Slip ‘N Slide


Ty Cobb sliding into third base about 100 years ago.

 

Go to a professional baseball game these days, and you’re likely to see a baserunner slide with his hands first into a bag.

It’s the wrong way to do it, but it looks flashy.

The right way to do it is to slide feet first. It protects the hands and the head. All too many baserunners jam a finger sliding hands-first (commonly known as “head-first”), which is why you sometimes see a runner clutch his batting gloves in his hands when running the bases. If his hand is closed, he’s less likely to jam a finger.

Look at photos taken a century ago of Ty Cobb, arguably the best baserunner in the history of the game. You’ll never find a photo of him sliding head-first. You’ll find photos of him sliding feet first, sharpened spikes high, as he goes into a base. But never with his hands first.

There’s some belief that head-first is faster. But there’s no doubt that feet-first is safer.

When I was the Angels’ fall instructional league last October, I saw the coaching staff use a classic training technique to teach the players the proper way to slide.

Out came the sliding mats, a foam-cushioned rubber sheet placed on grass. Players remove their shoes and run towards the mat is if it were a base. They can flop on it and slide, like the Wham-O Slip ‘N Slide we slid on as children.

Not wanting to risk a tear to the uniform pants, the coaches broke out the old Angels road jersey pants worn during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Needless to say, not everyone had a fitting pant-size. Some couldn’t even button their waist bands.

Below are some photos from the sliding drill. You can find photos of fall instructional league players in the FutureAngels.com Digital Photo Gallery where reprints are available for purchase.


Angels minor leaguers await their turn on the sliding mat.

 


Travis Witherspoon.

 


Chevez Clarke.

 


Carlos Ramirez. (Who says catchers can’t run?)

 


Taylor Lindsey.

 


Jose Jimenez. (Another catcher shows his wheels.)

 


Rolando Gomez.

 


Kole Calhoun.

 


Wes Hatton.

 


Gabe Jacobo.

 

Coast to Coast: Meanwhile, in Florida …

When my wife and I moved to Florida in June 2009, I posted a series of articles under the title of “Coast to Coast.” Click here to catch up. The idea was to keep friends and readers updated on what was happening with my personal life away from Angels baseball.

I haven’t posted one of these in a while, so here’s what’s new.

In addition to the FutureAngels.com web site and this blog, I have two other sites.

SpaceCoastBaseball.com covers professional and amateur baseball here in Brevard County, which is commonly known as the Space Coast because we have Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island, etc. I’ve done for Brevard County in the last year what I’ve done for Angels minor league baseball since 1998 — photos, videos, commentary, etc.

The big difference is that baseball is way down the pecking order here. We have baseball fans, but people seem more interested in football, basketball and water sports. This just isn’t a baseball mecca like Southern California. The local newspaper, Florida Today, has sportswriters who cover baseball but they really don’t have the depth on the subject of the typical SoCal sportswriter. Over the last year, I’ve made many long conversations on and off the record with the sportswriters, educating them about the inner workings of professional baseball.  From time to time, I’m once of those “quotables” they call whenever they need to fill a story with a couple paragraphs.

The Washington Nationals’ minor league complex is 20 miles away in Viera. I film and photograph their players in the summer and fall leagues. I’m probably the only person to film and photograph both Mike Trout and Bryce Harper this year! The Nats invited me to film his little press conference after his first fall instructional league game. It was a Florida Today sportswriter, a reporter from MLB Advanced Media (I think!), and me with my camcorder. Like I said, the baseball universe here is fairly small.

Across the parking lot (which is an unpaved grass lot, by the way, filled with potholes) is the Nats’ spring training park, Space Coast Stadium. During the regular season, the minor league Brevard County Manatees play there. The Manatees are in the Advanced-A Florida State League, the equivalent of Rancho Cucamonga and now Inland Empire in the California League. They’re a Milwaukee Brewers affiliate, not a Nats affiliate. Long story.

Like most minor league teams, the Manatees have limited resources, so anyone who steps forward to volunteer is welcomed. They don’t have the money to do radio broadcasts, so I volunteered to webcast fifteen home games on the Internet, as well as the FSL All-Star Game which they hosted. If you want to hear me talk about someone else’s players other than the Angels, click here for the Manatees webcast archive.

