October 2009

Coast to Coast: Ares I-X Launches, Weather or Not

Click Here to watch the Ares I-X launch. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection.

The weather was once again a factor as NASA tried to launch the Ares I-X. Because this is a test flight, NASA was concerned about a phenomenon that can cause clouds to reflect radio signals to and from the craft. Not only might they lose valuable data, but a self-destruct message might be lost too, which would be a bad day in my neighborhood should Ares be headed in my direction.

With 30 minutes left in today’s launch window, the weather people found a gap in the clouds long enough for Ares to launch. Click here to read CNN’s report on the launch. The video on that page is a NASA compilation, including a camera mounted on the craft’s fuselage.

The above video is shot from my driveway, looking northeast towards Kennedy Space Center and Pad 39-B. You’ll note that the rocket sound doesn’t reach us until nearly a minute after launch; because sounds travels at about one mile every five seconds, that tells you I’m about 12 miles away from 39-B. But less than two minutes into the recording, it gets pretty loud. The house windows were rattling; it reminded me of a minor earthquake back in California.

My “A” camcorder is out for repair, so I had to use an older one with less quality. I lost track of the rocket right after launch because the view finder isn’t all that great. But you get the idea.

Coast to Coast: Three of a Kind


Ares 1-X on Pad 39-B awaiting launch tomorrow morning. STS-129 is on Pad 39-A in the background. The Delta and Atlas rocket pads are in the distance. Photo courtesy NASA.

 

I wrote on Thursday about the historical significance of two different spacecraft on the Shuttle launch pads.

I suspected NASA would have someone take a photo showing both craft, and sure enough it showed up online today.

Ares 1-X is supposed to launch tomorrow (Tuesday) at 8 AM EDT with a four-hour launch window, but there’s only a 40% chance of acceptable weather.

I hope to go out and videotape it, but I’ve been sick with a mild case of the flu since Saturday. If they launch, and if I film it, I’ll post it here as I’ve posted previous launches since arriving in Florida.

Happy Birthday, John Lackey

Easy to remember because we share the same date … but many, many years apart.

Thinking of ya, big fella.

Perfect Umpire

The many controversial calls in the ALCS have led some to call for expanded use of instant replay in the playoffs.

Count me firmly in the “no” column.

Tim McCarver made an excellent point during last night’s telecast. How far does it go? Strike zone calls? Checked swings? Balks? A failure to call a balk? How’s about that phantom double play call at second base when the infielder usually gets the call if he’s “in the vicinity”?

And what about obscure rules like coaches standing in the coach’s box, or how high on a bat pine tar is permitted?

MLB has allowed instant replay for home run calls, and so far it’s been rarely used — because home run calls are rarely disputed.

A situation like Game #4 where Mike Napoli tagged two runners who were not standing on the base would seem like a valid situation.

But how do you write into the rulebook the controlled use of instant replay so it doesn’t become abusive? And how do you address errors that might occur in subjective decisions such as strike zone?

Years ago, when I was pursuing a career as a full-time writer, I noodled around with an idea for a novel about professional baseball several hundred years in the future. One idea I had was that technology had come so far that baseball had eliminated human umpires and implemented a system called Perfect Umpire.

Perfect Umpire was an integrated technology woven into the literal fabric of the game. Uniforms were made of tiny filaments that would sense position, contact and movement. The same with baseballs. The fields were artificial surfaces made of the same material. All of it was instantly transmitted into a computer server that would always make the right call.

In theory.

In the opening scene, the primary character dives for a ball and catches it — only Perfect Umpire rules he trapped it.

Ballplayers — and unscrupulous owners — have figured out ways to hoodwink the technology, the futuristic versions of the corked bat and sandpaper.

It was all tongue in cheek, of course, but the point was that no technology is perfect when human beings are involved.

All instant replay does is inject human judgment at a different step in the process. Will it improve the number of correct calls? Hard to say. The track record with instant replay in the NFL, in my opinion, has been somewhat mixed. I’ve seen replays that are inconclusive. Then what? Stick with the ruling on the ground? So all you’ve done is validate the original ruling, or at least shown the technology isn’t any better than human judgment, which meant it was a waste of time.

Instant replay might have reversed blown calls like the two runners on third in Game #3. But do we really want to see managers call for instant replay over and over again when an infielder is in the neighborhood on a double play turn at second? Technically, yes, he’s supposed to touch the bag. But neither do we want to increase the number of injuries to infielders.

It seems to me that instant replay complicates things, and removes a certain charm unique to the game.


Extra for experts … “Perfect Umpire” was a homage to the long-defunct Perfect Writer, the first word processor software I ever used. It came with the Kaypro II, a CP/M computer I bought circa 1984.

For the Record

From time to time, I’ve seen posts on fan boards claiming that “no one” reads this blog.

Unbeknownst to those individuals, MLBlogs.com posts a monthly listing of the most popular blogs on their service. The FutureAngels.com Blog consistently has been in the top ten fan blogs, although it’s slipped a bit in the last couple months simply because so many new blogs have joined their service.

