The Baseball, Hot Dogs & Apple Pie Weekend (Part II)

My parents have always claimed that they, like all other parents, did not have a favorite child. It’s in the Parent’s Manual somewhere, I guess. In that same spirit, I maintain that I do not have any “favorite” sporting events. Sure some are more entertaining, but…oh come on now, who am I kidding?

It’s Saturday evening of the July 4th Great Baseball Weekend, and I’m pulling into my favorite off-site, low-cost parking lot just down Gene Autrey Way from Angels Stadium of Anaheim. And I’m excited. My heart is pumping, the adrenaline is surging – it’s Angel Baseball, live and in person! And even though this is officially event #33 in my quest to see the best that sports in this country has to offer, it’s already #1. A little background might help explain…

I actually became an Angels fan by accident. In fact, I grew up a Red Sox fan. It just so happened though, that years of living far from Fenway Park in the days before Internet streaming combined with the Strike of ’94 has tempered my enthusiasm for both the Red Sox and baseball. My fanhood became dormant.

But years later, having relocated to San Diego’s North County area, I awoke one morning to find that the Red Sox were playing that day in Anaheim – just over an hour away. The Bird and I decided (OK, I talked her into it) to make the first pilgrimage to The Big A.

Unusual as it seems now, at that time it was easy to simply walk up and buy a ticket to the Angels vs. the Sox. These were not glory days for either franchise. Among Angels fans, this period of time is simply referred to as “the Mo Vaughn years”, in the hushed tones reserved for speaking of the neighbor’s crazy aunt that lived in the attic. And the Red Sox were simply that talented team that somehow managed to lose every year – not the pop culture phenomenon they’ve since become.

So we went, sat in the bleachers, watched the Sox pummel the Angels, and had a great time. For eight dollars a ticket. And so we went again a couple of weeks later, this time armed with the knowledge that you can bring your own food into the stadium. Same great time, same eight dollars. It became habit-forming, despite the slightly slapstick version of “baseball” that we were treated to on a regular basis.

Then out of nowhere came 2002, a truly magical year in which anything could and did happen – including the Angels winning the World Series with a roster full of overachieving no-name players. I’ve been a die-hard ever since, despite many years of living several time zones away.

So how could I NOT be disproportionately excited about event #33? Angels Stadium is like my second home. I know where everything is, what seats are the best value for the price, which concession stand lines move the fastest, precisely where to look on the scoreboard for desired information. I couldn’t wait to get into the stadium, locate our seats and begin the reveling process. Bring on the Kansas City Royals and their traditional losing record! Another Halo victory was just a few hours away!!

There was just one tiny fly in the ointment here though…the Angels have this year mysteriously forgotten how to hit. It all started when one of the best players in franchise history, Vlad Guerrero, was allowed to walk away in the off-season and sign with division rival Texas – where he now leads the league in RBI’s. Then in May, the Angel’s reigning marquee hitter, Kendry Morales, broke his leg celebrating a game-winning grand slam. Everyone else…well, I don’t have an explanation.

In the “glass is half full” department, the game on this night moved very quickly. Of course, that will happen when your favorite team in the whole world fails to reach base in the first six innings of the game. Just like that it was the seventh inning, and the Angels were looking an awful lot like a team that was just about to be featured on every sports highlight show in America – for the wrong reason.

I’ve never seen a no-hitter, either in person or on live television. Sure, I’ve been watching TV when “bonus coverage” shifts to a game in which a no-hitter is on the line, so I’ve seen the dramatic last out of a no-no. But I have never been in a stadium where a no-hitter is being built pitch by pitch. And this one had all the trappings. Not one, but two spectacular catches by centerfielder David DeJesus, each one robbing the Angels of extra bases. A lucky carom right to the second baseman on a line drive off the glove of pitcher Bruce Chen.

As this game started to take on the look of destiny, a funny thing began to happen. I became conflicted. For as much as I love to have a rooting interest in any game that I watch, I also have a strong appreciation for sports history. And this was sports history in the making. The Angels really could use a win…but a no-hitter…a potential perfect game, no less. Right here in front of my very eyes. I admit it – I started rooting for the Angels to make outs.

Which of course sealed the deal on the no-hitter. Erick Aybar, the very first Angels batter in the seventh inning, singled to center field and just like that the game reverted to normal status. I patiently waited for the lightning bolt that would deservedly strike me dead for rooting against my team.

Naturally however, a quick surgical strike was not punishment enough, and so I watched as the Royals greeted the human batting tees that make up the Angels bullpen with four runs in the final two innings. I held my breath as the Halos loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth, needing just one measly single to tie the game. And I sighed in resignation as Vlad Guerrero’s replacement, Hideki Matsui, struck out to end the threat and the game.

There’s a moral to the story somewhere in there. You’re on your own to figure it out though. I’m currently despondent. The Royals, for God’s sake!

         

How quickly they grow up: Congrats to Jared Weaver on his first All-Star Game

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