With very little broadcast experience, but a damn strong idea of how I thought a game should be called, I found myself experimenting with finding my own style. It was a mix of advice from long-time Angels minor league broadcasters — Steve Klauke in Salt Lake, Phil Elson in Arkansas, John Rodgers in Cedar Rapids — who gave me advice. I cherry-picked elements of their styles I liked. But if truth be told, much of it is a whole lot of Vin Scully with a dash of Dick Enberg.

Growing up in Southern California, those were the two broadcasters I heard and admired the most. Scully has a minimalist style, epitomized by his famous call of Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series homer — “High fly ball to deep right field, she is gone!” What else do you need to know?! So I always tried to use as few words as possible. Dick Enberg had a slightly more folksy style and his catch phrases. I don’t have one for a homer because I think that’s really overdone, but I do have a standard opening as Scully does, and instead of Enberg’s “Oh my!” I came up with “Wowee!”

We don’t sell advertising, so between innings I just keep chatting with the audience, which is mostly players’ parents and loved ones. Many FSL teams don’t have broadcasts, so we often had players’ parents and fans from other teams. I did three Tampa Yankees games this year, and received e-mails from fans in New York, so you never know who might be listening. In the last game, when the Tampa second baseman was hurt, I got an e-mail from his worried mother, which impresses upon you how important a lifeline these webcasts are for the families. I think that August 26 game was probably the best job I did all year; click here to listen.

It was fun. I used radio booth #1 in the press box, the booth for the Nats’ parent club broadcasters during spring training. I got to live out a personal fantasy and had some memorable moments, such as when the home plate umpire was knocked out by a foul ball and had to leave the game. One of the Brewers’ roving instructors was recruited as a second umpire while the infield umpire moved behind home plate. I called an All-Star game. I even did a walking tour video of Space Coast Stadium so the players’ parents and other listeners could see the parts of the ballpark regularly discussed on the webcasts.

I’ve volunteered for other jobs. I do some administrative work and database design for Brevard County Fire Rescue. They have a volunteer firefighter program, much more active than any I ever saw in SoCal. When I graduated from college too many years ago, I worked for the Irvine Police Department as a dispatcher. I’ve always missed being around public safety, so this is an opportunity to be around that profession again, although it’s with fire and not police.

If you’re a regular reader, you know one reason we moved here is we’re space geeks. I’ve always wanted to teach about space history, and now I have the opportunity. The Air Force Space & Missile Museum at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) uses volunteers to teach tourists about the early days of the American space program. We operate out of the blockhouse where the U.S. launched its first satellite, Explorer 1. A couple hundred yards across the field from us is the complex where Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom were launched in 1961, the first Americans into space.

As a tourist, I came here many times, but now access is restricted due to post-9/11 security. Most of our traffic comes from bus tours out of the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Visitor Complex. We walk them through the blockhouse, which still has much of its original equipment from 1957, and an adjacent exhibit hall, and in 45 minutes try to explain the entire history of U.S. military and civilian space flight. It can’t be done, but we’re given the flexibility to discuss what we want, and everyone has a different niche. I talk more about history, while some of the old-timers who actually worked here at CCAFS reminisce about their personal experiences.

As with the other volunteer efforts, this one pays nothing too. We do, however, get “perks.” We have a badge that lets go anywhere at CCAFS and KSC we want, so long as it’s unrestricted. Last week I drove up the long road along the beach that passes all the historic launch pads from the 1960s, then past active pads used by Atlas, Delta and SpaceX. I knew this road eventually comes to Pad 39A, where the Space Shuttle is launched. Could I really go through?

I came around a corner and there it was, the Shuttle stack on the pad, about a mile away. A red stop flight was flashing, and a lone security guard stepped out of his shack. I explained I was just out exploring, and had been told we can go through when no Shuttle is on the pad. He said that’s true!

