Five Days in Anaheim
It’s been a wonderful last few days in Orange County, California, working as an All-Star FanFest volunteer (with some great stories about that experience!), attending other festivities, and finally, the Mid-Summer Classic at Angel Stadium.
Enough will be said about the game itself; the most important and biggest storyline is that the National League won, 3-1, for the first time in 14 years. My nephew who is 20 had just gotten out of kindergarten the last time the NL won an All-Star Game! While this one was not the best All-Star Game I’ve attended, it was a pretty good one, featuring great pitching, and the Senior Circuit prevailed–so that was good enough for me. The NL has won a majority of the times I’ve been to ASG, so I had a feeling this would be the year, finally–and I was right. The law of averages, if nothing else–such as my presence–said so. Since 1997, the AL had been so dominant, it was frustrating for NL fans. When I was growing up, the opposite was so true that I actually felt sorry for the American League not being able to win a game for so many years.
As all baseball eyes were on Anaheim over the past week, I’m also proud I was able to support a worthy organization as a result of seeing this game played live. I’m the co-moderator of a forum for female baseball fans, and my cohort had asked back in January how many of us were interested in organizing a group trip to the game. Her husband is a subcontractor who had done some work for friends of his who are Angels season ticket holders. They offered him their family’s eight tickets to the All-Star Game in exchange, as payment for the work done, since they had a family trip planned out of the country this July. In turn, he graciously offered them to our group free of charge, so we took him up on that! The seats were great–on the field level, just beyond first base. Instead of selling the tickets, they asked that donations be made to CHOC (Children’s Hospital of Orange County) as they have a son who is a special needs child. What could be better, right? Watching baseball in great seats, while supporting a good cause, at a “name your price” discount? The icing on the cake was the National League victory. Hopefully this is the beginning of another winning streak for the NL. Ever since the 2009 World Series ended, our forum has been organizing events to promote socializing around baseball, and we’ve attended some college and winter league games over the last offseason to satisfy those hunger pangs without MLB. Though the core group of us resides in Southern California, we’ve had at least one come from out of state for one of our winter activities.
So, it was a win-win-win situation, all around, with our tickets secured without a hassle, CHOC receiving donations, and the enjoyment of camaraderie within our group. Other than the above-mentioned husband, we also had the boyfriend of one of our fellow female fans accompany us. Those of us from the forum who attended are all National League fans, so we wore our forum T-shirts in solidarity, along with our corresponding team caps. My fellow female fans in attendance also volunteered time at FanFest, too. And with the win, we all went home happy. (By the way, the NL leads the overall All-Star Game series 41-38-2.)
So congratulations to Braves catcher Brian McCann, who was named Most Valuable Player of the game for the NL. And what do you know, Jonathan Broxton proved he could close out a big game with serious national exposure, shutting the door on the AL in the ninth. This was important not only for him, but because in recent years the NL had gone into the late innings with a lead only to see the AL rally off such illustrious closers as Trevor Hoffman and Eric Gagne.
At this time last year, I wrote about my previous experiences attending All-Star Games. That post can be read in my entry from July, 2009.
One of my favorite memories that did not have to do with the action in the game itself took place 30 years ago last week–on July 8, 1980, as Dodger Stadium hosted its one and only ASG, ever. That All-Star Game was the second of five I’ve attended, the first one being a high school graduation gift for me in 1978. But I still cherish my ticket from the 1980 All-Star game. I sat in the RF pavilion, and the cost was $8! On that evening, the Dodgers unveiled the brand new state-of-the-art DiamondVision screen by Mitsubishi, the first ever large-scale video display to be used at an American sporting event. The 56,000 fans on hand were excited and impressed by this advanced (for the time) technology. Although it was our lovely ballpark’s one and only moment to shine in the Mid-Summer Classic, I’m so proud I was there! Decades later, Jumbotrons have become not only standard but essential at all sporting venues. But, this is where it all started.
