June 2007

With the Travelers – Day One

Travs third baseman Freddy Sandoval signs autographs for Little Leaguers before Thursday’s game.

I got up around 3 AM California time on Thursday to take a decent stab at arriving on time for Thursday night’s Travs game against Wichita. The odds didn’t look too good, as I had only a 40-minute layover at O’Hare and I doubted my camera gear would make it.

Leaving Orange County (where the airport is named after a dead Western actor known locally for his many drunk driving detentions, but that’s another story), the flight took off 45 minutes late, but thanks to strong tailwinds we arrived on-time in Chicago. Rushing to the commuter plane gate, it turned out the connecting flight was running an hour late, so plenty of time for the gear to transfer.

An hour late into Little Rock, I went straight to Dickey-Stephens Park, knowing nothing about it other than the rave reviews and some generic directions. Going over the Arkansas River, I saw the Clinton Library off to the right (hopefully I’ll get there today) and then turned left on Broadway (although the sign said to turn right). I saw the ballpark lights and headed in that general direction.

And there it was.


To park, you go past the ballpark and through the intersection, then turn into the main lot. You actually walk under the neighboring bridge over the river, with a clearance of about six feet.

Behind the right field fence is a riverboat docked at the bank. During the first inning, it kept tooting its horn and playing calliope music, beyond the control of annoyed players, umpires, fans and no doubt Travs management.

Dickey-Stephens Park was designed with a railroad station look. To reach the clubhouses, the players exit near the right field foul pole and walk up an access ramp. A bridge designed like a trestle spans the ramp for fans to walk overhead.

The park is still a work-in-progress in a few places. A Travs Hall of Fame isn’t ready, although you can see a lot of impressive memorabilia inside the door.

The gift shop is impressive, although when you walk in the door the caps on the shelf facing the door are Yankees caps. Go figure. This is a Cardinals market, so you see just as much Redbirds memorabilia as Angels stuff. Perhaps the biggest insult to my Halo sensitivities was a Rally Monkey wearing a Cardinals jersey.

On the field, both the Travs and Wichita showed a lack of savvy running the bases, but in the end the Travs won 3-2 when Sean Rodriguez singled in the winning run. I’ll have video on-line later today, hopefully.

The wireless connection here in the motel is flaky; right now, I’m in a conference room using a network cable plugged into the wall.

Chris Hunter arrived from Rancho just as I checked into the hotel tonight. The local paper reported this morning that Travs reliever Kevin Lynch has retired, and Chris was sent here to replace him.

UPDATE June 8, 2007 2:00 PM PDTClick Here to watch Sean Rodriguez drive home the winning run in last night’s game.

What Mickey Hatcher Really Does – Part Four

Courtesy of Angels beat writer Matt Hurst of the Riverside Press-Enterprise:

Down they come, often in pairs, on their own time, to the hitting cage under the clubhouse. Hatcher will be there, trying to make it simple for them.

One emphasis for each. With the top of the order squared away, the most recent challenges have been Mike Napoli and Chone Figgins.

Napoli marked Hatcher’s first "major mechanical intervention" three weeks ago, when the catcher’s unorthodox swing plane became too unpredictable.

The result: Napoli has six home runs his past 18 games, as opposed to one his first 22, with 16 RBI the past 17 games, after getting none the previous 12.

Then there was Figgins, who struggled with a .133 average after coming off the DL. The way Figgins has raised his average 78 points, by hitting .565 (13 for 23) during a six-game hitting streak, may be the most pleasing of all.

But don’t credit him for Figgins, Hatcher said. All he did was pair him with recent call-up Nathan Haynes, Figgins’ best friend and the person Figgins worked with daily in the spring.

"He just noticed something in my approach," Figgins said. "It helps since we’re similar hitters."

Hatcher also gets help from the likes of Guerrero, whose swing doesn’t get tinkered with.

"He’s a leader for us in the cage," Hatcher said. "You see him start out by taking the ball the other way. That really helps with all the Triple-A guys here. They come up and see Vlad do that and it sets the tone."

Hatcher calls it "the Angel way of hitting. It’s all about centering the ball and not taking a bad swing."

