Hello BakerBoys&Baseball Family!
We were nominated and then selected as one of four finalists for MLBs Angels Fans of the Year. We need your help and your votes! The only way to vote is on Twitter. Send a tweet with #AngelsFOTY1 to help us share the baseball love! Re-Tweets and Likes don’t count as votes. Please spread the word for us and then go out to the ball park and have some fun with your friends and family!
Zac and Steve Baker
The Baltimore Orioles are in town and that means the return of hometown hero and BaseBallBoy favorite, Mark Trumbo. We got to go down on the field before the game and Zac got to tell Kole Calhoun how he has modeled his Crow Hop by watching Kole throw fools out! Johnny “G” never disappoints as he hooked up our buddy, Tanner “T-Money” Higgs up with batting gloves. Getting the chance to hang out with Mike Trout and a visit from our favorite Halo broadcaster, Alex Curry were definitely highlights and Zac was able to share our blog story with some of his favorite players.
Of course his #1 guy was the moment Zac was looking forward to and Zac took advantage of being able to catch up with his Baseball Hero, Mark Trumbo. Also, a huge thank you to one of the nicest people in all of baseball, Tim Mead for our personal tour of the batting cages and media room through the dugout where the fellas exchanged fist bumps and slapped hands with Halo players before the game. We also got to see Andrelton Simmons working in the cage throwing balls and showing off his powerful arm. Hopefully that is a good sign that he is feeling good and well on his way to making his way back to anchor the infield defense.
The Orioles took the series opener 9-4, powered by 4 Home Runs, including a two run shot by Mr. Trumbo. Mark is off to a scorching start to his 2016 campaign, batting .306 and an American League leading 13 Home Runs to go along with 31 RBI!
The game saw an overly ambitious young umpire questionably toss Hector Santiago, ending his evening prematurely in the 3rd inning. The Halo offense that has been resurgent the past few weeks, sputtered a bit in this one managing 4 runs on 7 hits. Kole Calhoun was robbed of a Home Run in the bottom of the first by a young fan looking to corral a souvenir.
It’s tough to feel bad about this loss being that it was a great day for our crew. If I am completely honest I have a very tough time rooting against any team that features our favorite slugger. He always goes out of his way for Zac and I truly appreciate it! We will be at the stadium for the remaining game of the series and hope the Halos can pull out a W or two, but secretly will also be hopeful that we can see some more Trumbombs!
We have several interview requests out there and hope to have something fun to share with all of you. In the mean time, keep filling the in between pauses with meaningful, thoughtful moments and go out to the ball park and have some fun with your friends and family!
This installment from the BakerBoys&Baseball is long overdue. Just before the Halos 2015 season came up just one game short of the playoffs, we had the great pleasure of sitting down with Angel’s broadcaster and fan favorite, José Mota. We had Zac’s baseball buddy and good friend, Ethan “Bear” Geiss join the BakerBoys team and help us on the interview by asking some of the questions in Spanish. Like Zac, Bear is 9 years old and he participates in a dual emersion program, learning in both English and Spanish from the time he started Elementary School.
En primer lugar, permítanme applogize a José por el tiempo que ha tomado para compartir esta historia. La tarea de llevar a cabo una entrevista y traducir en dos idiomas resultó un poco más difícil de lo previsto. Dicho esto, el tiempo y las historias compartidas José eran muy apreciado y la entrevista fue uno de nuestros favoritos de la temporada pasada.
We had intended to share this story after the regular season concluded, and hopefully before the Halos would start a historic playoff run. Unfortunately, the tough month of August left the team just short of the promise land, in spite of an incredible September stretch run that saw our Angels push their rivals until the very last day of the regular season. With that, we decided to wait until the new season began to share this story.
José was kind enough to sit down with us before a game on the Fox Sports West set before one of the games on the last home stand of the season. Growing up the son of Manny Mota, a professional baseball player from the Dominican Republic, baseball was a way of life for a young José Mota. “The Dominican Republic is a very special place to grow up. We could play baseball year round”, José shared. “My father played for the most popular team in the Dominican and I got to meet a lot of baseball players even before they became Big Leaguers, including Mike Scoiscia“.
José was destined to have a professional career in the game of baseball. He said, “At about eleven or twelve, I told my Dad I wanted to be a professional baseball player. He agreed to help me, but insisted that first I had to study and get an education. When I was growing up in the Dominican, we played baseball year round, but only on Saturdays. If I didn’t get good grades, I wasn’t allowed to play baseball.”
In 1962, Manny Mota was the 10th player from the Dominican to play Major League Baseball. Since then more than 500 players, including José and his brother, Andy, have played on Baseball’s Senior Circuit. Five out of six of Manny’s sons played some level of professional baseball. Baseball affords young men from the Dominican a way to provide for families, as opportunities for financial success in the Dominican Republic are very limited.
Although there is a true love of baseball in José’s heart, you can tell his disappointment in how the nature of the game has changed in Dominican, “Baseball has become such a big industry. It has taken some of the fun out of it. There are those who see a young talent as a product they can sell. Players at the age of 14 or 15 years old stop going to school and are pushed to pursue baseball full time.” He doesn’t hold it against the young men who see the opportunities afforded those that succeed in the game. “They see the business side of it. They want to provide for their families, build a house for their Mom and have a good life. The professions in the Dominican will not allow that type of luxury or attain that financial level.”
While disenchanted with the business side of the game, there is a tangible pride José has when sharing the impact his family and other players have had on the opportunities and resources available to the youth in the Dominican Republic. José said, “We were very fortunate because of my Dad’s baseball career. We got to travel to the United States every year. When we would come back home, we would provide stuff for the kids to play with. There were kids that couldn’t afford shoes or a glove and we would bring stuff back from the United States to share with them. Some of those same kids went on to become Major Leaguers.”
While Manny Mota helped shape the man and player José would become, it was his mother that was tasked with running the Mota household and making sure that José and his five brothers and two sisters stayed in line and worked hard in school, while Dad was away playing baseball. Speaking about his mother, José said, “Mom was our rock. She ran our house.” Like Manny, she stressed the importance of getting an education first, above baseball. She would say, “as much as you love baseball, you need to go to school. One moment you could be playing and the next you could be injured and your playing days could be over. Then what would you do?” It was the consistent message from both of his parents, that made getting a college education a goal that was equal to pursuing a career as a professional player.
It wasn’t just his parents that stressed the importance of education. When getting to spend his summer months hanging out at Dodgers Stadium, there were many, including Tommy Lasorda, that told José to “study hard and shoot for college.” Tommy would say, “Little Mota, you need to work hard and stay out of trouble.”
José did work hard, but he also had a lot of fun spending his summers hanging around the team. “The players were always so nice to us and that came down from the O’Malley family. Kids were welcomed in the club house, in the food/candy room.” The Mota kids even had their own lockers inside the Club House. I am sure Adam LaRoche would have loved to play for the O’Malley’s Dodgers.
For José, the unique experience he enjoyed wasn’t just play time. He took advantage of being around professional ball players and the game he loved. José explained, “I learned a lot by listening and watching. I could tell that in order to succeed, it would take a lot of hard work. I spent a lot of time in the batting cages at Dodger’s stadium. I would taking batting practice in the cages during the games.” He also learned to respect the game. He knew if the Dodgers had lost a game, “he needed to give the players their space and stay out of the club house.”
José took the advice of his parents, players, and other baseball professionals and earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Cal State Fullerton, where he also was a two time Collegiate All American and starting 2nd baseman for the 1984 National Champion Titans. For José’s accomplishments as a baseball player, he is most proud of being a part of that special team that won the Championship, saying “I wouldn’t trade that time for anything, not even playing in the Big Leagues. I learned what it meant to play as a team, to be part of a group working for the same goal. It wasn’t about getting paid or being called up, it was about winning! I learned what it takes to be a part of something bigger, knowing I had to do my job and trusting that everyone else was doing their job to come together for a common goal. It was the best time I ever had playing baseball.”
José did achieve his goal of following in his father’s footsteps and he did play in the Major Leagues. José played on eleven different Minor League teams over parts of twelve seasons. His time playing at baseball’s highest level was brief, in 19 games, he had 8 hits in 38 at-bats, resulting in a .211 batting average. He scored four runs and drove in two more. José believes that had he been given more of an opportunity, he certainly would have had a more success as a player. That said, he did not give any indication that he had a single regret about his playing days, “achieving my goal of playing in the Major Leagues was a great feeling. I know that I gave it my best and where I am today is God’s plan. The opportunity the game has given me, has allowed me to provide for my family. Because I had my college degree, I was able to walk away from the game and pursue different careers within the game. I didn’t have to be a player that had to keep hanging on for a paycheck.”
Before beginning his broadcasting career, José became a Sports Agent. He recognized the he had to the chance to help Latin players in the game. Being bilingual he was able to make the players feel comfortable. Like José when he was a young boy, the culture in the United States is very different from the hometowns of many Latin players. It was a similar sentiment shared with us by Josh Rawitch, Sr. VP of Communications for the Arizona Diamondbacks, “There is a level of comfort when being able to have someone you can trust, that you can communicate with in your native language.” I am sure that young Bear will also take advantage of the opportunities being bilingual will provide him, after achieving his own goal of playing professional baseball.
After his time working as an Agent, José began his career in Sports Broadcasting. His love for the job is undeniable, “I would not trade places with anyone. Not with Mike Trout or Albert Pujols, I love what I do every single day, I wouldn’t trade with anyone. I am doing exactly what I am supposed to do.” When he spoke about his broadcasting career, José said, “I am so blessed. My first broadcasting job, I got to cover the Angels when they won the World Series in 2002. I was so fortunate to be able to be cover that special team.” He spoke with a clear admiration for the 2002 team and named almost every player when asked which players on last year’s roster were his favorites. I am sure feels just as fondly about the team this season.
A fan favorite because of his passion for the players and the game of baseball, José had this message to share, “I am a Dad and a Husband who loves spending time with my family. I enjoying reading the word of God and am truly blessed.” His message to the kids who are his fans, “Never give up on your dreams and set no limits for yourself. Stay positive and do the best with the talents God has given you. He gave you those talents for a reason. Don’t compare yourself with anyone else, but don’t put any limits on what you can do.”
To José from Zac, Ethan, and me, our sincerest thank you for sharing your time and your story with us. The BakerBoys&Baseball will continue to share our baseball stories and experiences for the upcoming season. We are not quite sure where the next story will come from, but we would still love the chance to meet with Tim Mead, the Angels Vice President of Communications. For our friends at the Stadium, we have moved our season seats to the Angels side of the field this season, Section 111, Row N. If you are at the stadium come say hi, share your baseball stories with us and make suggestions for the next installment. The first two games against Joe Maddon’s Cubbies were tough, but we believe the 2016 Angels are capable of capturing the magic the 2002 team had! In the meantime, keep filling the in between pauses with meaningful, thoughtful moments and go out to the ball park and have some fun with your friends and family!
