July 2007

This ‘N That

Padres’ top prospect Matt Bush plays shortstop for the Peoria Padres on July 31, 2004 against the Mesa Angels. The Padres have converted him to a pitcher. Will he face the Tempe Angels on Sunday?

Various notes of interest, or lack thereof …

I leave for Tempe later this weekend.  On Thursday July 19 I drive out to Arizona.

The Angels’ Friday morning July 20 game is at Peoria against the Mariners.  Peoria is on the west side of Phoenix, so I’ll spend Thursday night in Peoria rather than driving all the way across town and back.  After the game, I’ll drive the remaining 30 miles to Tempe.

The Saturday and Sunday morning games are at Tempe Diablo.  Saturday is against the A’s rookies.  The Sunday game is against the Padres.  I’m hoping to see Matt Bush pitch.  Bush, the Padres’ first-round pick and the first pick overall in the June 2004 draft, was a shortstop but his bat has been a major disappointment so the Padres recently converted him to the mound.  Baseball America has an article on Bush’s conversion. I’m wondering if Bush is hurt. He pitched June 22, June 26, July 2 and July 5 — but not since. If anyone knows why he hasn’t pitched, please post a reply.

Jon Bachanov, the Angels’ first pick this year, is in camp according to the latest roster update I’ve received from Tempe Diablo. Will he pitch this weekend? Doubtful. But if he does, I’ll get photos and maybe video if circumstances permit.

I received an e-mail a couple weeks ago asking how I get these roster updates. Basically, FutureAngels.com has functioned for years as an unofficial web site for Tempe Diablo. I post the schedule and roster, and they refer players’ parents to the site for reference. As with everything else I do, there’s no money in it, it’s just part of the service-oriented tradition of FutureAngels.com.

But for those of you new to FutureAngels.com, your donations help to keep FutureAngels.com afloat. I pay for these trips out of my own pocket. Expenses are partially defrayed by the sale of the photos to players’ parents, loved ones and collectors, but it’s never enough. So your donations are critical to keep this going.

Speaking of photos … I finally finished processing the Cedar Rapids Kernels photos from mid-May. You can order photos of your favorite players through the FutureAngels.com Photo Gallery. I still have plenty of photos left to process from Rancho Cucamonga, Salt Lake, and Arkansas, but I just haven’t had the time.

Photos of the 2007 Orem Owlz will soon be on-line. Photos of LHP Chris Armstrong were posted yesterday.

I’m working on the photos shot last week at Orem. Normally I go in chronological order, but because the Orem kids are new to the family, it’s important to get their first photos on-line. Then I’ll post the Tempe photos I’ll shoot this weekend, and after that I’ll go back to processing the other affiliates.

I’m also fighting a bit of a cold, courtesy of my wife who was sick all last week. No time to be sick, though, so I’m willing myself to be healthy by Thursday.

My wife won’t make the drive out, but she’ll fly in Saturday afternoon and then we’ll drive back together on Monday. I want her to see the sunrise in the desert, which is absolutely spectacular.

But the weather forecast for Sunday is 104 degrees with a 30% chance of thunderstorms. Yippee.

Oh well, it’ll be a change from the boring SoCal weather.

Friday’s game against the Mariners promises to be a barn-burner (along with everything else, given the heat). The Angels and Mariners are currently tied for first place in the league at 14-6. The Angels have had a predilection for late-inning heroics.

Angels Featured in Sports Illustrated

The current issue of Sports Illustrated has a lengthy article on the Angels’ success this year. Writer Tom Verducci notes the importance in particular of the farm system’s depth.

Dustin Moseley vs. Bobby Jenks

Dustin Moseley stumbled a bit tonight, but prior to his performance against Texas here’s a comparison of Moseley to Bobby Jenks:

Moseley: 45.0 IP, 2.60 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, AVG/OBP/SLG of .247/.299/.352
Jenks: 37.1IP, 3.67 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, AVG/OBP/SLG of .241/.297/.301

Hmmm …

Lake Elsinore Article for “Play Ball” Magazine

September 15, 2000: Angels farm director Darrell Miller signs a two-year Player Development Contract with Quakes owner Hank Stickney (left) and general manager Pat Filippone.

