Watching Jeff DaVanon

Watching Jeff DaVanon

A weblog devoted to #55 of the Anaheim Angels, Jeff DaVanon. How is he doing? Is he getting his due respect yet? Let's watch and see...

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

F v F

Rumour has it that Finley is on the bench from this point forward, to be replaced by Figgins in CF. I am both happy and sad at this news. I am glad to see Finley gone. But I do not consider Figgy an appropriate long-term CF candidate. He manages fine, don't get me wrong. But I'd rather see Juan, or Jeff, or even Q, or anyone else except GA or Figgy out there. Figgins is an infielder who can hold his own as an outfielder. But over time, he costs outs and runs. He just can't cover the territory and doesn't have the arm. I understand that there are defensive sacrifices you make to create the offense you need, but Figgins is a naked emperor. His hitting and OBP isn't what we all imagine it to be. Figgins has gotten this mystique, and I like the guy, don't get me wrong. But he is not what we think he is. All those teams who wanted to trade but wanted Figgins? We should have taken them up on it.

Finley did not even appear in the dugout untill the 7th inning. We started to wonder if he'd been sent somewhere, or put on the DL afflicted with suck again. But I guess he just wanted to be alone. I don't blame him. Josh Paul was in the dugout, obliterating my nascent theory about "the Josh Paul factor" and his presence having a measurable impact in the W/L ratio of the team.

Those moments that leave you

It was such a perfect moment. One that I would tell people about. One that I would be able to hold and carry with me through time. An extra-inning game. Amazing pitching. Strong defense. Frankie at his best and worst. Scrappiness and grit nudging open the door of opportunity, and then Vlad busting it wide open, his legend all but complete. The crowd on it's feet, strangers hugging. #300 being willed into existence by the player and the crowd in dramatic fashion.

Too bad the moment existed only in my mind. I could see it, it was real, my camera was poised and focused on the shot. It had all the details of a real moment, but it hadn't happened yet. Vlad was at-bat, still alive, the moment still alive, the crowd was on it's feet. Yes there was clapping and cheering, and the restless energy of thousands of people who had brought their passion and focused it on this field and now, on this man. And it all seemed so inevitable. I had basically taken the picture, written the headline. I couldn't have been alone.

And then it was over. And the ending wasn't what I had envisioned. And I had no idea what to do. I could care and cheer but that was never going to accomplish anything. There was no joy in mudville. Mighty Vlad was out.

And I was left bereft, exiting the stadium with thousands of other lost souls, reinacting a scenario so cliche that rhyming children's tales had been written about it. How humbling, how sadly normal. But what a moment it was, before it left me.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The search for silver

A few months ago, I opened my door and signed my name for a certified letter. Certified letters are rarely a good thing. But this was a letter from Gov. Bush of Florida, urging those of us in the meeting and event industry to reconsider his state as destination for our clients, and to come see all that it has to offer as guests.

So I filled out the information and didn't expect anything to come of it. But then I got a follow-up e-mail stating that some destinations were still available. I re-submitted, putting down places that I hadn't been to, and that would be suitible cities for the kind of groups I organize meetings for. As an afterthought, I put down Tampa, a city I had already been to and already booked meetings at, but instead of a wide date range I wrote down simply "August 26-28."

So that is how we found ourselves in Tampa for the weekend. We flew down Thursday night in spite of the threat of Katrina, then a measely little category 1 storm expected to swoop up the gulf coast of the state and dump some rain. They even called me and told me I could reschedule, but I wasn't chasing the sun, I was chasing baseball, and it didn't look like anyone thought the games would be canceled. Being under a dome has it's advantages.

Seeing a game at Tropicana Field was awesome. It really defines the concept of a place being nice to visit, but you wouldn't want your team to live there.

A dome might be a fundamentally depressing sort of thing. All reflected fluerescent light, enclosed spaces, echoing sounds and weird ground rules. But watching a game in air-conditioned comfort rocks. And how nice is it to not worry about the rain?

