Sunday, February 1, 2009



Interview conducted by Chuck Richter - Angelswin.com Executive Editor

We recently caught up with the Angels beat writer for the Press Enterprise and PE.com. Michael Becker took over the job from Matt Hurst late in the 2008 season after Matt took a job with up the coast. We found out that Michael is an avid reader and fan himself of Angelswin.com, so we thought we'd hit him up to get his thoughts on a variety of items, while getting acquainted with the Inland Empire's source for Angels Baseball for Halos fans in Riverside & San Bernardino counties, as well as all over the interwebs on PE.com.

Q: Angelswin.com - When did you start covering the Angels with the Press Enterprise and how did that come about?

A: Michael Becker – First of all, Chuck, I appreciate you having me on here. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it right now – I’m a big fan of what you guys do over at Angelswin.com. And I’m sure many of my peers on the beat would say the same. It’s a great resource.

I started covering the Angels in August of last year. My predecessor, Matt Hurst, took a great job at UC Santa Barbara as a sports information director. I speak to him often. He lives near the beach with his wife. He doesn’t regret the move for a minute.

I had just finished a summer stint in the news department at The Press-Enterprise when I got a call from our sports editor asking if I had any interest in pursuing the job. To be honest, at that time, I didn’t. I had covered baseball at previous stops and summer internships – some Yankees and Mets at the Star-Ledger in New Jersey, some Dodgers for the LA Times – and knew with some certainty I didn’t want to become a baseball beat writer.

But I decided to take a chance, more as a challenge than anything else. And what do you know? I’ve grown to really like it. Appreciate it. Not a day goes by when I’m not humbled, but I’ve definitely grown as a reporter and a writer. Plus, I’ve had a lot of fun experiences in my brief time on the beat.


Q: Angelswin.com - As a journalist covering and blogging for the team, do you find yourself rooting for the club?

A: Michael Becker – No. What we do is provide an objective and responsible look at the ball club, and I’d like to think our readers both appreciate and respect that. There are dozens of avenues, as you know, for an Angels fan to find views and opinions that represent their fandom. And there are news sources that play it straight. I believe fans appreciate having that distinction available.

But we are human. We root for storylines. People. 1-2-3 ninth innings when up against deadline.


Q: Angelswin.com - When I was a kid and teenager rooting for the Halos I didn't see many Angels fans in the Inland Empire, caps were mostly blue or purple and gold. Now, after the Angels have won the World Series in 2002, have you seen an influx in the fan base in the IE and does Arte do a good job marketing the "Angels" brand in Riverside and San Bernardino county?

A: Michael Becker – I can only speak to the time I’ve been in Riverside, which has been from 2006, but I’ve noticed a ton of Angels support here in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. I know it’s easy for those from the OC to forget about life east of Green River Road., but we’re not far from Angel Stadium.

I’ve had conversations with a lot of people who grew up Angels fans because it was easier to travel to Angels games than it was to Dodger games. That makes a lot of sense. And that’s how these allegiances are built. I see Angels caps all over the places. Tons of decals on car windows.

There used to be an Angels billboard down the street from the office, which I presume was Arte’s doing. But they don’t really need to sell the brand out here because there’s already some pretty fervent support. Which I can only hope translates to fervent readership.

I know the Press-Enterprise is sometimes considered the red-headed step child when compared to the Big Boys (the OC Register and LA Times). And that’s something we’re honestly trying to change. I think our blog ((http://blogs.pe.com/prosports/mlb/angels/)) is something that gives us an advantage over some of our competition. It allows us to post information immediately and maybe provide some interpretation and analysis. We have the same access as the other papers. The same opportunities to report the news.

Right now there are four media outlets – ourselves included – that cover the Angels at home and on the road. And I wish we had more papers able to travel. It’s great for the fans to have options. I liken it to the airline industry. You’ll have your people who fly exclusively Delta or United. But if they’re interested in the lowest fairs, they’ll fly Southwest. They want a TV in the headrest? They’ll fly JetBlue. I feel like my job is to let fans know there’s another voice out there, and provide them a reason to read.


Q: Angelswin.com - Let's talk Angels Baseball. Do you think the Angels are rebuilding on the sly? Obviously the AL West is a weak division. If they tried to play the lineup they have on paper a couple of years ago they wouldn't be competitive.

A: Michael Becker - Well, first of all, I know a certain AL West manager who would take exception with your claim that the division is weak. Mike Scioscia has said repeatedly that the division is tougher than people realize.

As for rebuilding, I can’t say. Is it still rebuilding if they win the division? Or is it only rebuilding if the Angels struggle this season? I think the term is pretty loaded, if only because it’s been misused by a lot of media folk.

I will say this: I don’t think the team looks as it as a rebuilding effort. What they will cop to is promoting from within, which is something they’ve done in recent years with great success.


Q: Angelswin.com - Are you getting the feeling that fans are upset that we're not even considering Manny or Dunn?

A: Michael Becker - That’s not the sense I get. Think about it: You could be a Dodgers fan still waiting for Manny Ramirez and Scott Boras to make a move.


Q: Angelswin.com - What does Michael Becker think the Angels strengths and weaknesses are going into 2009?

A: Michael Becker - It’s pretty obvious that the pitching staff can be tremendous while the lineup may need some help. Those, of course, will be the main storylines heading into the season. The success of Kendry Morales will be the real X-Factor. His domination in Winter Ball makes it even more interesting.


