My family and I got up before dawn on Saturday morning, and prepared to make the over 350-mile trip to Tempe, AZ.
We packed all of the essentials: my Rally Monkey, Angels t-shirts and jerseys, hats, sharpie pens, brand new Angels baseballs just waiting for autographs, smiles and anticipation.
There’s something about taking to the open road at sunrise, with few others around. A clean slate in front of you, full of promise. Much like the beginning of a new baseball season.
This was our second trip to Angels Spring Training. Our rookie visit last March was amazing and would be hard to top. But this trip did not disappoint, and in many ways, even though it was shorter, provided a lot more unique experiences and memories, both for my family and for me.
That night, we met up with the group from the fan website AngelsWin.com for their annual FanFest dinner. What started out several years ago as some fellow Halo fans getting together in a sports bar in Tempe to talk Angels baseball, has now turned into a full banquet dinner. With a check-in table. And entrance wristbands. And table linens. So fancy!
But beyond the fanciness and the over 200 people in attendance was the fantastic program, which included “Mr. Angel” himself, Tim Salmon, Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto, and members of the media such as Joe McDonnell from FoxSportsWest.com, Jeff Fletcher from The Orange County Register, Alden Gonzalez from MLB.com and Angels television play-by-play announcer Victor Rojas.
Tim Salmon was up first, answering questions from AngelsWin.com Founder and Executive Director, Chuck Richter, and then from the fans themselves. He was thoughtful and intentional with all of his responses, speaking of perseverance, and reminding me that even post-career, he is good for the game and good for the Angels.
The media roundtable discussion gave us all a glimpse into what it’s like to cover a professional sports team. The guys were candid and honest, speaking not only about the obvious unique opportunity they each have, but the challenges that come with covering this team full time. And they all agreed, that “on paper”, the Angels are the team to beat in the West.
While my kids munched on chicken strips and French fries and I inhaled the chocolate cake dessert, Angels GM Jerry Dipoto stood at the microphone, answering questions from AngelsWin.com Director of Social Media, Geoff Stoddart, and again from the fans in attendance. Jerry, just like Angels owner Arte Moreno, wants to win. He’s smart, articulate and loves the game of baseball. He absolutely believes in this team that he and his staff have put out on the field and knows that for every Josh Hamilton or Albert Pujols, there will be someone you least expect who steps up at just the right moment to create an opportunity.
All of this awesomeness, and we had yet to even get to the ballpark.
Sunday morning, my family, along with many others from the previous night’s dinner, headed out early to Tempe Diablo Stadium and sat in the warm sunshine across from Angels Vice President of Communications, Tim Mead, as he conducted his yearly “dugout chat”.
He too, just like the rest of the speakers, was honest and insightful with his answers to the fans’ questions. He spoke of everything from “dynamic ticket pricing” (it’s the future direction for all sports ticketing) to the relationship between Jerry Dipoto and Angels Manager, Mike Scioscia (“solid”). He even shared about his own journey into this career, and how after 34 seasons with the Angels organization, working for this team never gets old.
But most of all, his words served as a great warm-up for the new baseball season that is upon us. With Opening Day just a couple of weeks away, there was no better way to get in the “Angels baseball frame of mind” than to sit together with fans of this team and get excited about the 2013 season.
Just as Tim wrapped up, the players slowly came out for batting practice. We took our girls to the corner of the fence where the players take the field and they waited patiently, baseballs and sharpies in hand, hoping one of the many familiar faces on this team would come and say hello.
And they did. Our girls got autographs from Peter Bourjos, Mike Scioscia, Albert Pujols and even former Angels closer, Troy Percival, in addition to about 15 other names. My husband and I stood behind them, frantically taking photos and video. I’m not sure who was more excited.
And then we watched the game from behind the Angels dugout, as the Angels defeated the San Diego Padres, 7-4. Even though the game doesn’t count, it still felt good to get a Halo victory.
We headed to our car and back to Orange County, sun soaked, tired, but happy. Our short stay was as fantastic as it could have been. And our girls are still insisting that we make this an annual trip, even if it’s for less than 48 hours.
As we drove home, I got to thinking about how the anticipation of this season among the fans is different than last year. Spring of 2012 was off the charts with excitement and hype. The arrival of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson were like the best Christmas presents Angels fans could have ever hoped for. That team was going to win it all, right?
And then the season that never was supposed to happen, happened.
This year, I sense a more quiet confidence in the fans. Even with the addition of Josh Hamilton and the emergence of Mike Trout, the expectations are more subdued, but not any less resolved. The fans know this team can win. And I think maybe the players themselves have a better handle on how to be the “frontrunner”. A strong start out of the gate would sure be the way to go this time around.
Thank you again, AngelsWin.com, and all of the speakers who participated, for such a wonderful FanFest event. My family and I created some great Angels Spring Training memories that we won’t soon forget.
Can’t wait for that first pitch!
Be sure to check out the best Angels fan website around at AngelsWin.com