September 2007

Ervin Santana and His Critics – Ervin Gets Backup

Francisco Rodriguez seems to be the latest Angels’ Latin player to blow off the beat writers.

I was in Florida for Ervin Santana’s last start Saturday night, but he seems to have done well enough that Matt Hurst of the Riverside Press-Enterprise sheathed his poison pen for the night.

Ervin’s cold war with the press may have brought him new allies.

Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times reported that Francisco Rodriguez is the latest Angels’ Latin pitcher to snap at the press. After reporters questioned him about his blown save Friday night, Rodriguez replied:

I’m not getting the job done," Rodriguez said. "That’s all you guys want to hear. That’s all I’ve got to say. Thank you."

Bolch reported that, "Rodriguez later appeared to soften, calling one reporter who regularly covers the team over to his clubhouse locker for a lengthy discussion."

Just who that reporter was remains unnamed, although Orange County Register sports columnist Mark Whicker published today a lengthy article about Rodriguez and his distant persona.

Register columnist Jeff Miller published an article today suggesting that Angels players are reluctant these days when interviewed by the press. Miller notes that the Latin players in particular tend to give interviews only through a translator, although most of them speak English just fine.

Meanwhile, reports that Santana will go to the bullpen temporarily while Bartolo Colon gets the start Friday night at Chicago. Ervin’s response came through "translator" Kelvim Escobar. "I’m going to be ready when they need me."

Media hubris aside, the Angels continue to cruise towards the playoffs, and I guess I should be the first one to suggest that Angels GM Bill Stoneman be voted Executive of the Year. But that’ll have to wait until another column.

Meanwhile, in Orlando …

I’d hoped that right about now I’d be on a plane home to California, but weather in Texas has the flight schedule hopelessly FUBAR‘d …

I got down to Viera for the Brevard County Manatees’ Game #2 of the Florida State League championship series. The Manatees, a Brewers affiliate, play out of Space Coast Stadium which is the Washington Nationals’ spring training facility. It’s decidedly low-end, a brick structure with a rutted grass parking lot. A local told me that Viera was once swampland. I’m glad I didn’t try to park when it was raining.

The Manatees lost Game #1 8-1.  They took a 3-0 lead in Game #2, then 4-1 on a solo homer by 2B Mike Bell, but defensive FUBARs in the top of the 7th tied the game at 4-4.  We left after seven innings — after all, we had to uphold California tradition and leave early. That turned out to be the right move, as the game went eleven innings iwth Clearwater winning 6-4.

Brevard County’s starting pitcher was a 24-year old left-handed Aussie named David Welch, who looks pretty good if he can get his mechanics straightened out. Welch’s four-seam fastball was regularly at 90-91 MPH until he ran out of gas in the top of the 6th, and dropped down into the 85 MPH range. He had a really nice 12-6 curve and a good changeup. His problem was that he’d step too wide with his lead foot and as a result drag his arm. Not only would he lose his location but also 2-3 MPH off his fastball. Clean that up and he might be a decent prospect.

It was kinda weird watching two teams that didn’t play Angels-style baseball.  Watching either the parent club or one of the affiliates, I’ve been programmed to expect a certain style of play, and a certain degree of developmental discipline.  The Florida State League is the same level as the California League, but I saw basic mistakes more typical of Rookie-A.

The only Angels’ connection I could find was the Manatees’ hitting coach, Ken Berry, who was the Angels’ center fielder in the early 1970s.

As mentioned earlier, the wireless connection in the motel was FUBAR, so the only way I could get out was to cable into their router in the lobby.  I’ve been unable to closely monitor Angels baseball, but had to chuckle when I saw that Orem whupped Idaho Falls two straight to take the Pioneer League South Division title.  The Chukars had a far superior record during the regular season, but Tom Kotchman manages to get the best out of his players in a short series.  Now he has the luxury of two off-days before hosting Wednesday night the winner of the Helena-Great Falls series.

Too bad the Bees couldn’t win one game out of the three in Sacramento, which would have put them in the PCL championship series against New Orleans.

