ANAHEIM, Calif. – The next baseball season in which everything goes right will be the first, and yet the prospect of everything going right remains the anthem of the mediocre, particularly the perpetually mediocre, which require anthems and such.
You know, they say, their heads tilted one way or the other, they perhaps discovering an angle no one else has (or does not exist), you look at this club and if everything goes right …
Then it doesn’t. Sad, but true.
Magic, though. That’s different. That right there is something you can believe in.
It’s the whole reason for opening day, for home openers, for big ceremonies. It’s why they line the players along the basepaths, where they hug even though they were just a couple seconds ago standing right next to each other right over there in the dugout. The color of the pinstripe hasn’t yet bled into their uniform pants from all the washings. The strength-and-conditioning guy is announced and he breaks into a Mr. Olympia pose-down routine, because it’s opening night and there’s magic in those pecs, so you are required to share. And Chris Prieto, a Seattle Mariners coach, does that two-fingers-in-his-mouth whistle to summon the boys to batting practice, which intrigues fellow coaches Edgar Martinez and Scott Brosius. They try it themselves, which results in their knuckles being slathered in slobber while they make a noise similar to what your feet sound like when your boots are filled with rainwater.
Anyway, the Angels are one of those teams of which it’s been said, You know, if everything goes right …, and yet late Friday afternoon found manager Mike Scioscia explaining why his best pitcher, Garrett Richards, is on the disabled list because of a biceps strain. The biceps being quite close to the elbow. Richards having not so long ago just barely avoided elbow reconstruction surgery.
“It’s relatively minor,” Scioscia said, before adding also that it’s a “bump in the road,” along with “a minor setback.”
A little while later Richards said the results of an MRI, “Was kind of the best thing we could have hoped for,” and, “I feel pretty much 100 percent normal right now,” and, “My elbow’s in great shape.”
None of which sounded particularly magical, which is why I’m standing in the parking lot at Angel Stadium, section 9B, some 300 yards from the loading dock, staring at a recreational vehicle. It’s a Chaparral X-Lite fifth-wheel with temporary plates, tan with black trim, accessorized with one of those fold-away awnings that makes for an instant veranda, suitable for iced tea and board games, and a ladder to the roof. It belongs to Blake Parker, Angels’ right-hander.
“I’m excited,” Parker said of his new lifestyle that is for the moment squatting and casting shade over four parking spots. “Really excited. I love the outdoors. I love camping.”
He is pretty sure he’s found a semi-permanent parking place in Newport Beach for it. He’ll tow it there soon, live the life of Jim Rockford and Martin Riggs, and with any luck at all keep striking everybody out for the Angels.
Parker is a 31-year-old relief pitcher. Since 2015, he has been a Chicago Cub, Seattle Mariner, New York Yankee, Los Angeles Angel, Milwaukee Brewer and an Angel again, the last three moves over a couple months this winter. In 2013, beginning days after learning to throw a split-fingered fastball, he had a 2.72 ERA over 49 appearances for the Cubs. The results have been spottier since, and the travels more frequent, which speaks to the RV in the parking lot, along with a wonderful appreciation for being in this uniform on this day at this time in his life.
“This is what it’s all about,” he said.
His mom and dad — Vikki and Richard — flew in from Arkansas on Friday for the opener. His arm feels great. His wife is pretty OK with the whole RV thing. And, about the strikeouts. Parker has always been a strikeout pitcher — 10.2 per nine innings over 93 big-league games. Then, this: beginning on March 22, in a spring training game against the Texas Rangers, Parker has recorded 22 outs, 21 of them by strikeout. His final 17 outs of spring training were by strikeout.
Monday in Oakland, in his first regular-season game for the Angels, he entered in the sixth inning and struck out Ryon Healey. From the crowd he heard a voice: “Eighteen.”
Then he struck out Khris Davis.
The same voice: “Nineteen.”
“That’s baseball,” he said with a smile. “I threw some pitches that coulda been hit a mile. I made some mistakes. But that’s how the cards fell. I mean, it wasn’t something I was trying to do, go out and strike everybody out.”
But, hey, he went with it.
“My teammates made me fully aware,” he said. “I tried to downplay it as much as I could.”
Stephen Vogt popped out to end Parker’s streak at 19. Parker gave up a couple runs the next inning. Still, 19 is 19, no matter the time of year. A weighted-ball program has lifted his average fastball velocity from 90 to 93. The splitter runs off that. The strikeouts came fast. He struck out another Friday night in an Angels win, when his fastball was up to 95, making 22 of his last 26 outs by strikeout. The real benefit was to earn him a place in Scioscia’s bullpen, that by itself a significant event in the life of a 31-year-old journeyman reliever.
So, yeah, you could consider Blake Parker and conclude, well, everything had to go right and it did. Or, you could consider all that is the Angels, all that must go right, feather in some Blake Parker and one very sharp RV with an awning and a ladder, and decide a little magic could go a long way.