Tucked away in an unassuming commercial building on Orangethorpe in Fullerton, just a stone’s throw from The Big A, is Trinity Bat Company. MLB players have the choice of the lumber saber that they take to battle with them and many in the game have steered away from the seasoned veterans, Louisville Slugger and Marucci, and have instead opted to do damage with bats from relative rookie, Trinity Bat Company. The 10 year old company broke into the big leagues in 2005 when reigning MVP and Halo favorite, Vladimir Guerrero, gave them a try. Today approximately 180 major leaguers and several hundred minor league players swing Trinity Bats, including some of our favorites, Howie Kendrick, Hank Conger, Jimmy Rollins, Adrian Gonzalez and of course Zac’s favorite player, Mark Trumbo. So you can understand why we jumped at the chance for an interview and tour of the factory when given the introduction to owner, Steve McKee, by a new friend we met at the stadium, Aaron Von Oskko.
Entering the store front to Trinity you see bats adorning the walls like works of art. We were greeted by one of Steve’s sons, Jeff McKee, and while waiting for Steve to wrap up a call, we struck up a conversation with Jeff. Jeff had an immediate curiosity about The BakerBoys&Baseball and inquired as to the nature of our visit. I know Zac and I don’t have the traditional look of “reporters”, as we have been met with similar inquisition when we have shown up for interviews. We told Jeff our story and were surprised to learn of his previous working relationship with the Angels RBI League and our first interviewee, Dave Smith. Jeff told us about his work with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The FCA is a 60 year old organization that was created to “feature professional athletes professing their Christian faith in order to change the youth culture in America”.
Steve wrapped up his call and we were called back towards his office. In the office with Steve is his other son, Jeremy McKee. Jeremy serves as Trinity’s Director of Operations and before we sit down with Steve, Jeremy takes us for a tour of the factory and a lesson in the bat making process. Racks with hundreds of Ash, Birch, and Maple blanks center the factory. Jeff explains the differences in the grains of the different types of wood and how those grains change the flex in the bat. While all of the woods are hard, they are also very different. Maple is the hardest and the most rigid and Ash providing the most flex, which gives it a trampoline effect. Birch, is somewhat of a hybrid of Maple and Ash. It is nearly as hard as Maple with a similar flex of Ash. Jeremy let us know that Trinity has become known as the go to bat company for its Birch.
Each blank has been weighed and marked to ensure that exact specifications are met. When a player places an order, the blanks that meet their needs are selected. The blanks are placed onto a computer programmed cutter, where is just a few minutes the bat is formed. The rest of the process includes shaping the knob, curving the barrel, sanding, painting, staining, and adding the decals. Jeremy explains that at Trinity bats, all of these steps are done with precision and care by hand to ensure that the exact specifications of each player are met. Where some larger companies may rely on technology to streamline the process and cut the cost to make each bat, the McKee’s believe every bat, whether for a major leaguer or little leaguer, go through the same handmade process to ensure that every bat that leaves the Trinity Factory is a piece of perfection.
Out of the factory and back into Steve’s office, we sit down and as has become his role, Zac takes the lead and starts the interview. Steve explains the motivation for starting Trinity Bats, “Me and my sons played adult baseball and there was a company here in Fullerton that made our wooden bats and they were having a struggle and went out of business. We were able to hire their crew and start Trinity Bats.” In essence, Trinity Bats was born out of the bond of a father and sons and their love for baseball, a theme that has been a constant throughout the journey of the Baker Boys. As Zac and Steve talk, it is easy to tell how sincere Steve is. Not fazed by the 9 year old interviewer sitting across the table from him, he takes the time and care to thoughtfully answer each of Zac’s questions.
While Steve is a successful business man, you can tell Steve’s drive comes from his sense of family and faith. Starting Trinity Bats on April 1, 2005, Steve proudly shared, “We were the first bat manufacturer to be approved by Major League Baseball with less than a year in business. So, we felt pretty blessed by that.” With a humble gratitude, Steve tells Zac about how Vladimir Guerrero became the first pro to use Trinity Bats. “Vladdy was our very first guy and it was our very first spring. So, we were rookies going into camp and we didn’t know that every bat manufacturer would give Vladdy like six bats to try out in spring training. We went in and gave him one. The clubhouse manager said that when Vladdy traveled he carried that one bat with him and shipped all the others. So, that one bat meant a lot to him.” Without saying so directly, you can tell that one bat and that one player, meant a lot to Steve and the start for Trinity Bat company.
In a market that is dominated by familiar bat manufactures, getting players to switch companies is a challenge. While Trinity does give bats to players to try out, in hopes of having them switching to Trinity Bats, the current roster of Trinity players is its best sales pitch. Steve explained, “Howie Kendrick, who swings our bats is now with the Dodgers. His teammate, A.J. Ellis tried his bat and now he swings Howie’s bat.” Unlike other bat manufactures, Trinity Bats doesn’t want players to be obligated to use their bats as Steve told us, “Some player’s have contracts, so they have to swing a certain bat. We don’t give out contracts. Every one that swings our bat, swings it because they like it.” Of the players that have made the switch to Trinity Steve said “our players have been very loyal to us.”
It is clear that the McKee’s Faith has opened some doors for them but they know in order to sustain the company’s success, “the product has to be good.” The name of the company speaks for itself, Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The best selling Trinity Bat model is Adrian Gonzalez’s PS 27:1. Steve told us “Adrian wanted that bat. He designed it and named it after his favorite bible verse.” Psalm 27:1 says “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Tony Clark of the San Diego Padres was asked about using Trinity Bats, he said “I like what the company stands for, but they still need to have a good product and they do.”
Making a great product and having loyal customers aren’t the only pillars for Trinity Bat Company. They have a clear idea of how they want their players to feel. Steve shared, “my goal for this business, we want to treat every player the same, from little leaguers to major leaguers. We want the little leaguer to walk out of here feeling like the major leaguer. You will get the same treatment Adrian Gonzalez or Mark Trumbo gets. When you call us and want to order another bat, we have your specs on file just as we do for Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Trumbo. Our customer service, I would say is next to none. We want it to be that way and we are very proud of that. We just care and we are not in it for a one time sale. We want to make sure our customers feel really good and are happy. We want to be a part of your game.”
Clearly proud of the reputation and success of Trinity Bat Company, Steve is excited to be in the business of baseball, “We still get excited when we turn the T.V. on and see guys swinging our bats. It brings out the little kid in us.” With all the success and great players using Trinity Bats, there is a glaring hole on the roster of Trinity players. When Zac asked which current Angels were swinging Trinity Bats, with a bit of pain Steve exclaimed, “I don’t have one!” Clearly wanting to change that, Steve said, “We have our work cut out for us next season, to get more Angels.” Or, as Zac suggested hopefully bring Mark Trumbo back.
We ended the visit by having Zac place an order for his very own custom bat. It was no surprise which model he chose, the same PS 27:1 that Mark Trumbo swings, albeit a bit smaller in size. He opted for the barrel to be the same ebony color of the bat Mark used to swing when he was with the Angels, but switched up the handle color and made it black. The Trinity logo, bat model, and his own inscription of his name and new jersey number: Zac Baker #35 will adorn the barrel in gold. I will add the picture of the bat to the post once we pick it up. A sincere thank you to Steve, Jeff, and Jeremy McKee for sharing their time and story with us. A new addition to the conclusion of our articles and in the promotion of social media, here are the twitter handles of those featured in this article: Trinity Bat Company @TrinityBatco, Jeff McKee @McKeeJeff, Adrian Gonzalez @AdrianTitan23, Mark Trumbo @Mtrumbo44, Vladimir Guerrero @VladGuerrero27, Hank Conger @PandaCrusher35, Los Angeles Angels @Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers @ Dodgers, San Diego Padres @Padres, and last but not least The BakerBoys&Baseball @sbaker101.
The next installment from The BakerBoys&Baseball will be out soon. We had a great interview with Jose Mota @JoseMota05. We were ambitious and brought along a guest interviewer, who is one of Zac’s teammates and good friend, Ethan Geiss. Ethan at 9 years old speaks Spanish. We did the interview in both English and Spanish. That said, yo solomente hablo un pocito Espanol, so it is going to take me a bit longer to transcribe the interview and write the next article. In the mean time, keep filling the in between pauses with meaningful, thoughtful moments and go out to the ball park and have some fun with your friends and family!
Back on July 22nd we closed the BakerBoys&Baseball installment by professing you should know The TroutNet Team. Mike Trout was already well aware of who they were, but to make sure you did too, he decided to put an original marketing stamp on the father and son duo of Jonathan and A.J. Plaza. Trout launched a grand slam into Section 240 of the right field stands on July 26th against the Texas Rangers and wouldn’t you know it, right into the net that he and Kole Calhoun have made a contest of throwing balls into after warming up between innings. With his typical flair of rising to the moment, one might suggest he hit it there on purpose.
Earlier this the season my good friend and fellow Halo Loyalist, Allison Abbott, professed you have to meet The TroutNet guys, saying “you will love what they are doing out in right field”. In all honesty, I had no idea how right she would be. When I finally meet up with Jonathan and A.J. and learned their story, I knew right away I would include a blurb about them at the end of one of the BakerBoys&Baseball installments. Jonathan and A.J. decided to come slum it in Section 124 during the game that day. After sitting and talking awhile, we thought it would be fun to take a lap around the stadium and go out to where the action happens, Section 240 to give Zac a shot at catching a ball in the TroutNet.
After settling in at the top of the 7th, Zac and I saw first hand how engaged Trout and Calhoun were with the TroutNet phenomenon. There was a genuine joy visible on the faces of these baseball heroes. That joy was matched by the fans all in attendance on this hot Thursday afternoon sitting out in the Right Field stands, as Trout and Calhoun took turns trying to hit the TroutNet after warming up before the top half of each inning. For the record, the tandem went 0-3 while we were out there. The three fans that caught the errant throws didn’t mind one bit as they were going home with a precious souvenir and a great story about the throw that missed the TroutNet. Though Jonathan has dozens of recorded shots that were nothing but net.
Zac and A.J. quickly hit it off. It never ceases to amaze me how baseball removes age from friendships. Zac and A.J. decided to have a catch right behind the post game set, out by the big hats in front of the stadium. They didn’t seem to mind that the thousands of fans leaving the stadium would interrupt their game, and instead just kept throwing the ball back and forth as though they were the only ones out there. The game that day was a tough one for the Halos offense as former Halo hurler, Ervin Santana, held the Angels to just four hits and eight shutout innings as the Minnesota Twins blanked our team 3-0. While the Angels didn’t come away with a W as we had hoped that day, we came away with new friends.
