A July 1998 visit to Cedar Rapids gave birth to the idea for FutureAngels.com.
Happy Birthday, FutureAngels.com.
Check out the banner on the FutureAngels.com web site and you’ll see it now says TEN YEARS below the site name.
Depending on how you measure such things, the site’s inception has already passed, or is yet to come.
The site’s origins lie in the 1998 season for the Lake Elsinore Storm, at the time the Angels’ affiliate in the California League.
I got the minor league bug in the mid-1990s. A lifelong Angels fan, I was curious about their minor leagues so one day I drove out to Lake Elsinore, which was the closest affiliate. I found it was a very informal environment, and it was easy to get involved with the operation if (1) your intentions are sincere, and (2) you don’t have your hand out looking for cash.
I developed a friendship with Jennifer Bock, who at the time was running the Storm gift shop. (Jen is the wife of Alan Bock, an editorial writer for the Orange County Register.) As a side gig, I’d been doing some free-lance writing work for trading card companies, helping to produce entertainment card sets. I always wanted to do baseball cards, and offered to do the 1998 Storm set.
Players, naturally, want action shots on their cards, but that means hiring a professional photographer. Jen didn’t have the money in her budget for that, so she’d get a cheap camera and take posed photos of the players. I volunteered to shoot action shots in exchange for a press pass that gave me access to the camera wells, dugouts, etc. I went out and bought a camera and started to learn all about photography.
I came up with an idea for the back of the card sets. Instead of a simple line like, "Johnny was drafted in the 5th round," I thought it would be fun to interview the players and get quotes about their teammates. So a quote from Player B about Player A would be on the back of A’s card. Neat idea, a pain to do, never tried it again.
(My wife had that card set framed. It’s on the wall here in my home office. Jen got the cards autographed for her.)
One day, I was approached by a woman who asked if I was a professional photographer.
I was flip. "If someone paid me, I guess it would make me a professional photographer."
She introduced herself as the mother of Travis Rapp, the team’s third-string catcher. "If you’ll take photos of my son," she said, "I’ll pay you for them."
I mentioned it to Jen, who observed, "You can make a lot of money if you get into the parents."
Well, that turned out not to be quite true, because camera equipment costs a lot of money and so does travel. But it did open the door to what has become FutureAngels.com.
At the same time I was doing the card sets, I’d discussed with Jen development of a Storm web site. I developed a prototype on AOL, since I had an account over there back then. Subscribers could create their own personal sites with very limited storage space and features. Another front office executive developed his own site, so that became their first "official" site, but I kept mine going as a fan site about the Angels’ minor leagues.
So, technically, the first FutureAngels.com site was http://members.aol.com/ssmith1701. (No, it doesn’t exist any more.)
That only lasted a couple months. Eventually I registered the name HaloStorm.com (it no longer exists either) which covered both the Angels and Lake Elsinore. That’s really where the site began to morph into what we have today.
During that summer of 1998, I made my first trip to another affiliate. The 1999 Storm players would come from Cedar Rapids, so I went out to Iowa to shoot photos of the 1998 Kernels.
The Kernels opened their door, just as did the Storm. Broadcaster John Rodgers put me on the radio with him, peppering me with questions about Kernels alumni who’d moved up to Lake Elsinore. Many fans approached me to ask about their favorite players and how they were.
That was when the cartoon lightbulb lit over my head.
If the fans in Cedar Rapids wanted to follow their kids after they left, if Storm fans wanted to know who’d be in Lake Elsinore next year, and if Angels fans wanted to know more about the farm system in general, then wouldn’t the Internet be a great way to deliver that information?
I called the other affiliates, explained the concept, and everyone was supportive. No one ever really gave much thought to their sibling affiliates, because each team is its own operation. They’re not owned by the Angels, but independent business people (or corporations such as Mandalay Sports Entertainment, which at the time owned the Storm). The basic deal was that, in exchange for access, I’d post their press releases and schedules on-line, shoot photography for them for free, do some writing for their game programs and provide them with photos from the other affiliates. Done deal.
In early 1999, I registered the name FutureAngels.com and started building the site. The official opening day was April 1, 1999. No foolin’.
So as I wrote upstream, depending on how you want to measure it, the site’s birthday is somewhere in the 1998 season, or the spring of 1999.
In any case, I’ve covered ten seasons of Angels minor league baseball, and 2008 will be the eleventh. So TEN YEARS could refer to that too.
As Internet technology has evolved, so has FutureAngels.com.