So I turned around and went to check out SpaceX at Pad 40. SpaceX hopes to be the first company to offer strictly commercial rockets, selling flights on Falcon 9 to government and private customers. Their second test flight is scheduled for December 7. I drove into the parking lot which is about 100 yards from the pad.

Hopefully you’re starting to understand why we space geeks moved here!

I’m still looking for a paying job, but they’re hard to find in the Space Coast. The unemployment rate is about 13%, and with the Shuttle being retired in 2011 thousands more are scheduled for layoff. I was offered one job with Brevard County and accepted, but they had to cancel because the position was eliminated due to budget cuts. I interviewed for a job with a small contractor at KSC, then was called and told there’s a holdup on funding and they’d call if/when that comes through.

Meanwhile, there’s lots of play time! So long as I don’t expect to be paid.

When the paying job finally comes, I know it will affect my ability to not just continue the volunteer work but also FutureAngels.com. Being almost 3,000 miles away from Anaheim, it’s a lot harder to stay on top of things, especially with no Angels minor league affiliate nearby. If money permits, I’d like to visit Arkansas in 2011 and maybe catch Salt Lake on the road somewhere in the Midwest.

But as much as I love my Angels family, space is calling. We’ll see what happens once I answer.

FutureAngels.com 2010 Top 10 Angels Prospects


Everyone loves Mike Trout, who ranked #1 on the FutureAngels.com 2010 Top 10 Prospects Report.

 

The FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects Report is now online. Click here to read the report.

The Top 10 are:

1. Mike Trout OF (no surprise)
2. Hank Conger C
3. Jean Segura 2B
4. Garrett Richards RHP
5. Randal Grichuk OF
6. Mark Trumbo 1B-OF
7. Fabio Martinez RHP
8. Alexi Amarista 2B
9. Trevor Reckling LHP
10. Jeremy Moore OF

I’m sure there will be a lot of debate about who’s NOT on the list, starting with Tyler Chatwood who was named the Angels’ minor league pitcher of the year.

Chatwood is probably #11. I debated in my mind back and forth about Chatwood versus Reckling. Two factors weighed in Reckling’s favor. One is that, if you read his review, Reckling’s problem is command of his fastball. Chatwood has a killer 12-6 curve, but still can’t consistently throw it where he wants. It seems to me it’s easier to solve the fastball problem than the curve problem. The second factor is that, after they traded Joe Saunders, Tyler Skaggs, Pat Corbin and Will Smith, the Angels are desperately thin on left-handed starting pitcher prospects. Reckling has more value in terms of organizational depth than Chatwood, but that’s not meant as an insult at all, just a reflection of their lack of LHP prospects.

Chatwood’s strikeout rate dropped from 7.7 per 9 IP at Rancho to just 4.7 with Arkansas. Reckling’s rate wasn’t all that great either, but he was asked to pitch at a much higher level. Both are very young pitchers and, as I said, a reasonable argument could be made for either one to make the Top 10.

No relievers made the Top 10 list, although the Angels have many relief prospects — Jordan Walden, Michael Kohn, Ysmael Carmona, Steven Geltz and more. As I discussed in the article, my thinking has evolved on relievers. They work a relatively small part of a game, so in my mind it’s hard to say a guy who throws one or two innings is more valuable than one who throws five to seven, or a position player who’s in the lineup regularly. If we had an absolute killer closer on the cusp, I’d certainly give him serious thought, but this year I couldn’t justify in my mind one over any of the others.

I really wanted to find a place for Luis “Lucho” Jimenez, who I think is a great hitting prospect, but again who would I drop? You may have your own choices; as always, it’s a matter of opinion. And I’m sure there are many more for whom an argument could be made.

Anyway, enjoy reading the report and posting your comments. This is the tenth year I’ve written a Top 10 report; click here for the index.

Whither B.J. Weed


B.J. Weed with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in 2005.

 

His was a name not easily forgotten.

Someone on the Angels fan message board recently asked me the whereabouts of B.J. Weed, a utility infielder in the Angels’ minor leagues in the mid-2000s.

Weed was released during his 2005 season with Rancho Cucamonga. He went on to play in independent ball through 2008, never playing above Advanced Class-A.

A quick Google search revealed that B.J. has capitalized on his unusual name.

