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Spending quality time in the Angels', and Josh Hamilton's, orbit

A road trip to Arizona for spring training features a semi-epic home run and adventure of biblical proportions.

March 12, 2013|Chris Erskine
  • Josh Hamilton is hitting .316 with one home run in seven games for the Angels in spring training.
Josh Hamilton is hitting .316 with one home run in seven games for the Angels… (Morry Gash / Associated…)

PHOENIX — Let me tell you about Josh Hamilton's first rocket ship of spring. It isn't a perfect home run. He gets under it a bit more than he would've liked, so it's towering, corpulent, full of cha-cha.

At last sighting, it was in geosynchronous orbit with Earth. NBC was about to bounce Brian Williams' evening newscasts off of it, and someone at Palomar was pronouncing it a planet.

So no, it wasn't a perfect home run by any means. But it got your attention, all right. It was the kind of celestial event befitting the newest Angel.

In our last installment, we were screaming across the desert on the way to spring training, my buddy Howard with his head out the window panting in anticipation, which is not the most efficient way to fly, but sometimes you just suck it up.

Howard's old but he's big and somewhat menacing. I think he stole the Gideon Bible from the Motel 6, and the coffee maker went missing too. Or maybe there wasn't a coffee maker. But there definitely was a Gideon Bible. It was the kind of place that needed one — cigarette burns on the bathtub, the bedspreads smelling of mule.

I can't seem to find decent lodging in Tempe, no matter what. Next time, I'm sleeping in center field.

Anyway, I'm sure there'll be a next time, because these road trips will be a rite of spring from here on out. There is no better way to drink too much, stay up too late and otherwise become emotionally unstable in anticipation of the approaching baseball season. Fans need to train too, you know.

One night, we find ourselves in Don & Charlie's, my favorite Phoenix watering hole/rib joint. Don & Charlie's makes a martini the size of a fish tank. Mine came with a carp.

Also on this menu: Ned Colletti Chicken Schnitzel. I didn't even know you could schnitzel a chicken, but I guess it depends on how much the chicken has had to drink.

We've moved east since our overnight at Camelback, camping in Tempe in anticipation of an Angels spring game. Half the Angels roster this year could end up in either the Hall of Fame or rehab, depending on which way they want to play things. For now, we'll remain optimistic.

Rocket blasts like Hamilton's make it easy to do that. And speaking of corpulent things, Mike Trout isn't nearly as bloated as you might hope, were you a humorist looking to poke fun at prematurely blubbery ballplayers. Actually, he carries the weight very well.

In fact, we should all carry excess weight like Trout. He has the gliding trot of a Heisman-winning back. Some of the old-timers, going as far back as 1985, say he reminds them of Bo Jackson. Zeus is also mentioned.

What a pitcher's nightmare this Angel lineup is, with Trout teeing off first, soon followed by Pujols, Hamilton. Also pencil in Howie Kendrick somewhere, for he seems to be swatting everything that moves.

The classiest guy on staff is Hank Conger, who stops patiently for autographs on the way out of a morning workout (Angels tip No. 1: Best autograph opportunity is at the edge of the parking lot just after morning workouts, usually around 11:45, or if Manager Mike Scioscia is a little grumpy, almost 2 p.m.).

Tip No. 2: Best tanning spot at Diablo Stadium is the picnic tables along the left-field line, where a fine grilled tri-tip sandwich runs $8.

Tip No. 3: Best shady spot is row P and up, from behind the backstop and along the first-base line.

Wow, that's a lot of information for one little column. The irony is that, like Trout, they pay me mostly in hot dogs.

We're back on the road heading home, after two long days in the Arizona sun, a state that doesn't need a governor; it needs a state dermatologist.

Fortunately, I'm still the kind of kid who buys cars based on the sound system. Mid-desert, we're out of radio range, the CDs are blaring and Howard (who might have sun stroke) is quoting Leonard Cohen lyrics and talking about how he once sang Belshazzar's Feast in church.

"Goes something like this . . ." he says.

We're in a dead zone, all right, somewhere between the liquid optimism of training camp and the hard reality of home.

OK, Howard, time to get your head in the car.

Twitter: @erskinetimes

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