Saturday, May 23, 2015

By Joe Tevelowitz, Guest Columnist - 

Last Monday, Matt Joyce had one of those days that all of us fear. Seemingly content in the knowledge that Sunday’s afternoon match-up would be followed by a Monday evening tilt with the Toronto Blue Jays, Joyce kept it comfy on Monday.  Unfortunately, that Monday game was scheduled for 1:07 P.M., thanks to Victoria Day in Canada for the awkward start time, and Joyce was late, resulting in a fine and benching.  

Now, you might think an outfielder who’s hitting below the Mendoza line with only one home run and 11 RBIs on the season isn’t that big of a loss for the Halos during any given game.  However, Joyce’s tardiness might be emblematic of a bigger problem the Angels have faced this year – this team has yet to really be a team. 

Not to absolve Joyce of his struggles, on the field or off, but his lack of knowledge about when the next game would be proves that there are serious communication problems.  The Josh Hamilton escapade should have been the first clue to the lack of organizational unity, from players just wanting to move past his absence to the front office that was seemingly unwilling to put Hamilton in touch with owner Arte Moreno. Joyce’s battle with the bed does not equate to Hamilton’s battles with the bottles, but both show a team that, for whatever reason, has yet to really gel.

Lacking any actual insider knowledge of what is or isn’t going on inside the Angels clubhouse, this lack of cohesion conclusion is based more on personal experience with waking up late, and making sure I had someone around to prevent that. My allegiance to sleeping in is probably second only to my love of the Angels. Actually, third to my Simpsons fandom, but still, I love a good no-alarm weekend as much as the next guy.  That love has caused a share of near-disasters, dating back to a freshman year Poli Sci test that had me sprinting for class in the uncharacteristic California rain while wearing basketball shorts and tank top (aka San Diego formal attire). Still, knowing about my love of extra rest and likelihood to stay in bed longer than I should has allowed me to build in safeguards to my schedule, and most of those safeguards are in the form of friends, parents, girlfriends, mailmen and once a kindly hobo named Gerard who also understood that I needed an extra push sometimes to get to where I needed to be when I needed to be there.

I’m sure Matt Joyce has many friends and family who would serve as safeguards, and with the six alarms he set for Wednesday’s game he probably won’t even need them.  Still, the truer safeguard should be all the guys he sees on the daily, wearing the same outfit as him, supposed to be there at the same time, and working towards the same goal – his team.  What surprised me most about Joyce not knowing the proper game time wasn’t that he slept in (because we’ve all been there, and during the rigors of a 9-5 would love to be there again); the real issue is that, his lack of knowledge about the early start time means A) nobody was talking about Monday’s game after Sunday’s loss and B) nobody was talking to Matt Joyce before Monday’s game. 

Teammates don’t need to be best friends and not everyone is going to love everyone, but with the whole squad traveling from Baltimore to Toronto, was there no plan to get together for pancakes (or whatever the Canadian equivalent of pancakes is) in the morning? Again, this is not to absolve Joyce of the blame for his misstep, or to point to anyone in particular as being responsible for keeping the team together.  Rather, this is another subtle reminder that, even with the best player in all of baseball, even with a team coming off a season in which the led the league in wins, there is something missing.  The 2002 Champs were not dominant on paper.  What set them apart was a feeling that when you saw that team on the field, they liked playing together and, maybe more importantly, they liked being together.  

Sure, hindsight is 20/20 and maybe the memories of camaraderie from that year are glossed over by the eventual title win.  Maybe this team is a lot closer than meets the eye and the importance of a Torii Hunter or David Eckstein bringing people together through their positive personality and family-first attitude is overstated.  Matt Joyce was late because of an error Matt Joyce made, but teams need safeguards, and thinking that true team success can come without greater unity is just a dream. Hopefully it’s one the Angels will awake from soon.

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