Click here to check out BJWeed.com, a web site where he’s selling T-shirts that bear his unusual name.

On the home page, it states:

Who is BJ Weed?

You may be thinking to yourself, “Where did this name come from and is this a real name?” This name is actually real. After being abused and recognized for having such a standout name, I decided to start a clothing company based upon my name. I was born and raised in New York and have traveled ever since due to a minor league career in baseball. Since my career has ended, I have decided to travel down a different road and into the business world. So check out the various items and styles throughout the site and grab yourself a quality product with a unique design.

The site has T-shirts for both men and women.

It’s a living.

Click here to watch a video of Weed hitting a triple with Rancho Cucamonga in 2004.

More Instructional League Photos

I spent five days earlier this month at the Angels’ fall instructional league, October 11-15. You’ll find photos from the first four days earlier in this blog.

Due to time and travel constraints, I was unable to post photos from the October 15 game, so some of those are below.

As mentioned on October 25, my computer crashed on October 23, and then my hosting service lost all the FutureAngels.com Video Gallery files. That’s been restored, so we can secure from Red Alert and start posting more photos and video from fall ball.


Fabio Martinez was the starting pitcher.

 


Pitching coach Trevor Wilson visits the mound in the first inning after a rough start by Martinez. Catcher Carlos Ramirez is to the right.

 


A throw to the plate is too late for Ramirez to block the Cubs’ base runner from scoring.

 


Abe Flores, the Director of Player Development, watches quietly from the far end of the Angels dugout.

 


Second baseman Wes Hatton snags a pop-up.

 


Ramirez directs the infield defense.

 


Andrew Heid leads off in the bottom of the first.

 


Matt Oye wasn’t scheduled to pitch until the fifth inning, but Martinez’s struggles forced him into the game in the second inning.

 


First baseman Kole Calhoun takes a pickoff throw from Oye.

 


Aaron Meade was the fourth Angels pitcher.

 

Former Angels Minor League Coaches in the Majors


Tim Wallach managed the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in 2001.

 

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported on October 25 that Dodgers’ Triple-A manager Tim Wallach had been eliminated as a candidate to manage the Milwaukee Brewers.

Wallach began his managing career with the Angels. In 2001, he ran the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in their first season as an Angels affiliate. The Quakes finished 63-77 with a roster largely devoid of talent. Wallach was very frustrated with the players’ inability to grasp what he was teaching, although I think it was more that he couldn’t accept they didn’t have the talent to execute what he wanted.

I remember Wallach being tossed from a game, then sitting up the runway in a folding chair. The camera well is at the bottom of the runway where it connects to the dugout. I was in the well shooting photography; Wallach would call down to me when he wanted to relay a message to the bench.

On another occasion, Wallach made a pitching change and while the pitcher warmed up the umpire approached Tim and gestured in my direction. Whatever it was, it was quite the animated discussion. What had I done?! Tim approached me and said:

“The umpire wants to know if you’ll take pictures of him.”

Only in the minors …

Doug Sisson, another former Angels minor league manager, recently landed the first base coaching job with the Kansas City Royals. He managed the Arkansas Travelers in 2002, finishing with a 51-89 record. That would have been largely the talent pool Wallach had in 2001.

Former Yankee Bobby Meacham managed the Quakes in 2002-2004. He began a major league coaching career in 2006, when he was the third base coach for the Florida Marlins. He was the Padres’ first base coach in 2007, then the Yankees’ third base coach in 2008. This year, he was the first base coach for the Astros.

And although he never coached in our system, the Nationals’ general manager Mike Rizzo played in the Angels’ minors from 1982 through 1984. (The 1984 Redwood Pioneers were Tom Kotchman’s first Angels team.) Rizzo just added the title Vice-President of Baseball Operations to his business card, giving him the authority to report directly to ownership.

This ‘N That

Happy Birthday, John Lackey.

It’s easy to remember because we share the same date, October 23. (Different years, of course.)

Lackey made a World Series start against the Giants on his birthday back in 2002.

I dread the approach of my birthday. Not because of age. It’s because of the Curse.