MLBlogs.com just posted their 2009 regular season rankings. The FutureAngels.com Blog finished #10 in the fan blog category. It’s clearly the most popular Angels blog on their service. They list the top 60, although they have many more than that.

Unlike the fan boards, I’m not into the “who’s the most popular” debate. Number of hits doesn’t equate to quality of content.

So I’m posting this for the public record.

Coast to Coast: Present and Future, Side By Side


STS-129 with Atlantis on Pad 39-A
 

The Ares 1-X rocket on Pad 39-B.

 

For the first and quite probably the last time, two different spacecraft currently sit on launch pads at Kennedy Space Center.

Pad 39-A currently hosts STS-129, scheduled for launch on November 16.

Pad 39-B has the Ares 1-X test rocket, scheduled for launch on October 27.

Ares is the next-generation vehicle planned to replace the Space Shuttle, which is scheduled for retirement by the end of 2010. It’s a return to the Apollo-era technology, a capsule atop a rocket.

Pads 39-A and 39-B were once identical, but 39-B was partially deconstructed to accommodate the Ares test flight. After 1-X launches, the rest of the structure will be demolished and a new gantry will be built.

You’ll notice that the lightning rod at 39-A is atop the gantry, while over at 39-B it’s been removed and three new towers have been built nearby to draw away lightning from the vehicle.

I shot these photos today from an observation tower halfway between the two sites, less than three miles away. The Kennedy Space Center bus tour takes you to the tower, where you get a magnificent view of all the significant structures on base.

Just to the east of the observation site is the intersection where the road splits to go to Pads A and B. Below is a photo of the intersection, along with a sign displaying the message, “Ares 1-X Welcome to Pad B.” How friendly.


Choose your departure point — Pad A or Pad B.

Superior Firepower


Alex Rodriguez with the Texas Rangers in 2002. He’s one of the many mercenaries acquired by the New York Yankees to build a roster of future Hall of Famers.

 

Sage philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Although the Angels are down 3-1 to the Yankees in their best-of-seven series, they still go to the World Series if they win Thursday then go to New York and win the last two games there.

Which brings up another quote attributed to Berra, “It gets late early out there.”

It’s very late for the Angels.

I’m a fatalist when it comes to the post-season. Three layers of playoff series add so much unpredictability that I don’t see the point to getting all worked up about what happens.

Watching this series, though, I’m grateful for any games we win because the Yankees have a roster laden with future Hall of Famers.

Among the position players, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter are slam-dunk inductees. A-Rod has 583 career homers at age 34 and, barring injury, should be the all-time home run king by the time he retires. Jeter at age 35 has 2,747 career hits and should easily top 3,000 if he doesn’t get hurt.

Arguments could be made for other Yankees players.

Mark Teixeira doesn’t turn 30 until next April but has hit over 30 homers a season every year since his rookie campaign, when he hit 26. He hit 41 in 2008 and 43 in 2009.

Jorge Posada won’t be a first-year inductee, but certainly will be considered. He has 243 homers, has gone to five All-Star games and won five Silver Slugger awards for the best hitting catcher in the league.

Johnny Damon won’t get a Hall induction, although early in his career he was certainly headed in that direction. He hit 24 homers this year, matching his single-season high.

Robinson Cano probably won’t go either, but at age 27 (tomorrow) he hit 25 dingers this year, a personal single-season high.

The so-called “fans” who bash the Angels’ pitching for giving up runs to this lineup are not living in the real world. There’s no pitching staff on the planet that could shut down this modern day Murderers’ Row.

The pitching staff also has its Hall of Fame candidates.

Andy Pettitte will be inducted. He has 229 career wins and a lifetime .629 winning percentage. His career ERA is a little high at 3.91 but he’s pitched in an era where anything below 4.00 is considered pretty good. He’s averaged 6.7 strikeouts and 2.8 walks per nine innings over his fifteen-season career.

How’s about A.J. Burnett? He’s been on some mediocre teams, which has kept down his win total, but he has a career 3.84 ERA in 11 seasons, averaging 8.4 strikeouts and 3.8 walks per nine innings. At age 32, he still has several good years left in him, and playing in the New York limelight might be enough to get him Hall votes.

C.C. Sabathia has showed in this series why he might be a Hall candidate when he retires. He’s only 29 but already has 136 career wins; 300 used to be the gold standard for Hall of Fame pitchers but now 250 is good enough and C.C. has another 8-10 years to notch 114 more to reach 250. His career ERA is 3.62, averaging 7.6 strikeouts and 2.8 walks per nine innings.

That’s the three-man rotation the Angels have faced in this series — Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte.

And I don’t think we need to argue whether closer Mariano Rivera will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. That’s a slam dunk.

So on this 25-man roster, you can pretty much assume that Rodriguez, Jeter, Pettitte and Rivera are a lock for the Hall. Teixeira, Posada, Sabathia and Burnett certainly are possibilities.

That’s eight guys, or about one-third of their roster.

The best team money can buy.

