Friday, March 04, 2005

Reflections on the First Game of Spring

What a tremendous day for baseball yesterday was. Unfortunately I dropped my car off to get serviced and left my digital camera in it so no pictures this time but I will try to give a flavor of the game and stadium in this post with more detail on the players performance later on. Our seats were excellent, third row behind home place (section 9 for those of you familiar with Tempe Diablo). Angel GM Bill Stoneman was seated in his customary spot, front row directly behind the home plate umpire (about six people away from us) and seemed to be enjoying the game intently. A number of people around me toyed with the idea of asking him about the Jared Weaver negotiations (or lack thereof) but apparently not enough beer was consumed or the overwhelming need to remain in the ballpark simply won out. Ergo, Stoneman and his trademark hat were left to enjoy the game in peace.

Having visited the ballpark on a "drive by" a couple of weeks ago I noticed that some new signage had been added since then. Due to Tempe Diablo Stadium’s (TDS) scheduled $20 million renovation at the end of Spring Training, all of the new signs were temporary. They looked to be canvas draped over the old signs. It sounds bad but they really did not look too shabby. I will get some pics for the blog when I return for the Cubs game on the 13th (if not sooner). The old signs said something along the lines of "Tempe Diablo Stadium - Spring Home of the Anaheim Angels". The new signs simply say "Angel Spring Training". The "Angels" name is far more prominent than it was in years past and I suspect that the team's ability to market itself this way was part of the new accord reached with the city of Tempe. Along several Tempe streets around the stadium the street lights have pole-signs with the trademark Angels "A" logo and "Angels Spring Training 2005" written below. It gives the area a very festive atmosphere and is similar to what they have done in the past. However, many times the previous signs featured pictures of Angel players but not this year. The marketing of the team as “Angels” with no player or city affiliation is apparent and striking. I suspect the Angels will utilize their stars to advertise their brand but they are clearly making an effort to showcase themselves as “Angels” first.

On the drive in to the stadium ESPN Radio's Dan Patrick was broadcasting live from the game and interviewed new center fielder Steve Finley who confirmed that it was the first day a team could test for steroids. At that point Finley had not been tested and did not know if he would be tested. I’m sure many people across the country were waiting with baited breath to find out if Fin was on the juice but he wasn’t talking. Speaking of juice, Patrick informed us that Barry Bonds likely did not even bother to make the long trek (about six miles) from Scottsdale to Tempe as he is still “rehabbing”. Of course, a cynic could argue that a guy who is not there can not be tested. I don’t suppose Barry Bonds’ first steroid test of the year would draw a reporter or two. Patrick further informs us that Pedro Gomez, a well respected former columnists for the Arizona Republic and current reporter for ESPN, has been given the assignment to follow Barry Bonds from now until the end of his season. It is the first time ESPN has put a reporter on a single personality. I wonder how long it will take before Pedro starts feeling the urge to slit his wrists from this mind-numbing excursion that is “all Barry all the time”? From the parking lot I could see the ESPN broadcast booth positioned in the right field bleachers.

The stadium had a very good crowd. Back in 2001 I remember walking up to the gate without a ticket and being able to sit right behind third base. Walk-ups today were probably relegated to the far ends of the bleachers or the left field lawn. Though one jerk sitting behind me was loudly telling someone on his cell phone that he walked up in the bottom of the 1st and they GAVE him fourth row seats behind home. That sucks if true. Kinda like finding out the guy in the seat next to you on a plane bought his ticket for a third the cost of yours.

The local CBS news weatherman wandered by and asked if he could ask me a few questions. Apparently he was lured to me by the large plate of nachos resting on my lap as he told me not to put it down. They mic'ed be up and he asked my opinion on the team staying in Tempe (love it), the name change (hey, they're the same Angels no matter what they call themselves), nachos (c’mon buddy, this isn't the Giants ballpark - I'm not eating a tofu burger at my first ballgame of the year) and my prediction for this year (Angels, but as my lovely bride then pointed out - "of course, we say that every year." True, true). So later that evening I reviewed my Tivo recording of the news and found that the only thing they showed of my interview was me shoveling nachos in my mouth as part of a montage of fans at the game! Bastards! This is Rather-Gate all over again! But CBS avoided my potential boycott (though when I think about it I’m already unwittingly boycotting CBS other than CSI -- Do they have a show WITHOUT CSI in the title? With Rather gone maybe they can make it the "CSI Evening News with David Caruso) by including my comments about the team staying in Tempe during the 5:30 broadcast.

We also had a little time to peruse the new swag at the team store (or as it is curiously known at TDS, the "Novelties" shop). A new cap is available with an old logo. The small "a" with a tilted halo over it. Kind of a 'chick' hat in my opinion but it might be nice for my daughters. The new Spring Training shirts are slick, I bought two. Other than that it is pretty much the same merchandise as last year. There is also the conspicuous absence of "Rally Monkey" paraphernalia. Thankfully that fad seems to finally be fading a bit. One senior citizen at the game had a horrible giant Rally Monkey on his shirt that was given three dimensional qualities thanks to his prodigious belly. I can only describe this as unnerving.

After further enriching Arte Moreno we headed back to our seats and waited for John Lackey to deliver the first pitch of the year.

**** Analysis on the game and how each player looked in their 2005 debut later today.

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