The original net was a father’s design to help get his son noticed amongst the thousands of fans at the ball park in hopes of getting a ball for his boy from his baseball hero, Mike Trout. If you read the original BakerBoys&Baseball installment that tells our story, you know why I found an instant appreciation and respect for the Plazas. That has sense dramatically evolved, even before the national attention draped on the humble duo, Jonathan and A.J. started the #TroutNetGiveAway. Essentially, recognizing the joy baseball fans, especially kids, get from having a ball tossed up from the Center and Right Fielder that patrol the Big A outfield was something they knew needed to be shared. The select random fans, and occasionally yes even grown folk too, to take a turn with the Trout Net and now also The RedRojoRing. I am sure this is what has endured the Trout Net Team to the fans, media, and big league ball players too!
As it turned out, I waited a bit too long to tell the story I wanted, because after July 26th, you would have to be living under a rock not to know about The TroutNet team now. Jonathan and AJ came over to the house after the famous Grand Slam into the TroutNet and Jonathan’s phone was blowing up as though he was the one hitting the big fly, not the one in the stands catching it in his simple, yet fantastic creation. Their story has touched many and a few of their great moments have been shared by all of the local media outlets, as well as the national attention by the big boys, ESPN, Fox Sports, and MLB Network. Countless interviews have led to many more great and memorable moments for Jonathan and A.J. It turns out, some advice I gave Jonathan after having first met him rang true, “Good things happen to good people”. So instead of me taking my word smith approach to tell their story, I think it would he only fitting that I let Jonathan share it in his own words:
Alexander J Plaza is my son. He is the sole reason why the TroutNet was born. He embarked on his baseball career early this spring 2015. He loves the game like no other, from the moment he took his first steps, he’s had a bat, a glove and a baseball. As we approached our Opening Day 2015 at the Big A, my son had already begun his Tee Ball season with Garden Grove Pony Baseball. He played for the Toronto Blue Jays. I was a little upset knowing he wouldn’t be sporting his favorite team, The Angels. During our offseason we watched nothing but Trout Highlights, his best catches, his stolen bases and his Home Runs. My son loves Mike, he might love him more than me. He emulates his style of game and puts it to good use out on the diamond.
Opening Day 2015 at the Big A was around the corner. I wanted to make something for AJ. A sign, a poster, a something. I wanted to make something original. Something that nobody had done. Mike Trout had just won the AL MVP. I wanted him to notice my son and hopefully toss a baseball to him. My son would be so happy if I could get him a Trout baseball I thought. I kept working on the design on paper, I kept putting it off every weekend. Not knowing the stadium regulations regarding the TroutNet that exists today, I made a poster sized TroutNet. It was 20” tall & 28” across. It said “TroutNet!” with an MVP logo, the #27, Mike Trout’s back shot when he hit for the Cycle and last but not least a circle with a net 11” in diameter. I finished late into the night, about 3 am. I showered, slept and went to work. I requested a half day for opening day, little did I know of the events that would transpire after that day.
We arrive at the Big A, its packed with fans, its loud, its baseball season and its beautiful. Walking in everybody said what a catchy poster, I laughed and said thank you! We sat in our seats Section 240, Row A, seats 11 & 12. The ceremonies began, old glory was covering the field and I felt happy. I felt honored to be home with my son, I got a bit sentimental due to my service for my country, since the day I left the Marine Corps I told myself to live my life in a positive way and honor the lives of those who aren’t here today. The National Anthem was sung and the Super fortress bomber flew over.
The players hit the field and there was Mike and Kole warming up playing catch. Calhoun throws the ball to the ball boy and Trout makes his way to centerfield where we give a standing ovation chanting MVP. AJ and I are in the corner of section 240 row A and the bushes. I hold AJ up and our sign with the other. Trout looks and smiles. He acknowledged our sign with a chest/fist bump. The Kansas City Royals are in town and we all know how we feel about them. I wanted payback for last year’s ALDS sweep. The first inning is over and the Royals are up 1 – 0.
Our Angels are up, Kole grounds out, Trout grounds out and Pujols pops out in foul territory, inning over. Our Halos hit the field, Trout and Kole warming up again playing catch like they usually do between innings. They finish warming up and Trout keeps the ball and he’s coming our way. I’m standing with AJ on my left and the TroutNet on my right! Trout comes by and under hands it, Swish! Into the TroutNet!!! The crowd applauds our MVP and congratulates us.
AJ is so happy, I’m happy and the TroutNet mission was accomplished. My son Alexander got his first ever Mike Trout baseball. Prior to the home stand taking place, the Angels posted on their Instagram the “#HappyHalos” contest. I’m posting my photo of AJ with his ball and the TroutNet! I make all my hash tags and add the “#HappyHalos”. Again, little did I know what would become of that night. The game ends and we drop the opener 2-4. A week later I get a “DM-Direct Message” on my Instagram from the Angels. They said we had won the “#HappyHalo” contest and they’d like to my information to send us our prize. I was excited for the prize AJ was to receive. As we prepared for the next home stand and Star Wars Night I posted a picture from Opening Day of my son AJ holding his TroutNet. It said “Catch us with our #TroutNet tonight against the A’s!!! Go @Angels!!!” Following with lots of hash tags for our boys in red.
Star Wars Night came and we were ready! AJ was “Darth Trout”, he had the look of “Darth Maul” and was wearing his Foam Trout Hat, you heard right, wearing his Trout Foam Hat. I cut holes on the sides and he wore it. We sat in 240 again, excited for our game. Trout sees us again, smiles and throws another baseball at his TroutNet. My son was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe that Mike would do it again. Now AJ and I had a Trout Baseball, mission accomplished x2. I post the video of AJ talking about the Trout ball and we go home, again, not thinking of what we had just started.
A day later everything changed, I was out having lunch during my work day. Ordering chick-fil-a when my phone started vibrating non-stop. I was being tagged and messaged on Instagram. Why?? I said. I read the comments on my page, “MIKE TROUT JUST REPOSTED AJ’s Photo with his TROUTNET!!”. A sudden rush of adrenaline hit me, I was nervous, excited and freaking out. I click on his profile and there it is! Mike posted my sons photo holding his TroutNet just like the comments said. He wrote “I see you out there bud!!! Lol” I call AJ immediately and tell him that Trout sees him and that he posted a picture of him. My son was so happy, 3years old and smiling over FaceTime made my life. The look on his face was priceless. I told him I loved him and carried on with my day. I went back to work, printed out “thanks for the repost Trout” and bought tickets for that same day game.
We go to our section, what will soon be our new home away from home. It’s the last game against the A’s. Trout comes out sees and acknowledges our message and we scream “Thank you”. He keeps the ball and tosses it a 3rd time striking our TroutNet. This is the moment I realized it would never be the same, a father, a son and baseball. The moments we shared with Mike would forever change the atmosphere at Right Center Field as the TroutNet was here to stay. I post our picture once more on social media and Mike responds to it by saying “No Prob!!” I couldn’t believe it. Following that catch, I came up with something special something that would change our lives and the lives around us at the Big A.
We had three baseballs, one for AJ, one for me and the third ball. I came up with the “#TroutNetGiveAway” on Instagram. I announced a winner by the name of Bryce Burke. He was about one and a half years old at the time (now 2). I had followed his father Ryan who takes beautiful pictures at the Big A and decided to share that with him. From this moment on every baseball we caught would go to Halo fan, my son would choose the winner and we would post the winner on our Instagram “TroutNet27”. I wanted to share these moments of our lives with others, again going back to the promise I made myself when I left the corps. TroutNet 2 debuted a week after TroutNet 1, the net hole was much bigger, giving us a better chance of catching the ball. These were the last poster type TroutNets, the next would change the game forever.
As the games progressed we attended more and more games. Every time Trout would score into the TroutNet we would have a “#TroutNetGiveAway Winner. Then I decided to change up the TroutNet to its original concept. I was taking that leap of faith because I wasn’t familiar with the stadiums regulations. TroutNet 3 debuted against the Rockies in May. It was what I originally wanted to bring on Opening Day. It was red, 24” across in diameter with 6” TROUTNET! Letters across the top, a 2 on the left and a 7 on the right. It was big hit with the fans. The game began and Trout loved it. Immediately said thanks with his fist/chest bump over his heart saying thank you. The inning passed, there was Trout lobbing a baseball from the outfield into the TroutNet, and again a new “#TroutNetGiveAway” Winner was announced that night. Later I added two pictures of Trout’s leaping for a baseball below the 2 and the 7, giving it a great look.
As the season continued we attended more games, more games meant more “#TroutNetGiveAway” winners. TroutNet 4 was a bit extreme, it was three 15” nets tied up together in one straight line, it was about 4ft tall definitely not in compliance. I was able to get in one time until one day when TroutNet 3 and 4 were going to appear in one game security told me “No more TroutNets”. I was heartbroken. I couldn’t believe our beloved stadium would ban our sharing experience with our fans in right center field. I left the TroutNets and proceeded to my seat TroutNet-less. I wasn’t happy, I was upset, sad and bit furious. I couldn’t believe we wouldn’t be able to share this experience with our fans. As I was walking out that night, someone in security told me to me to contact a man that would change the TroutNet forever. His name is Brian Sanders.
Mr. Sanders is the Senior Director of Ballpark Operations. He was the one I contacted when my TroutNets were banned. I left him a voicemail and he replied quickly. I spoke with him regarding our mission out in right center field and he approved it. He gave the green light on everything but TroutNet 4, I agreed with him, it was a bit too much. So I took a net off and debut the TroutNet Mini. A perfect sized TroutNet for my son AJ to hold. It was brilliant. This was going to be the best ever. AJ catching his own ball to give away, and sure enough, the next game we attended with the TroutNet Mini, Trout makes it into the TroutNet Mini. A warm thank you to Mr. Brian Sanders.
We’re almost caught up, it’s been a long ride. The games come and go and more #TroutNetGiveAway winners are announced. The look on their faces is priceless. I love how my son AJ gets upset when Trout misses the net, not because he wants a ball, but because he wants to give it away! So proud of him. When AJ is not at the games I let the fans hold the TroutNet, I want them to experience it all. For them to feel the rush that we get doing it, something they’ll never forget and that’s what it’s all about.
Coming to the All Star Break we had lots of fans, all from the TroutNet, it was amazing to share that with them. During a regular workday within the break a follower tagged me in a photo posted by Instagram. A rep for them was interviewing Mike Trout, Instagram posted a picture of his locker room. They talked about his office, his family and his fans. Trout responded to the question about his fans by talking about my son. The post goes like this:
“ Twenty-three-year-old Mike Trout, is baseballs reigning American League MVP, who signed a $144.5 million contract in 2014. And yet, his pictures reveal a regular guy who loves his job with its locker room “office,” his family and his fans _ many of whom make him creative signs. One child made a sign with a built-in net that Mike tosses a ball into every home game that’s known as –what else? – the “Trout Net!” What’s cool is he always finds a new fan to give a ball to,” the superstar says. Again I called AJ and told him Trout was thinking of him even at the All Star game where weren’t even attending.
