September 21, 2010

Major League Dreams on a Minor League Field

When our heads hit our pillows last night it was nearly 1:00 a.m. Cheryl and I had traveled nearly 120 miles round trip to see a minor league baseball game even though a perfectly good major league game was taking place just down the road.

You see Cheryl and I have become accustomed to winning and our expectation is to see post season baseball every fall. So off we went to Rancho Cucamonga to see the fifth and final game of the California League Championship between the Quakes and the San Jose Giants.

I don’t know about anyone else, but every time we go to a stadium we go knowing we might see something we’ve never seen before and might not ever see again. The anticipation of what might happen fuels or adventures.

Unfortunately, there weren’t any magical moments last night and the Quakes failed to win the game, but as I sit here on the train headed off to work early Tuesday morning; dead dog tired, I can honestly say I don’t have any regrets and would gladly do it again. So would Cheryl.

Even though we only made it to three Quakes games this year, we came away last night with a sense of disappointment; the kind of disappointment one experiences when they’re totally invested in something that doesn’t work out. We didn’t know a lot of the players names prior to going and even now I can only remember a few; however, the affinity we have for the team is real because they’re part of the Angels family. Most of the players we saw will never set foot in a major league ball park. For many of them, Rancho Cucamonga will be the last stop in their quest for a career in baseball.

I’m sure that for some last night was the biggest game of their lives and even though they should be proud of getting to the championship, the memory of not winning it all will likely stay with them forever.

The Quakes had their chances last night, but as is the case with just about every minor league game I’ve ever seen (not that I’ve been to that many), there’s a reason they call it “minor.” The play on the field is every bit that at times. Even the umpiring is suspect at times.

Last night the umpires had to meet after controversial plays on three occasions to discuss what had happened. In all three cases, they changed the call. Imagine that happening at the major league level. That doesn’t even include the obvious calls they missed and didn’t discuss.

The strike zone was a mystery and you had to wonder if the umpires were actually watching the same game at times. Their poor performance definitely factored against the Quakes, but it wasn’t the sole reason they fell short of a title.

Despite it all, it was baseball; good old fashioned baseball. It’s a shame that only 2,099 people managed to attend a championship game. I don’t understand why more people don’t make the effort to get to Rancho Cucamonga or any minor league park for that matter to take in some baseball.

Yes, you will see more passed balls, wild pitches, errors and routine plays that aren’t so routine than you ever will at the major league level, but you will also see players who are truly headed in the direction of a promising career and play that can be outstanding at times.

The most expensive ticket I could have purchased last night would have been $12, but even our $8 seats were fantastic. When we were there Saturday, we bought tickets that were just two rows from the field and directly across from third base. It was actually too close for us and we ended up moving up to higher seats for better photo opportunities, where there was no screen to protect us or mess with the auto focus on our camera.

The atmosphere is unlike anything you will ever experience. It’s fun, it’s interactive, it’s kid friendly and you are guaranteed to laugh and smile all game long. The mascots (Tremor and After Shock), the cheer leader (Crazy J) and even the music they play during the game make the experience memorable.

And then there’s the players... Cheryl and I know that we saw someone special in Mike Trout. His play stands out and even though it’s a long way from Single A to the major leagues, it appears (at least to us) that he’s on his way.

Last night he had two hits, was walked intentionally, got hit by a pitch, stole a base and scored 2 runs. He wasn’t quite as dynamic as he was Saturday night, but he was fun to watch just the same. He’s the kind of player who would do anything to win a game. Mike Scioscia is going to love having him on his roster one day.

When the Giants recorded the final out and began to celebrate on the field, Trout was stranded at third base. He represented the tying run in the bottom of the 10th inning. He had just been hit by a pitch, stole second base and then advanced to third on the throwing error. He was 90 feet away from tying the game and keeping hope alive.

As the Giants celebrated, Trout watched. We heard a lady in the stands imploring him not to look. I don’t know what she was thinking, but in my mind I’m glad he soaked it all in. I have a feeling the image of the Giants celebrating on his field will be etched in his mind and serve as motivation for him. I want him to remember last night and I hope he has a fire in his belly to not only get to the major leagues, but more importantly to be a champion.