We arrived at the stadium around 5:00 on Friday. We gathered the small group of people waiting at the entrance for the gates to open. We cast expectant glances skyward, and then at our watches. Droplets slowly pattered on the concrete and we all shifted ever-so-slightly in the direction of the overhang and dryness. Most of the people waiting wore red. But the Rays fans behind me mocked the rally monkey tucked in my bag. "They don't allow those here!" As we went through the gate, the girl searching bags also commented on the monkey. Proving once again that the history and purpose of the monkey is impossible to properly describe in a fleeting encounter. How I wish I could say something simple about it like "the owner's wife had a pet monkey." Anything simple and sound-bite-ish. But no.

We made our way all the way around the field to our seating area and the Angels dugout. The exterior concourse areas have a shopping-mall feel to them. They are well-lit, expansive, and inviting. Plus, there is a huge variety of stores and eateries. There is a "beers of the world" shop, and several retail-type places that *gasp* sell baseball merchandise from around the leagues.

Inside the dome is a turf field with dirt basepaths. There is a little blimp that flies around inside the dome and sometimes rains down coupons on the crowd. Each game they pick someone to pilot the remote-control blimp. I found this sweet, and was extremely envious of the boy (who was outfitted in an old-timey aviator's cap for the ocassion).

We watched batting practice, and as I so often am in these baseball situations, I was reminded of a zoo. Watch the players in their natural habitat! Who jokes with who? Who acknowledges the fans? Who lollygags around the park? What pitcher looks like he might be a good infielder?

But let's focus on the real reason seeing a game in Tropicana Field was so awesome. We had great seats, a few rows back behind the Angels dugout. We had a clear view of home plate, and the drunk guy in front of us even managed to get into an argument with Erstad. And we bought these seats from the box office, like a week before we went out. Can you imagine? These are not seats you can get at Angel Stadium. It's weird though... I have seen more people attend a high school football game. With so few people to take care of, the ushers and security devote a lot of time to making sure there isn't a whole lot of seat-hopping going on. As best I can tell, a lot of the people who attend Rays games are just baseball fans who are more interested in the visiting teams than their own. There was also a sizable contingency of autograph hounds with huge stacks of baseball cards or carefully organized binders bursting with photos. The area around the Angels dugout was packed with people trying for autographs. And while some of them had red on, most of them didn't. The area around the Rays dugout was not so much packed.

There is so little I can say about the games. I had hoped to report back the triumph of Vlad's 300th homer, or impress you with other key moments. But there was none of that. It sucked to watch the team drop to the Devil Rays. No one was looking particularly impressive. So I'm left with these discussions of atmosphere and turf. With the question of whether one needs to burn their rally monkey if it has fallen to the ground. With pictures of Jeff taking BP. All I can hope is that the team is as shocked, pissed-off, and angry as I am, and this knocks them out of their compacent rut with just enough time to finish the season in top form. I can hope. This is my quest for a silver lining in what was otherwise an embarrasing trio of games. Do we blame the dome? The turf? The undeniable heat and spark of the Devil Rays? Do we suck? Or have we simply had an unavoidable stumble in the marathon of a season? Was this simply an exercize in swinging outside of our "mean" a mean that we will soon regress (or in this case, agress?) to?

Jeff had one pinch-hit at bat during Saturday's game. Before the game, I'd positioned myself in the autograph-seeking throng, proudly wearing my #55 (who is that?) shirt, and none-too-proudly calling "Jeff! Jeff!" with what I hoped was a voice that could be heard but conveyed the appropriate amount of "if it's not too much trouble." I just really dislike the desperation and lack of manners that tends to overtake people in these autograph situations. Because a player happens to walk within a 5-foot area of where the crowd is, he instantly becomes this prized commodity with everyone clammoring for a piece of him. It's so arbitrary and uncivilized. I am forgiving of the behavior in real fans. I've seen Buffy fans be overcome with emotion in the presence of one-episode guest stars that were literally coming to an event from waiting tables. But if you can't tell me who someone is, why the heck do you want their autograph, and why are you willing to shout, and elbow your way to get it? I did manage to coax Jeff out of the dugout and in my direction, where he signed for all the people standing around me, (who had no idea who he was) and then finally signed one of my photo-day collages for me. I said "I feel silly since I already have like 4 autographs, but it's the only way I can say hi." I find it weird that when people are getting autographs at games, they hardly ever engage in a conversation with the player. Which makes it feel all the more like this cold, retail transaction.