Upon reading Mikes kind words I decided to make a new TroutNet, an MVP type TroutNet. TroutNet 5 is one of a kind, it’s a beautiful 28” TroutNet that has Red LED’s in it. It debuts after the All Star game in Cincinnati. The fans loved it, bright red LED’s showing our teams colors. Trout loved it, but he didn’t know it lit up, but that didn’t matter he still scored a ball into the TroutNet. The stadium lights dim them badly; you can see the Red Halo when you’re walking around the big A or at night behind the FoxSportsWest booth hosting the Angels Post Game Show. So that night, AJ and I took a photo with Jose Mota. AJ loves Jose Mota, he’s like his favorite Uncle. I posted the picture of AJ and Jose Mota on Instagram yelling “Light That Baby UP” Angels Win Walk off!!! Moments later our lives would change again.
Mike reposts my sons photo with Jose Mota and the LED TroutNet 5. He writes, “Nice, #LTBU”. He tags me and follows me back on Instagram! Boom! My phone blows up! Message after message after message. Followers after followers after followers. I showed AJ the picture that Mike had reposted and he was going wild. He was so happy. I was happy, the TroutNet dream had begun. That post kind of put us out there, people finally knew who the TroutNet guys were. I decided to call us The TroutNetCrew and every fan that was a #TroutNetGiveAway winner or fans of the TroutNet were part of the TroutNetFamily. With family means more people and by people I mean Players.
The Flying Rojo is our Angels SuperStar Right Fielder Kole Calhoun. He has joined the fun with Mike and trying to score in the TroutNet. I believe they have a competition. Who knows who wins what when one loses. They have fun in the outfield and we’re glad to be part of it, because again, it’s for the fans. We’re just setting up the arrangements via the TroutNet. Then one Sunday afternoon my life changed forever, our TroutNet went viral, national and Worldwide.
On July 26, 2015 something incredible happened. Something I couldn’t possibly imagine. The Dream of the TroutNet came true. To Catch a Home Run by our favorite player, Mike Trout. The stage was set, bases loaded and trout is at the plate, I told the boys in front of me with TroutNet 3 if I could get it back. I had this feeling, this hunch that something was going to happen. The count is 3-2 and Trout hits one deep into Right Center Field!!! It’s coming my way, I leap up and it lands in the TroutNet! The entire section explodes!!! High fives, screaming, more high fives, more screaming!!! It was heaven on earth for that short amount of time. it was incredible, what are the chances of that? The odds had to have been against me, but it happened. Not just a Home Run, but a Grand Slam!!! Again, my phone blew up!!!! Family, friends, and Instagramers flooded my phone with messages!!!! Major League Baseball interviewed me and posted a picture of me saying “Bring a Trout Net, catch a @MikeTrout grand slam. AWESOME.” FoxSportsWest came by had me on the Angels Post Game Show. It was an experience I’ll never forget. So many media highlights, I wish I could name them all, from SportCenter, FoxSportsLive, MLB Quickpitch, ESPN shows, Online media markets. Our Orange County Register published an article of my son and I. Unfortunately, AJ wasn’t there when I caught it but he arrived moments later. Just in time for the pictures.
Two weeks later fast-forwarding to today I got to say it’s been an unbelievable experience, we love the fans of the TroutNet, we love our team, and we love Mike Trout & Kole Calhoun. Since then I’ve mounted a Go Pro to TroutNet 5, made TroutNetVision, a view for fans to see the ball into action. Mike and Kole are making fans the happiest they could ever be through the TroutNet and that’s where our next dream comes into plan. Mike Trout’s Birthday was August 7. I personally made him his very own TroutNet for him to own, along with 2 TroutNets for his niece and nephew. Pink one for her, Red one for him. I hope they love them like our fans love ours. So here we are meeting great people who are lovers of the game like us. We hope to bring a TroutNet to your home in the future, so that you may live the moments that took our breath and that we will never forget.
With Love & Respect,
Alexander & Jonathan Plaza
There is not a chance that I could have told that story any better. Every time I have been at the stadium with Jonathan and also at C.J. Wilson’s charity event, fans stop to talk with Jonathan and ask to take their picture with the TroutNet. Jonathan always obliges, even in the middle of a conversation. He recognizes that though the TroutNet is his creation that he started for A.J., it has grown to be a link between the fans and our baseball heroes. True to the humble, generous, and respectful qualities I have grown to know in Jonathan, he shares his bounty with fellow fans.
Jonathan and A.J. have created a buzz and excitement at the ballpark, not normally seen at The Big A. If you are headed to the Big A to cheer on our favorite team and have tickets in the Right Field Pavilion, look for Jonathan and A.J., you may just be the lucky fan to try your luck at catching a ball in the TroutNet or RedRojoRing! Special Spoiler Alert for those of you who stuck around to read the whole article, take notice I didn’t say Section 240 in Right Field. I have a breaking scoop, Mike Trout has encouraged The TroutNet Team to mix up the section and share the wealth. For now, I think that will be the Right Field Pavilion, but stay tuned as anything can happen, just ask A.J. and Zac:
As has been the case of late, we have no idea where the inspiration for the next installment from the BakerBoys&Baseball come from. We have several interview requests out there, including requests hand delivered by the BaseballBoy to Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun. Or, we might make some more new friends at the stadium that turn out to be the next story, just like the Plazas, either way we hope to have something fun to share with all of you. Enjoy some of our favorite TroutNet photos below, you just might be in one of them! In the mean time, keep filling the in between pauses with meaningful, thoughtful moments and go out to the ball park and have some fun with your friends and family!
Hanging with your favorite baseball players, all you can eat food (including cookies and ice cream sundaes), and unlimited video games at the ESPN Zone all while supporting a great cause: Truly Heaven on Earth for the BaseballBoy! This event was so much fun. That said, having Zac get to speak with Robert Champagne was especially rewarding! Robert is the proud father of the inspiration for C.J.’s charity, Micah. Micah is the young man who’s poem we quoted in the initial BakerBoys&Baseball Blog. Not lost amid all of the fun, is that this great evening and all those who came out tonight support it, including C.J.’s Angel’s teammates: C.J. Cron, Kole Calhoun, Matt Shoemaker, Cory Rasmus, Cam Bedrosian, and Andrew Heaney, were here to help raise awareness and financial support to help those who suffer from hemophilia, like Micah. Here is Micah’s poem for those of you who missed it:
I am a boy, who cannot clot,
And that is why I get shots.
Because of my port,
I can’t play sports.
But I still have fun and like to run
And play in the sun.
I also need help to grow,
And sometimes I like to be slow
But that doesn’t stop me from wanting to play in the snow.
As long as I do what the doctors say,
I will always be able to play!
We have been lucky enough to attend C.J.’s event the past two years and we encourage everyone to come on out and show your support and love. Here is the link to C.J.’s charity: http://cjwcc.org/. The event happens once a year, but you can help whenever and however you are able. This is straight from C.J.’s website:
For this installment for Halo HQ from the BakerBoys&Baseball, the Baker Boys wrap up a run of 10 games in 16 days, visiting 3 ballparks before the All Star Break. Highlighted for Zac by the Angels three game series with the Seattle Mariner’s, which marked the homecoming for Mark Trumbo.
After wearing enemy colors to the Big A, Zac was able to catch up with Mark outside the stadium after the Sunday finale. Armed with a few great photos he snapped from the series and a letter asking Mark for a interview, Mark was kind enough to make time before his game on Tuesday down in San Diego and meet with the us for an interview. Just a few weeks away from his 9th Birthday, the baseball boy took the lead and with only a small assist from the older Baker Boy conducted his first interview.
For those of you that have been following the BakerBoys&Baseball, you know that Zac’s favorite Baseball player is Mark Trumbo. If you are not familiar with the BakerBoys&Baseball, these articles will cover the adventures and experiences in baseball of Zac and Steve Baker. You can read our story here: http://baseballboy.mlblogs.com/. We will both be contributing to the articles. We aim to provide an in depth look into the game, including charities supported by the players and teams, professions in the game outside of being a ball player, and a peak into the lives of the players.
Instead of trying to take the interview and tell a story, we decided the interview is the story. We recorded the interview and while some moments are going to be left for Zac’s personal memories, I decided to transcribe the Q&A session between my dude and his baseball hero. After playing back the audio, a few things stood out to me. First, Zac was cool as a cucumber. He was prepared with some great questions and for an eight year old sitting across from his hero, his poise was impressive. I am one proud Dad, to say the least. Equally impressive were Mark’s thoughtful and intelligent answers.
Before we get into the interview, it needs to be noted that the Los Angeles Angels have been on an absolutely terror, posting an 18-5 record since a three game series against the division leading Houston Astros began on June 22. That stretch included a 12-3 run, starting on July 1st when Jerry Dipoto tried to force Artie Moreno’s hand with an ultimatum that either he or the longest tenured manager in the big leagues, Mike Scoiscia, had to go. That back fired for Dipoto, but it seems to have ignited a team who’s veteran leaders have rallied behind their manager.
When the Astros rolled to town, they brought with them a 5.5 game lead over the Angels in the A.L. West. The Angels were mired in third place at 35-35, looking up at both Texas and Houston. Following tonight’s 7-0 drubbing of the resurgent Minnesota Twins, the Angels now sit at 53-40 and hold a two game lead over the Astros. Albert Pujols and Mike Trout, now first and second in homeruns in the AL, have been hot for some time now, but the recent success runs deeper than the powerful duo. The offense, while still struggling to hit with runners in scoring position now has many guys feeling it at the plate. The pitching staff, especially the starters has been firing on all cylinders. Some tough decisions loom with Jared Weaver nearing a return from the DL and the trade deadline looming. The Angels have some pitching assets they can dangle as trade bait, but do you risk bringing in a fresh face, messing with team chemistry, and sacrificing the depth of arms that may sustain future seasons.
One last note before we are on to the main event, Jerry Dipoto deserves at least a nod of the cap for stock piling those arms. The trades of homegrown talent and crowd favorites may not have always been the most popular, but the depth of arms can’t be overlooked.
Interview with Mark Trumbo
Zac’s Questions are first
Mark’s Answers follow in Italics
Who first taught you to play baseball?
I think my Dad was the first one who taught me how to play baseball. From as early as I can remember, we like most kids, were throwing the ball around and I started Little League probably around 6 years old over in Villa Park. I think the Little League Astros were the first team I played on.
Who were the people that had the most influence on you as a baseball player?