Cheryl and I love baseball, but we love championship baseball even more. We look forward to the day when we can watch Mike Trout in October; in Anaheim on the biggest stage in the world. If and when he has a chance to raise a World Series trophy above his head, Cheryl and I will remember last night and cheer with pride, knowing Mike Trout learned something about winning on a Monday night in 2010. We will know that last night served as motivation for something bigger and even though we don’t know Trout on a personal level, we will have shared the experience with him in our own way. We will also know that the sleep we lost will have been worth it.

See you in Anaheim Mike Trout; see you real soon.

(This post can also be found on True Grich. Please note that won't always be the case, just when it's appropriate)

September 17, 2010


As best as I can remember, the first baseball game I ever attended was sometime in 1968. I say as “best as I can remember” because I really don’t know the exact date. I hate that I can pinpoint the date, but that’s life. All I know is that it was at the “Big A” in Anaheim.

That year my connection to the Angels as a fan was established forever. I became familiar with names like Jim Fregosi, Rick Reichardt and Aurelio Rodriguez. The memories of those early years are etched in stone.

However, it wasn’t until 1971 that baseball really captured my attention and imagination. It all started on a weekend afternoon when I tuned into the “game of the week” and saw a team who hit the lights out of the baseball. I was watching the Pittsburgh Pirates play and this was when I got my first look at Roberto Clemente and Wilbur (Willie Stargell). I’ll never forget seeing six guys on their team with batting averages above .300 at the time (at least that’s how I remember it).

I became an instant fan. Although I never waivered from my Angels, this Pirate team played a huge role in my development as a fan. My knowledge of baseball began to expand as I began to pay attention to a team not named the Angels for the first time.

I remember standing in my garage with a bat, pretending to be Willie Stargell. I began to mimic his warm up swings. Stargell made huge looping circles with his bat while in the batter’s box. If I remember correctly, he would whip the bat around 8 times before digging in.

In my eyes, Stargell was larger than life. He hit monster homeruns of the tape measure variety and I loved to watch him play.

However, it was Roberto Clemente who truly captured my heart and it’s because of him that I became a closet Pirates fan for many years. Clemente always looked like he was in pain when he was on the field, but it never slowed him down a bit. He was already in his late 30’s by this time and I regret that I never saw him in his prime. Never-the-less, he still had enough game to make me understand I was seeing one of the all-time greats.

I loved to watch him run the bases and that arm of his was something to behold. I marveled at the throws he could make from right field. He threw line drives from deep in the corner all the way to home plate. They were laser like and I wanted to play just like him.

1971 also happened to be the first year the World Series would be played at night; giving kids like myself a chance to watch games after school on television for the first time. I’ll never forget that series as long as I live and even though 2002 will always be the most special World Series for me, 1971 will rank as the most significant.

That year the Baltimore Orioles were the odds on favorites against the Pirates. They boasted four 20 game winners in Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson. Cueller was the only starter with an ERA above 3.00 at 3.08. They had future Hall of Famers like Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Palmer and manager Earl Weaver.

The Pirates had one 19 game winner named Doc Ellis and a 15 game winner named Steve Blass who would become one of my favorites. Most people gave them virtually no chance. After all, even then the old adage was “good pitching beats good hitting.” Every time I hear that saying today, I think of 1971.

I remember watching as much of that World Series as I could with my mother and father. It was definitely a family affair. My parents also cheered for the Pirates and I suppose it was simply because I did. I remember telling them everything I knew about each and every player.

I watched the games sitting on the floor. We had a wall furnace that had just enough space between it and the end of the wall, where I would sit with my back against the wall. It was my lucky seat and I sat there every game with my eyes glued to the TV. My dog would lie next to me and run every time I started cheering.

Those were good times.

My 1971 World Series memories included Steve Blass winning two games and Bruce Kison leaving after a game via a helicopter to attend his own wedding. I remember the Bob Robertson homerun where he missed the bunt sign from his third base coach.

I will never forget a “wild man” named Manny Sanguillen who swung at what seemed like every pitch (Vlad Guerrero would remind me of him, years later). It was the first time I ever heard the expression “notorious bad ball hitter.” Sanguillen hit .379 in the series and if it weren’t for Johnny Bench, he might have been considered the best catcher in the game at the time.

