McAngel Notes on St. Patty’s Day

I  just got back from visiting Angels camp in Tempe, Arizona and one thing is for certain, I’m glad to be home.  No, not because I have something against the Grand Canyon state…that couldn’t be further from the truth.  As a matter of fact, I spent my first year of MLB broadcasting in Arizona with the Diamondbacks and loved every minute of being in the ‘dry heat.’

The reason I’m glad to be home is simple…we’re just that much closer to Opening Day.  Two weeks from today, the Angels will kick off their 2014 season at home against the Seattle Mariners.  I know it’s been a disappointing last couple of years but whenever you hear ‘Opening Day,’ it seems to erase the past and allow you to daydream about what good & positive things may happen during the course of a 6-month season.  And I must admit, I saw a lot of good, positive things in camp over the 5 days I was there.

Yes, I know it’s spring training and there’s really no reason to get all geeked up about what one has witnessed.  But it does allow for fans to get a glimpse of what “their guys” look like while getting ready for the grind.   I mean, come on…most of you know that I’m not one to pull punches and often speak my mind when it comes to the game of baseball, so I’m not going to sugar coat anything for you just so you feel good about things.  But that said, I’m pretty stoked about what I saw in my limited time in Tempe.

I was already pumped about seeing the two new lefties the Halos had acquired in the off-season (Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs) from watching the games on the tube the first couple of weeks.  Watching them live made it even better.  Now don’t take that to mean the Angels have found Sandy Koufax and Steve Carlton and added them to the rotation.  As cool as that would be, that’s not how it should be interpreted.  All I’m saying is that while it may have been a difficult pill to swallow to trade your HR leader of the last several seasons in order help your rotation depth, at the very least the team got back what has been advertised…a lefty that can be a middle of the rotation guy that works quickly and effectively with both a changeup and a screwball (Santiago) and another lefty, this one a tall drink of water (Skaggs), that has the potential to be a rotation leader who not only continues to show poise and conviction on the mound, but also possesses a fastball that has been living in the 93-95 mph range and a complementing lively curveball that can certainly keep both righties and lefties honest.  Those two young men, to go along with Jered Weaver, CJ Wilson & Garrett Richards, figure to be the rotation as the season commences in a couple of weeks and I’d be ok with that set up.  As always, things could change.

As for Weaver…I’ve seen each of his starts this spring and so far he’s looked good.  The one thing I’ve noticed early on is his location seems to be back.  He struggled with location a good chunk of the season last year and still managed 3.27 ERA in 24 starts.  Now I know that when Weaver’s name gets mentioned nowadays everyone wants to talk about his velocity or lack thereof.  Let’s get one thing straight; the ONLY thing related to velocity that should be mentioned with this version of Jered Weaver is the differential between his fastball and off-speed pitches…that’s it.  I couldn’t care less if Weaver’s fastball couldn’t break a pane of glass, if he can locate it on both sides of the plate and still keep hitters off balance with both the changeup and curveball, he’ll be more than fine.  If/when he gets to the point where there isn’t much separation between his FB and off-speed pitches and hitters are ‘on him’ consistently, then we’ll talk.

On the offensive side in camp, there are two guys that have stood out so far for me.  Chris Iannetta continues to swing a hot bat this spring, due largely in part to the new contacts he’s been wearing since the end of last year.  Iannetta’s always had a good eye at the plate, as witnessed by his walk total and on-base percentage (2nd  on the Angels in both categories last year to Mike Trout), so this should only help him.  Where I believe you may see (no pun intended) a bigger impact, is behind the plate.  Too often last year we saw Iannetta struggling behind the plate in handling some pitches, this should help remedy those issues.

The other offensive player that has stood out so far is Matt Long.  Long, a 30th round pick out of Santa Clara University in 2009, has been in the Angels organization for 5 years now and put up good numbers at both AA Arkansas and AAA Salt Lake last year.  Long will be 27 at the end of April but what’s been surprising to see is the composure he’s been able to maintain even after his hot start and because of that, I believe he’s played himself into the ‘Opening Day’ conversation.  He’s an outfielder by trade but is also capable of playing 2B, which happen to come in handy a couple of days ago when Mike Scioscia brought him in from LF and put him on the right side of the infield with the score tied in the 10th and winning run at third base.  All Long did was field a grounder cleanly and turn the unconventional 7-6-3 double play.  He’s been fun to watch.

Of course there are others but these are just a couple of things that stood out to me over the last week.  Josh Hamilton makes his return today after being sidelined with a calf strain and all I can say is he’s back to looking like the guy that he was with Texas.  Albert Pujols is not only moving well at 1B, he’s starting to get his hitting legs loose.  Howie Kendrick is continuing to be Howie Kendrick…line drives everywhere.  And Mike Trout remains as ridiculous as ever.

