Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The A's Win! The A's Win!

The A's posted their first win of the season, and they did it in Tokyo.

This time I didn't get up when the game started, which was at 3 am. I got up at 5:30 am, so that I could watch the game before I had to leave at 7:45 am. It was absolutely fantastic!

Rich Harden was dominant, but that's no surprise to us Oaklanders. He has always been dominant when he's healthy. He has so many pitches and he also throws a 95-mph+ fastball to set off his breaking pitches. However, I noticed in spring training and during this game that he isn't throwing all of his pitches. The rumor is that he stopped throwing any that might further injure his shoulder. It didn't seem to matter. The Red Sox only scored 3 runs during the entire game, including a Manny Ramirez homerun.

I'm really beginning to dislike that guy. He was showboating around the bases. He will certainly hear the catcalls when the Red Sox come to Oakland for the home opener next week. I will be there for the 2nd game against them.

Can't wait.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Shame on the Media!

I just watched the one-minute recap of the game by they never ONCE mentioned the name of the A's pitcher! ANY of the A's pitchers! They recounted several Boston Red Sox players, especially the Japanese ones. How absolutely EastCoast favorable!! Oh, and the one player they did name on the A's they mispronounced? Jack HanRAhan???

The entire broadcast was like that. Constantly talking up the Red Sox ("and that's why they're the World Champions!"), mispronouncing A's player names, if they even try to mention them at all. I mostly listened to Ken Korach and Vince Cotroneo, who know how to call a game fairly.

My strategy for tonight's 3 am game: I'm going to wake up at 6 am and watch the DVR'd version. I have to be somewhere at 8 am.

So Many Mistakes in the 1st Game

I should have gone to bed at 5:55 am. The game should have been over. It was 4-3, Oakland, in the bottom of the 9th and Huston Street was pitching. He gave up the game-tying homerun to a virtual unknown. Then he came back in the 10th, and gave up two more runs, this time a double to Manny Ramirez, who had 4 RBIs in the game. Sheesh.

However, he wasn't the only one to blame for this first loss. When they had the bases loaded and Matsuzaka couldn't find the plate, they failed to score. They only scored 2 runs in the first few innings when Matsuzaka's pitch count was in the 80's. Finally he gets his command back and gets 6 strikeouts. Too late for the A's.

After practicing the basics over the last 3 weeks, Travis Buck overplayed a fly ball and made it worse by throwing to home plate, allowing a future run to get to 2nd base. (Buck also was seen laughing when he hit a ball that almost went out -- while he should have been hitting a single or something to advance the runner. And he went 0 for 5.) And newcomer, but veteran, Emil Brown made a baserunning error in the top of the 10th, and got thrown out.

The pitching, overall, was superb for the A's. Blanton. Emery. Foulke. And there wasn't a lot of hitting, but what there was was timely, plus Mark Ellis and Jack Hannahan hit homeruns. We've just got to take care of the little things. I'm mad because we should have won that game. They gave it away.

I went to sleep in the 10th, not waiting to see the finish. It was 6:30 am. Moments later, I was dreaming, and found myself at the game in Japan, riding the bullet train, and wearing a -- gasp! -- Boston Red Sox jersey with an Oakland A's cap. I hate to think what Freud would say about that!

3 AM - The First Baseball Game of the Season!

I'm "broadcasting" this at 3:23 am on Tuesday morning, just after Matsuzaka gave up a homerun to second baseman Mark Ellis. The A's lead the Red Sox 1-0 in the first game of the 2008 baseball season.

Great excitement to be watching this game live in Japan!

Matsuzaka just hit Jack Cust! He is, as Ken Korach just said (I'm listening to radio feed as I watch T.V) "all over the place."

And Tennessean Joe Blanton, starting his first game as the number 1 guy on the Oakland A's staff, threw strikes for his first half inning.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

What I Learned this Year in Spring Training

1. I don’t have to bring every baseball t-shirt I own to Phoenix.

2. If you want an autograph at the ballpark, line up an hour before game time next to that team’s dugout. For instance, if it’s Scottsdale Stadium, you wants Giants' autographs, and the game is at 1:05 pm, line up at noon along the 1st base line. Have ball and pen in hand. And know the player’s name; don’t say, “Hey, you, Number 6!”

3. Fans turn out on Monday afternoons if it’s St Patrick’s Day.

4. Diet food at Phoenix Muni consists of a hot dog and nachos.

5. When in Phoenix during spring training, people still can be seen placing bets on basketball. That typifies the saying “March Madness.”