He looked at my picture and said "Fuji photo day?" [the random smalltalk generator strikes again]
and I said "yes, this year and last year."
Then my husband asked if he was in the line-up, and Jeff sort of shook his head and said "no."
d'oh! party foul.
At this point, the crowd was pressing in, so we made to leave. But first I said
"Have a good trip home"
and he turned to us and said "you guys too."

We sat near some really nice Angels fans from the local area, and then there was annoying drunk man. Annoying drunk man introduced himself to us before the game on Friday even started. "I'm from Laguna!" He proclaimed. My husband and I looked at each other and said "Hollywood.... California." And then proceeded to debate about exactly what he sold, since everything about him said "salesman." He was at the game alone, so I can't fault him for wanting to make friends. But as the game went on, he returned to his front-row seat time and time again with both hands clutching beers. Not that there wasn't cause for drinking, because there was. But he got loud with it. Shouting at the umps. Yelling at Erstad. And then finally trying to tell Erstad he'd made some sort of "little league" mistake in an at-bat. Erstad was clearly like "what the hell?" His sound credentials for making this assesment being that he either coached little league, or at one time had played little league. After this, with the game in tatters and the White Flag on the mound, we all amused ourselves watching the interplay of the security team as the usher near us radioed a co-worker in another section, resulting in a 3rd person coming over to talk with the local usher, resulting in someone finally talking to Annoying Drunk Guy. After this stern talking to, the man made his way to the area at the end of the dugout. Our first thought was that he was being asked to apologize and then he could stay, but as a security guard kicked him out of the area, we realized he was taking it upon himself to apologize. A nice thought, but an inappropriate time. Finally, the fuzzy mascot, on his 3rd sweep through our area, engaged the guy in play. But then in a classic move, pantomimed a sort of "you've had a lot to drink haven't you?" statement, followed up with a "you're not driving are you?" to which the guy said "no, taking a taxi." Satisfied, the mascot moved on. How drunk do you have to be for the mascot to call you out on it? Suffice it to say Annoying Drunk man left around the end of the 7th inning (when they stop selling beer), and was never seen again.

I felt really bad for the Tropicana field vendors, who are forced to carry their wares in rubbermaid tubs. How low-rent is that? Seriously, no neck-strap, t-shirts that look like they are 5 years old, and these tubs with the rubbermaid sticker still on them. It did not look fun. Nice arms though, even if a few of them looked like they were on work-release from the deranged serial killers' home.

It sure is good to be home. Let's hope there is indeed a silver lining. No more Finley, or less White Flag, or more determination, or something.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Figgi (what else would you call plural Figgins?) were in the house. Here's some of them (we assume, based on their loud Figgins-centric cheering and huge "get Figgy with it" sign)

Rex talks with the players before the game

Mike argues a call in Friday's game

We take on Tampa! Full report to follow

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Regression to the mean

A month or so ago, I was watching Baseball tonight, and the topic of discussion was the Nationals.

The comment was made that they could not stay in the top, due to their reliance on winning 1-run games. I guess that a 1-run win is not viewed as a ringing endorsement of a team's strength and prowess. Over any given season, it was stated, a team should expect to have a 50/50 split when it comes to 1-run games. At that time, the Nationals were winning too many 1-run games. The time would soon come when the statistical reality known as "regression to the mean" would kick-in, and the Nationals would have to pay the piper and start losing 1-run games.

The Nats have fallen from grace, whether is came at the expense of 1-run games or not, I can't say.

This idea of regression to the mean stayed with me though, and it reappeared in a book I was reading about intuition and decision-making. The book, called Intuition: it's powers and perils, has an entire chapter devoted to "sports intuition" and in it, the author goes after a bunch of sacred cows. Think players "get hot" and that the past few at-bats or games can help you figure out who is hot? Think again. Think the rousing half-time speaches in every football movie ever made have an impact on the game's outcome? Think again. Think a great player can explain the mechanics of his swing and why it works? Nope.

Players and teams *do* get hot. In any random sequence of events there will be streaks. If you flip a coin 100 times there will be maybe 8 heads in a row at times, but the overall percentage of heads and tails should be relatively equalized.

But according to the research cited in the book, a team is just as likely to lose after a win as they are to win again.

