Sunday, March 26, 2006

Spring Training 2006: The Super Halo & the Ample-Butt Women

It was an early wake-up to catch the flight to Phoenix. And the flight itself was rather miserable. It was pretty much sold out, and although I had an aisle seat, my neighbor was overweight and, once seated, she had no place to put appendages within that narrow America West seat. Luckily (for both of us, I think), I understand her predicament. We managed to overlap territory without much drama.

But the 6 am flight was a good way to go, as I could get in, rent my car at the new central facility, get lost a few times and then finally find the Embassy Suites, all before making my way to the ballpark. The hotel is only a few miles from the airport, but, I swear, it takes me at least half an hour to get to it.

I checked in early and headed out with ample directions to Temple Diablo Stadium. I have no idea why it’s called “Diablo” if it’s the home of the Angels. It’s a nice, small park, but the parking is still limited. I arrived at 11:45 for a 1 pm game, and I was shunted off to the third parking lot behind the outfield.

Tempe Diablo Stadium is the home of the Angels, and holds over 10,000 if you count the 2,500 on the lawn. This day all the seats were filled, but the lawn wasn’t quite. At $8 for my just-off-third-base seat, four rows from the fence, it seemed like a great deal.

By the time the game started, however, the sun had already started to cook the back of my neck. I had put sunscreen on before I left the hotel room, and put some more on in the 3rd inning, but I still felt hot. So I left the seat in the 5th and went to the covered area where the concessions were. “Seat?” Huh. They were marked numbers on a continuous bench. As the woman next to me couldn’t find area for her husband and son between us ample-butt women, she suggested I move to the end of the row. I got kind of stubborn – and how silly this seems now – as I didn’t want to be stuck if people showed up with those tickets. Nobody ever did, but the Boosters area did fill up a bit as that late bus pulled up. So her husband started a baseball conversation with his neighbor, and her son disappeared into the concession stands for several innings. And everything worked out.

It was weird to see Angels superstar Vladimir Guerrero show up, at least half an hour after the other Angels players had started working out. He’s twice as big as an ordinary player. I took several photos of him as he stretched on the sidelines and got ready to play. I saw our new shortstop Antonio Perez come up to talk to Vlad during this routine. When Vladdy made two rare errors in the outfield later on in the game, the 40’s-ish A’s fan next to me hooted and hollered. “How many millions per error is that?” he cackled, continuing to mispronounce “Vlad” as “Vald.” Those superstars are never going to get a break.

The A’s threw Triple A pitcher Danny Meyer out there, who went 5 innings. He looked just fine until the Angels hit back-to-back homeruns against him – one by Vladdy, a shot that cleared the entire stadium. The A’s bats looked pretty solid to me, but a Booster senior that evening remarked that the A’s went 4 innings without a hit and wondered when they were going to wake up. But spring training is a mixed bag, a mixture of veterans who are just loosening up and up-and-comers who are trying to impress, and you’re not going to get perfect games.

One of those up-and-comers is Freddie Bynum, an infielder who seems to be playing the outfield a lot. Freddie went 2 for 6 in today’s game of 10 innings, and stole two bases as well. Much to our delight, Freddie turned up at the Booster Banquet that night, introduced by Robert Buan, one of the A’s announcers. When I asked how he remained so consistent at the plate and what was his approach, he mumbled a bunch of usual rhetoric, but then finally threw in, “And I look for that fastball.” More about Freddie later.

I discovered that the Friday game is the only night game of the season at Phoenix Municipal. It’s preceded by a Booster Club BBQ by the left field at 5 pm. Since parking fills up quickly, it’ll be good to get out there early anyway. But I have no idea what I’m going to do in the afternoon. I had looked at the Giants game in Scottsdale, but it was sold out. I guess I’ll just try to stay cool.

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