Like most young adults, Jordan and I are quite smitten with Chipotle. It’s relatively accessible, relatively cheap, relatively healthy, and entirely delicious. In many ways it is the second home of many hungry youngsters like us, the culinary Mecca of teenagehood if you will. I actually had it at the airport at 9 a.m. on the morning we left for San Diego. It’s a place that I thought might never be topped. I was wrong. El Pueblo, a 24-hour taco joint attached to a Valero gas station off of Route 5 with no-limit 99-cent fish tacos, changed everything.
On the way to the restaurant gas station after the Fathers game last night, we called our friend Cam so he could place our order at the restaurant gas station. Jordan requested two carnitas tacos and I requested two fish and one carnitas taco. This seemingly reasonable request turned out to be culturally insulting—Cam responded, “I got 8 fish tacos; when in Rome, don’t eat sushi.”
The next morning, our stomachs full of fried fish, we gallivanted around some place called Cardiff and bat-flipped our hearts out. I even got to splash around in the ocean like the child I am. After drying off, we said goodbye to Cam and drove up to Lake Elsinore. Our previous trips have been to Texas and Iowa so we aren’t particularly accustomed to mountains. Thus, the drive through the Californian mountains was quite the topographical delight. The park itself is located right on the shores of the actual Lake Elsinore and boasts a beautiful mountain view beyond the center-field wall. Watch your back though, because for some reason the Storm’s logo is a set of overbearing, all seeing eyes. And they are everywhere. —Jake Mintz
Drafted in the 16th round of the 2011 Draft out of Cal State-Bakersfield, switch-hitting catcher Jeremy Rodriguez is in the middle of his second season with Lake Elsinore. Listed extremely generously at 5-foot-8, Rodriguez emerged from the dugout a couple hours before pre-game to talk to us about his career thus far, his dramatic emergency relief appearances, and life of a minor-league backup catcher.
On how soon he knew he was going to be a catcher:
"Probably my seventh-grade year. I always wanted to play professional baseball and my dad knew I wasn't gonna be a shortstop or an outfielder, and I wasn't gonna be a pitcher, that's for sure. He told me being a switch-hitting catcher was rare, so the best way for me to get exposed would be behind the plate."
On being teammates with Austin Hedges:
"It was awesome. Picking his brain with his experience…he's younger than I am, so I have some college experience; we could pick each other's brains. Me being a backup I thought was great because we both had different insight on things. He pushed me just as much as I pushed him. He works his butt off. It wasn't one of those first-round guys that gets a bunch of money and then doesn't work hard; Austin was the opposite. He made sure he was gonna be in the big leagues."
On how he prepares for games as a backup catcher:
"It has to be my work ethic, to be honest. I'll have a routine schedule throughout the week, so like, today was my blocking day. I knew today I wasn't gonna be catching so I made sure I kicked my knees into gear a little bit. The days in between that I don't play I'll do a lot of running to make sure that I stay in shape. It's very easy when you're not playing to sit back and just go kill the spread. The nice thing about being a backup is that you catch specific guys, so the days that I'm not catching, my guys are sitting in the stands charting. We'll go over after the game and let each other know what we saw. So when I'm catching, we'll already have a game plan ready to go."
On his first career relief appearance back in 2013:
"We were losing 26-4 or something like that. We couldn't afford to use any of our pitchers so coach was looking around and asked me if I wanted to pitch. I had pitched in middle school and I knew I could throw strikes. I think that's all the coach really wanted so the coach told me to get loose and that was that. [When I came in], one of my good buddies, Tyler Heineman, was batting. He's looking at me with a smile on his face and I'm smiling. I'm like, alright, I'm just gonna groove a fastball in there. I didn't think he was gonna swing at the first pitch! I thought he was gonna take one, at least. And this guy takes a hack and takes me yard. I give a lot of credit to pitchers now because giving up a home run is NOT fun. Then, I tried to go submarine and I hit the next guy. I went straight over the top on the first pitch and I got pissed cause it didn't work. So I went all the down, submarine, and the first pitch, I hit the second batter in the ribs."