I’ve mentioned in earlier entries that I’ve been writing a series of articles for the Quakes’ Play Ball magazine distributed during homestands. The below article was featured in the July 7-9 issue during the series with the Lake Elsinore Storm.

The next article is about the 2007 Arkansas Travelers and should be distributed during the upcoming homestand starting July 17.

by Stephen C. Smith

They were once us.  We were once them.

The histories of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and the Lake Elsinore Storm have entwined for fourteen seasons, and there’s no reason to think that will change.

The Quakes were once the San Bernardino Spirit, a wildly successful Inland Empire franchise affiliated with the Seattle Mariners.  In 1993, the Spirit moved from historic yet quaint Fiscalini Field in San Bernardino to The Epicenter in Rancho Cucamonga.    The franchise renamed itself the Quakes and changed its parent club affiilation to the San Diego Padres.

The Storm were once the Palm Springs Angels, playing in another historic ballpark once known as the Polo Grounds.  It was renamed Angels Stadium after the American League team that played its spring training games there from 1961 through 1992.  The Palm Springs franchise was awarded in 1986 as an Angels affiliate, and saw many famous Angels of the 1990s pass through during their minor league development.

The Palm Springs franchise relocated to Lake Elsinore for the 1994 season, where the city had built its own new ballpark known simply as the Lake Elsinore Diamond.

Those moves narrowed the distance between the two franchises from about 55 miles to less than 40, but the proximity of both parks to the Interstate 15 combined with residential and commercial growth along that corridor to jump-start a natural rivalry.

Another Inland Empire team, the Riverside Pilots, relocated to Lancaster in 1996 and became the Jethawks.  San Bernardino received another franchise in 1994 which also called itself the Spirit; they eventually affiliated with the Los Angeles Dodgers and later the Seattle Mariners before rejoining the Dodgers for 2007.

The Quakes won the California League pennant in 1994.  The Storm went to the playoffs in 1995.  The Storm eliminated the Quakes from the playoffs in 1996 and went on to win the pennant.

And so the foundation was laid for the good-natured yet permanent animosity between the fans of the two franchises.

In the fall of 2000, as the California League season ended, that foundation was shaken like a 8.3 tremor (pun intended) on the Richter Scale.

Every two years, minor league teams and their parent clubs are given a brief window in which to seek new partners.  The procedure, codified in the Basic Agreement between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball, requires the partner seeking a breakup to file a document announcing their intent to find a new affiliation.  On a certain date, the lists of teams seeking new partners are announced, and they have a few weeks to renew vows or find someone else.

The Angels, believing Lake Elsinore was going to file, did so themselves only to learn that the Storm hadn’t filed at all.  The Quakes decided to see if a better opportunity was out there and filed to terminate their affiliation with the Padres.

Generally recognized as the most successful operation in the California League, the Quakes were courted by many major league teams.  Meanwhile, rumors had the Angels exploring a relationship with San Bernardino (who eventually signed with the Mariners).

Angels farm director Darrell Miller and Quakes general manager Pat Filippone quietly began discussions to create what was once considered impossible — an Angels/Quakes affiliation.

On September 15, 2000, while the Storm and Padres held a press conference in San Diego to announce their affiliation, the Angels came to The Epicenter to announce they would affiliate with Rancho Cucamonga for the next two years.

The I-15 Rivalry suddenly looked like a DNA helix.

Hardcore fans on both sides were shocked, dazed, confused.  We were now them.  They were now us.

In retrospect, the switch made all the sense in the world.

The Quakes got a parent club just 45 miles down the road with plenty of fans living nearby.  Fans started showing up at The Epicenter wearing Angels gear.  The Angels’ world championship season of 2002 seemed to bring out more and more people wearing red.  Thunderstix giveaway nights at The Epicenter were common after Angels fans started the craze.

The Storm got a parent club that was a bit further away, but more than happy to be lots closer to their Cal League affiliate than before.  Both shared a mutual interest in expanding their potential markets into northern San Diego County.

Several players have worn both Storm and Quakes jerseys.

The most famous is Francisco Rodriguez, who is now the Angels’ closer.  In 2000, long before he was known as "K-Rod," he was just known as "Frankie" to Storm fans.  Rodriguez was an 18-year old who spoke little English but featured a fastball that often reached the high 90s.

