Tuesday, March 13, 2012

By Brian Waller - AngelsWin.com Feature Writer

Wow! It’s not the greatest opening line to an AngelsWin.com write-up but it’s a fitting one. It’s the perfect one word description of a great weekend where AngelsWin.com members congregated in picturesque Tempe, AZ to share good times with one another over some ballpark food, a few brews and Angels baseball. It was a weekend that I had personally been looking forward to for a several weeks. Not only did I get to finally watch some baseball after a long winter but I had the opportunity to hang with AngelsWin.com members, which is always a unique experience. Its one thing to watch baseball but it’s a totally different experience watching it with fellow AW.com’ers. Truth be told, the annual fan fest weekend is more about the camaraderie between the members then it is about the actual games, at least in my opinion in anyway.

This was my third consecutive spring training overall and my second one with AngelsWin.com, I have to say it was by far the most memorable. For those of you that were there this past weekend, I hope this piece does the event justice and for those of you that did not attend, well…I hope this convinces you to get out to Tempe with us next year. If you are wondering, it is only about an hour and a half flight from Southern California or about a four drive depending on where you are leaving from and if you prefer to speed. I have two kids under the age of three, so if I can make that drive out to spring training while listening to the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse DVD on repeat then you have no excuse for not making the trip. Going to Arizona for spring training is a must for any baseball fan. The majority of the Cactus League teams play only a short drive from Tempe Diablo Stadium so you definitely have options as to which games you’d like to attend. In addition to the other stadiums, there are numerous hotels all within close proximity. Although AW.com’ers all stayed at different locations, the short distances between the hotels made getting together for a drink at a favorite hangout like The Tilted Kilt or a bite to eat at Aunt Chilada’s very easy.

Although there were a few AW members already in Tempe, the majority arrived Friday, just in time to catch the Angels/Padres game which unfortunately the Halos lost 6-3.The real festivities however started later that evening at Alice Cooperstown in Phoenix, AZ. We all owe a big thank you to Cassy Carlson for making the reservations and arranging the dinner. I think we all can agree that Cooperstown was an awesome venue to kick off fan fest. We had approximately 30 members show up for the dinner and by my count there were three challengers who took on the “Big Unit”! For those unfamiliar with the “Big Unit”, it is a 22 inch long hot dog weighing approximately one pound…and that’s not even including the toppings. The monster dog was actually featured on an episode of Man vs Food. Kudos to our own Chuck Richter for actually finishing the beast! In addition to the great food, AW headbands made their long awaited debut at the event; all in attendance were barely able to contain their excitement.

The following day, Saturday, was the day of the big event, the fan fest dinner. As you all are aware by now, the event grew so substantially that it had to be moved to a larger venue, the Fiesta Resort and Conference Center. Before the event though, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer David Saltzer checked in early to claim his full access press credential to cover the game, interview a bunch of the players, talk to Dipoto and take video of Trumbo fielding groundballs at third base in pregame drills. The Halos took on the San Francisco Giants who brought a pretty decent fan following with them. Unlike the previous day, the Angels managed to get a win. Led by a Mark Trumbo home run, the Halos beat the Giants 9-5 in front of another packed house. The crowds were definitely a lot bigger this spring and that is putting it mildly. All three games over teh weekend were sold out, as was Monday's contest against the Dodgers.

The fan fest dinner kicked then off at 5 p.m., I think it is safe to say that it was definitely nothing like Hail Marys. Brian Ilten was brave enough to man the sign-in table, with over 100 paid guests it was no small feat. With waiters in ties, water glasses with slices of lemon and an actual podium and PA system it became pretty clear that this year’s fan fest was setting the bar high and that isn’t even taking into account the guest speakers. Geoff Stoddart performed admirably as the master of ceremonies and handled the PA system like a pro. The headliner of the night was Angels owner, Arte Moreno. To be quite honest, I was surprised at how candid Arte was. I don’t want to get to in-depth into what he said or the questions that he answered because I know we have awesome footage of him speaking and I don’t want to ruin it with my commentary. It was almost kind of surreal though seeing the owner of our beloved team fielding questions from our group. We’ve spent countless hours on the board debating Jeff Mathis vs Mike Napoli, criticizing Vernon Wells’ 2011 season and critiquing any and all front office moves but I don’t think any of us would have ever thought we would be able to ask Arte anything we wanted. Another speaker that I, along with others in attendance, really enjoyed was Jerome Williams. After listening to Jerome in front of the group, it’s hard not to pull for the guy. He came across as very modest and down to earth. He also has set some pretty ambitious goals for himself in 2012 and I have to admit, I like the drive he has. As always, we were able to hear from up and coming prospects which was a fun experience. This year Frazier Hall, Matt Shoemaker, Carlos Ramirez, Mike Piazza and Matt Oye were kind enough to attend. AngelsWin.com Fan Fest continues to grow and if you are an Angel fan it truly is becoming a “can’t miss” event.

The AngelsWin.com crew met up again at Tempe Diablo Stadium bright and early Sunday morning. The group gathered in the lower seating section while Tim Mead stood atop the Angels dugout addressing a variety of topics ranging from Jeff Mathis leaving, the recent “El Hombre” misunderstanding and December 8th, the night the franchise changed forever. There were no softball questions from those in attendance and I have to give Tim Mead credit he didn’t dodge any of them. Like Arte, Tim was very candid and honest with his answers and he provided some great insight into how the organizational philosophy is changing with the arrival of Jerry Dipoto. After the Q & A had concluded we were able to stay and watch the Angels take batting practice. There was a totally different vibe in the stadium with only 100 or so of us fans watching the team as opposed to the thousands that attend during the game, yet another perk of being apart of the AngelsWin.com group (by the way some noticeable long shots during BP came from the bats of Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo, man can Trumbo jack ‘em). Multiple players were kind enough to take time out of their pre-game routines to sign autographs for the on looking fans. Those players included Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Vernon Wells, Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter, Jered Weaver and the king himself, Albert Pujols. The Angels went on to thump the Cleveland Indians 17-2, led by Wells’ 5 RBI’s. Unfortunately it was after the game the AngelsWin.com crowd started to thin out and head back home. Sunday was the unofficial end to the fan fest weekend, but what a way to end it.

A weekend of this magnitude required a lot of hard work from many different people, for all involved we thank you. For all the fun that was had at the ballpark watching Angels baseball even more fun was had simply having a drink while debating topics like who our fifth starter should be or how many games should Trumbo start at third base this season. Its events like this that make you appreciate AngelsWin.com and the opportunity to be a part of a great community of people. Special thanks to Chuck Richter for not only creating the site several years ago but putting in all the hard work required to make fan fest such a success.

Here's some pictures to wet your appetite for now, but we'll be adding a bunch more over the course of the next several days as they come in.

Love to hear what you think!

Listen to "A Fish Like This" Tribute song to Mike Trout's Greatness

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