By Brent Hubbard - AngelsWin.com Columnist
A few days ago, I was lucky to be in attendance for the Inland Empire 66ers – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Affiliation Celebration, representing Angelswin.com. As you may know, the Angels switched affiliations of their High-A California League minor league club from the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes to the Inland Empire 66ers, in effect trading affiliations with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Angels had been with the Quakes for ten seasons; Many of the players now on the Angels had called the Epicenter home during their High-A Seasons. As such the Epicenter seemed like the minor league home to many Angels fans, being the closest minor league team to the Angels. Yet Arrowhead Credit Union Ballpark is a great place to catch a game as well and will quickly seem like seem like home to many of the Angels minor leaguers and to all of the Angels minor league fans when the season starts on April 7th.
The first thing I noticed after arriving at the ballpark was how nice the place was kept up. It is really a great stadium inside and out. The familiar Angels “A” logo was everywhere.
As I was escorted into the clubhouse, I noticed the entire thing had been painted red. Red was everywhere.
The event started with a press conference style presentation for members of the local media and yours truly. This featured remarks by DG Elmore, owner of the Inland Empire 66ers, Donna Tuttle, Team President of the 66ers, and a bunch of the Angels Team Officials, including Team President John Carpino, General Manager Tony Reagins and Manager Mike Scioscia. Each had their turn during the press conference, speaking about what being affiliated with the 66ers meant to the Angels and vice versa.
The event then opened to questions from the press. I asked a question about how the ballpark played, was it hitter friendly as Rancho was, or more of a pitcher friendly park? The answer was provided by Kevin Shaw, VP of Marketing for the 66ers, who said it was pretty neutral unless the winds kicked up. Good to know for all of us fans, especially if the numbers are down offensively in comparison to 2010 at Rancho.
Before moving onto the field, for the fan celebration portion of the event, which was open to the public, they allowed each of the guests from the Angels to have a few minutes with the Media. Tony Reagins was asked by several newspaper reporters about the possibility of a Michael Young trade, but he obviously could not comment.
One person who I found completely easy to talk to and very friendly was the new 66ers team mananger, Tom Gamboa. You may know that name, as he is infamous for being attacked from the stands when he was the 1st base coach for the Royals. Coach Gamboa wasn’t familiar with all of the Angels prospects we spoke about, but for a man with 35 years in professional baseball, he seemed as if he couldn’t wait for Spring Training to start so he could get to know them all. He did mention one prospect he had been hearing a lot about since being hired and that was Angelswin.com’s #2 prospect, Jean Segura. I asked him what he would do if Mike Trout also started the season in the Inland Empire, as he’d have two really speedy potential leadoff guys in the lineup. Who would leadoff? He responded with a simple answer, “That’s a good problem to have.”
Gamboa also spoke highly about being part of a class organization like the Angels, that when he worked for the organization before, managing the AA Arkansas team in 2005, he really loved the organization and loved working for a guy who told him upon meeting him for the first time “call me Arte". He loved having players like Erick Aybar on that team and mentioned that he was among the fastest players he’d ever coached. When I mentioned Segura was probably faster, he looked even more excited to get to camp than he already was.
He told me that he’d never have left the organization after the 2005 season, but that he wanted to work closer to home, as opposed to Arkansas, and had that opportunity with the Padres. He said he has the best of both worlds now, as he gets to work in class organization like the Angels and really likes having a job close enough to commute from home, as he resides in the Coachella Valley.
Asked later about his managing style, he said that it mimics Mike Scioscia’s approach pretty closely, which is why this is such a good fit. He has a running first style, going 1st to third, sacrifice bunts, stealing bases. He likes to score runs and likes to be aggressive on the bases. I asked Suicide Squeezes, too? And he just smiled.
I really think the Angels High-A prospects are in good hands with a manager like Gamboa.
I managed to ask a question of Mike Scioscia before everyone headed to the field, as well. I asked him about the importance of having a leadoff hitter, since the Angels didn’t have one clearly identified yet, and neither do the 66ers. He responded with a breakdown of the leadoff hitter not being a specific skill; that you needed to be in a certain grouping, 9-1-2, or a 3-4-5 middle of the hitter. By preparing guys for a group rather than a single spot, it gives him as the manager more options, more flexibility. Neither Segura nor Trout was being prepared specifically for the leadoff role, instead they both profiled as in that speedy group of hitters he likes to have in the 9-1-2 spots. On the major league team, he didn't identify any one guy as being the front runner for the leadoff spot, again saying they have a group of guys they like in that grouping.
After talking with Scioscia, everyone moved to the field for the fan presentation portion of the event. All of the team officials, including Abe Flores, John Carpino, Reagins, and Scioscia had their turns at the mike, as well as Tom Gamboa, team officials from the 66ers, and City Council members from the City of San Bernardino. They again spoke about what being affiliated with the 66ers meant to the Angels, and what being affiliated with the Angels meant to the 66ers. Then, a few fan questions were read by the emcee.
Following the event, there was more media time with each of the guests, after which I was able to have a private stadium tour from Kevin Shaw. The facilities are all really nice, and again the Angels logo and the color Red was everywhere. During the tour, I was able to meet the 66ers Dance Team something few other minor league teams offer. They were all decked out in Angels gear, which was pretty cool. Kevin also showed me the VIP suites, talked about the food, which supposedly gets rave reviews, as well as many of the special events the team has planned, like Bobble-Head Nights, Dollar Beer Nights and other fun fan friendly events.
Overall, it was a great experience and I look forward to catching a few games at Arrowhead Credit Union Park this season. Thanks to the 66ers for their hospitality and lets go 66ers!
Enjoy the pictures I took while attending the event on Thursday.
To list to the press conference that day, click on the following links.
Take a listen to the fan celebration, questions and answers segment, listen to the following to .wav files.