I don't care what the calendar says, if teams are playing baseball in Arizona, spring has sprung.
In fact it was more like summer last week when my sister-in-law, Patsy Hadlich, and I made our annual trip to the Cactus League games, with her son, Jeff, the designated driver.
Here are some tips for keeping cool. Tuck a wet paper towel under your cap. Guys can splash water onto their T-shirts; women probably are best to keep the drips in back. Keep hydrated with water. Wear flip-flops or easily-removed shoes and put ice cubes or a bottle of cold water on the concrete beneath your feet.
If the game is the Rangers stadium, don't count on vendors. We didn't see any outside of the stands at the Dodgers-Rangers game on Saturday.
The Hadlichs are Dodger fans. I root for the Angels.
I was a Peter Bourjos fan even before I could pronounce his name. Love his skillset and I couldn't be happier to see him back in center field, from which he was ousted by "Miraculous" Mike Trout last year. A lot is riding on "Speedy Petey's" getting back to his 2011 form when he took over centerfield from Torii Hunter and hit .271, including 12 homers, 11 triples, 26 doubles and batted in 72 runs — not to mention his defense.
In Friday's game against the Mariners, Bourjos got two hits, one of them a home run. Boy, did I cheer, but the Angels lost 4-0.
Trout had the day off. Albert Pujols, taking his time to recover from an off-season operation, and Erick Aybar, who was playing in the World Baseball Classic, were also missing from the lineup. Vernon Wells was in left — what can I say? The man was leading the team in home runs, as of the weekend. Spring is his season.
As for right field — sadly, Hunter is gone. He was the heart and soul of the dugout. I miss his smile, not to mention his batting average hitting between Trout and Pujols last year. From comments attributed to Bourjos and Trout, I think they do to.
I have to admit Josh Hamilton, acquired from the Rangers, has a sweet swing, but I wish the money had been spent to shore up third base, which has been a weak spot for too long. Alberto Callaspo's flashes of brilliance do not a season make — at least not a play-off season.
However, Angel Management obviously does not share my view. Nine of the first pages of the Angels spring training magazine, as well as the cover, featured Hamilton.
2012 was catcher Chris Iannetta's first year under the Halo. He had to learn all of the quirks of the pitching staff, but a lot of them were traded in the off-season. Starters Jered Weaver, C. J. Wilson and relievers Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs and Jerome Williams (could get some spot starts) are the familiar arms.
Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson, Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett are the newcomers. Minor League left-handed reliever Nick Maronde is a probable.
Catcher Hank Conger is hitting a ton, but his defense has kept him in the minors. John Hester has had some innings behind the plate, but on Monday the Angels picked up Chris Snyder, released by Washington that morning. He can opt out if he is not on the roster on Opening Day.
The Angels' top prospect, 20-year-old third baseman Kaleb Cowart isn't expected in Anaheim this year, according to the Angels Magazine, but fans can expect to see outfielder Kole Calhoun and infielder Andrew Romine at Angels Stadium sometime this season.
Personally, I root for any team playing against the Rangers and it didn't hurt that it was the Giants that beat them Friday — hey, I am from San Francisco. My son, Ken, and grandson, Nick, flew in that morning from the Bay Area and saw the game, the first of four Giants' games they "caught" in three days — one a split squad double-header on Saturday.
Another grandson, Scott, arrived Friday night, unfortunately too late for dinner at Don and Charlie's, the ultimate sports bar, if your sport is baseball.
Autographed baseballs make up one wall in the reception area. To my chagrin, I didn't recognize many of the names. Memorabilia is everywhere, a "Splendid Splinter" poster on the ceiling above our table.
It was all good, including the food.
The next day, the Hadlichs and I saw Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw hold the Texas Rangers to two hits in the six innings, one of them a line drive that nailed him in the leg, bringing almost the entire Dodger coaching and training staff out on the field. But he stayed in the game.
Kershaw was relieved by Brandon League, who was in for a shock at the Surprise City stadium the Rangers call their spring home.
His first pitch was hit out of the ballpark, followed by two walks, another hit and a passed ball in just one-third of an inning.
Best quip of the trip: When someone asked what League's first name was, Patsy said, "It should be Minor."
Fifteen teams play spring ball in or around Phoenix. The Dodgers, who moved from Vero Beach in 2008, share Camelback Ranch stadium with the Chicago White Sox. It seats 13,000, the most of any of the 10 stadiums. It has the best sound system and scoreboard, the least ads on the fences of any stadium we have visited —- and those Dodgerdogs.
San Francisco's Giants play at Scottsdale Stadium, seating capacity of 12,000.
Tempe Diablo Stadium is the Angels home field. It has a seating capacity of 9,600. The complex also includes five practice fields where minor-leaguers and eager-beaver major-leaguers can be seen shagging grounders or even playing in minor league games.
Spring training is a cheap date. Angel tickets were $22. The Rangers charged $27, The Dodgers charged $39, but parking was free.
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