Eventually the affiliates all got their own web sites, so I no longer needed to post their schedules and press releases. Fine by me! More time to put into other endeavors.
Back then, most people accessed the Internet by dial-up modem. Many site visitors were people in rural areas or folks who didn’t have a lot of money, so the site wasn’t loaded up with a lot of whiz-bang special effects. The regulars told me they didn’t care about effects, they wanted content, so I’ve always kept that in mind as the site has evolved.
Recording and posting audio interviews was pretty easy, because streaming sound didn’t require much bandwidth (if you weren’t trying to stream music in stereo!). You’ll find in the FutureAngels.com Audio Gallery interviews going back to 1998. The idea was to create a permanent archive, so that when these players reached the majors you could hear them when they were starting out. You’ll find Nathan Haynes and Robb Quinlan in 2000; Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis and John Lackey in 2001; Joe Saunders and Mike Napoli in 2004; and Howie Kendrick and Brandon Wood in 2005.
As an historical archive, you’ll also find interviews with managers and coaches over the years talking about the players assigned to them for that season. Tom Kotchman’s annual interviews are always of interest because he’s managed the teams that usually have the first-year players; in his 1999 interview, he talks about John Lackey. In his May 2002 interview, Travs manager Doug Sisson talks about why Francisco Rodriguez was moved into the bullpen and the marching orders he was given for how to use Frankie; as we all know, that move rocketed Frankie through the system to a September 15, 2002 major league debut and World Series stardom.
I’ve also recorded interviews each spring with the Angels farm directors, sort of a "State of the Farm" report. It’s a snapshot in time so you can listen to what was management’s thinking about top prospects and player development in general.
As broadband Internet access became more commonplace and affordable, I started experimenting with video. The FutureAngels.com Video Gallery began in the summer of 2002. One of the earliest clips is of Frankie Rodriguez pitching in relief at Salt Lake right after he was promoted from Arkansas.
Some of that early stuff is crude, but it was a learning curve and within a couple years the web site had some memorable clips. One of my favorites is of the Provo Angels winning the pennant in September 2004. My wife and I drove up the I-15 to Provo the day before — a 650-mile drive — to be there should the Angels win. I videotaped the final out, the on-field dogpile, the trophy award ceremony, and the celebration. We went back to the hotel and I posted that video on-line so the players’ parents could see their sons win the pennant. Jordan Renz’ father was able to see him hit the game-winning homer. Billy Layman, who had to leave the team as his mother was very ill, was able to watch the celebration on-line; that’s his jersey you see his teammates waving, to show he was still part of the team.
There have been plenty other memorable moments. Two of my favorites are Dallas McPherson’s homer off Randy Johnson at Rancho Cucamonga in July 2003, and Brandon Wood’s 43rd homer for Rancho Cucamonga in 2005 to set an Angels minor league single-season record. No one even knew what the record was until I’d researched it that summer.
Which brings me to the next project.
I’m working on a database of Angels minor league statistics. Soon you’ll be able to query the database for questions such as, "Who holds the record for most homers in a single season?" Who has the most homers lifetime? Which pitcher has the most strikeouts? Which team had the highest winning percentage? Which manager has the most wins?
I pretty much have the technology nailed down (an ASP.NET front-end to a SQL Server database, for you computer geeks), so now I’m entering early 1960s data for test records. I should have something for you to see in a few days. With 47 seasons and counting of data to enter, obviously this will take a while, but the upside is I’ll learn a lot more about the history of the Angels minor leagues.
That’s the other big project. I’ve been interviewing people involved in the early days of the Angels minor leagues — farm director Roland Hemond, and players Dan Ardell, Jack Hiatt and Paul Mosley — to build a foundation for a permanent section on the Angels’ minor league history. There are other plans in the air — a possible reunion, and a book — but more about those if/when they happen.
I’ve been sitting on a ton of video footage I shot in 2003 of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. That was a team with Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis, Dallas McPherson, Ervin Santana and more. Eventually I want to produce an on-line documentary about that team and its players. It just awaits the time to do it. I may do something similar with the 2008 squad, which should feature all the top-prospect talent that was at Cedar Rapids last year.
Isn’t that how all this started?
Please keep in mind that nobody pays me to do this. I’m not wealthy. I lose a couple thousand dollars every year doing this. So if you enjoy the content, please consider a donation or voluntary subscription to FutureAngels.com. Ten years of support from people like you have helped us to preserve some incredible moments in Angels minor league history. Your donation might help pay for the next one.
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