June 2, 2000: Francisco Rodriguez pitches for Lake Elsinore at Rancho Cucamonga and scores 96 MPH on the scoreboard radar.

Rodriguez was a starter back then.  A photo I shot on June 2, 2000 shows Frankie on the mound pitching for Lake Elsinore at The Epicenter.  The radar number on the scoreboard shows he’d just thrown a pitch at 96 MPH.  The official record shows that Rodriguez pitched five innings that night, allowing three runs on four hits in five innings, striking out four and walking three.  He got the win.

In 2001, Frankie returned to The Epicenter.  He started 20 games that year for the Quakes, finishing with a 5-7 record and a 5.38 ERA.  In 113.2 innings, he struck out 147 and walked 55.  The next year, the Angels promoted Rodriguez to Double-A Arkansas and made him a reliever.  He arrived in the big leagues with Anaheim on September 15, and was a World Series champion by the end of October.

Another top prospect who played for both the Storm and Quakes was Brian Specht, a 19-year old shortstop who made his professional debut with Lake Elsinore in May 2000.  Brian started his career with a 12-game hitting streak, batting .444 over that period.  Baseball America ranked Specht the Angels’ #3 prospect the next spring, just before he reported to Rancho Cucamonga.  Although he reached Triple-A and was named the top rookie in major league camp during the spring of 2004, too many injuries took their toll and Brian retired in May 2006, one step away from the majors.

Outfielder Nathan Haynes was only 19 when he reported to Lake Elsinore on July 29, 1999.  The Oakland A’s had just traded him to the Angels with Jeff DaVanon and Elvin Nina for Randy Velarde and Omar Olivares.  Nathan hit .327 in 26 games for the Storm before a late-season promotion to Double-A Erie.  Injuries befell Nathan too, and in 2002 he was sent to Rancho Cucamonga in June on an informal rehab assignment.  Haynes played in 11 games for the Quakes before he was sent to Triple-A Salt Lake.  Years later, he finally made his major league debut this season with the Angels.

One man has connections to Palm Springs, Lake Elsinore and Rancho Cucamonga.  Ty Boykin was an outfielder in the Angels system during the 1990s.  He hit .325 in 77 games for Palm Springs in 1993.  He retired to become the Storm hitting coach in 1997.  In 2005, he returned to the California League as the Quakes’ manager.

Almost seven years have passed since they became us, and we became them.  Both teams have many new fans who weren’t around before 2000, but they’re still part of a fierce and proud rivalry.  At least they can agree on one thing — beat Inland Empire!

Brandon Wood Returns

Brandon Wood has blossomed since his last callup.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Howie Kendrick is back on the disabled list due to a small fracture on his left index finger, suffered July 3 while swinging the bat.

Brandon Wood was recalled from Salt Lake, and it’s implied that should he play third base Chone Figgins will move over to 2B.

Wood, 22, wasn’t ready for prime time when he was called up in late April while Figgins and infielder Maicer Izturis were on the DL. He appeared in three games, had only a single in 11 AB, and struck out five times while not taking a walk.

Brandon got off to a slow start with Salt Lake, which led the instant gratification crowd to dismiss him as a "bust" and demand the Angels trade him "while he still has value."

Thank goodness Angels GM Bill Stoneman ignored that advice.

Twenty-two is a very young age for Triple-A. If you watched the Triple-A All-Star Game on Wednesday, many of those players were in their mid-20s to even early 30s. Those guys aren’t necessarily top prospects, but they were seasoned veterans, some of whom have played in the majors.

So when a 22-year old comes up to Triple-A for the first time and faces experienced pitchers with borderline major-league stuff, it’s only natural that he’ll struggle.

In April, Wood’s AVG/OBP/SLG were .262/.351/.440 (.791 OPS) which isn’t bad for a start, but then he went up to Anaheim and missed some development time. When he returned to Salt Lake on May 9, he had a horrific month, posting a line of .205/.313/.361 (.674 OPS).

Some make a big fuss about Brandon’s strikeout rate. As I’ve written many times before, if you look at Mike Schmidt’s development, he had a lot of strikeouts too at Wood’s age and he wound up in the Hall of Fame. In any case, if you look at Wood’s strikeout rate over April and May in Triple-A, he struck out once every 3.4 AB.

But that’s changed.