Two weeks from tonight, after the first pitch of the game by Weaver, the past will dissipate into a distant memory while the excitement of what lies ahead will just begin to percolate.   2014 is right around the corner.

Livin’ the dream…

As always, feel free to reach me at therojasspoils@gmail.com

Old School Rant

I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of getting a little tired of the ‘old school’ vs. ‘new school’ debate that seemingly arises when something happens in baseball.   Hall of Fame?  Old school vs. new school.  Instant replay?  Old school vs. new school.  Pimping HR’s?  Old school vs. new school.  Well, as Howard Beale said in the movie ‘Network’, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

I’m not really mad, just wanted to use that line cause I like it.  All the back and forth between the two schools of thought is getting tired.  Look, I grew in an ‘old school’ household.  For those that may not know, my old man played 16 years in the big leagues and did so in an era that embraced the ‘right way to play the game.’  I still, to this day and with my kids, adhere to it.  I believe there is a right way to play the game…any game…that’s called sportsmanship.  But I’m also not naïve nor close-minded.

I’d be a rich man if I got a nickel for every time I heard my dad say to me, “these kids today…” when talking about something that happened in a game he just called or a highlight that just flashed on his television.  My response is still the same, “I hear ya but that’s just how things are nowadays.”

Listen, we live (and have been living) in a highlight, look-at-me driven society.  First thing on in our house is either the local news or SportsCenter/Quick Pitch combo, just depends on who gets to the TV first at 5:45am during the week (my son’s getting pretty quick going down the stairs).  We have “Top 10 Plays”, “Capital One Premier Plays’, “Not So Top 10 Plays”, etc.  That’s how kids have grown up over the last 20-25 years and a good chunk of that generation is currently playing professional sports.

Let’s go back to last night’s NLCS game between the Dodgers and Cardinals.  Yasiel Puig, who had been hitless in the series prior to his 4th inning AB, lined one out to right field.  Puig thought he got all of it, so he bat-flipped and started to “pimp” his “home run”…except it wasn’t a HR.  Once Puig realized it wasn’t going to go out, he turned on the after-burners and had himself a celebratory, stand-up triple.  He celebrated.  His teammates celebrated.  Dodgers fans celebrated.  The Dodgers, down 2-0 in the NLCS, had something to celebrate…so they did.  Big deal!  The story should end there, but it didn’t.

Of course, social media was abuzz.  #BatFlip and #PuigMania were all the rage on Twitter and beyond.  So after the game, Cardinals players were asked about Puig’s celebration.  Carlos Beltran didn’t like it and said as much.  Cards starter, Adam Wainwright, when asked about Puig said, “I didn’t see Puig’s reaction.  I saw Adrian (Gonzalez) doing some Mickey Mouse stuff at second, but I didn’t see Puig.”

This is just one example but it’s also an example that occurred on a national stage.  Everyone saw it.  Everyone’s reacting to it.  Old school mindset is going to be that Puig shouldn’t be acting this way…he still has a lot to learn, especially since he’s been in the US a short period of time.  New school takes a different approach.  It, for the most part, believes players are playing a kids game and they should all be allowed to have fun and see nothing wrong with a little excitement and/or players showing emotion.  Heck, no one seems to mind when a pitcher pumps his fist after getting the 3rd out after a bases-loaded, no out situation in a crucial game <Cough> Max Scherzer vs. Oakland in ALDS Game 4 <Cough>.

I’m caught in between because of the way I grew up.  I was taught to show up, ready to play hard and to respect my opponents.  But as I’ve gotten older and as the game itself has changed, I’ve found myself becoming more and more accepting of the personalities as well as the incredible talent I’m fortunate enough to witness on a daily basis.  I don’t believe celebrations are bad for the game.  I understand both mindsets, I’ve just blurred the lines that divide so that I can concentrate on other things such as the random Dodgers Bear that was on the Cardinals dugout last night or the crush that I may or may not still have on Mary Hart (I can neither confirm nor deny the latter).

It’s a business.  It’s a game.  It’s entertainment.  There’s a little bit of everything for everyone and that’s ok.  With all of the celebrations we continue to witness, I’m wondering if today’s players have just gone back in time and taken a page out of the old school’s MTV (that’s still around?) playbook by proclaiming, “We can dance if we want to.  We can leave your friends behind.  Cause your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance, well they’re no friends of mine.” (Courtesy of Men Without Hats)

Just livin’ the dream…

As always, feel free to reach me at therojasspoils@gmail.com

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