That’s a good question. I am going to probably leave a few out, I think first and foremost, my Dad. He had a real passion for the game. He grew up going to South Gate High School. He was a really good outfielder. He was a Right Fielder and he played his Freshman year at USC. He had a nice working knowledge of the game. I went to the Mark Cresse School of Baseball, which was pretty prevalent in Southern California. They had a lot of quality coaches and I did that every summer, for many many years, at least 10 years. So instead of summer school or YMCA, that was how I spent my summers. Also, Tom Tereschuck, my high school coach my freshman and sophomore years. We won the CIF title under him in 2002. He was really demanding and really hard. Quite honestly, a lot of the guys, especially if you were a younger player, you were really intimidated by him because he asked a lot of you. He yelled and he screamed, but in hind sight, he probably helped me more that anybody as far as growing up and taking accountability. He helped me taking that next step in my career at that time.
Is it hard if coaches sometimes yell at you?
It is hard sometimes. I think you have to try instead of getting emotional, and it comes with age and experience, but you have to realize what the coaches are trying to do. Very rarely is someone just yelling to yell. It is probably because they see you making the same mistakes over and over without changing something. I see coaches yell when the whole team isn’t bringing the right energy or attitude and that can be very frustrating. I always take it as a challenge and try to take something away from what the coach is saying to try and make myself better.
Who was your favorite pro player or players when you were little?
Well, I grew up kind of like you, close to Angels Stadium so there were a lot of Angels Players: Tim Salmon, was one of my favorites and Troy Glaus, Troy Percival, Adam Kennedy, and Darin Erstad are the names that come to mind.
Do you have a favorite baseball movie?
I have probably watched Field of Dreams over a hundred times. It is probably my favorite baseball movie. There is another one, Bull Durham, that you will probably watch down the road, which is probably a tad more accurate to how the baseball life really is.
When did you hit your first homerun?
So we will go with the professional one, since I don’t remember my younger days. I hit my first one in 2011, probably two or three weeks into the season off a pitcher who’s name at the time was Fausto Carmona, in Angel’s Stadium right down the left field line.
Growing up near Anaheim, were you an Angels fan?
I was a big Angels fan. For whatever reason, we would go to see the Blue Jays and the Mariner’s a lot. Kind of like you guys sitting next to first base, I remember sitting near the Right Field line, usually near the foul pole. It was probably no coincidence that Tim Salmon, probably the guy I was closest to was the guy that I rooted for the most.
Were there any other teams you were a fan of?
You know I went to a handful of Dodger games, but I never really rooted for that team. The Angels were the only team I rooted for, but I rooted for other players around the league because you see guys that are good players, you can’t help but like them. I liked guys like Ken Griffey, Jr and The Big Hurt, Frank Thomas when I was your age. I had a pair of Frank Thomas model cleats.
What positions did you play as a kid? What was your favorite position?
This one is a very easy one, when I was a kid and all the way through high school I loved pitching. I actually got drafted as a pitcher. My arm had some wear and tear so I started playing a position. Pitching was what I really loved doing. When I wasn’t pitching I remember playing 3rd and 1st and Left Field, which coincidently enough are mostly what I have played in the big leagues too. My favorite position is the one I have been playing most recently, Right Field. I didn’t get to play Right Field in High School, one of my friends played right. Being a big Tim Salmon fan probably plays to the psychology as to why I like it.
Did you play other sports as a kid?
I did, I played basketball. In this day and age, especially with the one sport focus nowadays, I was the first generation to have that, and I think I missed out at lot on other things. I think you are such a better athlete if you can play other sports. There is no reason to just play one, if you can play other sports you are better off for it.
When you were a kid, what is the best piece of advice you were given, baseball related or not?
The single best piece of advice I got, not sure if it’s a saying or a phrase, but the thing I am most proud of is what I learned from my parents, having a strong work ethic and getting good grades. I have done some things in this game, but one of the things I am most proud of is getting a full scholarship to play baseball at USC. Which I ended up not using, but having the grades to get into college and relieve that financial burden from my parents was something I was really happy with. Without the grades, you are not going to be able to do that. For kids coming up, the baseball and athletics is one thing, but you have to do well in school.
If you couldn’t be a baseball player, what career do you think you would have had?
Well it’s probably changed a few times, I did do two years of college on-line when I was playing in Orem, Utah in rookie ball and I studied business administration. So I got my AA out of the way and so I always thought a business career. But, like I was saying earlier I have so many friends in various police departments that I think I can see myself doing that once the baseball side of things wraps up.
I’ve heard you play the guitar. When did you first learn to play the guitar and how often do you get to play?
I do play. I started when I was 22 years old. My trainer, in the off season, asked if I wanted to start playing, so we started at the same time as a hobby. I did play drums a lot earlier though. I started when I was 12 or 13. I always liked listening to music and then I decided maybe I should try and play a little bit. I started taking lesson on the drums at 12 or 13 and the guitar was later. I play almost every day. I travel with a small one. When I am home I obviously have my equipment there. It’s a good way to get your head off maybe your day job a little bit.
My favorite bands are Green Day, Foo Fighters, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, and Guns N’ Roses. My favorite musician is Bruno Mars. Who are your favorite bands or musicians?
I don’t know if we have enough time, but you know what, a lot of my favorite bands are already on your list. I think Led Zeppelin would be close to my favorite. Led Zeppelin and Guns N’ Roses are pretty neck and neck. Anything classic rock, I absolutely love and will listen to. My favorite guitar player is probably Slash from Guns N’ Roses. I will listen to some other stuff too, a wide range of things, but anything classic rock is my favorite.
What’s your favorite song to play?
Rockin’ In The Free World by Neil Young
As a musician, you always have something you are working on that is new. What are your working on?
Right now, we are actually in the process of recording a cover album. I was going to do it in Arizona. It’s going to be seven songs with professional musicians and tentatively Bronson Arroyo is going to sing on it. That’s what I’ve been working on. There’s a Zeppelin song, a Montrose song, and a Pearl Jam song and some others.
Have you ever played in front of a big crowd? If so, how big and how does that compare to playing in a big league ball park.
I have played a number of times with some friend’s bands at The Ranch in Anaheim and there is probably a couple of hundred people there. I have played live quite a few times I guess. Playing for the Diamondbacks Fan Fest this year, there were a lot of people. There were a couple thousand probably. Bronson, myself, Aaron Hill, and a couple of the other guys that we like jamming. To be honest, it was quite nerve racking. Just like anything, just like a baseball game, that first at bat or that first inning on defense, it’s just natural. It’s that nervous energy that you can channel into doing your best work sometimes. It’s actually fairly similar to playing in a big game.
What do you like to do for fun during the off season?
So, I usually take a trip every year after the season gets over. It’s just something I have done with some friends over the last 5, 6, 7 years. This last year I went to Europe. The year before it was Iceland. I have been to Japan. I’ve been to Australia, both Canada and Mexico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and all over basically. I like just getting away for a little while and doing something else. Seeing different cultures and having a little more real world knowledge, I guess.
How important do you think it is to work out and stay in shape during the off season.
I think, especially in today’s day and age, it’s more important than ever. I know back as recently as the 90’s, guys wouldn’t do anything in the off season. They would just get away and I think a lot of guys would actually fall out of shape and they would use spring training to get back into shape. But, with how fierce the competition is now if you come in out of shape to spring, it is really looked down on. Sometimes, you might set yourself back to where you might not make that ball club. I will take a little bit of time off and give my legs, especially a rest. But come, November 1st, we are back in the weight room, back getting ready for the following year.
What are your favorite exercises?
Favorite exercise? I am trying to think what would be my favorite. You know, it would have to probably be something legs. Maybe a front squat or something like that. If you don’t have strong legs you are not going to have that power. I think legs and core strength are the big things in this game that you really need to stay on top of.
You were drafted right out of high school. We know you were offered a full scholarship to play baseball at USC. Would that decision have been different if a team other than the Angels drafted you?
You know it’s quite possible. I think with the Angels, it was a huge perk being drafted by them because I was a huge Angels fan. There were a couple of other teams that had a lot of interest too. I think part of it is a business decision too. If you are offered something that you may or may not be able to pass up, in this case, financially I probably would have signed. My goal was to always be a Major League Baseball Player. If that’s the ultimate goal, you have to try and figure out what is the best route to get to where you want to be.
What were the fun things and the challenges when playing in the minor leagues?
Well I think the challenges probably outweighed the fun things. I think the funniest part about baseball, other than the competition side of it, is the friendships you make. I have so many friends that I was teammates with, even if it was only for a year and they are going to be friends for life. The challenges are you are not yet at the level you want to be at and the conditions are pretty rough and the fields sometimes are pretty rough and you see guys sometimes that don’t have the same attitude you do. There are some guys that complain a lot and they are not happy with things. You can’t hang around those guys because they are going to bring you down. I think, like anything, you have to surround yourself with good people. I think I have a lot of good friends that I have played with and a lot of them actually made it to the Major Leagues. My buddy, Hank Conger, is with the Astros and then Peter Bourjos is with the Cardinals and those are two guys I came up playing with for almost ten years.
Your regular friends, versus friends who are teammates you have a little different bond. You have a little bit more freedom to, not necessarily criticize, but rather to push each other.
Sure, sure you got it. You’ve got to look and your buddy and I always try to remember what my friends are doing when they are playing well. Then, maybe when thing aren’t as good I can say hey maybe this looks a little different, or this was your mindset. Just to be a good teammate, which is equally as important.
You always seem so calm, how excited were you when you were called up to the Major Leagues?
I was as stoked as I have probably ever been. I had just finished my season in AAA for the Salt Lake Bees and my manager called myself and I think Hank. Peter was already up. Hank and I got called in after the last game and he said we were going to the Major Leagues. For someone who had always had the dream, it was basically someone telling you your dream was about to come true, or just did. I called my Dad right away and I talked to my family and told some of my friends. I drove from Salt Lake City to Anaheim as quick as possible. That will be one of the most special times I will ever have.
How do you tune out hecklers?
Sometimes it can be a little more difficult, but you have got to know you are a good ball player no matter what someone chooses to say. I try to use it as motivation. They easiest way to get those guys to be quiet is to do something good on the field. It’s pretty funny how quickly people will change their tune if you do something well. You know if you go into certain stadiums, like Oakland, they are going to talk a lot of trash and you just have to have a good attitude with it. You just laugh and say thanks. Ultimately, they came to the game and paid money and they are giving you energy and it’s your choice how to use it. It’s never been my style, but to each their own I guess.
Who have been your favorite teammates and why?
I guess we can list them, obviously, Hank and Peter. Albert Pujols, Erick Aybar, you don’t want to leave anybody out. Then with the Diamondbacks, AJ Pollack and Paul Goldschmidt were the guys. Cliff Pennington was a great guy and Aaron Hill and Cody Ross. You could name basically your whole roster, but those guys are guys I got pretty close to and formed bonds with and have really helped me out and we still keep in touch all the time.