6. Dominoes are better with margaritas.

7. Every team has hope for the year in spring training. Even the Cubs. Even the Giants.

8. An inch on the map in the desert can mean five different highways and the same number of Dairy Queens.

9. People who live in Phoenix think 75 degrees is downright cold.

10. Be prepared to have adventures on the way to Phoenix, not just in Phoenix. I actually found the most interesting and bloggable things before I even got there, e.g., Chiriaco Summit.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Spring Training, Day 4 Night: Giants Missing a Few Pieces

At a point early in the game tonight, when some player failed to hit a fly ball with no outs, the guy behind me said, "They're not moving the runners over." "They can't bunt either," I added, as Dave Roberts failed to bunt the run over to 2nd.

The Giants played a rare night game tonight, losing to the Cubs 4-2. You get the feeling that just a few pieces are missing. Starting pitching by Kevin Correia wasn't really bad, but at one point he did allow 4 hits in a row. The Giants matched the Cubs run for run, but couldn't put it all together. Actually, what they couldn't do is sacrifice, play small ball. In the first inning, Lou Piniella's team only had one hit but they scored a run. That's how it's done.

Dave Roberts, a good leadoff hitter, had 2 hits. Ray Durham had 2 hits and is hitting over .400 in spring training. And the defense looked pretty darn good. I have to say, though, there were a lot of players I didn't recognize. I don't know who's a roster vs. a non-roster player.

It was a very pleasant night at Scottsdale Stadium. I went two hours early and found that free parking lot right next door. There were only about 10 spots remaining when I parked my car and walked on down to the park. All the seats were in the shade when I arrive and, of course, it was nighttime when the game started at 7 pm. This is the best time of day to see a game when the temperature is in the 80's in Phoenix.

A wonderful day of baseball: two games.

The last scene I witnessed was Scott Eyre taking the mound for the Cubbies. Scott has obviously lost a few pounds this year. He used to pitch for the Giants before he was traded away over a year ago. He looks fit, and still has that funny little wiggle before the windup, where he lets everything hang loose before he lets it fly. I couldn't help remember meeting Scott at Don and Charlie's Restaurant in Scottsdale when Rick and I ate next to him; Scott had dinner with his nephew and his nephew's friend, and then they all ordered sundaes. Scott declared at the time to anybody who would listen: Hey, I'll just run a few more laps. Apparently, Scott kept running.

What a pleasure.

Spring Training, Day 4 Afternoon: Vlad Hits a Grand Salami

We watched Rich Harden today go six strong innings and allow 2 runs in a 6-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Rob Bowen had the only A's hit through six innings, hitting an exciting triple. As we watched the catcher lumber around 2nd base, I truly wondered if he would make it or just run out of breath halfway through. The hit was against the very capable Ervin Santana of the Angels.

After Harden departed, Keith Foulke took over and allowed a grand slam to Vladimir Guerrero, who chased a pitch outside to slam it over the left field wall. Quickly, like zooom. Wow. Man, the Angels sure can hit. What a roster.

You have to wonder if Foulke is ready to pitch again after taking a year off. The A's seem to think so, as he's still on the roster.

But the A's don't care at this point, as they're on a plane tonight for Japan. However, none of us knew just moments before that the Athletics decided to play this game. They were holding out playing, indeed even getting on the plane for Japan, because their coaches weren't going to be paid the same as the players for making the trip to Japan. In concert with the Red Sox, MLB decided to pay the staff $20,000 each (when the players were being paid $40,000 each), and each team agreed to make up the difference. So those decisions were averted, and the A's came out to play.

This was a special game for me, as my old friend and coworker, Melinda, joined me for the game. We hadn't seen each other in 24 years, so we spent a lot of the game talking about where we've been and what we've done. And taking photographs of the players during the game.

It was a super day. 81 on the field, but we happened to be in the shade with our seats, so we enjoyed the game at a leisurely pace, and ate a hot dog and nachos and listened to the margarita-infused crowd. A nice, lazy day in spring training.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Spring Training, Day 3: No Baseball Today

It was our 3rd day here and we had tickets to see the Cubs vs. the KC Royals (yawn), but decided not to go.

Instead, we stayed in the hotel room and worked on plans for the ordination events in L.A. in May. I know that I felt the crunch coming, and I'm highly relieved that all of this is done.

So, as I write this, Sweetie is waiting for a plane to take off at Sky Harbor. I have one more day left of ballgames.

