This ‘N That

It’s been a while since I posted, but then there really hasn’t been much to say that hasn’t been said in pretty much every newspaper covering the Angels’ opening of spring training. If you visit FutureAngels.com, I update that site every day with links to all the latest news stories about the Angels prospects in camp.

One thing you won’t find anywhere but FutureAngels.com is the schedule for the Angels’ minor league spring training camp. I posted it earlier this week.

If you’re going to spring training, you really owe it to yourself to visit the minor league side of the Tempe Diablo complex.

From 1984 through 2005, the minor leaguers frolicked at Gene Autry Park, a facility twelve miles to the east in Mesa. Relatively primitive by today’s professional baseball standards, many fans and Angels minor league coaches loved “The GAP” because it had a certain intimacy lacking at more sprawling facilities. Where else could you walk freely amongst over 100 ballplayers?! So long as you didn’t disrupt their work, you could observe pitching, hitting and infield drills. In the afternoons, you could watch two games side-by-side, separated by about 50 feet.

The logistics made it difficult for Angels minor leaguers to appear in major league spring training games. Someone would have to load them into a van and drive them over.

Now that everyone is at the same complex, it’s pretty easy to get a body to play the late innings should a major league veteran want to take off the rest of a game.

On the flip side, if a big leaguer needs some extra work, all he has to do is walk over to the minor league camp, where the game rules are quite loose. Because official stats aren’t kept, a big leaguer can be inserted into a game at any opportunity, regardless of where the Angels squad is in its lineup. After he makes out, he can go over to the other game and bat there. The big leaguer goes back and forth, winding up with about 15-20 at-bats. It’s a sight to see.

Other weird things happen in minor league camp games.

For openers, a pitcher doesn’t have to retire three outs. If a manager feels his pitcher has exhausted his pitch count for the inning, he can simply call “switch sides” and the inning comes to an end. That can be rather frustrating when your team has the bases loaded and your heavy hitter at the plate, but it protects very young arms from injury during a meaningless practice game.

Camp games might also have two DH’s. And those guys may take the field mid-game, replacing two other players who become the DH’s.

I’ve had perplexed fans ask me how to keep score under those conditions. The answer is simple — you don’t.

Even if the home team is winning, they might still bat in the bottom of the 9th if the opposing team’s manager has a pitcher who needs some work and the home team manager agrees. They might even go an extra inning if someone needs the work.

It’s baseball at its most pure. The score doesn’t matter, the lineup really doesn’t matter much, and sometimes you don’t even need three outs to retire the side. You’re just watching young men play ball.

At The GAP, there weren’t even scoreboards, which heightened the illusion.

I’m tentatively scheduled to be at Tempe Diablo for the games on March 18, 19 and 20. According to the schedule, I should see Rancho Cucamonga and Cedar Rapids at home the first two dates, Salt Lake and Arkansas on the third date. As always, I’ll be shooting photos and video, some of which will eventually wind up on FutureAngels.com.

Meanwhile … I’ve been working on the next podcast. If you read FutureAngels.com last year while the site was in hibernation, you know I was working on the early days of Angels minor league history.

In 1961, the Angels’ first year of existence, they had only two minor league teams — the Triple-A Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers, and the Class-D Statesville Owls in North Carolina. (Class D is the rough equivalent of today’s Low-A, e.g. Cedar Rapids.)

Earlier this week, I interviewed Bill Moose, a history professor at Mitchell Community College in Statesville, and a baseball historian. He helped with last year’s research. In the interview, you’ll hear us delve into that one modest year. One thing I learned about the 1961 Owls was that they were one of only four teams in minor league baseball still playing on an all-dirt surface. Imagine what that would do to your fielding stats!

For the next show, I hope to interview a baseball historian in Dallas-Ft. Worth to learn about the Rangers, who were an Angels affiliate in 1961-62. Among the players with the Rangers that first year were Jim Fregosi, Dean Chance and Bob Rodgers. Not bad.

Next week, my day job employer has me on the road all week attending a training seminar, so I may be a bit scarce. I’ll blog in if I have the chance.

This article is copyright © 2007 Wordsmith Resources and FutureAngels.com. It may not be used elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author.

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