Not wanting you to have to call anybody out, but we know there are always going to be challenging teammates that may be tough to play with. What characteristics have you experienced that have made teammates tough to play with.
Especially in the minor leagues, where guys aren’t getting paid very well. You are playing in towns that aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. The complaining can spiral. If you get enough guys that are doing it and next thing you know your team isn’t playing very well. I think if you can take some of the responsibility as a leader, and you don’t always have to get into an argument with a guy, but try and change the mindset. Do something to bring everyone up. There is enough of the downer stuff out there that can contribute to that.
Who have been your favorite Major League Coach or Manager?
You know, I appreciate anyone who gives me a chance to earn a living. So, all of the managers have been great to me. By putting my name in the lineup, that gives me the chance to go out there and play every day. So, picking and choosing is a little tough because at this level you are not really looking for a friend. You are looking for someone that is going to inspire you and get the most out of you. If they are putting you in the lineup, that is worth its weight in gold, basically.
You have played several positions as a pro. What is your favorite position to play?
Right Field! Right Field is my favorite.
What is your favorite ball park to play in?
I think, I will list a few, SafeCo Field. Obviously, Angel’s Stadium is up there. I like the energy in Dodger’s Stadium as well and I have hit really well in Coors Field, so we will list Coors Field too.
What pitcher or pitchers do you look forward to facing? Which ones are the toughest for you?
I guess, every pitcher presents unique challenges and there are probably some pitchers I have hit better. I think it is easier to asker who the tougher ones are. Max Scherzer had been really tough, Yu Darvish, and Felix Hernandez, who I had a little bit of success against, but still the way his ball moves. Making good decisions against those guys is really challenging.
How hard was it when you were traded from the Angels to D-backs?
It was difficult. You know, it’s a business at the end of the day. You can look at it logically and say I was traded for a couple of starting pitchers that have been slotted in to the Angels rotation, so you can see why they did it. From a personal stand point, going from your childhood team to a completely different team was challenging . But, I feel fortunate because I came with a great year and a half with Arizona and a lot of great teammates that I feel very fortunate to have meet and hung out with and have now obviously moved again and am making new friends here (in Seattle).
Was it easier the next time when you were just traded from D-backs to Mariners?
I think it is equally as challenging, especially mid season. You have your life in order and your living situation and you are kind of dialed in. In this case, I was literally on a plane the next morning. I played an afternoon game and then they said, here is your plane ticket, you are playing in Seattle tomorrow. It’s a little bit of a challenge, but you are going to get through it. You have to have the mindset that you can overcome anything and it’s going to be for the best.
You have kind of touched on this, but what has been the best part about playing for different teams?
If I had to give a different answer, in my case, the knowledge you can gain by working with different coaches. A lot of the information is the same, but there are a lot of different ways to do it or think about it. I am fortunate to have worked with Mickey Hatcher with the Angels worked exceptionally. He has been my favorite hitting coach. Then I have had great guys in Turner Ward and Mark Grace in Arizona and now Edgar Martinez. There is this wealth of knowledge that you can tap into and ask them all these questions to try and improve your own game. I think if all you have is one voice and one team for all of these years you don’t get to see the other side of things.
How did it feel to return to the Big A playing for another team?
You know, it felt a little strange at first. There was maybe some more nerves that came with it because it is a unique situation. You look around at guys like Hank that had gone in there with the Astros fairly recently and he said at first it’s going to be a new experience and you might be a little nervous. Then, after the first at bat, it is business as usually and that is what I found the case to be.
You have now played in both the AL and NL, do you think it is better to have the DH or have the pitchers hit?
Well, you know, you will get a lot of different opinions on this. I feel the way the game is unique and I like having a DH in one league and pitchers hitting in the other, especially for some pitchers that can hit. It’s a different style of game. The benches are used differently. You will see tonight, we will have to make adjustments and everyone will get in the game at some point because that is just the way things work. For me, my personal style of game fits better in the American League, but some other guys are better National League type players.
Do you think the NL will eventually go with a DH?
Why did you pick the numbers 44, 15, and now 35?
I was going to wear 37, but Scott Downs was going to wear 37, so I had to pick a new one. Napoli being the most recent to wear 44, and the power hitter type and Reggie Jackson too. I figured 44 was a nice number for a guy with my type of game. When I got traded to the Diamondbacks, there is a pretty good player that wears 44 and I started trying to determine what would be another cool number, and I said Tim Salmon wore 15 and another one of my good friends Dan Haren also wears 15, so that made a lot of sense. For 35, I got a list of available numbers and I had to make a decision in about a matter of a minute in a half and 35 looked like, it looked like a cool number for me. I didn’t put a ton of thought into it, it was just the best of what was available.
What is your favorite baseball memory or story?
It’s has got to be getting my first hit. The last day of the year in 2010 against my current teammate, Mark Lowe, a two RBI single. I had started out a little slow. I think I was 0-14 and you assume you are going to get a chance to play again next year and make the team, but there is no guarantees. So, I was really fortunate that I got a hit in the last at bat, I think it was the top of the 9th inning in Texas.
Free Agency is just around the corner for you, after next season, correct?
I have one more season and I will have played six years, so that is correct.
If the Angels were interested would you want to come back and play for them?
Absolutely. You want to go where you are wanted. If the Angels were interested or if any of the other teams think highly enough and give you job, or offer you a contract you have got to say thank you and then review what is best for you. If you are lucky enough to get six seasons in at the highest level and grind your way through it, that is one of the cool things, you do get to choose where you play after that.
What is the best advice, baseball related or not, you would want to give to your fans?
I guess, it goes along with the work ethic part of it. Giving everything you have on that given day. You know a lot of days you may not feel your best, but if you can give everything you do have, you can always sleep easy, whether you get the results or not, you gave it everything that you have and didn’t hold back. I think that is the way I try to do it and it gives you the peace of mind that you did what you could.
Not diminishing the extremely rewarding experiences our previous interviews have been, but the chance to sit down with Mark was simply awesome. Sure reporters should be objective, but sitting down as your then eight year old son interviews his favorite player will be tough to top. I am extremely grateful to Mark for sharing his time with us. For Zac, the experience was simply one of the best moments of his life. I asked him on our drive back north from San Diego what his favorite part of the day was. He answered, “the whole interview”.
Getting a deeper look into the makeup of someone you look up to can sometimes reveal flaws that you don’t see on the surface. I think I say this objectively, in having this experience, instead of revealing flaws, the positive attributes Zac sees in Mark were actually magnified. It’s safe to say that Mark would credit his Mom and Dad with teaching him that you get what you want in life if you are willing to work for it. I love that Mark spoke of the importance of getting an education. As a father, those are some of the most important lessons I hope my children learn. I want them to know that they can get anything they want out of life, if they are willing to put in hard work. The lesson should also be that once you obtain a goal, the hard work doesn’t end. A good foundation, starting with an education is essential too.
The next installment from the BakerBoys&Baseball will be out soon. We will be attending C.J. Wilson’s Children Charities annual event, Bats and Brushes. He puts on a great event, supporting a great cause. You can get tickets to the event here: http://www.leftylefty.com/
We have several interview requests out there and hope to have something fun to share with all of you. In the mean time, keep filling the in between pauses with meaningful, thoughtful moments and go out to the ball park and have some fun with your friends and family!
Here is the link to the current installment from The BakerBoys&Baseball:
For this installment for Halo HQ from the BakerBoys&Baseball we go to four straight ball games, including our first road trip of the season and explore Chase Field. We uncover the Achilles heel to the start of the Halos season. We confirm that boys from the beach melt in 118 degree heat. And the highlight to the trip is a sit down interview with Josh Rawitch, the Senior Vice President of Communication for the Arizona Diamondbacks. If you are not familiar with the BakerBoys&Baseball, these articles will cover the adventures and experiences in baseball of Zac and Steve Baker. You can read our story here: http://baseballboy.mlblogs.com/. We will both be contributing to the articles. We aim to provide an in depth look into the game, including charities supported by the players and teams, professions in the game outside of being a ball player, and a peak into the lives of the players.
For those of you that have been following the BakerBoys&Baseball, you know that Zac’s favorite Baseball player is Mark Trumbo. When the 2015 schedule was released we saw that our Angels would be playing a four game home and away series with the Arizona Diamondbacks, two games in Anaheim and two games in Phoenix. What a perfect opportunity to take a road trip to start the summer! We would get to explore another ball park and get to watch Zac’s Baseball hero play in four consecutive games. Only the Dbacks front office didn’t get the memo. We had purchased our tickets for the away games on 6/2 only to have Mark traded away to the Seattle Mariners on 6/3.
Not deterred by the change of focus, we geared up for the four game set. With our home seats behind the visitor’s dugout Zac opted for bringing both his Angels and Dbacks lids to the Big A and wearing enemy colors paid off as he got several Dbacks to sign his lid, including the Golden One, Paul Goldschmidt. Goldy was as advertised powering the way in the two Arizona victories in the series (Games 1 and 3), going 5 for 8 with two home runs and four RBI. He was 0 for 7 in the two loses. With Arizona loading up with young talent, it seems for the 2015 season as Goldy goes, so goes the Dbacks. Though worth noting, Yasmany Tomas appears to have real star potential. In our opinion, his emergence made Trumbo expendable.
As often happens when we are at the ball park, Zac and I get to talk a lot of baseball. Add in two 367 mile drives and nearly 12 hours drive time and we really got to break down our observations of the Angels season thus far. Now as it normally happens, our conversation sways from the game and covers all walks of life. For all you Dads out there, if you haven’t taken your kids on a one-on-one road trip, do it! And do it while your opinion still carries weight with your young ones. Zac is almost nine so I still hold a bit of hero status to him. I might rank just as high as Trumbo for a while longer. Having my youngster as my captive audience, I took the opportunity to have some “man talk”. I got him to open up and talk freely. It really let me know him on a deeper level. I shared with him many different philosophies of life, probably some a bit too deep for him to grasp just yet and some that needed to be qualified with “don’t tell mom”.
A quick recap of the four games, the Halos and Dbacks saw a split in both ball parks. The Dbacks won the first game 7-3 and the third game 3-2. The Halos won the second game 4-1 and the fourth game 7-1. It is well documented the terror Albert Pujols has been on, 15 home runs in 24 games (now 26 games), including two on June 22 against the Houston Astros. What a pleasure it has been seeing Albert, a.k.a. The Machine, getting on a roll that St. Louis Cardinal fans got to bear witness to over the first eleven years of what is certainly a first ballot Hall of Fame Career. It is clear to these baseball fans that the injuries that held Albert back during his first three years in an Angels uniform are not an issue this year.