My former coworker, Melinda, will join me tomorrow morning at breakfast here in the hotel, and we'll both go to the first game together tomorrow afternoon, A's vs. Angels at Phoenix Muni. And then, if I feel like it, I will be going by myself to the Giants game (vs. the Cubs) at Scottsdale Stadium at 7 pm.

It should be a hot one tomorrow, the first hot day since we arrived.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Spring Training, Day 2: A's Pitchers Rule

Dana Eveland and Chad Gaudin, the one-two punch today for the Oakland A's, will echo that as the A's fifth and fourth pitchers during the regular season. Today they easily knocked out the KC Royals on a very green St. Patrick's Day.

It took us awhile to get into the park, however. I figured, eh, Kansas City, no one will show up. Wrong! It was St. Patrick's Day, and everybody wanted to come and show the green! It took a good half an hour to get into the parking lot. And when I finally entered the lot, we were shuttled off to a side lot. Once we walked into Phoenix Muni, we went to the hot dog stand (of course!), and waited. The cashier didn't seem to be sympatico with her machine. And they kept running out of change. I saw in front of me several ASU students clutching $20 bills in their hands. Oy vey.

Still, we got down to our seats in the middle of the 2nd -- and we had wonderful seats today in Section 1, right behind home plate -- and found ourselves sandwiched between two large men. We were two large women. I think we held our own. And it was nice and cool today, as opposed to the rising heat over the next two days.

We saw some nicely played A's ball in the first few innings, as the A's players racked up some hits. We finally got to see some regulars: Mark Ellis, Bobby Crosby, Mark Sweeney (who made the squad and is going to Japan), Donnie Murphy (getting more and more play as Chavez's replacement), Kurt Suzuki, and Jack Cust. And Dan Johnson appeared. Dan started the 2nd inning with a double in the part of the game that the cashier stole from us.

The A's lead with a record in the Cactus League of 15-5, having won their last 6 games, tying a spring training record. Pitching is always key for the A's, and neither Eveland nor Gaudin allowed a run through 7 innings.

One great sign for me: Bobby Crosby is playing offense and defense with renewed enthusiasm and confidence. His new short swing seems to be producing great results. It's great to see him come alive after two years of strange injuries and a swing with huge holes in it.

We found out that young Gio Gonzalez, whom we saw give up 6 runs yesterday, was sent down to the minor leagues today. We also heard that Todd Linden, the Giants cast-off that was hitting everything in sight in A's camp, was told that he was not going to Japan, and he was really hot about it. I can't blame him, sitting on a .577 average for the spring; you have to wonder what he has to do. It's impossible to conceive, but the A's actually have TOO much young talent. Wow. If Linden just goes down to AAA (since he's not being sent to Japan, it seems that's his fate), and bides his time, he'll be up soon. He may be burning his bridges.

Baseball is all about talent, and hopes, and being in the right situation at the right time. It's also, as we see, about personalities and frustrations. It's never boring.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Spring Training, Day 1: Let the New Guys Play

We arrived at the park at 12:30 - perfect! -- and there was still ample parking left. We ambled across the bridge to the opening of Phoenix Muni, and were about to walk in, when Evan spotted us. His girlfriend, a real A's fan, was with him as well, and we took pictures with each other before we separated and headed in. Ruth and I went for the dogs -- the hot dogs -- while several greyhounds were gathered around. I have no idea why they were there, but spring training parks have all kinds of events that "normal" parks don't bother trying.

Our seats were perfect (lower box 11), the best I've ever had there. The weather was cloudy and cool. It was great.

We watched Gio Gonzalez pitch. Gio was picked up in the Nick Swisher trade in the off season, and is highly touted. He seemed to have pop, as we could hear the ball land in the glove of catcher Rob Bowen, but his command was lacking. He walked several.

The Baseball Prospect Book (BPB) 2008 rates him as a B+. Comments: "he could use 15 starts in Triple-A before being pushed into major league of the best southpaw prospects in the game." He's 22.

I enjoyed seeing Daric Barton, who had a nice hit today. He seems to have recovered from his injury.

We had a chance to see rookie Brooks Conrad today, at 2nd base. Conrad had a nice hit, but he had two chances for defensive plays, and missed both. One was an error. I've never even heard of this kid, except to see his name in the spring training box scores. He's in the BPB as still with the Astros, so obviously his trade was effected after publication, and after January 2008. He's 27, and spent most of the last 3 years on the Astros' Triple-A team. The BPB says, "He has unusual power for a second baseman, draws walks, can steal a base, and strikes out a lot." Except for that last part, you can see why the A's would want a look at him. Sounds like he's going to the A's AAA team after March.