Things inevitably go bad — disastrously bad — around my birthday.

As a child, I broke a collarbone playing schoolyard football.

In my young adulthood, I was dumped by a girlfriend on my birthday.

Four years ago, I was given a layoff notice on my 50th birthday.

Two years ago, I lost my next job on my 52nd birthday.

What was it this year?

For openers, my two-year old piece-of-$#@! HP computer died. It had been crashing a lot in recent weeks. I tried every trick I know to nurse it back to health. But it finally gave up on October 23. Figures.

So off we went to Best Buy to purchase a new PC — an Asus CG1330-07, for those who are curious.

In Southern California, Best Buys were almost as ubiquitous as Starbucks or In ‘N Outs. Here in the Space Coast region of Florida, though, the only Best Buy is in Melbourne, 40 miles from home here in north Merritt Island.

So my birthday weekend was spent restoring my cyber world.

But the Curse wasn’t done.

My hosting service’s media server wouldn’t allow me to upload video files. I called yesterday and was told by the agent just to disable my account and then enable it again.

“Will that delete all my files?” I asked.

“No, they’ll be fine,” he said.

Well, you can guess the result.

Not only did his suggestion fail to solve the problem, but eight years of media files went poof.

I called back and spoke to a supervisor, who assured me the files would be restored in less than an hour. Sixteen hours later, they’re still missing in action. I called this morning and was told, “They’re working on a problem with our media server.” But they assured me they can see the backups of my media files, so they’ll be restored when they fix their little problem.

Sigh.

Anyway …

Those of you who are long-time readers of this blog know my wife and I moved here in June 2009, near Kennedy Space Center. I started another blog called SpaceKSC.com that covers history and current events at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), the neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), and other space geek stuff.

I’ve filmed a number of launches in the sixteen months we’ve been here, and consolidated those links into one post on that blog. Click here to see the list of space launch video links. These are on a different media server, so they actually work.

I recently volunteered for docent training at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Museum at CCAFS. This museum is to the space program what Kitty Hawk is to air flight. It was at this location that the United States launched its earliest satellite and manned missions.

You do this sort of thing when you’re separated from Angels baseball by 2,500 miles.

Photos from Arizona Fall League


Angels with the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League. Left to right: trainer Brian Reinker, outfielder Jeremy Moore, pitcher Eddie McKiernan, shortstop Andrew Romine, pitcher Ryan Brasier, pitcher Robert Fish, pitcher Steven Geltz, and infielder Brandon Wood. Photo courtesy Cheryl Perdew.

 

While I was covering the Angels’ fall instructional league, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes booster club member Cheryl Perdew was at the Arizona Fall League covering the Angels assigned to the Mesa Solar Sox.

Below are more photos courtesy of Cheryl.


Pitcher Ryan Brasier.

 


Pitcher Robert Fish.

 


Pitcher Steven Geltz.

 


Shortstop Andrew Romine.

 


Infielder Brandon Wood.

 

Notes from Tempe, Day 5

This will have to be a quick entry as I have an early flight.

Al Michaels famously posed the question, “Do you believe in miracles?”

It doesn’t quite rank with the U.S. Olympic hockey team beating the Soviet Union in 1980, but as things go today’s six-run rally by the Angels in the bottom of the 9th to beat the Cubs 9-8 was a rather significant achievement.

The Angels’ starting lineup:

1. Andrew Heid RF
2. P.J. Phillips DH
3. Travis Witherspoon CF
4. Gabe Jacobo LF
5. Jean Segura SS
6. Kole Calhoun 1B
7. Jeremy Cruz 3B
8. Carlos Ramirez C
9. Wes Hatton 2B
P. Fabio Martinez

Martinez was followed by Matt Oye, Loek Van Mil, Aaron Meade and Kevin Johnson.

There was little reason to believe the Angels would win. Martinez gave up three runs in the first, and going into the bottom of the 7th the Angels were down 8-2. They scratched out a run to cut the deficit to five runs, but going into the bottom of the 9th it seemed that this meaningless instructional league game would quickly end.

And then … a miracle happened.

Click here to watch the 9th inning rally. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.