A reporter ruffled his feathers a few weeks ago, while asking Pujols about teams intentionally walking Mike Trout and taking their chances with Albert, to which he replied, “This is not the Mike Trout show”. It is interesting to note that “El Machina” got on this scorching streak just before this comment. This brings us to the Achilles heel for the 2015 Angels, batting average with runners in scoring position. Through the first 73 games of the season, the Angels have hit .245 with Runners In Scoring Position according to espn.go.com. In the four games with the Dbacks, in which the second game featured Mike Trout’s move to the traditional “best player” in the line up three hole and Albert moving into the cleanup hitter role, the Angels were a dismal 3 for 19 (.157 BA), including 0-9 in the third game, the first game in Phoenix. They lost that day 3-2 despite tallying 11 hits.
Sabermatricians will point out that moving Trout to the three hole is a mistake, sighting advanced metrics that support the most balanced hitter should bat 2nd. In looking at the current performances of the Angels roster, what other choices does Mike Scioscia have? Outside of Trouty being Trouty and Albert channeling the once feared, best hitter in the game, the Angels hitters have been lack luster at best. Guys have been called upon to fill roles not suited to their approach, for example Kole Calhoun being asked to bat clean up and Erick Aybar leading off. Kole was off to a great start at the top of the lineup, but was shuffled down in the order because of the lack of protection for Big Al. Scoiscia has now gone to writing Kole Calhoun’s name next to the number two spot on his line-up card. If we get the balanced hitter that started the year, this could be a nice home for him. Aybar, a solid contact hitter, has never performed well in the leadoff spot. He has always had a creative flair at the plate, despite popping out on a bunt attempt in the aforementioned 3-2 loss, he is the best bunter on the team. His approach at the plate fairs much better in the bottom half off the lineup, where he isn’t put in a box to see more pitches. So the lack of a legitimate leadoff hitter and no pop outside of the dynamic duo (Pujols 23 HRs and Trout 18 HRs) have the Angels sitting at a mediocre 37-36 record, 2nd in the AL West and 4.5 games behind the Houston Astros.
Opposing managers have stopped calling for the free pass when Trout digs in, opting now to have the catcher stand up and extend his right arm for Pujols. The last game in Arizona saw Chip Hale, the Dbacks manager, twice calling for the free pass for Pujols, opting to put the pressure to perform on David Freese. In the 6th inning, with Trout having just tripled and Pujols intentionally walked, Freese drew a walk to load the bases, ultimately leading to four runs in the inning. In the 7th, Fresse lined out to center field after the free pass was once again offered to Albert once again with first base open after a two out double by Trout. We can hope the former is the more likely outcome, but recent performance suggests the latter is more probable.
The hope is that the answers could come from someone on the current roster. Freese has the track record and a flair for the dramatic. A career .275 hitter, he has hit just .232 to start his 2015 campaign. He is third on the team in homeruns (10) and RBI (34). He knows how to perform under the bright lights too, garnering World Series MVP honors in 2011. That was the same series that saw Pujols hit three big flies in Game 3. Matt Joyce was never tabbed to be a savior, but he has to be better than his .185 batting average would suggest. Johnny Giavotella has been a pleasant surprise filling in for the departed long-time fan favorite at 2nd base, Howie Kendrick. Several unproven youngster may step up: Kyle Kubitza (Special K is Zac’s nickname for Kyle), Grant Green, CJ Cron, Carlos Perez, Taylor Featherston, we are talking to you.
A fun side note from the games, the last game in Phoenix saw Taylor get his 1st career home run. Only to earn the silent treatment from the dugout. We are pretty sure we saw Trout, Calhoun, and Joyce heckling Featherston with calls of “no pop” during BP a few days earlier. Two batters later, Johnny went deep. Much to the amusement of the whole dugout and at Scoiscia’s behest he received the silent treatment too! The fellas were loose and having fun, we sure hope that the camaraderie on display will sustain the dog days of summer.
It’s more realistic that Jerry Dipoto needs to get creative and find a way to pry a proven hitter away from a club looking to dump salary while not giving away the farm system which is suddenly stocked with some promising arms. That isn’t by accident, Jerry stated at a season ticket holder event before the season that it was his mission was to stock pile cost controlled young arms when he took over the General Manager position in October 2011. This provided perspective into the trades of home grown favorites like Trumbo, Kendrick, and Hank Conger. Zac would have been elated if the proven bat had been Trumbo. It would have made sense when you think about it, he would have been a huge boost as the DH, could fill in at 1st base on off days for Pujols, and play left field too. Oh well, we can still hope he is on the radar when his free agency hits after the 2016 season.
The good news is there is a lot of talent already on this roster and a lot of baseball to be played this season. With nobody lighting the division on fire, the 2015 AL West Title is up for grabs.
Now that we got all the baseball stuff off our chests, on to the road trip. First off 118 degrees isn’t just hot, it hits you like a wave! We often ran for cover, including into the Hard Rock for a cool beverage half way through our 1/2 mile walk from the Renaissance Hotel to Chase field. Seeking out overhangs with misters and friendly conversations in the shade we found a lot of fun and friendly places around the ball park, including Cooper’stown (Alice Cooper’s joint), Squid Ink, and The Breakfast Club.
Cooper’stown was mediocre for grub, but the rock and sports memorabilia were worth the stop in. Our waitress, Tiffany, explained that live music was temporarily stopped, but was supposed to be getting started back up. Squid Ink has amazing sushi and we are tough sushi critiques. The hamachi was so buttery! It also was the only late night spot that we found serving food. Breakfast is our favorite meal and The Breakfast Club was a home run! Zac was in heaven with his Golden Malted Waffle with chocolate chips both inside and out and fresh strawberries with whipped cream. Located in the Cityscape, we decided we will have to give the Hotel Palomar a try next time we are in town just to be closer to The Breakfast Club.
Chase field was amazing, if for no reason other than the fact that in spite of the 118 degrees outside, the retractable roof and air conditioning provide a comfortable 80 degree baseball heaven. As soon as we entered the stadium we are met by the Rally-backs, the Dbacks version of the Angels Strike Force. They have tables set up where they help the young fans make signs to help get the attention of their favorite players. They also had a table up on the third floor of the stadium. Before the game, fans are welcome behind either dugout for batting practice viewing and to try to get autographs.
Though the Halos are much more accommodating signing at home, Scioscia sweet spotted Zac’s team ball. Zac did add Alfredo Griffin to his team ball and hat. We drug Trout’s 106th stolen base to all four games, but had no luck getting it signed. Zac did make the local coverage in the Orange County Register. We were asked frequently about the base and feel it important to point out that the Angels Baseball Foundation, a charity run by the team auctions off game memorabilia. Every team has a similar charity they run and you can find great items available on the MLB auction site: http://auctions.mlb.com/.
He was also proud to add a ball signed by our favorite Halo broadcasters Alex Curry and Jose Mota. We stayed until ushered out after the Wednesday night game and talked with Jose and Alex. In typical Zac fashion, his ball magnetism drew three baseballs while in Phoenix. He gave away two to new friends and had the third signed by Jose for his little league coach, Jeff Odekirk, who played ball with Jose.
The were plenty of options for food at the park and everything was reasonably priced. We had done our home work before heading to Chase Field and were disappointed we didn’t get to try everything. The Churro Dog was high on the list though the combination of sugary sweetness fell short of expectation. The build-your-own sundae at the Audi quattro Lounge more than made up for it. Located behind home plate, the Audi quattro lounge is an exclusive, upscale dining and bar experience. We missed out on the Food Truck Alley, which features rotating food trucks to provide new dining options each game. I guess that will be our excuse for a return trip.
The upper concourse is where the Sandlot is located. There is something there for kids of all ages, playgrounds, real batting cages, and Future’s Field, a miniature version of Chase Field complete with center field score board where kids get to take wiffle ball batting practice and run the bases. Like we said earlier, the Rally-backs also have a sign making station on this level. On a side note, heat rises and the upper level is not nearly as cool as the field level when it is hot outside. A small price to pay to have some fun at the ball park.
The highlight of our trip came when we got to sit down and talk with Josh Rawitch, the Senior Vice President of Communications for the Dbacks. When we started down this path of sharing our experiences within the game of baseball, we made it a point to try and find opportunities to talk with those connected to the game. One of the first requests we made was to Tim Mead, the Angels VP of Communication. We haven’t been able to get that interview, but were more than thrilled when Josh immediately responded to our request and the experience couldn’t have been better. When looking for people we could connect with in Phoenix to interview, Josh’s biography immediately caught our attention.
Straight off his biography on the Dbacks website, Josh’s many responsibilities include ”internal and external communications efforts of the organization, including player and media relations, corporate communications, publications, social media, photography, and fan feedback”. Admittedly, he has a team that helps him carry out the day to day duties, but he still takes pictures for social media when the team is on the road.
In a career that has spanned more than two decades in Major League Baseball, Josh paid his dues starting off as an eighteen year old intern. Josh was an early advocate of social media. During his 15 seasons serving as the Vice President of Communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Dodgers became the first in Major League Baseball to create a program in which independent bloggers received media credentials and access to cover the team. He was too humble to take credit for pioneering a different way of thinking, saying it just made sense “to be the first to try it”. Josh’s opinion was “if someone is willing to spend six hours at the ball park, don’t we want to engage them”. Saying “wouldn’t it make sense to provide them with good information, rather than having them guessing”.
Josh was quick to recognize that social media is “the modern way we communicate” and “one of the best ways to reach young fans”. He also recognizes how quickly the “in thing” changes, originating with blogging, then Facebook, next Twitter, now Snap chat and Periscope. He sees the need to “keep up with the times”. The Dbacks president, Derrick Hall, does a fan Q&A on Periscope. At 40 years old, I know I am not quite the hip generation any longer. Snap Chat and Periscope are foreign mediums to me and not quite on Zac’s radar just yet. Just a little bit younger than me, Josh recognizes the need to utilize these innovative mediums to “build a brand” and reach the next generation of baseball fans. Recognizing that the marketing dollars spent through these avenues can’t be measured with return on investment, he has pitched these ideas to the Dbacks brass, “not afraid to make mistakes and fall flat”.
Like most of those we have encountered around the game, Josh has a passion and love for the game of baseball. He played through high school, Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, CA. He shares the love of the game with his son and quickly related to Zac’s story with Mark Trumbo having been traded away from the Angels and subsequently traded from the Dbacks. We discussed the business of baseball and the disappointment of a favorite player being traded away. I shared how Trumbo being traded opened a new perspective to the game and introduction to other teams and players for Zac. Josh had to have a similar conversation with his son when his favorite player, Miguel Montero, was traded this past off season for a couple of young pitchers.
