing tricks on you. 

It was as if real-time was on extra, extra fast forward for a split second as the play unfolded.  My eyes were focused in one area, anticipating when the ball should fly out of Simmons’ hand, but the ball was way ahead of my anticipation.  It was like *ping* - ball gone.  It was freaky.  It was cool.  It was magical.

I can’t imagine anyone having faster hands.  It was like Muhammad Ali in his prime, flicking jabs – only faster; much faster.  It was like the best magician in the world doing a slight of hand trick.  I’m surprised I didn’t hear a sonic boom because surely that play happened faster than the speed of sound. 

I can see why Simmons is considered the best defensive player in the game.  With Mike Trout in CF and Simmons at SS, I can’t imagine a better defense up the middle.  This is going to be fun to watch all season long.

April 18, 2016

Caution: Winding Road Ahead

Somewhere out there in the great state of Minnesota, there’s a Twins fan who is writing or has written a post on his or her blog similar to the one I wrote last week about feeling better about their team.  I mean, the Twins were 0-9 prior to facing the Angels and now stand at 3-9.  That’s right, the Angels were swept by the winless Twins.  Swept!

Now, I’m all for creative inspiration, but I have to say – the Angels took this too far.  Are you kidding me?  Is this the kind of roller-coaster season the Angels are going to have?  Each of those three games were winnable.  They had leads.  They should have won each of them.  They didn’t and I’m back in that place I hate.

I’m in anxiety land; the “this-season-reminds-me-of-last-season” place.  Losing sucks.

This is where fear and loathing lives.  I really don’t want to go there.  Not even for a short visit.  I really don’t.  I don’t know if I can take it.  Again, I really don’t.

Baseball is a funny game.  Teams often lose the games they’re supposed to win and win the games they’re supposed to lose.  Match-ups that look like “pitchers’ duals” on paper often turn into Homerun Derbies in real life.  It’s all so unpredictable and this is the beautiful thing about baseball.  It’s also one of the frustrating things about the game.

So, here we go.  Buckle up.  Close your eyes if you have to.  Rub a rabbit’s foot.  Do whatever you need to do.  We’re just getting started Angel fans.  Regardless of where the road takes us; let’s just go-together.  Maybe we’ll have some laughs along the way.  Perhaps we’ll shed a few tears.  Who knows?

It’s baseball, people.  Anything can happen.

April 15, 2016

Winning is Fun... Again

A funny thing happened on the way to the abyss; the Angels made a 180 degree turn and swept the Oakland A’s.  Now, if you know how much I dislike the A’s, you know how happy that makes me.  Sweeping any team is nice, but sweeping the A’s?  Oh, that’s like an extra serving of your favorite dessert. 

I’m just sorry there weren’t more A’s fans at the stadium to see their team get demolished.  In three games the A’s drew a total of 38,079.  They averaged 12,693 a game.  I bet there are garage sales in the area that draw more people than that. 

Now, I’ll admit that the stadium is a giant toilet and all, but seriously?  It’s not like its July and the A’s are already 20 games out of first.  It’s April!  What a franchise.  What a fan base.  Let’s make a movie about this team.  Oh wait…

It’s funny what a little four game winning streak can do.  It allows me to exhale and more importantly allows me to keep my sense of humor in the proper perspective.  Instead of making fun of my favorite team, I get to make fun of my least favorite team.  Win-win, right?

Moving on.

I will be curious to see how the Angels and Mariners series unfolds later this month.  I wonder if there will be any fireworks… (Insert dramatic pause here)… when the two managers exchange lineup cards!  I don’t think Mike Scioscia and Scott Servais exchange Christmas cards and yet, they’ll have to exchange lineup cards tonight.  I wonder if one of the two ex-catchers will try to squeeze the other person’s hand a little harder when they go to shake hands.

Wouldn’t it be funny if Scioscia and Servais got a little heated before the game even started?  Imagine the benches clearing before the first pitch… Of course, that will never happen – but a guy can dream, right?