Brandon’s performance picked up in June. Since June 1, his strikeout rate is once every 4.7 AB. Compare that to his minor league career rate of 3.7 and his 2006 rate of 3.0, and you see a marked improvement.

Since June 1, he has a .295 AVG, a .356 OBP, 10 HR, 8 2B and a triple.

Still want to "trade him while he has value"?

The most encouraging sign is that the Franklin Covey Syndrome seems to have little effect on his overall numbers. Salt Lake’s park is at 4,500 feet, which means home numbers are often inflated over road numbers. But Wood’s home OPS (.821) and road OPS (.822) are virtually identical.

A better analysis would be to factor out all of the PCL’s high altitude parks — Salt Lake, Las Vegas, Tucson, Albuquerque and Colorado Springs — which I don’t have the time to do that right now. But for what it’s worth, I broke down those 10 HR since June 1 and found that five were in "normal" parks, five were in high-altitude parks.

Brandon still has room to grow, but he’s a lot closer than he was when called up in late April. It’s clear that the Angels’ decision to expose him to major league pitching for a few days worked, because he was able to take that knowledge back with him to Salt Lake and work on what he needed to improve to make the leap for good in 2008, if not sooner.

While in Orem earlier this week, I interviewed Jeff Scholzen, the Angels scout who found and signed Wood. They stay in touch, so Jeff has a unique insight into Brandon’s development. Click Here to listen to the interview. You need Windows Media Player.

Angels Sign Jon Bachanov

The Angels have agreed to terms with first-round draft pick Jon Bachanov.

MLB.com reports that Bachanov addressed the Angels media last night during the second inning of the Angels-Rangers game. He’s described as "a growing 6’4"" and said his brothers are 6’7" and 6’9".

Bachanov is from Orlando. I just searched the Orlando Sentinel web site and found that the Sentinel reported the agreement on Wednesday, citing his high school coach as the source:

Rodney Beatty, University’s baseball coach, said Wednesday that Cougars star pitcher Jon Bachanov has agreed to contract terms and will sign with the Los Angeles Angels on Friday.

Beatty said Bachanov, the No. 58 pick in the draft, will get a signing bonus of "about $553,000" and expects to be assigned to a rookie league team in Orem, Utah.

"He’s excited. He held out for a little bit, but from day one, he wanted to go pro," Beatty said.

I’m a bit surprised by the dollar amount, if it’s accurate.  That would suggest the new draft rules are having the desired effect by bringing down bonus numbers.  Bachanov was selected #58 overall, a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds.  According to the Baseball America 2007 Almanac, the #58 pick one year ago (2B Ryan Adams by Baltimore) got $675,000 to sign.  As we discussed with Kotch in Monday’s interview, Major League Baseball changed the rules this year to eliminate "draft and follow" as well as force all picks to sign by August 15 or go back into next year’s pool.

By the way, I’ve been told by a few Angels scouts that they use FutureAngels.com as a recruiting tool. One scout recently called it "an unofficial official site" for the Angels minor leagues. It lets a draftee and his parents see what to expect should he sign. One big advantage of the video I shoot at Orem and Tempe is that they can see what it’s like to play at the first rung of the ladder, which is why you’ll see me try to shoot more "intimate" footage. Watch the video of Monday night’s game, and you’ll see the last shot is coming out of the dugout with the players after the game for the on-field celebration. That’s literally what the player will see should he sign.

Next weekend, I’ll be in Tempe with the summer league team, so you’ll see footage of the new minor league complex and that more academic environment.

I’ve received a few e-mails over the years from players’ parents asking my advice about whether their son should sign, what the organization is like, how they develop other players at their son’s position, etc. Where possible, I’ll actually refer them to other parents I know so they can talk parent to parent (and I’m not in the middle!) to get a more honest perspective. It usually works, and the player signs.

Minor League Mascots

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It’s time for another poll.

Who is your favorite minor league mascot?

The options are to the right.

The results of the last poll … Should the DH be used in the minor leagues?

  • Yes 67%
  • No 33%

There were 152 votes cast.

With the Owlz – Day Three

Angels scout Jeff Scholzen is filling in for Owlz hitting coach Francisco Matos.

On the way to the ballpark, the radio voice announced that Salt Lake City was experiencing "an air quality red alert," and asked the citizenry to “curtail your driving.”