Q: Angelswin.com - Who do you feel the Angels toughest competition will be in 2009 coming from the AL West?

A: Michael Becker - I can see Oakland making a run – at least at the beginning of the season. Their farm system is phenomenal, as evidenced by their Pacific Coast League title. They’re young and hungry with a couple of key veterans, Giambi and Holliday, thrown into the mix. That’s a position that will suit them well.


Q: Angelswin.com - If Michael Becker was GM for one day with the green light from the owner to spend whatever it takes to improve the club, what moves would you make?

A: Michael Becker - Oh boy, that’s a tough one. I’m going to have to defer to Tony on this one. I have a hard enough time hitting two deadlines on a nightly basis to worry about someone else’s job. Hopefully you won’t hold it against me.

Angelswin.com - fair enough!


Q: Angelswin.com - Nearly two weeks ago we posted our Top 50 Prospects list, selecting Hank Conger as the Angels #1 prospect. Have you had a chance to see him play and what are your thoughts about Hank and the farm system?

A: Michael Becker - I haven’t had a chance to see Hank play yet, but, of course, I’ve heard nothing but good things. By the time I was promoted to the beat, the California League season was coming to an end. So I didn’t get an opportunity to head over to Rancho last year. But I’m sure I’ll get the chance at some point this season.

Last spring I covered high school baseball, so I have a pretty strong knowledge of the high school scene. Tyler Chatwood, who was picked by the Angels in the second round, was our San Bernardino County Player of the Year. I saw him play extensively and wrote a feature story about him last spring.

Kyle Skipworth, the No. 6 pick overall, was our Riverside County Player of the Year. So that gives you a sense of our area in terms of baseball talent. I’ve got a pretty good working knowledge of the area, and some strong relationships with a lot of the high school coaches, so hopefully that can serve our coverage well.

As for the Angels farm system, I’ve been impressed. I thought Brandon Wood and Sean Rodriguez did a phenomenal job, defensively especially, in the final month of the season while Aybar and Kendrick were out with injuries. I’m really looking forward to Spring Training so I can get a better look at a lot of these guys.

I’ll be packing your prospect list in my suitcase, believe me.


Q: Angelswin.com - Last year we had the Tampa Rays, who is your pick to surprise the Baseball world with a solid season, from worst to first, but not necessarily a World Series berth like Tampa.

A: Michael Becker - Get ready to read a lot of stories this spring about the Next Tampa Bay Rays. And it will be laughable. I wish sports fit into such convenient little tags. I’d make our jobs so much easier. But as you know, it doesn’t work that way. Tampa Bay didn’t sprout up over night. So to answer your question, I don’t see any team doing what it did last year.

That being said, I maintain that Oakland will have a strong year if their young kids start humming. And Detroit could be a team that goes from worst to first, if only because I find it hard to believe they can get any worse.


Q: Angelswin.com - Do you think there should be a salary cap in Baseball?

A: Michael Becker - I don’t. I think the lack of a salary cap is what makes a story like the Rays that much more special. I think it allows for varying approaches, which is healthy for the game. What is not healthy is having perennial losers, aided by miserly owners, who have no shot of winning a World Series.

Sure, revenue sharing helps somewhat. But I do think there’s a solution we’ve yet to achieve. I can’t purport to be smart enough to figure that out.


Q: Angelswin.com - Finally, what has been the craziest experience in the world of journalism that you have experienced in your career as a reporter?

A: Michael Becker - I’ve had so many great experiences in such a short amount of time. I’ve been truly blessed to have some great mentors and friends who have helped me in this business. I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to publicly thank them. Guys like Chico Harlan, who covers the Nationals for the Washington Post. Adam Kilgore, who covers the Red Sox for the Boston Globe. We went to school together at Syracuse and we each started covering baseball last season. Both of them have been great sounding boards in addition to wonderful friends. Eli Saslow, who covers politics for the Washington Post is another mentor and friend. And there are others who know who they are.

But personally, I’ll share a story from my first week on the Angels beat. It was my third day on the beat and I was sitting in the Angels dugout during batting practice. I really didn’t know many people at that point and it was a pretty overwhelming experience. I had interviewed Torii Hunter the day before and it came up in the conversation that I was new to the beat. We exchanged some small talk by his locker and that was it.

So I’m sitting there, in the dugout, taking this all in, when Hunter comes by for a drink of water. He sees me and stops. “Hey, how’s it going for you so far?”

Frankly, I’m impressed he remembered, and I wouldn’t have blamed him if he hadn’t. When I told him I was still trying to get my bearings, he told me not to worry. "That’s how I felt my first month here in Anaheim,” he said. “I’m a 10-year veteran and I still felt like a rookie out there. It’ll get better, man, trust me.” And then he went back out to shag fly balls. That was an experience that stuck with me. Torii, by all accounts, is one of the nicest guys in baseball, but the compassion and empathy he showed that day is something I’ll never forget.

I really appreciate the opportunity to introduce myself to the Angelswin.com community. Any questions, comments, suggestions, heck, even criticism, don’t hesitate to email me at mbecker@pe.com. I try to be as accessible and interactive as possible. I look forward to meeting everyone in good time.

Thanks.

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