Most of all; I remember Roberto Clemente hitting .414 in the Series with two homeruns and a triple and in the process cementing himself as my all-time favorite with his performance.

I also recall Tony Kubek predicting the Pirates would win in seven games (his prediction would be dead on). All the other experts seemed to be picking the Orioles. It made sense; after all, it was their third World Series in as many years and they were the defending champs.

Kubek broadcasted games for NBC for many years, but his prediction was the one thing I remember most about him.

I also remember being what seemed like the only kid in school who was rooting for the Pirates. I had taken a shinning to the under-dogs and I loved every minute of it.

The feelings of anxiety I felt when the Pirates fell behind 2-0 after the first two games is something I can’t forget, along with my stomach being in knots when the Pirates won the 7th game 2-1.

I became so enamored with that team that in 1972 I asked my parents to take me to see them when they visited the Los Angeles Dodgers. It would be my first ever visit to Chavez Ravine.

This is one date I’ve been able to pin down. It was June 9. 1972 and Steve Blass threw a complete game three hitter to improve his record to 7-1; Roberto Clemente had three hits and Stargell added one as well. The Pirates won 5-1 beating Don Sutton and Hoyt Wilhelm. Frank Robinson provided the only homerun. Other players of note in that game included Dodgers Bobby Valentine at 2B, Steve Garvey at 3B (yes 3B), Bill Russell at SS and Bill Buckner at 1B.

Sadly it would be the one and only time I ever saw Clemente play in person. He would die tragically on December 31, 1972 while taking relief supplies to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua.

His death had a profound effect on me in that this too cemented his place as my all-time favorite. I remember the sadness I felt when I realized I would never see him play again. Years later in 1997, I would stand outside Three Rivers Stadium to see his statue. Unfortunately, the Pirates were out of town, but I finally made it to the stadium he played in some 25 years later.

I continued to follow the Pirates for many more years. You might even say that some years I followed them a little closer than my own Angels. I even enjoyed their 1979 World Series; the same year the Angels won their first division title (they would fall to the Baltimore Orioles in the AL championship game).

As painful as that year was for many Angel fans; 1979, was a good year for me, all things considered.

Most of the baseball seasons are somewhat of a blur to me. I couldn’t really tell you who won the World Series in the years prior to and surrounding 1971 and 1979 and up until the late 80’s.

All I know is that in many ways all those other years pale in many ways to 1971.

The journey begins

Welcome to The Baseball Docent. The goal of this blog is to take you on a journey; a guided tour if you will, of all things baseball.

We hope to engage you in a way that will make you laugh (or at least smile), think, and/or be moved to tears. As the late, great college basketball coach Jim Valvano once said, “If you do those three things every day; that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day.”

Baseball has the ability to touch people in a variety of meaningful ways. This blog will attempt to capture the spirit of Valvano’s life lesson through the sharing of stories about baseball. "All things baseball" leaves things pretty wide open, which is just what we want.

It’s an ambitious under-taking for sure. So, please understand that we’ve set the bar high, knowing full well it’s about the journey towards that goal and not necessarily about arriving at it. When appropriate, we might even stray from the topic of baseball; after all, Valvano was a basketball coach.

Hopefully we will find some indelible moments along the way and more importantly - the stories behind those events.

So... who are “we?” I'm James and I write an Angels baseball blog called True Grich (my wife Cheryl also contributes to the blog in numerous ways). Writing True Grich has been a lot of fun; however, I thought it was time to start a second blog dedicated to all things baseball and instead of just my favorite team. Thus The Baseball Docent was born.

My mission is to go beyond my own thoughts and experiences (which you will still get) by engaging others and encouraging them to share their baseball stories with you here on this blog. That's where the "we" really comes into play.

At times The Baseball Docent may do something as simple as direct you to another site where we can continue our tour; again, keeping Valvano's message in mind.

Are you with us? Do you have a story worth sharing? If you do, please see the my contact information on the left and shoot me a note.

Okay, so here we go - let the tour begin...