With the Tempe Angels – Day One

Robin Molina got the start Friday for the Tempe Angels.

"How hot was it?!"

Audience question frequently posed to Johnny Carson during his monologue

It wasn’t as hot as expected, thanks to an overcast that kept the temperature in the high 80s for the first few innings. But the clouds vaporized by mid-game, so at game’s end it was in the mid-90s.

The game in Peoria between the Mariners and the Tempe Angels was a battle between the top two teams in the Arizona League, with the Angels one-half game behind the Mariners, and the contest was as tight as anticipated. I shot video in the latter innings. Click Here to watch the video clip; you need Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection (cable modem, DSL).

Robin Molina, who turned 20 on June 29, made his sixth start of the summer season and allowed two runs on four hits in six innings, striking out only one while walking four. Robin retired 12 ground outs while allowing only three fly outs. The first clip in the video shows the three outs recorded by Robin (no, he’s not related to the catching Molina family) in the first inning. It was shot from a platform behind home plate where pitchers from both teams go to chart and film video of their pitchers, so you hear their chatter on the tape. (I was down the left field line shooting still photos at the time. Yes, it’s a pain to run all this by myself.)

Peoria scratched out single runs in the bottom of the 4th and 6th to take a 2-0 lead, but the Angels have a number of come-from-behind wins this summer so it was no surprise when they put a run on the board in the top of the 7th and tied it in the top of the 9th. You’ll see those clips too. What you don’t see is a bonehead play typical of rookie league. The Angels had LF Anthony Norman on 2nd and DH Justin Bass on 1st with two out in the top of the 9th. Mariners catcher Juan Fuentes made a pickoff throw down to first trying to pick off Bass — so Norman took third. It didn’t matter, because Peoria got the final out anyway.

The Mariners scored in the bottom of the 9th to win, 3-2, taking all the fun out of the rally.

Trevor Reckling made his professional debut in the 8th inning Friday.

Eighteen-year old LHP Trevor Reckling from New Jersey made his professional debut, striking out two in the bottom of the 8th without allowing a runner.

A little about the Peoria Sports Complex. It’s a facility jointly operated by the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres. Today’s game was played on "Mariners 1" (presumably there’s a "Padres 1") behind the major league spring training stadium. The field has no lights and no scoreboard. I was here a few years ago for a Mesa Angels road night game; that contest was on "Mariners 2" which has lights (but no scoreboard). The dimensions are 340′ down the lines, 385′ to the alleys and 410′ to center. Most fields in the Arizona League have deep dimensions because the ball carries so well in the heat and dry air.

As is normal for these summer league contests, a few parents and girl friends attended on both sides. For most of them, it’s their first exposure to professional baseball as a parent instead of a fan, so it’s eye-opening for them as well as their sons.

Several familiar faces (for me, anyway) are with Tempe.

Manager Ty Boykin came up in the Angels system as an outfielder in the early 1990s; he was a Palm Springs Angel. When he retired, he was assigned in 1997 to be the hitting coach for the Lake Elsinore Storm. He’s managed in the system at Cedar Rapids, Arkansas and Rancho Cucamonga, which gives him a connection to the Angels’ last three California League affiliates.

You may recall last May when I was in Cedar Rapids that the Kernels’ pitching coach Pedro Borbon Jr. resigned the last day I was there. He was replaced by Dan Ricabal, who was slated to be the Tempe pitching coach and was in extended spring training when he was promoted.

To replace Ricabal, the Angels hired recently retired Brandon Emanuel, who was originally drafted by the Angels in the second round of the June 1998 draft. He began his career, as most Angels do, playing for Tom Kotchman back when the Angels were still in Boise. His last year in the Angels system was 2004, splitting time between Arkansas and Salt Lake. After brief stints with the Padres and Cubs, Emanuel turned 31 last April and was at home when the Angels gave him the call in mid-May to offer him the Tempe coaching job.

Also in town is Tom Gregorio, the roving catching instructor. Tom was drafted by the Angels in 1999 and made it to the parent club for twelve games in 2003 when both Molinas were injured. Sent to the A’s in a minor league trade in 2005, he spent time with the Mariners and Rangers organizations before calling it quits to succeed Todd Takayoshi (now the roving hitting instructor) as the catching rover.

It’s a little weird to see these kids you knew as players now in a coaching role, but it’s pretty neat that the Angels choose to groom their own. One advantage is that they already know the organization’s player development philosophy, so there’s no need to familiarize them with "the Angels way."

Tempe’s hitting coach is **** Schofield, who was the Angels’ ace shortstop from 1984 through 1991. He was the Angels’ first-round pick in the June 1981 draft, selected #3 overall. This is a different kind of weird — someone you remember watching at Anaheim Stadium many times over the years is now just another one of the guys teaching the young charges here where it all begins. Media rumors suggest that Tim Salmon, who lives here in Phoenix, may eventually assume a role with Tempe but we’ll see.

I’ll try to record interviews before I go, although at these lowest levels everything runs on a tight clock to help instill discipline in these young players so that has to be respected. Tomorrow we’re at home against the Phoenix A’s, and then on Sunday against the Peoria Padres.

My wife flies in tomorrow afternoon after the game so my spare time to blog will be limited except for when she’s off looting the local Dillard’s department stores. We don’t have them in SoCal so when I come to Phoenix for baseball she goes pirating.

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