That’s all I have for now.  Go Angels!

April 7, 2016

How to Rant Like You Mean It

Maybe it’s just me (probably not), but after just two games – 2016 feels a lot like 2015.  I don’t know about you, but I didn’t care much for the 2015 baseball season and the idea of possibly reliving it again just doesn’t sound like much fun.

I know it’s early.  You don’t have to tell me it’s early.  I know what day it is.  Please don’t start.  And I don’t want to hear about patience.  My patience ran out a few years ago.  My expectations have even dwindled a bit.  No, let’s be honest – my expectations are in the toilet.  This isn’t fun.  It’s just not.  No, not even a little bit.  Losing sucks. 

It’s funny – every time I anticipate a game or a series where the Angels could really make a statement – they make the wrong kind of statement.  The first two games against the darlings of baseball, the supposed favorites to win it all and yadda, yadda, yadda – were just demoralizing.

Where do I begin?

First off – hats off to the Cubs.  They lived up to the hype in the first two games, but a word or two of advice.  Don’t start making plans for a parade.  I mean, hasn’t the last 100 years taught you Cub fans anything?  I know you think Joe Maddon is some kind of messiah, but until he actually wins it all – he’s just another manager in my book.  Then again, they'll probably make a movie about him

After all, they made a movie about Billy Beane specifically highlighting the year the Angels won the world series – so what do I know?  Call me a hater.  The shoe probably fits.

If I sound a little grumpy, I guess I’ll need to kick it up a notch because I’m a whole lot of grumpy.  Losing does that.  Losing by a combined score of 15-1 puts me at the troll-who-lives-under-a-bridge-kind-of-grumpy. 

My Dodger friends are loving this.  Hey, they need to have a little fun after not smelling a world series in 28 years.  They deserve to feel a little giddy.  Yay for them.  Rah, stinkin’ rah.  *Yawn.*

I hate it when the Angels fall below .500.  Whenever that happens I start to play that game… you know the game – how many wins in a row do they need to make it back to .500?  I hate that game.  Makes me crazy.

At this point the Angels are on pace to go 0-162.  They’re team ERA is on pace to be 7.50 for the year and they’ll score exactly 81 runs – which will all be driven in my Craig Gentry. 

Relax, I’m just messing around here.

I’m sure I’ll start to feel better the first time Mike Trout launches one into outer space and Huston Street comes in to slam the door shut. 

You might want to stay clear of me until then though.  Don’t worry – I’m not going to kick any puppies or anything.  I’m not that bad just yet.  

Check back with me in a week.  If I don’t post on this blog by then it will be a safe bet that I threw my keyboard against the wall and then for good measure took my monitor and tossed it into an eco-friendly recycle bin.

March 17, 2016

Please Bring Back the Swagger

As I anticipate the start of the 2016 baseball season, one thought prevails above all others.  It rises above the overall success of the team even though it is directly tied to the team doing well.  It’s an emotional thought and one that comes from the very core of my Angels fandom.

I want to see Jered Weaver return to being Jered Weaver. 

Maybe it’s a pipe dream.  Maybe I’m opening myself up for disappointment.  Perhaps I’m fooling myself into believing this is even possible.  Yet, I hope.  Isn’t that what spring is all about; hope?

I admire Jered as much as it is possible for any fan to admire someone they do not know, but has watched for years.  I have lived and died watching Jered do his thing over the years.  I have celebrated every fist pumping end to a climactic inning that he’s been involved in.  I have winced with agony when well intended pitches have left the ball park faster than Jered can throw them.

Jered Weaver has been everything I could hope for in a baseball player.  He’s far and away my favorite pitcher of all time.  No question and without a doubt.

From the moment Jered Weaver stepped on the mound for the Angels, I have been engaged and committed to watching him pitch.  Perhaps it’s because; like me, he went to Long Beach State.  He's a Dirtbag. He’s a throwback.  He’s old school. 