The Yankees had an Opening Day payroll of $201 million, according to USA Today. The Angels were at $114 million, a little over half of the Yankees’ payroll.

And for that, we have at least the second-best team in the American League.

I can live with that.

Coast to Coast: Familiar Faces


RHP Baron Short

OF Stantrel Smith

RHP Anthony Sullivan

 

As previously mentioned, out here in Florida they’re starting a new professional winter baseball league, appropriately called the Florida Winter Baseball League.

The local team is the Space Coast Surge, playing in Cocoa Expo Stadium, which was the Houston Astros’ spring training complex from 1964 through 1984.

The Surge players reported Sunday, and the next day they met for the first time. I was asked to do their head shots which you can see by clicking here.

Five former Angels minor leaguers have been signed by the league. All five played for Tom Kotchman’s Orem Owlz at one time.

Three are here with the Surge — Stantrel Smith, Baron Short and Anthony Sullivan.

The other two, Trevor Pippin and Tyler Johnson, are in Miami with the Diamantes.

A league official said to me yesterday, “So do you like all the Angels we sent you?”

I asked him to send Pip and T.J. to Cocoa too, but he said they have to spread the wealth. Oh well.

Anyway, the three seemed happy to see each other again, familiar faces in unfamiliar territory, and to have me around as a sort of Jiminy Cricket who already knows the area.

Baseball has an amazing ability to create families …

Tending to Nick Adenhart

We’ve had our hearts broken many times on this subject, so I’ll warn you that before you read this article you’ll want to have the Kleenex handy.

Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post published Thursday an article titled, “Angels Are Touched by a Rookie Lost, and Never to Be Forgotten.”

Click Here to read the article. You may be prompted to register, but it’s free.

Much of the article talks about those who tend to Nick’s grave, which is a cold fact that I guess I never faced. Nick’s grave. I hadn’t allowed myself to think beyond how he looked the last time I saw him on TV, when he shut out the Oakland A’s for six innings.

Mr. Sheinin granted permission for me to add his article to the FutureAngels.com Nick Adenhart Memorial.

A reminder that you can donate in Nick’s memory to:

Nick Adenhart Memorial Fund
c/o Geier Financial Group
2205 Warwick Way
Suite 200
Marriottsville, Maryland 21104

The fund has already donated $5,000 to Nick’s Little League organization.

This ‘N That

While we wait for the ALCS to start …

The Arizona Fall League is underway in Phoenix. The Angels players are assigned to the Mesa Solar Sox. They are pitchers Marco Albano, Jeremy Haynes, Tim Kiely, and Tommy Mendoza; catcher Hank Conger; and infielders Ryan Mount and P.J. Phillips (although P.J. could see outfield time).

The AFL was conceived by Roland Hemond, and if that name sounds familiar it’s because he was not only the general manager of the White Sox and Orioles but he was also the Angels’ original farm and scouting director back in 1961.

Click Here to watch a 2008 news segment on the AFL broadcast by Phoenix PBS station KAET. It runs about 14 minutes and includes an interview with Roland.

Roland was part of the 1961 Statesville Owls reunion we held in Tempe two weeks ago. Click Here to read the blog entry on the reunion, which includes photos of Roland along with his former players. Roland turns 80 on October 26, but he still has a sharp mind and excellent recall. For all his accomplishments, Roland is the most humble man you’ll ever meet.

As an aside, I just sent Roland a new book called Bottom of the Ninth: Branch Rickey, Casey Stengel and the Daring Scheme to Save Baseball from Itself by Michael Shapiro. The book is in some ways a prequel to the Angels’ history, because the core story is about how a group of investors tried to force Major League Baseball to expand and grant them franchises. The investors proposed the creation of a third major league, the Continental League, and were prepared to move ahead on their own but preferred Commissioner Ford Frick’s blessing. Mark Scott, the host of Home Run Derby, represented a group trying to convince the Continental League to include Los Angeles.

(I didn’t know that Scott died in 1960 of a heart attack at age 45 after filming the lone season of the show.)

The Scott group failed, but it did get Los Angeles on the radar when expansion came in December 1960.

The book also talks about how Continental League founder Branch Rickey revived the Western Carolina League to be a farm system for his new league. After the Continental League folded, the WCL was left to fend for itself. In 1961, WCL teams signed affiliations with major league clubs. One was Statesville with Roland Hemond and the Angels … bringing us full circle.

Other than the major league post-season, not much else is happening in Angels World that’s above the radar. I’m waiting to see which minor leaguers get released. Baseball America listed RHP Shane Loux as being given his free agency.

This is also the time of year when contracts are renewed — or not — for minor league managers and coaches. So if you have dreams of a job, this is the time to submit your résumé!

I’ve heard from multiple sources that there’s been a purge in the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes’ front office. Longtime owner Hank Stickney sold the team last March to Brett Sports and Entertainment. It was expected that the new owners would make changes once the season ended, but a clean sweep seems a bit radical. Names I’ve heard were let go still appear on the team’s web site, which hasn’t been updated since the season ended.

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