As is the normal part of our process, I asked Zac his impressions after we left Josh’s office. Zac proclaimed, “that it was more fun than getting autographs”. Josh words resonated, “if we can talk to one of our fans one on one, any imaginable way we can”. Zac already had the Dbacks on his radar, but literally willing to talk with a fan one on one cemented his favorite NL team as the Dbacks.
We did forget to ask Josh about the few years he spent working for MLB.com and also the role being bilingual plays in his position. I sent a follow up to him and quickly got this response: ” During my time at MLB.com, I was actually a beat reporter covering the Dodgers in 2001 and the Giants in 2002, which really helped me understand what reporters are looking for and remains useful on a regular basis in my current position. I was fortunate enough to cover Barry Bonds, one of the greatest hitters in history, en route to the World Series. Being just 24 years old at the time and getting opportunity to cover the Caribbean Series, All-Star Game, NLDS, NLCS and World Series in the same year provided incredibly valuable experience. I am very grateful to MLB.com for letting me take a leave of absence during the offseason between 2001-02 so that I could backpack around South America for 3 ½ months, which included several weeks covering baseball in Venezuela. That’s when I really picked up Spanish to the point that I felt comfortable using it daily and it has come in handy countless times over my career in baseball. Not only can I speak with players from Latin America, but the media, our own broadcasters and even fans. I’ve been able to translate for our players and hopefully put them at ease when they find themselves in a challenging situation due to a language barrier. I always enjoy the look of surprise on the face of a native speaker when they first see me start speaking their language.”
Though Josh Rawitch would probably never say so, in my humble opinion, he has left a footprint on the game of baseball. Specifically, a bold perspective in recognizing the need to use all modern tools available to reach each and every fan of the game. I am sure the Dbacks organization realizes what a valuable asset they have in their front office. It was a pleasure getting to see his insight into the game.
The next installment from the BakerBoys&Baseball will be out soon, covering Mark Trumbo’s return to the Big A. We have several interview requests out there and hope to have something fun to share with all of you. Enjoy some of our favorite photos from the trip below. In the mean time, keep filling the in between pauses with meaningful, thoughtful moments and go out to the ball park and have some fun with your friends and family!
June 20, 2015
The first installment for Halo HQ from The BakerBoys&Baseball explores the Angels RBI League. If you are not familiar with The BakerBoys&Baseball, these articles will cover the adventures and experiences in baseball of Zac and Steve Baker. You can read our story here: http://baseballboy.mlblogs.com/. We will both be contributing to the articles. We aim to provide an in depth look into the game, including charities supported by the players and teams, professions in the game outside of being a ball player, and a peak into the lives of the players.
This past Saturday, Zac attended the Angels Youth Baseball Camp. The proceeds from the camp go to support the Angels RBI League. Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) are Major League Baseball youth outreach programs that have been started in more than 200 cities worldwide, and annually provide more than 260,000 boys and girls the opportunity to play baseball and softball. Each Major League team has an affiliation with a local RBI league. After the camp, we got to talk with Dave Smith, the President of the Angels RBI League.
Before we get into Dave’s Story and the RBI League, we want to tell you about the Angels Youth Baseball Camp (AYBC). This is the second year Zac has attended one of the AYBC events. Not taking away from any other single day baseball camps with professional baseball players or team affiliations, but in our opinion, hands down the AYBC provides the best baseball instruction, with pro baseball players and coaches providing hands on instruction. Oh, and did we mention, the camp takes place on the field at Angels Stadium!
Hector Santiago, Matt Shoemaker, Taylor Featherston, and Dino Ebel worked the camp which featured seven stations. The stations were: speed and agility, base running, pitching, hitting, catching, pop ups, and ground balls. Hector and Matt worked the pitching station, where the kids got to pitch from the bullpen mounds. Dino worked the hitting station and Taylor worked ground balls.
The campers were broken up into seven groups based on age and ability and then rotated through the seven stations. In addition to the Angels players and Dino, players from local area colleges worked the camp providing valuable hands on instruction. At the end of the work at each respective stations with the Hector, Matt, Taylor, and Dino every kid got the chance to get an autograph.
Zac had so many great moments during the camp. I asked him what was his favorite moment from the day. So what stood out as the highlight of the day to an eight year old at the camp: Was it receiving complements on his pitching mechanics from Hector Santiago? How about working on turning double plays with Taylor Featherston? Telling Matt Shoemaker he thinks his beard is cool? Letting Dino Ebel know we were hitting the road to follow the team to Phoenix? Hanging out in the Angels dugout? While those moments were all a part of what made the day a great one for Zac, none of those got topping billing. That moment arrived at the end of the fly ball station.
A few kids from each group were randomly selected to catch soft vinyl balls fired from the cannons by members of the Angels Strike Force Girls. These are the same balls fired into the stands during the seventh inning stretch during games. Despite attending many games each year, Zac has never received one of these balls at a game. If the kid selected caught the ball, then he or she got to keep it. If the ball was dropped, it was then thrown three flies up style into the dozens of kids not selected. Zac did not get picked as one of the kids, but was determined to get one of the balls thrown in to the pile. Instead of positioning himself in the middle of the group and trying to fight for the ball, he positioned himself to the outside of the group and followed the trajectory of the ball and waited patiently for one ricocheted in his direction. Finally, his chance came on the second to last ball for the group. Unfortunately, after taking an elbow to the jaw he didn’t secure the ball and it was quickly snatched up another eager participant. Zac picked himself up and shook off the stars, knowing there was only one more shot. Sure enough the last kid didn’t secure the ball and it was launched toward the group. Zac took up position to the right flank of the front edge of the group. The ball kicked out of the pile right towards his area and landed several feet away. Zac sprinted toward the ball and then went airborne, landing with the ball under his stomach. Not having the ball completely secured as 10-12 others dog piled, Zac emerged triumphantly with his prize.
Typically, the Angels RBI League hold this camp twice during each baseball season. The next one is on Saturday, September 26, 2015. If you have a youngster, the camp is for kids ages 8-18, who loves baseball, you won’t find better value and you get to support a great cause. Not to mention, a chance at making your own great memories on the field at Angels Stadium with current players and coaches, and of course a shot at getting your own ball at the bottom of a dog pile. You can register for the camp here: http://losangeles.angels.mlb.com/ana/community/rbi_camp.jsp.
We wanted to learn more about the Angels RBI League and the work done in the community, so we reached out to Dave Smith and he was happy to share his story and information about the RBI League. The mission statement for the Angels RBI league is “To inspire and enable all young people, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances, the opportunity to learn and play baseball and softball in a friendly and supportive environment which fosters life skill and character development.” The Angels RBI League has provided over 10,000 kids who would not otherwise have the chance, the opportunity to play baseball and softball. As a collaboration between Angels Baseball, Major league Baseball and other youth development agencies throughout the Southern California area. The league specifically targets underserved youth and provides them a comprehensive athletic experience at no cost.
Randomly, we met Dave and his sons at an Angels game last season just before Zac attended the AYBC last year. Coincidentally, Dave grew up in San Clemente and graduated from San Clemente High School in 1989. I graduated San Clemente High School in 1993. Dave always had a passion for baseball, playing Little League and P.O.N.Y. as a kid. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Recreation Administration from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Master’s Degree in HPERS (Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Sports) from Middle Tennessee State University. Zac had to ask Dave if that was a real thing.
After working as the Athletic Director for Boys & Girls Clubs of Capistrano Valley, Dave started full time with the Angels RBI League in 2004. When Dave took over the program, participation numbers were low, less than 250 kids with only 16 teams in the five divisions. With sponsorship and affiliation with Angels, the low attendance was an area that needed to immediately be addressed. Dave reached out to the local area Boys and Girls Clubs, School Districts, and other Independent Organizations to create awareness and promote the program. In 2005, the participants had increased to 450 kids and in 2006, 650 kids. From 2006-present, the number of kids participating in the Angels RBI League peaked at 800 kids and has consistently stayed in the range of 650-800 kids. In 2012, the program was expanded incorporating year round baseball adding regional All Star teams that compete in the summer.
The Angels RBI League has five divisions over three age groups, the Jr. RBI which is a co-ed program for 4th and 5th graders designed to be a recreational introduction to baseball, the Jr. Division in both baseball and softball for ages 12-15, and the Sr. Division in baseball and softball for ages 16-18. The leagues are run by the local organizations, with the Angels RBI League providing the infrastructure, including coaches, uniforms, game schedules, and securing field space when necessary. Two dedicated fields have come directly from the support of former Angels Darin Erstad, Erstad Field in Garden Grove, CA and Torii Hunter, Torri Hunter Field at Kraemer Field in Placentia, CA. According to Dave, “the goal is to support as many teams as possible”.
The opportunities afforded through The RBI League mirror MLB and USA Baseball’s new campaign Play Ball. Dave said that “since the new MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred, took over the mission has been clear to give kids the opportunity to play baseball”. The RBI League is a front line warrior in this movement. Allowing those without the economic means and in many cases the family support to play this great game. Reported by MLB.com, “Since the inception of the RBI program in 1989, MLB Clubs have drafted more than 200 RBI participants, and more than 70 players since 2008. Alumni on MLB rosters during the 2014 regular season include Michael Bourn (Cleveland Indians), Carl Crawford (Los Angeles Dodgers), Coco Crisp (Oakland Athletics), Yovani Gallardo (Milwaukee Brewers), James Loney (Tampa Bay Rays), Manny Machado (Baltimore Orioles), Anthony Rendon(Washington Nationals), CC Sabathia (New York Yankees), Hector Santiago (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim), Tyler Skaggs (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) and Justin Upton(Atlanta Braves). Crawford (Houston RBI – ’97), Loney (Houston RBI – ’99), Crisp (LA RBI – ’95, ’96) and Gallardo (Fort Worth RBI – ’03) have each played in the RBI World Series.” The program also gives access to players that may be overlooked.
The Angels RBI League sent it’s Sr. team to the RBI World Series game. While the Angels team lost 7-3 to the Jackie Robinson RBI of Jersey City, N.J., there were college scouts in attendance. The additional exposure playing for the RBI League, allowed for college scholarship opportunities for kids that had been overlooked.
In addition to the Angels Baseball Youth Camp, there are many ways to support the Angels RBI League, you can join the many generous supporters and make a donation to the Angels RBI League or attend the just announced Angels Uprising, an art exhibit using baseball as a canvas that will take place July 13, 2015, 6:00pm-9:00pm at Cafe TuTu Tango in Orange. For more information contact Angels RBI office at 714-619-8416 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next installment from the BakerBoys and Baseball will be out soon, covering our four game home and away series of the Angels and Diamondbacks. Highlighted in the trip will be our interview with Josh Rawitch the Sr. Vice President of Communications with the Arizona Diamondbacks. In the mean time, keep filling the in between pauses with meaningful, thoughtful moments and go out to the ball park and have some fun with your friends and family!
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