Maybe this was blind panic for Utahns, but to me it looked like a typical Southern California hazy day.

If you’ve been following the news, you know that wildfires are burning in central Utah. The smoke has drifted northward, tainting the air.

Anyway, I got to the ballpark early to record interviews.

The must-listen, of course, is with Owlz manager Tom Kotchman, who also scouts Florida for the Angels and is the father of Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman. Click Here to listen to the Tom Kotchman interview.

I also recorded an interview with Jeff Scholzen, an Angels’ scout best known for Brandon Wood. Click Here to listen to the Jeff Scholzen interview. I’ve known Jeff for a couple years — he asked in 2005 I send him a DVD with all those Brandon Wood homers for Rancho I videotaped that are in the FutureAngels.com Video Gallery — but I’d never known he actually played briefly in the Angels system in the early 1990s when their Midwest League affiliate was in Quad Cities. Jeff is substituting this week for Francisco Matos, who went home to watch his daughter in a softball tournament.

The third interview is with Owlz’ general manager Zachary Fraser. Click Here to listen to the Zachary Fraser interview. I’ve known Zach since he joined the Provo Angels staff years ago. In 2005, when Provo moved to Orem, he was named co-general manager with the now-departed (no, he didn’t die, he just left) Ryan Pace. Zach and Ryan at the time were the youngest GMs in minor league baseball. Zach might still hold that title. I was surprised to hear Zach say that the Angels are often the team on the national baseball telecasts shown in the Salt Lake area. Maybe the local programmers figure that with two Angels affiliates in the market, Salt Lake and Orem, they should show more Angels games.

A surprise face in the ballpark was Salt Lake Bees’ catcher Bobby Wilson, recently promoted from Double-A Arkansas. Bobby played ball in high school with Casey Kotchman at Seminole High School, and was signed by Tom Kotchman. The Bees are off for the Triple-A All-Star break; rather than just “lie around” as Bobby put it, he chose to drive down to Orem to take batting practice. That kind of hard work ethic gets notice, especially in the Angels organization where Mike Scioscia expects much of his catcher prospects.

Esmerlin Jimenez was the starting pitcher Monday night for Orem.

Anyway, on to the game …

It was another romp, 13-2 over poor Casper whose defense is simply abysmal. They’ve committed 52 errors in 21 games. Nearly one fourth of the runs they’ve given up have been unearned. And those are just the physical errors.

I suspect Kotch forced a few mental errors out of them last night. In the bottom of the 4th, catcher Anel de los Santos led off with a fly ball to left that LF Scott Robinson dove for and missed; it was ruled a single. RF Trevor Pippen then reached on an error by 2B Zach Murry, and de los Santos went to third.

As time was called, Kotch ran over to first and whispered something to Pippen, then came back and whispered in de los Santos’ ear. He then turned to the next batter, CR Ryan Kiniry, and gave a long series of signs.

Hmmmm …

Clearly the Casper battery thought something was up, because they started deploying the defense expecting a squeeze.

On the first pitch, Kiniry showed bunt … but didn’t chase it. Ball one.

On the second pitch, Kiniry showed bunt … but didn’t chase it. Ball two.

You get the idea.

Two pitches later, the rattled pitcher walked Kiniry to load the bases.

Did Kotch fake it all?! Was there really a play on?! I’ve no idea. But if there were a sign on, would he have been so demonstrative about it?!

Either way, the Owlz went on to score five runs in the inning, thanks in part to yet another error and a passed ball.

In the bottom of the 5th, SS Andrew Romine sliced a ball down the left-field line where it’s 306′ at the pole and got himself a grand-slam. Click Here to watch the grand slam. (You need Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection, e.g. cable modem or DSL.) Turns out that Andy is from Lake Forest in south Orange County. He was the Angels’ 5th round draft pick this year.

The Owlz used yet another wacky promotion last night. “Batman” was apparently some fan dressed up as the Adam West version of the Caped Crusader. For one half-inning, he gets to go retrieve the visiting team’s bat, while exhorting the crowd to cheer as the 1960s Batman TV show theme plays over the P.A.

You can see all this and more on the video highlight clip on FutureAngels.com. Click Here to watch the July 9 game highlights.

