I attended my first-ever spring training game yesterday, when at 1:10 p.m. the Los Angeles Angels hosted the Oakland Athletics at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
I chose this game over any others because of it's location (about 15 minutes from where I'm staying, and about 10 minutes from the South Mountain Community Library where I spoke yesterday evening), and because it was two teams I had never seen play live before.
Additionally, since the Angels were the home team, I knew I'd be able to find an Angels hat. Indeed, there were several hundred available. I bought mine from the team store along the first base line of the stadium for just $7 (compare that to the $40 Dallas Cowboys hat I saw at the Cowboys' stadium last week), and photographed this 18th addition to my MLB hat collection in front of the stadium.
He also turned out to be an Atlanta Braves fan, and both of us were surprised when Andrelton Simmons (Braves' shortstop since 2012) led off for the Angels. Neither of us had any idea that he had been traded. The Braves' loss, however, proved the Angels' gain. Simmons has the potential to be a superstar, and the massive media market in LA (as opposed to the smaller Atlanta) just might be just what he needs to launch a new and glorious phase for his career.
I was equally surprised to find Daniel Nava batting second. Nava played for the Red Sox when I was living in Boston, and I remember listening on the radio to his first-ever at bat, in which he became the second player in MLB history to launch a grand slam on his first big league pitch. He's not Hall of Fame caliber, but he's a solid player and a substantial addition to the Angels' roster.
The best hitters are typically placed third in a batting line-up (that's why Babe Ruth wore number 3). So I wasn't surprised at all to see Mike Trout (arguable one of - if not the - best players in the game) follow Nava. Since entering Major League baseball in 2012, Trout has electrified the league with stunning offensive and defensive production. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 2012, and the American League Most Valuable Player in 2014. More significant, however, is that Trout (24) represents a new and youthful era in professional baseball, along with Bryce Harper (23) of the Washington Nationals, Kris Bryant (24) of the Chicago Cubs, Carlos Correa (21) of the Houston Astros, and others. Not far removed from The Steroid Era (in which players extended the lengths of their careers by using performance enhancing drugs), this new wave of contemporary players is more youth-centric because increased drug testing has limited the effectiveness of aging players.
The best batters, however, are not necessarily the most powerful batters. Sluggers typically bat clean-up (4th), and power hitter Albert Pujols capped a sensational start to the line-up. Though he's now past his prime, the 36-year-old first baseman and designated hitter is certainly a future Hall-of-Famer. His resume includes the 2001 Rookie of the Year, 2 home run crowns, 3 National League MVPs, the 2004 NLCS MVP, 10 All-Star appearances, 2 World Series championships, the 2003 batting title, 6 Silver Sluggers, 2 Gold Gloves, and 2 Hank Aaron awards. Plus, his 560 career home runs puts him 2nd on the list of most HRs by an active player (behind Alex Rodriguez's 687), and 14th on the all-time list. Crikey!
But after the first four hitters, the line-up stagnates. My Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview magazine describes the Angels as "top-heavy, kind of a stars-and-scrubs team." And indeed that seemed accurate yesterday. After an overwhelming start to the batting order, the remainder seemed underwhelming. One potential bright spot might be South Korean first baseman Ji-Man Choi, who I had never heard of before yesterday, but who made a pretty compelling case with a solid double in the 4th inning, and a single in the 6th.
If Simmons, Nava, Trout, and Pujols all have great years, the Angels could be a serious contender for the AL West division pennant. If not, the Angels will have to find one or two more players who can pick up the slack to be competitive down the stretch.
Division rival Oakland, on the other hand, seems to be headed for the proverbial cellar. Two years ago Oakland looked poised to make a deep postseason run. But the Kansas City Royals knocked them out in the Wild Card game, and it's been downhill ever since. They acquired ex-Royal Billy Butler over the off-season, but one man does not a team make, and the A's figure to not factor in 2016. But, as New York Yankees radio announcer John Sterling loves to say, "You just can't figure baseball."
While I tend to prefer watching baseball on TV (it's much cheaper and easier), there's no substitute for a live game. Figuratively, it's a different ballgame - even if it's literally the same ballgame. The difference is rather similar to the difference between a CD recording and a live concert - both have advantages and disadvantages, but they're totally different experiences.
Most big league parks now have massive high-definition jumbotron video scoreboards (though probably not quite as large as the ones at the Dallas' Cowboys' stadium). Even Wrigley Field (which, along with Fenway Park, is one of the two remaining stadiums over 100 years old) installed one last year. These screens allow fans to watch replays, but there is a certain old-fashioned appeal to not having one. It forces you to pay closer attention because you can't just watch the replay - if you're not attentive, then you'll miss the action. In June 2014 I attended games at both Miller Park in Milwaukee and Wrigley Field in Chicago. One major difference between the two stadia was that Miller Park had a jumbotron while Wrigley did not. I suspect this fact is largely responsible for the different atmospheres at the parks. Where the atmosphere at Miller Park was casual and relaxed, the atmosphere at Wrigley was engaged and intent.
Anyway, Tempe Diablo Stadium did not have a jumbotron. That, combined with the fact that this was a spring training game (in which there are more substitutions than during a regular season game), made it a challenge to follow.
Some years ago I designed my own scorecards, customizing them for my specific information requirements. Using them allows me to engage with the game on a deeper level by recognizing latent patterns hidden to more casual watchers. It also creates a record of the game, which serves as a memory enhancer.