There is a fire in him.  The kind of fire we all want to find within ourselves when the going gets tough or the task seem bigger than ourselves.   He’s the taller, thinner version of every underdog you've ever cheered for; be it,  Rocky, Rudy or whoever.

He’s a lot of things, but he’s also uniquely just Jered.  There isn’t any flash to his game, just swagger.  Oh the swagger.  You have to love the swagger.  He reminds me of the gunslingers you see in the movies.  There’s a little bit of Clint Eastwood in him.  No nonsense.  No messing around. But plenty of attitude of the don’t-mess-with-me kind.  

Jered is what happens when intensity meets coolness and the two join forces.  That’s Jered.  That’s so Jered.

I always felt like everything was going to be okay when Jered took the mound.  I know I wasn’t going to get cheated as a fan because Jered was going to give everything he had to the effort.  No moment was too big.  His confidence inspired me to believe.

And I still believe. 

I’m not writing this as a eulogy.  I’m writing this because I want Jered to be successful as much as any fan can want anything.  I want to see that sneer again.  I want him to walk off the mound pumping his fist and screaming at himself.  I want to yell… “That’s what I’m talking about” again.

I’m not ready to say good-bye.  I’m ready to say hello again and "Hell, yeah - that’s the dude I know! That’s Jered Weaver and he just shut your team down."  I want him to remove all doubt and shoot that look (you know the one) at all the naysayers. 

Make no mistake about it, I want the Angels to win.  I just happen to believe winning will be all the sweeter with Jered being Jered.

If the Angels are lucky enough and good enough to win it all and they happen to do it without Jered, I’ll feel a bit empty.  It’s like any big moment – you want to share it with the people you love.  It would be like the Angels winning in 2002 without Tim Salmon.  Can you imagine?  Of course not.

So, as I prepare for the season that is fast approaching, I keep hoping.  I keep praying.  I keep watching.  Even more than all of that, I have raised my expectations; knowing full well what comes with that.

Let’s do this.

March 8, 2016

Choosing to Believe

I’ve made a decision.  As long as Albert Pujols is able to step on a baseball field, I’m not going to count him out.  I’m just not going to do it.  I don’t care what anyone says or anyone thinks, I will continue to believe that Albert is capable of doing great things.

Everyone knows he had off season foot surgery.  The funny thing (at least to me) about that is that from the moment that was made public; fans, experts, insiders, etc. started to write him off.  They said he wouldn’t be ready for opening day.  They said a lot of things that were made to cast doubt on what kind of season he would have.

Not me.  Never.  No way.

There are some people out there (you know who you are) who will look for any little thing to pile on when it comes to Albert.  These people have an agenda.  I guess they don’t feel like he’s lived up to his expectations and more importantly (for them), his contract.  I get that. 

What I don’t get is the notion that some people think he doesn’t care.  That doesn’t make any sense to me what-so-ever.  There is no way Albert has achieved what he has achieved in his career without caring.  Talent alone doesn’t make you a Hall of Fame candidate.  The great ones are driven.  They play with a chip on their shoulder.  They play with something to prove every time they step on the field.  I believe that.

Albert has said that if he doesn’t feel like he can play at a high enough level, he’ll retire before the end of his contract.  I believe him.  Some of you (again, you know who you are), don’t.  Whatever.

I’m pretty much over the people who have taken it upon themselves to hate on Albert every chance they get.  Hating on certain ball players has become a new favorite pastime for some.  I don’t get that (unless we’re talking A.J. Pierzynski, of course).

I believe Albert always gives his best effort.  I know he hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, but I believe some of those things are about circumstance and certainly not about effort.  When I look at Albert, I see a proud man who takes his job very seriously. 

Obviously, I don’t know him personally – but neither do most if not all of you reading this.  We don’t know what he thinks, what motivates him or what’s going on in his life.  It doesn’t matter.  I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and just believe that he’s doing everything he can to be the best player he can be.