Anyway, I’m held hostage by American Airlines, so I’ll be on-line when I can.  At least nothing is happening for a couple days … Oh, I have the fall instructional league roster, and will post it when I get home.

On the Road Again

My wife and I leave for Florida tomorrow.  We’ll be in the Space Coast area looking at potential properties for retirement down the road.

The Brevard County Manatees, the Brewers’ affiliate in the Florida State League, are in the playoffs.  Maybe they’ll still be playing this weekend and I can drive down to see a game.

Anyway, I’ll update the web site tomorrow morning before leaving for the airport, and will have a laptop computer with me, but my presence on-line will be minimal until Tuesday morning 9/11.

I won’t be able to watch Ervin Santana’s start Saturday night, but will try to remember to set the DVR to record it.

UPDATE 9/6/07 8:30 PM PDT — Looks like I might get to see some Florida State League baseball. The Brevard County Manatees won their playoff series against St. Lucie, and will host either Clearwater or Sarasota in the first two games of the championship series. They play in Viera, near Melbourne, about 12 miles from downtown Cocoa Beach.

So who knows, you may get exclusive bonus coverage of the FSL playoffs in addition to the Angels affiliates … but I’m off duty, so no photos …

Click Here to see a satellite view of where Space Coast Stadium is located and the Space Coast area in general. We’re hoping to find a property on Merritt Island.

The “Big Bat” Myth – Part 2

On July 31, I posted a blog titled The "Big Bat" Myth in which I took on the strident demands made by certain fans and reporters that the Angels hock the farm system for a "big bat" that was supposedly needed to make the team competitive.

Well, here we are in early September, and the Angels have a healthy 7½ game lead over Seattle as they coast into the post-season and duel with the Red Sox for the best record in baseball.

Riverside Press-Enterprise sports columnist Gregg Patton jumps onboard in a column published today. Patton admits that the Angels were right, and the critics were wrong.

Who knew? Well, I didn’t. I had my fun, like most, dinging Angels general manager Bill Stoneman for failing to plug the obvious hole.

Who really knew? Well, I guess you could say hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, who, oddly enough, said last winter that the Angels already had enough offense, and shouldn’t mess with their pitching staff in pursuit of power.

Reminded of that conversation Tuesday night before the Angels game with Oakland, Hatcher smiled.

"To tell you the truth, I didn’t know it would turn out as good as it has," Hatcher said. "I just liked our style of offense. I thought we had the players who fit that style, and a lot of them stepped up.

"All the talk (last winter) was about giving up pitching, and I didn’t want that. Pitching keeps you in it."

Nice to know one P-E reporter can admit he made a mistake.

Ervin Santana vs. His Critics – Round 4

The smile returned to Ervin Santana’s face when he left the mound Monday night.

It wasn’t pretty, and it helped that he was facing the inherently flawed offensive philosophy of the Oakland A’s, but Ervin Santana took a major step forward Monday night.

The sabermetric zealots will tell you ad nauseam that taking walks is the key to a productive offense, but one look at the real-world stats will show you the Angels (1) have 140 fewer walks than the A’s, yet (2) have scored 84 more runs than the A’s. Simplistic theories usually yield simplistic results, and Oakland’s "patient" philosophy played a role in Ervin’s success.

Santana struck out four and walked five in 6 1/3 innings, allowing no runs on two hits. The walks really weren’t that much of a concern, because the A’s missed several opportunities to take advantage of hittable pitches Ervin left in the zone. This was the same problem that cursed Ervin in the last game, but this time it didn’t hurt so much because he could just pitch around dangerous situations and let the A’s batters put themselves in two-strike counts where they couldn’t be so picky with pitches.

Ervin and the Angels will take it, though, and it’s certainly a step forward for his confidence. Santana seemed to pitch more slowly and deliberately than his last start, when he seemed in a rush to lose. As noted on Sunday and as reported by the Orange County Register, Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher detected a flaw in Santana’s mechanics that caused him not to load up on his hip. Ervin took his time tonight to be sure he took his full windup, and it seemed to help. His location was much better, although in the first couple innings he looked as jittery as his last start at Seattle.