Here are the scorecards, first for the visiting Oakland Athletics:
It took Oakland a little longer to score. They didn't even have a base runner until he 5th inning. The park dimensions were somewhat unusual. At 340 feet to the left field fence, 420 to center, and 360 to right field, it has to be the biggest ballpark I've ever seen with my own eyes. Most current parks measure around 330 down the lines and 400 to center. In fact, the Angels' home stadium in Los Angeles features precisely those lengths. Despite the dimensions, no field would have held the 450-foot lead-off moonshot hit by A's third baseman Danny Valencia in the 5th inning, which finally put Oakland on the board. The homer proved prophetic, as the A's scored another run in the 6th, and three more in the 7th.
The 7th inning stretch was also amusing. Since major league parks are so far apart, the vast majority of attendees are there to support the home team. Of course, a small complement of visiting team fans will enter enemy territory at every game, but they're by far the minority. During spring training, however, the parks are all relatively close together to facilitate travel between stadia. The fan base, then, is far more diverse than at regular season games. With the traditional singing of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" during the middle of the 7th inning, half the crowd shouting "A's" and the other half shouting "Angels". I don't believe I've ever heard that before. I've also never been to a ballpark before where vendors sold churros!
When I bought the ticket, I originally wanted one in row K (11 rows from the field). After I clicked on that particular spot, a warning popped up informing me that only rows U through Z (21 through 26 rows from the field) would be shaded. Not wanting to sit in the sun, I canceled my hold on that K ticket and instead purchased a U seat, as close to the field as I could get while still being shaded. Well, it turned out that only row Z was shaded. I wish the Ticket Master website had been a little more honest. I would have purchased a Z ticket had I known that. Fortunately the temperature was a relatively cool 75 degrees even in direct sunlight. But after the 8th inning, I was getting a little warm, and so moved to an empty Z seat on the opposite side of the field
But that's one of the major points of spring training - to give potential new talent a chance to show their stuff in games that don't count in the regular season standings. Part of the fun of watching such exhibition games (and minor league games) is to opportunity witness future talent - somewhat like those who saw the Beatles play in Hamburg in the early 60s, a few years before becoming world famous. After all, you never know where the Trout are lurking.
Thursday, 24 March 2016, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Juniper Library, 1825 W. Union Hills Dr, Phoenix, AZ
The Beatles & The Rolling Stones
Ask anybody to name two English rock bands from the 1960s and the response will likely be The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. But despite often being portrayed as rivals in the media, the two groups were actually quite friendly towards each other, both socially and musically. This 60-minute presentation will compare and contrast the two through musical examples and interviews with the band members to illustrate the relationship between The Beatles & The Rolling Stones.
BEING AN OUTLAW IN THE NEW WEST
Staying with friends in Tempe, AZ at the end of our tour of Aaron's Beatle lectures has been fabulous. Never have I believed more the ostensible encouragement to "make yourselves at home" than here. Even the people I have met while walking this subdivision's nearby lagoon have smiled and offered a greeting.
However, not everyone in this sunny clime has a disposition to match. One neighbor of my host, a childhood friend who allowed us to stay in his home while here, called the cops on us on Sunday, March 20. Our criminal pursuit was unforgivable: I had parked my Jayco travel trailer, which we had used to stay overnight at state parks while on the tour, in the street temporarily.
The complaint from the neighbor, who apparently avoided person-to-person conversations about issues important to him/her, was that the trailer was blocking drivers' views up ahead. I didn't see the problem (pun intended). The Tempe police officer who responded also didn't believe there was a problem. I told the officer we'd gladly move the trailer the next morning, as it was dark now.
The officer was as nice as could be. He had, before visiting us, checked the city ordinances and noted certain RVs were banned from being parked on streets between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. He added that there was a short-term waiver to the nighttime restriction in the form of a parking permit.
The next day, before unnecessarily moving the ton and a-half RV and before calling city offices to check on how to get a permit, I downloaded from the city's web site The Code of the City of Tempe, which is its set of ordinances and laws. I found the 2-6 a.m. reference and the permit language, which said the restriction temporarily did not apply if: a) The police chief issued a parking permit, which required the RV to be registered outside the city, and the owner of the property next to the RV to give approval.
I eventually reached city customer service. The woman there said she hadn't heard of such a permit but if I'd wait, she'd contact the Police Department. After a few minutes, she returned to the line.
"We don't do the permits anymore," she said. But I'm looking at the ordinance that allows for a permit, and the officer mentioned the permit.
"That must be an old set of ordinances connected to the online link you used, because we don't issue permits anymore," she said. "The ordinance must have changed recently, and the online copy just hasn't been updated yet."The Code was dated January 2016, but, in any case, were there any other city laws pertaining to RVs parked on streets?
"You can't park them between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.," she said. Yes, and the Code also says there is a waiver permit.
"We don't do that anymore," she said, a bit miffed for someone in a "customer service" capacity. The ordinance allows the police chief to issue the permit. Can you transfer me?
I'm transferred to a female Police Department employee, who hears my whole story.
"We don't do the permits anymore," she said. "I've worked here for 10 years and never heard of such a thing." But the officer mentioned it, and it's in the city's ordinances. Look, we just want to do the right thing here. She put me on hold.
"Well, I learned something new today," she laughed as she returned. "We do issue permits." She asked the address where the trailer was parked in Tempe, the trailer license plate number, my name and phone number. Do I pick up the permit?
"Nothing is printed," she said. "We have it in the computer, and I'll give you an incident number so that if the neighbor complains again and an officer responds, just give him the number and he can look it up."
She was very happy to help, and I felt much better about Tempe and about leaving the trailer parked on the street.
I wish I felt better about the neighbor, however.