On making three more emergency relief appearances in 2014:
"I enjoyed pitching, and having the spotlight on me and such. So I always told the coach, 'if you need anything, and we're up a lot, and you need a guy just to throw strikes, I'm there.' My first outing was against the 66ers and I faced Jose Rondon and got him out. So when [Rondon] got traded here, to break the ice, I told him right away, 'come on man, you couldn't get a hit off me?' The first batter I faced, I threw the ball as hard as I could and the ball went straight as an arrow and he went yard. After that, I decided to slow it down and just spot up. I threw it under 75 mph and guys couldn't hit it."
On his glamorous job in the offseason:
"I worked at an Italian restaurant this past offseason as a driver. The good thing was I was in Calabasas—a very nice area—so I got good tips. I delivered to Vin Scully's house, but his wife picked it up at the door. All the Kardashians have come in the restaurant before. I had so much fun there that I actually might do that job again. It was almost like a hobby. It was nice because it got me away from the field, but it also made me realize how lucky I am to be playing baseball for a living."
Thunder, the Storm’s mascot, looked nothing like Thunder. It did look a whole lot like the Phillie Phanatic and therefore like every single other mascot ever. This particular breed of mascot which so many minor-league teams have adopted looks like a Yorkie, a ball of yarn, and a lime engaged in some supersonic lovemaking.
Lake Elsinore center fielder Auston Bousfield was definitely a guy that jumped out to us as a player to keep an eye on. Drafted in the fifth round last year out of Ole Miss, Bousfield displayed good speed, a nice short swing, and an acumen for reading balls off the bat in center. We aren’t scouts or prospect writers for a reason, but I really liked Bousfield’s profile, even if he can’t spell his own first name correctly.
One of the unique things about the ballpark in Lake Elsinore is the enormous hill down the line in right field. A bunch of minor-league stadiums have some type of grassy area where kids can run around during the game so their parents can start crushing some Bud Lights. The hill in Elsinore is much bigger and much steeper than any other in-stadium berm we’ve ever seen. While the hill was big, the conflict and violence we saw on the hill was even bigger. Any time a ball was fouled off onto the hill, at least 30 kids would all run toward the ball and dogpile on top of whichever unlucky kid happened to pick it up. A few kids had brought some enormous white inflatable baseball bats and began whacking the absolute crap out of the other kids on the hill. The whole thing looked like a mix between an elementary school, a rugby scrum, and a war zone.
Lake Elsinore reliever Samuel Holland entered the game in the top of the ninth and overwhelmed us with how underwhelming his delivery was. Scouts sometimes describe pitchers who throw hard with ease as “just playing catch.” Holland takes effortless to another level with his leisurely side-arm delivery that looks like he couldn’t care less about throwing the baseball toward the catcher. To be fair, Holland’s delivery has shades of Walter Johnson, which begs the obvious question: if Samuel Holland was plopped into the 1910s, could he be one of the greatest pitchers of all time? The answer is almost certainly yes, but I can’t imagine Holland would be able to avoid giving up a home run for five consecutive years. —Jordan Shusterman
-Meals at In-N-Out: 0
-Mexican Food Meals: 2
-Dr. Peppers consumed: Jake – 7/Jordan – 5
-Times we listened to “Heartbeat Song” by Kelly Clarkson: 1
The City of Angel
Berroas Beltrans Hernandezes awaits us. Its shimmering lights and debilitatingly polluted air shine as a beacon beckoning to us two eager young vagabonds. Tomorrow will be in a press box within yards—nay—feet of one Vincent Edward Scully. Jordan and I don’t get that nervous around players, or front office people, or celebrities, but that’s going to be Vin freaking Scully right over there. Last year, I met Cal Ripken in a press box and nearly peed myself, so we’ll keep you posted on how things go this time around.