As you watch, here are the players and what happened in sequence:

1. Travis Witherspoon leads off with a triple.
2. Gabe Jacobo (who homered earlier in the game) reaches on an infield single. Witherspoon holds at 3rd.
3. Wendell Soto singles. Witherspoon scores. Jacobo advances to 3rd. Soto advances to 2nd on the throw.
4. Eric Oliver singles. Jacobo scores. Soto advances to 3rd. Oliver advances to 2nd and Soto scores on a wild throw.
5. Kaleb Cowart singles. Oliver advances to 2nd.
6. Roberto Lopez doubles. Oliver and Cowart score.
7. Wes Hatton singles. Lopez advances to 3rd.
8. Andrew Heid lines out to right. Lopez scores.

Let’s not overlook the second-inning homer by Gabe Jacobo. Click here to watch.

I head home in the morning with lots of photos and video to process. I got some photos of everyone who played in the last five games, and video of every pitcher. It will take a while to get it all online, so monitor the FutureAngels.com home page for updates.

Notes from Tempe, Day 4


Kaleb Cowart, the Angels’ first pick in the June 2010 draft, legs out a double in today’s game against the Chicago Cubs.

 

It may have been the most pressure-packed at-bat of Taylor Lindsey’s young career, but you’ll never find it in a box score.

Taylor was part of a group taking batting practice this morning at Tempe Diablo. Tom Gregorio, the roving catching instructor, was throwing BP. Tom told Taylor that if he hit a home run, he could have an extra round of hitting.

Taylor pulled a pitch down the right-field line, where it cleared the fence at 367 feet just fair of the foul pole.

And he got his extra at-bat.

With a road game at the Chicago Cubs’ complex in Mesa, and only three games left on the instructional league schedule, there’s a sense the end is near. Some players will remain in Phoenix during the winter, while the rest will scatter about the globe. Latin players will return to the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, where they may play winter ball and make some more money.

The Cubs’ parent club plays at Hohokam Stadium up the road, but the minor league complex is at Fitch Park. The Cubs have threatened to leave town if they don’t get a new stadium and complex, so the City of Mesa has Proposition 420 on the ballot. The supporters have the KeepTheCubs.com web site, while opponents have the VoteNo420.com web site.

The Fitch Park field is “intimate.” I doubt it’s more than 20 feet from home plate to the backstop. There’s very little foul territory. It’s 350 feet down the foul lines, and 400 feet to center. That might seem rather ample, but in Phoenix the ball travels far due to the heat and low humidity. At Tempe Diablo’s minor league field, it’s 367 feet down the lines and 420 feet to center.

The Angels’ starting lineup:

1. Andrew Heid CF
2. P.J. Phillips DH
3. Travis Witherspoon RF
4. Eric Oliver 1B
5. Kaleb Cowart 3B
6. Jose Jimenez C
7. Roberto Lopez LF
8. Wes Hatton 2B
9. Wendell Soto SS
P. Justin La Tempa

La Tempa was followed by Orangel Arenas, Tyler Kehrer and Johnny Hellweg.

Rules in the instructional league are informal, so many teams employ ten-man lineups with two designated hitters. All four teams we’ve faced while I’ve been here have used 10-man lineups, but the Angels have gone with the conventional nine-man lineup.

The Angels did take a little dramatic license in today’s game. P.J. Phillips, who missed 2010 due to shoulder surgery, was in the lineup as designated hitter. When P.J. reached base, he was replaced by a designated runner, but remained the DH throughout the game.

The lead went back and forth, and in the end the Cubs won 8-7.

Tomorrow the Cubs visit Tempe Diablo.

Below are photos from today’s game.


Justin La Tempa was the Angels’ starting pitcher.

 


Travis Witherspoon makes a throw from right field.

 


Wendell Soto turns a double play …

 


… and steals second base.

 


Eric Oliver, who lives in Irvine, records an out at first.

 


Orangel Arenas was the Angels’ second pitcher.

 


Tyler Kehrer was the Angels’ third pitcher.

 


Johnny Hellweg was the Angels’ fourth pitcher.

 

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