No real veterans played today. We did see Jack Cust. His first inning up, he had a nice knock and an RBI. We also watched him fan later, however.

We left after an hour of action, unfortunately. We were both tired. It's been a long day.

We missed seeing Todd Linden get a triple in the 8th to win it, and Emil Brown go 3-for-4. It's good to see what Emil looks like -- I'll be surprised if he doesn't make the team -- and see Todd Linden again after I saw him play briefly for the Giants.

The A's ended up winning over the Texas Rangers, 9-7, but only after Greg Smith came in and pitched four innings, giving up only 1 run. Gio Gonzalez was lit up for 6 runs (4 earned) in two innings. Oh, and it was nice seeing Ron ("Wash") Washington and Art Howe over on the sidelines; it's just difficult seeing them in blue.

On the Way to Phoenix

Getting from Oakland to Phoenix took one-and-a-half days. We were really clipping along until we hit L.A. and the Chinese food.

We stopped at some place off the 57, not quite clear of L.A. traffic, and the only food we could find was the Chopstick House in this huge mall in San Dimas. Not bad, and the service was very kitschy (you know, rude in kind of a cool way). We scarfed our fortune cookies and got out on the road again.

Ruth had a lot of energy until the pouring rain and thumbing hailstones gave us hard going on the I-10. We still made pretty good time.

We got into Indio and looked for the Worldmark resort. Couldn't find it. We had to consult three different sets of directions/maps to pin it down. Once we found it, checking in was easy, and the place was very nice. However, it was 9 o'clock, and no restaurants were in sight, so I'm glad we ate Chinese earlier that evening. We were exhausted.

We got up by alarm at 6 am because we knew we had at least four hours in front of us. We had breakfast a little down the road, at a place called Chiriaco Summit. There was a little eatery there, right next to a gas station. It seems that Chiriaco Summit was founded by Joe Chiriaco in 1933. He had come out west in 1927 to see Alabama play Stanford in the Rose Bowl, and ended up staying. He obviously loved the desert, as Chiriaco is nowhere near Pasadena. The same day he opened his general store and gas station along the old road, the new two-lane blacktop to U.S. 60 also opened. He married Ruth, a beautiful nurse from Minnesota, and they faced long days of dispensing gasoline and selling goods, all without air conditioning.

During WWII, General Patton established the Desert Training Center right next door. Patton thought the desert there would suffice as proper training grounds for Africa. Today the museum commemorates that event. However, all we could see was the armored tanks behind the fence. The blacktop was being resurfaced, and we could only imagine what was in the museum, as it was closed.

We pulled into a little town called Quartzsite after that. No, I'm not misspelling it. It had a line of junk shops along the highway, some of which looked terribly temporary. One place advertised that it got its junk from things left behind by airline travelers, like scissors. We dropped some Georges there, hoping someone, sometime would log into Where's George. I guess that's a wild shot, though.

Ruth loved the wildlife along the road. And she would point longingly at Joshua Tree park, just to the left of us. Me, I just kept driving, driving, driving.

We got to Phoenix five hours later and went straight to the ballpark. After all, Ruth is a what's-along-the-journey person; I'm an arrivals person.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Getting Ready for Spring Training

It's almost here.

Well, it's actually here for those who are in Phoenix visiting the various spring training parks every day. But for me, I will leave tomorrow and go to my first game on Sunday afternoon.

Haircut: Got my new spring training haircut. It's 'way too short, but I like's easier to sweat under a cap every day.

Packing: 5 t-shirts with Oakland A's written on them. I almost forgot to pack pants. I thought I was through after I threw the shirts in.

Cameras (two): check.
Camera USB cables to upload photos to computer: check.
Sunscreen: check.
Book on who's coming up in the minor leagues: Check.

This last one is pretty important, as most of the players I'll be watching are newbies. Oh, sure, I'll be cheering on Mark Ellis, Rich Harden, Eric Chavez (if he even gets to play due to his recovery from multiple surgeries), and Joe Blanton, and guys-I-saw-for-the-first-time-last year, like Jack Hannahan, Donnie Murphy, Jack Cust, and Daric Barton.

The A's are currently 3rd in the spring training rankings, as if it's a race. It's not. But I think their talent is showing.

I can't wait.