Reflecting on Milestones

Growing up in & around the game of baseball has been a thrill.  From shagging fly balls during batting practice on the scorching turf of Royals Stadium to watching my dad hit a pinch-hit homerun in an All-Star Game to sitting high above a perfectly manicured diamond calling a game.  It’s all been very special to me and it’s moments like last night that makes what I do for a living even more worthwhile.

I’m now in my 12th year calling Major League Baseball and I’m still amazed at what I get a chance to witness on a nightly basis.  On any given day, something special can happen and even though I haven’t been doing this for a long time, I have been fortunate enough to be a part of some memorable moments already:  Three no-hitters (Mark Buehrle vs. Texas; Ervin Santana vs. Cleveland; Jered Weaver vs. Minnesota), Sammy Sosa’s 600th HR and now Albert Pujols’ 500th.  All very special moments and all very unique.

As special as last night was for me personally, Sosa’s 600th HR in Texas meant a little bit more to me not because of the number or because it was a home game, it was because of a little exchange I had with my partner at the time, Eric Nadel, leading up to the monumental moment.

It was 2007 and we were in Cincinnati to take on the Reds & Sammy had been stuck at 598 HR’s for some time (17 games).  I remember talking with him at the time and like most who perform at this level and on the verge of a milestone, he played off the notion that media attention was beginning to weigh on him & I believed him.  On June 15th at Great American Ballpark, the 5th inning happened upon us.  The Rangers were trailing 4-2 and with the bases loaded, Sosa came to the plate.

In those days, I was doing radio with Nadel.  He would handle the 1st three innings of play-by-play while I handled analyst duties.  In innings 4-6, we would reverse roles.  So I was at the mic when Sosa came to the plate that June evening and with one swing of the bat, he not only put the Rangers ahead with a grand slam, he put himself on the doorstep of 600.

The next day, while on the bus headed to the ballpark, I came to the decision that Nadel should have the call of Sosa’s 600th.  I was in my 4th year with Texas and Nadel had been there for over 30 years.  Who was I to have my voice on such a milestone?  So I quietly leaned over to Nadel and told him that I really wanted him to call Sosa’s next HR and I stated my reasons why.  I mentioned to him that if Sosa were to come up while I was doing play-by-play, I would just simply say, “With Sammy coming to the plate, here’s Eric Nadel.”  Nadel, as meticulous a craftsman as I’ve ever witnessed, leaned right back and said, “Absolutely not. Whenever it happens, it happens.”

Five days later, we were back in Arlington, Texas. This time the Chicago Cubs were in town.  You couldn’t have asked for a better situation.  After going 0 for 4 in the opening game of the series and already 0 for 2 in game 2, Sosa once again came to the plate in the 5th inning.  There were 2 outs and no one on base.  Jason Marquis, who had been given Sosa’s old #21, was on the mound and I, once again, was behind the mic.

As the flashes went off on cameras, Sosa’s drive to right-center field sailed into the night.  Sosa’s patented ‘hop’ out of the box was followed by his trot around the bases.  I called the home run while I was jumping out of my chair.  I immediately looked out my window to my right where my family and friends were sitting and pointed to them and I then looked at Nadel.  His grin was ear to ear and it wasn’t so much about the milestone we had both just witnessed, rather his joy came from watching the reaction I had in the booth that night.  It’s a memory I’ll cherish forever.

Congratulations to Albert and his family.  In the same ballpark in which he hit his 400th HR off Jordan Zimmerman, he hit his 499th & 500th off Taylor Jordan.  I’m not sure if the Pujols’ are planning on adding to their family any time soon but if they do, they may want to consider the name Jordan.

Just livin’ the dream…

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

 

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

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