The critical truth is this: "we forget that exceptional performance tends to regress toward normality"

This truth has colored the thoughts I've been carrying around with me in light of the current bullpen situation. Is this downturn in bullpen efficacy the price to be paid for the previous bullpen dominance? Is it interesting, or utterly predictable that the bullpen has gone from winning games with questionable starts to losing games with amazing starts?

But I'm also confused a bit by all this research. Athletes, especially great ones are not average. What is this mean they are supposed to regress to? The same for teams, they make it sound as if the quality of the team has little to do with it. As if these games that are played are nothing more than the flipping of a coin.

Monday, August 22, 2005

More fun with collages. Is this the face of a man who is about to ask me about my camera?

Photo day collage

An Apology From Steve Finley?

Well, we're finally nearing the moment of truth. Mike Scioscia will soon be making a decision about changing the composition of the team's outfield for the remainder of the season. The blogosphere has been chatting about it, the print media has been hinting about it, and now even Angels website is preparing the fans for possible changes.

"It is not what I expected, " Finley stated.

Well, it's not what we expected either.

Ever since he was signed in the off season, I have heard nothing but great things about the current Angels center fielder. I'm not a Dodger fan, but I am a baseball fan. Even I got goose bumps watching him hit that grand slam last year to catapult his team into the playoffs. During our annual spring training trip to Tempe, Diamondback fans kept telling us what a great player he was. "You're gonna really like his style of play, " we were told.

So after waiting in Godot-like fashion for his bat to come alive, the fans have finally become impatient. - And to make matters worse, just a couple of days ago he insulted the Angel fans saying, "...they don't know baseball."

Well, as you may have read below, photo day was yesterday - the day after his quote was published. Most of the players made an appearance, but it did not appear that Finley was among them. At first, I thought maybe he was going to pull a Guillen. (refusing to participating in photo day was the beginning of the end for Jose last year.)

Finally, an announcement was made that Finley had made his way to the field. I could tell he was getting closer because the heckling was getting louder as other fans spotted him. ("Hey Finley, you suck!" "You suck Steve!" etc.)

As he made his way past me, I asked him if he was going to apologize for his statement about the fans. He never really stopped moving (being prodded by the PR folks to move along), but he walked back toward me and asked me to repeat what I said.

I said, "Steve, you're going to apologize right? - For your quote?"

He walked right up to me and asked me to clarify.

"To the Angel fans who do know baseball. I look forward to your apology. "

Apparently, he wasn't feeling repentant, as he just clapped his hands together loudly and stated, "Thanks for that!" and he sulked away.

Even though he later had a spectacular catch against the centerfield wall and went 2-4 with an RBI against Schilling in the ninth inning, it appears (like his RBI) to have been too little too late.

I also carried a watermelon

So yesterday brought the triumphant return of photo day. The day when the fans are allowed on the field (a thrill in itself) and the players and coaches are paraded in front of us, ostensibly for the purpose of taking photographs, but in reality, taking pictures would require them to pause on ocassion, so it is more of a parade/meet and greet/ experiment in becoming a member of the paparazzi.

There were a lot more fans on the field this year, and there were also a bunch more PR staffers. I unfortunately picked a spot near the PR staffers, who would prove to be the photo nazis. I think they are in several of my pictures, nudging players to move faster, or even dragging them by the arm.

The presence of the photo nazis meant that when Jeff came my way, I didn't feel like I could ask him to pose for a picture with me. I got him to stop for a regular picture, and then this happened:

Jeff (walking towards me): "hey, what kind of camera is that?"

Me (having a "file not found" moment): "um, it's a camera..."

Jeff: "Is it digital?"

Me (sort of looking at my camera as if I'd never seen it before) : "yes"

Jeff: "And that part swivels out to take the picture?"

Me: "Um, yeah."

Jeff: "Cool."

What the hell? I am left with three options:

1) Jeff is shopping for a new camera and decided that taking a survey on photo day would be an excellent way to collect information.

2)This was a subtle code worked out beforehand with the PR people, meant to alert them to the fact that the smemi-crazy jeff website person was here, but apparantly too stupid to be considered anything but harmless.

3) Noticing that I was wearing his t-shirt, he felt obligated to initiate a conversation with me and the "random smalltalk generator" that lives in his brain produced the camera business. Reference previous Jeff encounters which have almost always included random smalltalk.

Of course, Jeff was one of the first players to come around, so I spent the rest of the parade with one part of my brain still in "what the hell?" mode.

