MONDAY MARCH 14, 2005
Tempe, AZ -- One of the reasons we have always preferred Florida to Arizona for the spring training experience is the more antiseptic, sterile feel of many of the Cactus League parks. So we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at Gene Autry Field at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
Nestled in a slight valley next to two large rock formations was a cozy park where the Angels were hosting the Rangers. On the plus side, Diablo features fan-friendly player access, close bullpens, and a moderately priced gift shop. On the negative side, most of the journalists are California surfer types. I was amused at the press luncheon, however, to watch these bleached-blonde west-coasters trying to eat ribs with a fork and knife. Amateurs.
The Angels have decided to change their name yet again, and have chosen the mouthful “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” as their official designation. We of course find this ridiculous, but take comfort in knowing they’ll probably change it again in another couple of years.
On the way to this game, we made our picks for the annual contest. Perkins, Blue and the Lizard all picked the Angels for this inaugural game, so I decided I would take the Rangers. The Angels had been hot, winning 7 of their last 8, while the Rangers have struggled for victories thus far. They were due.
Imagine the delight of the others when we arrived and I heard the dreaded news that I knew would condemn my pick: “…And pitching for Texas, number 61, Chan Ho Park.” The Lizard laughed out loud, and I knew I was going to start the contest 0-1.
Apparently the Angels were having “first nine people in the ballpark get to be in the starting lineup” day, however, as Park gave up just one hit, a bunt single, in four innings of work, retiring 12 of 13 hitters faced. The Cheshire cat grin on my face was evident as the Rangers carried a 4-1 lead into the eighth.
One player I am interested in following this spring is Richard Hidalgo, the Rangers new right fielder. Word around camp is that Hidalgo is swinging the bat better that he has in several years, and his early performance supports that line of thinking. He leads the team with four homers in just 17 ABs. Unfortunately, he was not in the lineup today.
As to the eventual outcome of the game, I am reminded of the Lizard’s sage wisdom as the savvy veteran on these trips. “Spring games are often decided in the late innings when the kids are in.”
True to form, the Angels youngsters tagged young Rangers pitchers Vlad Nunez and Kameron Lowe and beat the Texas club 10-6. It’s already going bad for me – I really don’t want to have to buy a steak for Dan Wilson again!
After the game, we headed for the hotel and checked in. These accommodations are fine, but do not hold a candle to the Orlando time-share. We had invited “Big Jim” Powell again, hoping to enjoy his humorous countrified wisdom and another year in luxurious lodging, but he has his priorities all out of whack and had chosen a skiing trip next week over spring baseball.
We found a restaurant and were done eating by 6:00, so we went looking for some entertainment. We located an IMAX theater. Perkins said he had never seen an IMAX film, so we went to check it out. A wise choice was made, however, as we declined that evening’s screening – four grown men going to see the “Polar Express” together might be considered a little bit odd…