Now, some comments about the All-Star FanFest at Anaheim Convention Center. I worked at this event for three days, the second time I’ve volunteered at a FanFest (the only other time was in 1992 in San Diego), but I’ve also worked at similar conventions of sports fans, such as the NFL Experience at the Super Bowl. This was also the third time I’ve attended FanFest, as a baseball enthusiast myself. It is always a thrilling experience, shairng the love of baseball with fans from all over the country and many parts of the world.
So, this week I’ve been meeting enthusiasts of the great game who have traveled from near and far to Orange County, CA for the festivities. While Angels and Dodgers fans have had the largest turnout in numbers, it’s been fun to meet fans from Japan and Korea, many of whom were here for the World Baseball Classic held at Dodger Stadium last year; and, of course, many fans who’ve traveled the short distance from Mexico. So when you hear about folks traveling from “near and far” to attend All-Star festivities, that’s accurate. The World Cup may have just concluded, but baseball is gaining in international popularity. (And let me state for the record that I didn’t watch the World Cup. The only sport that interferes with baseball season that I will give a nod to is the NBA Finals. Besides, I was working on the floor at Anaheim Convention Center on the day of the final match.) Hey, it was bad enough I had to miss Dodger games which were taking place during my shifts.
The Futures Game is one of my favorite things about All-Star weekend. In fact, I like it better than related All-Star activities such as the Home Run Derby and parade, more because it’s actually about baseball being played than the others, which I consider to be mostly the ratings hype of star power. The unglamorous world of minor leaguers lacks the glitz and drawing power of the Major League All-Star Game itself, with its big names, but the desire to win is still there–perhaps even more so because these players must continue to prove themselves. This year’s game, unfortunately, was not a great one–it was a 9-1 rout on the part of the U.S. Of course I’m glad the U.S. won, but a more competitive game would have been better to watch. Congratulations to Angels prospect Hank Conger! Hank, a catcher out of Huntington Beach, was the Most Valuable Player of the Futures Game, and how appropriate to have him excel in Angel Stadium, giving their fans a glimpse of what their future might hold for them. Conger hit a three-run homer in this game, and he might not have even been there, if not for the fact he was a late addition to the roster to replace an injured player.
As I love to follow the local youth talent throughout this region, I made note
that on the U.S. roster of the best minor leaguers, seven of them played high school baseball in the surrounding area of Orange County–which is a pretty impressive number given the number of players in the minor league talent pool. It must have been a thrill for their families and friends to see them play in the neighborhood again, with higher stakes. In addition, Royals prospect and first round draft choice in 2007, U.S. Futures player Mike Moustakas, is from Los Angeles. Moustakas holds the CA state record for home runs in a high school “career”–52. So, it was like a homecoming for many of these young men.
In the MLB All-Star Game, 11 of the players (both NL and AL teams) were from Southern California. Obviously Stephen Strasburg was not one of them, and I understand the reasons behind that decision; however, if he’d been included on the final vote ballot for the NL, no doubt he’d have made it in. There’ll be plenty of opportunities for him to make the team in future All-Star Games. In particular, Trevor Cahill of the Oakland Athletics, a RHP in his second year with the team, deserves a nod of recognition as a first-time All-Star, even though he did not play (wasn’t eligible since he pitched on the Sunday before the game) . In my past posts I’ve mentioned two pitchers from the high school class of 2006 in San Diego–Mike Leake, and Stephen. Cahill is also a third pitcher from ’06. Who knew he’d make the MLB All-Star team only four years later, before the other two?
During the All-Star FanFest, the Golden Spikes Award presentation was made to college baseball superstar Bryce Harper–to nobody’s surprise. (Last year, at the FanFest in St. Louis, it was Stephen who received that same honor.) So, congratulations to Bryce! Both Harper and Strasburg were the No. 1 overall picks in their respective drafts, and with both being selected by the Washington Nationals, it should be interesting to see how things progress for that organization. Harper, at only age 17, is out of the College of Southern Nevada.