But I am happy to bring you the following exciting updates:

Tim Salmon put in an appearance. I was tempted to ask if the uniform fit OK. While waiting in line earlier, one fan had said "I sure hope Salmon will be there." I laughed and said "What, like he has someplace else to be? You know he'll be here. He has to be sure no one forgets him." He took his time making the loop of the field, shaking everyone's hand, chatting. It's like he was trying to get elected to the team.

Kevin Gregg made funny poses, which made me like him a lot more. They should all do that. When I do fan events I always say that it's about the illusion of access, and part of the illusion is feeling like you winessed a moment that showed a person's real personality.

Vlad made the rounds with his hat backwards. This was a smart move, you can see more of his face and you don't have to deal with the hat-shadows.

I highly recommend participating in photo day at least once in your life. What I find most telling is that it takes less than 30 min of actual time, but it is more satisfying and less stressful than the fan festival thing.

And then came the part where I had to pretend I didn't know my husband. But I'll let him tell you about that.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

I Know Baseball...

Well, I know enough to know that, (like Richard), Finley has escalated himself to Mo Vaughn-like status with his now infamous quote. I also know someone else who is "busting his butt" and has a salary more than five million dollars less.

Since being tossed for throwing his equipment in Oak-town ten days ago, our hero has been absent from the starting lineup. (Yes, Rivera's power surge may have something to do with that.) Today's 1p start saw Rivera resting on the bench which put Jeff back in action starting in left field. He went 1-4 with a double, but very uncharacteristically, did not cross home plate.

He was, however, all over the outfield - make an outstanding sliding catch in the fourth inning in addition to holding Renteria to a double in the seventh inning after Desmond's failed diving catch attempt.

In case you weren't there or missed it on Fox's broadcast, Figgins, (2nd baseman by trade), got a bad read on a ball hit to center and his speed couldn't compensate for his lack of outfield instincts. (Don't get me wrong, Desmond is a great utility player, but he does his best work at 2nd base. It's unfair to just give him a different glove and expect him to perform in center field.) Jeff was backing up on the play and fielded the ball at the centerfield fence.

Barring another call-up for Chris Prieto or a misguided switch from first to center by Erstad (please God, no), Jeff remains the team's best defensive option for center. Juan is a corner outfielder and Garrett needs to embrace his new designated hitter role (when he returns). Jeff is a true outfielder with an above-average throwing arm.

What's that you say? Sure, J.D.'s average isn't too spectacular, but his on base percentage is still strong thanks to a good strikeout-walk ratio. With D-Mac likely sidelined with surgery, Figgins can easily find a place in the everyday lineup. - He can platoon at third base with Quinlan (hopefully returning soon) and spell Kennedy at second and Jeff in center. Unfortunately, Scioscia said today that Steve Finley will continue to be the team's starting center fielder "for the foreseeable future." We can only hope that Mike is near-sighted.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Post-Season Invoice Time

Yep, it's that time of year again. Time to prepare for the post-season. Wow! How sweet it is to type that last word - again. But there's a high price to pay for the team's success.

Although the itemized post-season invoice has yet to arrive, the gross invoice has already hit my account - and payment in full is due by August 24 (less than three weeks from today). How much do you ask?...Well, the amount is 77% of the price for tickets for the entire season. Yeah, you read that correctly. Tickets to 12 games cost nearly as much for tickets to 82 games.

(FYI, the twelve games break down like this: 4 WS, 4 ALCS, 3 first-round LCS, 1 potential divisional/wild card playoff - 82 season tickets: 81 regular season and 1 pre-season Dodger game)

Sure MLB sets the prices for post-season tickets, and I fully understand the rules of supply and demand. - But 77% of the price of season tickets is more than a little exorbitant and prices post-season games out of realm of possibility for most baseball fans. MLB is preying on the hearts of baseball fans across the country. Most fans will pay whatever is necessary in order to root for their team during the post-season. How much would a Cub fan pay to see a World Series game at Wrigley? Shouldn't the influx of GM, Ameriquest, Bank of America, and XM Satellite Radio advertising at every ballpark offset some of these prices?

Let's hope that the World Series doesn't evolve into the corporate shill that the Superbowl has become. I like coming to the ballpark knowing the persons sitting next to me are baseball fans.