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!