Over the weekend, we had a few comments about our SoCal weather, which was had been atypical all week long. For the benefit of those who don’t live here, I’ll just say this region is full of microclimates which can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. Along the coast, it had been relatively cool over the Fourth of July week. Laguna Beach had temps in the high 60s and low 70s, while in July it is typically 75-80. Many who’ve traveled from other parts of the country have welcomed this relief from the heat and high humidity, but others wonder where is the California sun that is the staple of the All-Star Game commercials? On the coast, it was making on and off appearances. In Anaheim, which is a few miles inland, it was more noticeable, but there were still puffy clouds interspersed. This has certainly been an unusual beginning of summer here, with everything from the 60s at the beaches–which is more typical of winter weather on the coast–to the 70s in inland suburbs, 90s in the mountains, and 100+ in the desert–all in the same day! But by Monday, the day before the big game itself, everything had returned to normal in the suburbs of Orange County. Temps were in the mid-to-high 80s, and in the mid-to-high 70s at the beaches west.
Indoors as I was most of the day, I missed much of the sunshine. For the first couple of days at FanFest, I was assigned to the batting cages, loading balls into the pitching machine as person after person took their turn at the plate for five pitches each. Then, I got a bit of exercise shagging balls in the so-called “outfield.” Later, I was assigned to the cages in which bunting techniques are stressed (the Firestone Tire Challenge, with tires arranged as targets for the bunted balls). As I watched so many partake in these activities, it was evident the love of baseball knows no boundaries, as fans of all ages, sizes and shapes participated. There were more than just fathers and sons, there were entire families taking at-bats; there are dads and daughters, moms and daughters, bulky guys who are the size and build of MLB players, and tiny tots. Kids wearing Dodger caps and kids wearing Angel caps, some sporting USC, others UCLA. My favorites were the tykes with eyes as big as saucers as they struggled to hold a bat that was larger than their own tiny bodies.
As noted above, fans of all ages were in the cages. There was the 80-something year old woman who didn’t look a bit frail as she made contact with the ball. There was the daughter about 10 years old who laid down a perfect bunt, and laughed as her dad fouled his off. And I must add, I love that this event is so inclusive. If All-Star FanFest had been held 40 years ago, when I was first playing organized softball, there’s no doubt this activity would have been limited to boys only. Now, girls are accepted as a part of the game at many levels.
In the “Home Run Derby” batting cages, I had a long way to go to keep up with shagging balls for a couple of hours. Two Marines were volunteering at the same time, and they were definitely outpacing me. I’ll say I definitely got a workout, as opposed to my regular day job in which I’m sitting at a desk most of the time.
But the best and most enjoyable part of working at FanFest was interacting with the participants in “You Call the Play”, on my final day of work. In this popular activity, fans are given the opportunity to record their own broadcast of a historic moment in Major League baseball history. There were several choices, the two most popular being Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series Game 1 home run, and the Angels winning the 2002 World Series. The third most requested baseball moment was Tony Gwynn’s 3000th career hit. Others were: Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, Rod Carew’s 3000th hit, Jackie Robinson stealing home, and Nolan Ryan’s seventh no-hitter. Participants were handed an informational sheet with stats and some of the background to place them “in the moment” as the scene was set.
The majority of the participants were kids under 14, so this was very entertaining. I laughed and I cried, and I laughed all over again, during the three hours I was assigned to this station. Some of the kids chose to make their broadcasts solo, a la Vin Scully, while others sat in the booth with a friend. It reminded me of the Junior Dodgers broadcasts, a kids’ program in which selected fans under 14 call games in the press box at Dodger Stadium. For the kids at FanFest, though, there was predictably a lack of polish, which made it even more enjoyable for me listening in.
Some switched back and forth from being “in the moment” to the present, making observations on the in-between years: There were plenty of corrections and interjections made with two broadcasters in the booth. Listening in as the kids called the plays, I started jotting notes on some of the more entertaining ones:
From two youngsters, about age 12:
Kid #1: “Well, I’m here with my friend Josh in Montreal, Canada. Tony Gwynn is going for his 5000th hit here.”
Kid #2: “Three thousandth!”
Kid #1: “Oops, I mean his 3000th. Here’s Gwynn waiting for the pitch…I think he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame someday.”
Kid #2: “Dude, he is already in the Hall of Fame!”
Kid #1 (sounding exasperated): “Well, he isn’t now, not yet!”