I fly home tomorrow to Orange County, so I’ll be scarce for a few hours.

With the Owlz – Day Two

Robert Fish started Sunday afternoon for Orem against Casper.

If you’re looking for action on a Sunday, Happy Valley isn’t the place to look.

I’m not up on all the fine details of the Mormon faith, but apparently one practice is that Sunday should be a day of rest and worship.

When the Helena Brewers moved to Utah County for the 2001 season and became the Provo Angels, they were allowed to use the Brigham Young University ballpark until they found a permanent facility, but only under certain conditions. One was that no games would be played there on Sunday.

This caused complications with the Pioneer League schedule, and it wasn’t unusual to see the Provo team scheduled to play a one-game road trip in Ogden, on the north side of Salt Lake City, 70 miles up the road.

When the franchise moved six miles west in 2005 to become the Orem Owlz, Utah Valley State College was far more tolerant, and Sunday games were scheduled.

But just because you schedule it, that doesn’t mean they’ll come.

Chris Rosenbaum homered in the third inning for Orem.

So a sparse crowd was on hand for today’s 4 PM game against Casper.  The announced attendance was 1,032, which includes tickets sold.  I’d guess the actual number of bodies was probably around 500.

Owlz manager Tom Kotchman seemed to be in a playful mood.

When it came to exchange lineups with Casper manager Tony Diaz, both managers stepped out of their dugouts, glared, and then ran to home plate, where they had a good laugh.  The two umpires looked rather perplexed, but I’m sure they’ve seen worse.  And will.

Later in the game, right fielder Donato Giovanatto swung and missed at a pitch.  The bat got loose from his hands and helicoptered down the third base line past Kotch, who was coaching third base.  Kotch took the bat and tossed it the same distance back at Giovanatto, as if to say, "Two can play that game."  The crowd roared.

The Owlz won 7-3.  Chris Rosenbaum, Jerry Gonzalez and Giovanatto all homered.  I have video of Gio’s homer and will post it when I get the chance.

Jerry Gonzalez homered in the 4th to give Orem a 4-1 lead.

Angels scout Jeff Scholzen is here for a few games substituting for regular hitting coach Francisco Matos.  "Frankie" went home on a personal matter, nothing bad I’m told.

Tomorrow night’s game is "Christmas in July," with Santa Claus scheduled to make an appearance.  Another wacky minor league promotional idea …

On a personal note, I went for a jog this morning along the Provo River Trail. Just a reminder, running at 4,500 feet is not the same as running at 100 feet, wheeze, gasp …

And yes, more bug bites.

UPDATE July 9, 2007 8:15 AM PDTClick Here to watch video highlights from Sunday afternoon’s Orem-Casper game. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.

With the Owlz – Day One

Chris Armstrong started Saturday night for Orem against Casper.

Explain to me why a 7:30 AM flight from Orange County to Salt Lake City is $200 but the same flight at 10:30 AM is $400 …

Anyway, I flew into the Salt Lake City Airport yesterday morning for my annual visit with the Orem Owlz.  Angels fans in Southern California should consider Salt Lake/Orem a weekend trip; it’s only a 90-minute flight, and if you choose the less ridiculous of the two aforementioned rates it’s fairly affordable.

The flight arrived early and, after baggage claim (always a heartstopper because I fear my camera gear won’t show up) and car rental, I had plenty of time to kill before a 7 PM game.

Worthless trivia time — the Rancho Cucamonga, Orem and Salt Lake ballparks are all on the Interstate 15 Freeway. You could leave The Epicenter, head north on the I-15, drive about 550 miles, take the Exit 269 off-ramp in Orem, and the ballpark is nestled against the northbound on-ramp. The stadium is on the Utah Valley State College campus. Head north another 40 miles or so and Franklin Covey Field is about three blocks east of the freeway.

I chose to pass the time at Thanksgiving Point, which is — well, I can’t think of a word to describe it, because it really doesn’t have a theme. It has curio shops, a country farm, a dinosaur museum, and a movie theatre complex. They also have a splendid garden where weddings are held. Click on the link, and if you can think of a word to describe it, feel free to post a reply.

Casper catcher Beau Seabury tried to sell it as an out, but the umpire ruled that Ryan Kennedy scored in the bottom of the 1st on a sacrifice fly by Efren Navarro to give Orem a 1-0 lead.