Mike Scioscia seemed to confirm my observation about the walks. He told Doug Padilla of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin:

"It wasn’t a clean game for Ervin, but I don’t think he left his game plan," Scioscia said. "I think that although the walks were there to make him pitch out of trouble … he made those guys step up to have to beat him."

As for Matt Hurst of the Riverside Press-Enterprise, who in recent blog entries had called Santana a "spoiled brat" and Santana’s supporters "ignorant," he acknowledged Santana’s work but still hasn’t apologized for his insulting remarks. Oh well, it’s progress — just as Ervin’s night was also progress.

Hurst had written that "nobody loves Santana." As Ervin walked off the mound in the 7th to fan adulation, my wife commented, "That’s 40,000 nobodies giving a standing ovation."

Ervin’s next start projects to be at home Saturday night against Cleveland, a team that’s scored 69 runs more than Oakland while taking 64 less walks. So Santana will face a more difficult challenge.

UPDATE 9/5/07 6:00 PM PDT — John Klima of writes about one scout’s opinion of Santana’s performance Monday night.

"I thought he looked pretty good," one AL scout said. "The ball came out of his hand well, his fastball had a lot of life and he had enough secondary stuff to take it deeper into a game. He needs to have better fastball command, but if you hadn’t seen him in a long time, then you’d have a hard time picking up that this guy has been struggling."

Playoff Update

It’s the final day of the minor league seasons for all the Angels affiliates except Orem. Here’s where they stand in their playoff chases.

Salt Lake — Already won the PCL Pacific North title. They open Wednesday night at home against Sacramento (A’s affiliate) in a best-of-five series for the Pacific Conference championship.

Arkansas — Eliminated last night after losing 11-1 at Springfield. Their season ends today at Springfield.

Rancho Cucamonga — Eliminated last week. Their season ends today at home against Modesto.

Cedar Rapids — Unless Peoria beats the Kernels by at least 20 runs today, Cedar Rapids is in as the Western Division wild card. If the Kernels win today and Quad Cities loses, then Cedar Rapids wins the second-half division title due to tie-breaker rules.

Orem — Idaho Falls won the South Division in the first half and currently holds a four-game lead over the Owlz in the second half. Should the Chukars win both halves, then the division team with the second-best record overall meets Idaho Falls in a best-of-three playoff. By that account, the Owlz (34-37 overall) lead rival Ogden (30-40) by 3½ games with five games left in the regular season for Orem. So the Owlz will probably face Idaho Falls in the post-season, but as Yogi Berra said it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Mascot Mania

Tremor, the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes’ mascot, is considered one of the best entertainers in the minor leagues.

With apologies to Bumble, Shelly, Mr. Shucks and Hootz, I think Tremor is the best mascot in the Angels minor league system.

With most minor league operations, the mascot is usually a local young adult making a little over minimum wage to wander the stands and interact with children.

Tremor, though, is a living, breathing character in the tradition of the San Diego Chicken and the Phillie Phanatic.

I’ve posted a video of Tremor skits at The Epicenter on September 1, 2007. They’re pretty much representative of his act. You need Windows Media Player and a high-speed (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.

The character comes alive because he tells stories. They’re simple little stories, designed to keep the fans entertained for two minutes, but it’s obvious that planning went into developing the gag. Sometimes the gags run through several segments, and often involve the umpires. Not all umpires have the sense of humor to participate, but many do and look forward to visiting The Epicenter so they can interact with Tremor.

Who is Tremor?

That’s a closely guarded secret, like the formula for Coke.

But unlike many mascots, the man inside the suit has been the same performer for many years. And rumor has it he was once Hamlet, the dearly departed mascot at Lake Elsinore. Some of the long-timers in the Angels system remember him from Storm days.