His contract is what it is.  Get over it.

So, as the season inches closer – I am looking forward to seeing what Albert will do.  I’m going to root for him.  I’m going to be optimistic and positive.  I’m going to wear his name on my back to games.  I’m even going to expect greatness; yes, greatness. 

I love come-back stories.  I love it when good people prove doubters wrong.  I admire those who do the unexpected.  I champion those who exceed expectations and defy the odds. 

The story is yet to unfold.  I can’t wait to see what happens.  I know I may be disappointed.  Then again, I might not.  Regardless, I’d rather stay positive and expect greatness than be that guy who’s just negative for the sake of being negative, never happy and always looking for the sky to fall. 

That’s just not me. 

Baseball is supposed to be fun and this is what I choose to do as a fan. 

March 6, 2016

Good Baseball Hunting

Something is different.  Usually when pitchers and catchers report, I get a little extra pep in my step.  I usually feel a little more optimistic about everything.  I’m usually in a little bit of a better mood and I’m looking forward.

It’s March and the teams are in full spring training mode. Games are being played and competition is taking place and guess what?  I haven’t even looked at a single box score or searched the internet for any little tidbit of baseball news; at least not to the extent I usually do.

I know Albert Pujols is ahead of schedule in his recovery from off season foot surgery; and although that makes me smile, I’m just not where I usually am at this point in time.

Baseball isn’t taking up much, if any time in my head right now.  I’m guessing as opening day gets closer things will change, but I don’t know for sure.

At a recent chalk talk held for season seat holders with Billy Eppler; the new Angels’ general manager, I heard some things that were encouraging.  First and foremost there is a movement towards a return to Angels baseball, Mike Scioscia style. The Angels are making a point to acquire Scioscia’s type of players; guys who put the ball in play, go first to third and play good defense.  I love that. 

In many ways that news is better than any “big splash” signing the Angels could have made in the off season.

Even still… something is different.

What’s puzzling, is that I can’t tell you why it’s different.  I mean, I’m excited about getting to watch the best player in baseball continue to do amazing things in Mike Trout.  I’m excited about seeing if Jered Weaver can bounce back from a disappointing season and re-emerge as the guy we have always counted on.  I’m just not as excited, I guess.

Is this what happens when your team doesn’t have a certain level of success anymore?  2002 seems like a million years ago.  The run of consecutive division championships seem like a lifetime ago. 

Is it because the team hasn’t lived up to expectations in recent years?  I really don’t know.

Maybe it’s because there isn’t a Torii Hunter type of guy who makes me laugh and smile.  Maybe it’s because there isn’t a Joe Saunders, who Cheryl and I were able to connect with on a certain level.  Again, I don’t know.

As I write this – it’s like I’m thinking out loud.  I’m asking questions and feeling certain things and I’m trying to figure out why.

I’m not feeling the anticipation of great baseball to come.  I don’t have any real expectations.  I have hopes for good things, but I am not sure what to expect.  I’m not sure I’m ready for the grind and if the Angels struggle, I’m not sure I’m ready for the negativity that comes from the fan base when that happens.

They say baseball is America’s favorite pastime.  It’s been more than that for me for quite some time.  It’s been an obsession of sorts.  Not so much this year; at least, not so far.

Maybe this is better.  Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.  Maybe something will happen that I didn’t see coming and baseball will be fun again. 

Ah yes, maybe that’s it.  Maybe I’m waiting for baseball to be fun again.  Maybe I need to be around like-minded fans who are all about the Angels.  Our season seat section has shrunk considerably from where it once was when we had so many regulars surrounding us every game.  It’s a sliver of what it was.  I miss that a lot. 

Maybe we can engage whoever will be sitting around us this year.  Maybe we can add on to our “summer family” like the one Jimmy Fallon’s character talked about in the movie “Fever Pitch.” 

One can hope…