The movie theatre is run by Megaplex Theatres. Here’s a concept I’ve never seen before, but hopefully the other chains adopt it. When you walk in to buy your tickets, a touch-screen shows you a seating chart. Taken seats are red, available seats are green. You touch the seats you want, and tickets print out with that seating assignment. No more standing in line for hours for blockbuster films, no more worrying that someone will nab your seat if you slip out for a potty break. It makes sense; after all, we do it for sporting events and concerts.

After seeing a movie (Ratatouille), I stopped by the Orem Owlz’ office to pick up credentials and renew acquaintances. GM Zach Fraser and Assistant GM Sarah Hansen are two of the youngest executives in minor league baseball, but they’ve been with the operation since Provo Angels days. (The franchise played from 2001-2004 at BYU’s ballpark six miles to the east.) It’s always heartwarming to see friends I’ve made with our affiliates; Sarah was kind enough to say I’m “part of the family.”

Efren Navarro homered in the bottom of the 3rd to cut Orem’s deficit to 6-4.

Zach showed me a wall outside the weightlifting room where he’s posted 8"x10" photos from the FutureAngels.com Photo Galleries of Provo/Orem players who’ve gone on to the major leagues. They were kind enough to post a sign giving credit to me and the web site.

Then it was off to the hotel. The Cottontree Inn is next to the Provo River, which thanks to the drought is more like a creek, but there’s a paved path where I can go running, and the view here is stunning.

I also stopped to get insect repellant — more about that later.

Anyway, I returned to the ballpark around 4 PM. Not a lot of practicality went into designing the stadium. Staff parking is at the lower level, but if you enter through the office the only way to the field is to pass through the clubhouse and dugout. If you go up to the main parking lot and enter via the concourse, there’s no way down to the field. When I was here for their opening weekend in 2005, the college had a guy here sawing through the concrete wall next to the Owlz’ dugout so they could install a gate. To get from the concourse to the field, you have to walk down a steep grass berm to use the gate. Try doing that with heavy camera gear. (I did in 2005 and sprained my foot …)

So I chose the more horizontal route.  I knew the players would be out on the field for batting practice, so the clubhouse was fairly deserted.  The Angels-Yankees game was on; if you watched yesterday’s classic duel, this was around the 11th inning or so.  Anyway, I kept going, dumped my gear in the far end of the dugout (there’s no camera well), paid my respects to manager Tom Kotchman and pitching coach Zeke Zimmerman, and got ready for the game.

With the rookie teams in Orem and Tempe, pre-game preparation is a bit different because I don’t know most of the players.  So the first thing to do is get hold of a roster, and start putting numbers with faces.  Part of the fun of doing this site is knowing that, in the years ahead, some of these players and their parents will become acquaintances if not friends.  This is where it begins.

Like Southern California, Utah has been suffering through a drought.  A massive wildfire began Friday and spread yesterday through central Utah, cutting off the I-15.  (So forget that Rancho to Orem drive for the next few days …)  The temperature was about 100 degrees, but it’s not unusual here in the late afternoon to get storm clouds and the occasional shower.  The winds pick up too, and just before game time it was gusting pretty fierce.  A flock of seagulls circled nearby on the college campus; why, I’ve no idea, but what’s left of the Great Salt Lake is just a few miles to the west.

As the winds calmed down, the bugs picked up.

Mosquitos, gnats, dragonflies.  Creepy-crawlies.  You name it, it was airborne.

Despite the thorough spraying back at the hotel, I still got a few bites.  By mid-game, the players were using repellant too between innings, complaining about all the bugs out on the field.  The groundskeeper told me this was once swampland, so they were here long before we were.

The game was pretty typical Pioneer League fare.  The final score was 11-10.  It was a game both sides deserved to lose, but Casper deserved it more for poor fielding.  This is a very hitter-friendly league, so you really have to be skeptical about offense numbers.

I’ll try to post some video before heading to the ballpark.  Game time today is 4:00 PM MDT.  It should be nice and toasty … but I’ll gladly take that over the bugs …

UPDATE 11:45 AM PDTClick Here to watch video highlights from Saturday night’s Orem-Casper game. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required. (If you tried this link earlier and had problems, try it again, it should work now.)