Roland Hemond Interview

Roland Hemond (right) presents Mike Scioscia’s Arizona Fall League Hall of Fame award in October 2003.

Roland Hemond is one of the most respected and distinguished executives in the history of professional baseball. Perhaps best-known as the long-time general manager of the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles, Hemond has his own niche in Angels lore as their original farm and scouting director in the inaugural 1961 season.

I recorded an interview last night with Mr. Hemond. Click here to listen. You need Windows Media Player to listen.

I’d been told that, although he’s now in his 80s, Mr. Hemond’s memory is still razor sharp. In our conversation both on the record and off, it was clear he still had vivid memories of details from that first season.

As my research continues into the early history of the Angels minor leagues, Mr. Hemond said he’d be willing to do more interviews.

UPDATE June 5, 2007 7:00 AM PDT — Jack Hiatt called yesterday. Currently the farm director for the San Francisco Giants, he began his career with the Angels in 1961. He was sent to Statesville by Roland Hemond. Among his teammates was Paul Mosley, interviewed by FutureAngels.com a few weeks ago. We agreed to record an interview when our schedules permit; Jack will be representing the Giants Thursday in the amateur draft, which will be televised on ESPN2.

Angels’ Best #1 Pick of All Time

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It’s time for another poll.

In honor of this week’s amateur draft … Who is the Angels’ best #1 pick of all time?

Not all these guys were first-round picks. John Lackey, for example, was chosen in the 2nd round of the June 1999 draft. The Angels lost their 1st round pick as compensation for signing Mo Vaughn. So Lackey was their “#1” pick that year, but not a first-round pick.

The options are to the right.

The results of the last poll … Which pitcher will lead the Angels minor leagues in strikeouts this year?

  • Nick Adenhart 34%
  • Robert Mosebach 30%
  • Tim Schoeninger 9%
  • Nick Green 8%
  • Sean O’Sullivan 8%
  • Joe Saunders 5%
  • Brok Butcher 3%
  • Stephen Marek 2%
  • Doug Brandt 1%

There were 98 votes cast.

Nick Adenhart Update

Nick Adenhart at Rancho Cucamonga in 2006.

In a May 28 post, I noted that Nick Adenhart’s ERA in the 1st inning was 7.20 and wrote, "Clearly first-inning jitters are part of the problem, although I suspect most of it has to do with (1) being a 20-year old in Double-A, and (2) mechanical issues. Stuff that fools younger and inexperienced hitters will be ignored by players with more experience, and some of them (such as teammate Curtis Pride) have major league experience."

I got backup in today’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette from Travs beat writer Todd Traub who wrote in his Texas League Report:

It looked like Arkansas Travelers right-hander Nick Adenhart was fated to suffer another sub-par outing when he gave up Chase Headley’s two-run home run in the first inning of Sunday’s game against San Antonio at Dickey-Stephens Park.

Adenhart was fresh off his worst start on May 22 when he was rocked for seven runs in the third inning against Corpus Christi as the Travs blew an 8-0 lead to lose 15-11.

But this time, Adenhart righted himself to pitch 7 2/3 strong innings, and the Travs rallied to tie, then won it thanks to catcher Bobby Wilson’s eighth-inning home run.

Adenhart arrived in North Little Rock as the Los Angeles Angels’ No. 2 prospect overall (Baseball America) and the organization’s top pitching prospect. He rolled to a 3-0 start before he began to struggle – as when he gave up three first inning runs and got no decision against Springfield on May 16 – and blamed his problems on not adjusting as the Texas League hitters began to figure him out.

“The way I was going early I was kind of falling into a pattern of having a lot of success and doing the same things,” said Adenhart, 3-2 entering Friday. “And then, once those same things weren’t working … or I wasn’t able to repeat [them] how I wanted to, I had to try to make an adjustment and pitch with not my best stuff.”

“I think he just kind of ran into a stretch of bad luck there,” Catcher Bobby Wilson said. “I think he was trying to carry too much of a load on his back. Instead of just pitching his game and his stuff being good enough it was ‘Oh, I can’t give up any runs,’ because offensively we’ve been struggling.”