Hamlet delivers a kick to Tremor at Lake Elsinore in April 2000.  It was Hamlet’s birthday, so he can be forgiven.

If you watch the video, the little boy in the final segment with the water balloons is the son of Todd Takayoshi, currently the Angels’ roving hitting instructor and a catcher with Lake Elsinore in 1994-96.

If you saw Hamlet at Lake Elsinore in the late 1990s, he was a distinctly different personality from Tremor. There are some similarities, but Tremor has a lot more arrogance to his persona, while Hamlet was a bit more insecure and childlike. That’s a tribute to the performer that he took the time to develop different personalities for his characters and isn’t just running around inside a suit to make a few bucks.

Tremor’s sidekick, Aftershock, appears at some games. Even when he’s not there, he is, because he’ll be around performing various other roles. You’ll often see him in a Quakes uniform; he’s the player in the water balloon gag, and the one being doused by Tremor with the bucket of water in the above photo. He also helped drag the infield Saturday night. And on rare occasions, he’s Tremor when the regular performer isn’t available. (You can tell because Tremor suddenly seems shorter and baggy around the ankles.)

One day the performer will move on, and it may not be possible to keep the persona alive. When that happens, perhaps Tremor should go the way of the dinosaurs …

Why Young-il Jung Has Arm Problems

Young-Il Jung was shut down at Orem due to elbow problems.

I received an e-mail last week from Aaron Shinsano, who lives and works in South Korea. He’d found the web site after doing a search engine query, and wanted to share an article he’d found mentioning Young-il Jung that appeared in the August 13 edition of the Korea Times.

The article is about how Korean high schools abuse their young pitchers. It begins by telling about a high school pitcher named Jang Woo-ram who was forced to pitch 18 innings over two days, including 12 innings on the first day, in a high school championship tournament.

Here’s what the article had to say about Young-Il:

Unlike the U.S., 200 pitches are not rare in Korean high school games where the final score is the most important result.

In April, 2006, right-handed Chung Young-il of Jinheung High School, who joined the Los Angeles Angels of the U.S. Major Leagues last year, lasted 13 2/3 innings, throwing 242 pitches and Ansan Technical High School southpaw Kim Kwang-hyun also threw 226 over 15 innings.

So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that Young-il has come up lame with a sore elbow.

Last July, I arrived in Orem right after Jung had been shipped back to Tempe on rehab. In an interview I recorded with Owlz manager Tom Kotchman, he said that Young-il might face surgery, although that hasn’t come to pass.

In the latest issue of Baseball America, correspondent Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times wrote that Angels farm director Tony Reagins told him Young-il had suffered a strained right forearm but would be ready for fall instructional league.

I’ll be at "fall ball" sometime so hopefully I’ll get to videotape for you Young-il in all his glory. I taped him last March in spring training but his performance was so bad I decided not to use it.

As for Aaron, he wrote that he and a friend in Taiwan are starting a blog mostly about Asian baseball called East Windup Chronicle. You can visit the site at

Dontchya just love the Internet …

Ervin Santana vs. His Critics – Between Rounds

The local media outlets report this morning that Ervin Santana will get another start tomorrow evening at Anaheim against Oakland.

The best reporting was by Curtis Zupke of the Orange County Register, who detailed the mechanical flaw in Santana’s delivery discovered by pitching coach Mike Butcher:

The continuing saga of the Angels’ young, enigmatic right-hander has had so many ups and downs this season it’s enough to make Angels fans twist and turn in their sleep.

But Santana has corrected his mechanics in his hip turn, and the Angels are giving him another turn in the rotation.

In a somewhat surprising move, Manager Mike Scioscia designated Santana as his Monday starter against Oakland. It was speculated Scioscia would give the ball to Dustin Moseley, but the manager said he has confidence in Santana after pitching coach Mike Butcher worked with Santana on mechanics, namely getting his hip turned to help him load his windup.

Amazing what a reporter can find out when he spends a little more time practicing old-fashioned journalism and a little less time trying to smear a player’s reputation … not to mention insulting his readers …