Sure enough, in last night’s start at San Antonio, Adenhart struggled again in the first inning. Here’s what the Democrat-Gazette reported:

Nick Adenhart won for the first time since April 19 as the Arkansas Travelers beat the San Antonio Missions 3-2 on Saturday at Nelson W. Wolff Stadium, giving the Travs their first winning streak in more than a month.

Adenhart (4-2) had a rocky start, allowing two runs in the first, but he held the Missions scoreless over the next four as Arkansas won two in a row for the first time since April 26-27. The Travs beat the Missions 3-1 on Friday and ended a three game losing streak.

Chris Bootcheck went through the same thing is his minor league career. It happens to a lot of pitchers. It’s just growing pains, nothing more.

I lean hard on the sabermetric community because too many of them make blanket statements about numbers without bothering to learn the context. Clearly the context here is that Adenhart is a 20-year old in an advanced league facing older hitters who adjust to his stuff. He’s not a "bust," he’s not "abused," and he’s not "overrated." But he is an outstanding pitching prospect who’s learning to adjust as hitters adjust to him.

This ‘N That

Just checking in …

The tenth episode of FutureAngels.com Radio is now on-line. It includes two interviews on the subject of women in baseball. One is with Jean Ardell, the author of Breaking Into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime. This is one of the best baseball books I’ve ever read, and I say that in all sincerity. Jean will be lecturing later this week at the Cooperstown Symposium. The other interview is with Sarah Hansen, assistant general manager of the Orem Owlz, who tells what it’s like to be a 20-something female executive in a traditionally older male bastion of the game.

This will be the last podcast for a while. As I explain in the introduction, the show is going on the shelf indefinitely. I have to catch up on all the photos and video I’ve shot this year. I just finished processing spring training photos, and those were shot two months ago. The photos help defray expenses and, although about a hundred people download the radio show every day, very few have donated to keep it afloat. So the show is going on hiatus, at least until I catch up, or more donations come in.

On Thursday I head for North Little Rock to spend five games with the Arkansas Travelers. The first two games will be against Wichita, the Royals’ affiliate, and the next three with the Springfield Cardinals. This is Wichita’s last year in the Texas League, as the franchise is moving in 2008 to Springdale, Arkansas where they’ll become the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. As for the Cards, those who know their Travs history will recall that the Travelers were a St. Louis Cardinals affiliate for 35 years until they left after the 2000 season. A few fans posting on-line still think they’ll somehow lure the Cardinals back to Little Rock, even though the parent club owns the Springfield operation and would have no reason to terminate its own affiliation, but then it’s no secret that some people on the Internet have a loose grasp on reality.

Making the Thursday game will be a trick. I have a 40-minute layover at O’Hare, and I’m dubious that my camera gear will catch up with the connecting flight. Nick Adenhart could get the start that night, so I’m crossing my metaphorical fingers and hoping that either (1) the gear shows up, or (2) the game gets rained out and there’s a makeup doubleheader the next day. (Yes, Travs front office, I know option (2) isn’t acceptable.)

Somewhere in that series, I’ll probably do some color and a pre-game interview with Travs broadcaster Phil Elson. I did pre-game shows in Salt Lake and Cedar Rapids, and was scheduled to sidekick with Kernels broadcaster John Rodgers on the May 15 broadcast but the game was rained out. When I get the time, I’ll put the pre-game interviews on-line.

Down the line, I’ll shortly pick dates for trips to Orem and Tempe for summer league. I have the Tempe Angels schedule and will try to get it on-line before I depart for Arkansas.

In the I-Told-You-So Department … In my May 28 blog, I wrote that Nathan Haynes had a weakness facing left-handed pitchers. "If Nathan gets a callup to Anaheim," I wrote, "don’t be surprised if other teams go to the bullpen for a situation lefty to face him." Well, last night Nathan came up to bat against Baltimore, and Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo went to the bullpen for a lefty reliever. Haynes hit a fly ball to deep right-center for an out.

Finally, I’m still working on various projects related to documenting the early days of the Angels minor leagues. I may have a phone interview soon with a "big name" from that first season in 1961 — we’ve exchanged phone messages — but I won’t say anything until it actually happens and I can post it on-line.