Kid #2: “Well, here’s the pitch and it’s a line drive, Tony Gwynn has gotten his 3000th hit and the Padres win the game!”
Kid #1: “They didn’t win yet! They just stopped the game a minute!”
Kid #2 (lowering his voice and adopting a more serious tone): “Well, I remember Roberto Clemente and his 3000th hit…he got into a car accident right after.”
Kid #1: “It was a plane crash, dummy!”
Kid #2: “Oh yeah, plane crash, well anyway, he is dead, and this is Tony Gwynn’s time now.”
Kid #1: “This moment is brought to you by El Cajon Ford. Nobody beats El Cajon Ford!” (Note: Gwynn has been a spokesperson for that dealership since his playing days.)
One young man simply read the information sheet as if from a script, documentary-
style, while the video moment played: “Tony Gwynn and the Padres were on the road in Olympic Stadium in Montreal on August 6, 1999. Gwynn stepped up to the plate with 2999 hits in his career…”
From a husband and wife, on the 2002 World Series, Game 7:
Husband: “And your Anaheim Angels…”
Wife: “Not Los Angeles Angels…”
Husband: “…have won the World Series for the first time!”
From an eight year-old girl, on the same game, pleading for the outcome:
“Two out in the ninth inning and the Angels are still ahead. Here’s the pitch, ohhhhh! He hit a fly ball! Please, please, please, catch it so we can win the game!”
Of the kids’ calls on the Angels winning the World Series, there were
several variations on the scene showing the Giants’ dugout:
“Barry Bonds is just sitting there in the Giants’ dugout. He just can’t believe it!”
“Barry Bonds…you can see how mad he is on his face!”
“Barry Bonds is getting up…he can’t stand to watch the Angels celebrating!”
Then, with the scene of a crying Darren Baker, the three-year old son of San Francisco manager Dusty Baker: “I would not want to be that kid now! He is crying his head off!”
For the Gibson home run, two guys in their early 30s sat in, as if performing a comedy act (one was a Dodger fan, the other an Angel fan):
Guy #1: “Well, it’s going to be Kirk Gibson vs. Dennis Eckersley here. Say, Steve, which one do you think has the better mustache?”
Guy #2: “Well, I don’t know, let me think about that one. And there is Mike Scioscia, Dodger catcher, watching from the bench. Hey, Jake, I do believe Scioscia might make a good manager someday. I just can’t see him doing it anywhere other than here in Dodger Stadium.”
Guy #1: “Oh, I don’t know, Steve. He might make a pretty good Angels manager.”
Guy #2: “Next thing you know you’ll be telling me the Angels will someday have a chance to win the World Series.”
Guy #1: “Gibson swings, and it’s going to go over the right field wall and into the stands. What an amazing moment! Even Tommy Lasorda, who has seen everything in baseball at least twice, hasn’t seen this until now.”
Guy #2: “Yeah, Jake, I think Tommy just sweated off about 10 pounds watching that at-bat.”
Guy #1: “Eckersley can’t believe what just happened. There’s a consolation, though, I think he has the better mustache.”
Guy #2: “You know, people may still be talking about this home run 22 years later. What do you think?”
On the Gwynn milestone, as a father and son called the moment
Dad: “They’ve stopped the game, his teammates are all out of the dugout. Everyone’s happy for him. And Tony is being hugged by his mother on the field.”
Son (about age 7, recoiling in horror): “Oh my God, Dad. I wouldn’t want Mom to come out and hug me!”
Another father-son duo, Angels fans, who had already called the Angels World Series moment earlier, decided to sit in on the Gibson shot this time–with Dad prompting the young boy, who remained pretty quiet until a revelation hit home with him:
Dad: “Well, what’d you think of that pitch?”
Son: “Ummm…it was a good pitch.”
Dad: “What’d you think of the swing?”
Son: “It was an ugly swing.”
Dad: “There’s Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia watching on as Gibson takes another swing, it’s 0 and 2.”
Son: “Hey, Dad–is that our Mike Scioscia?”
From a young Angels fan:
“And the Angels win the World Series! This was the best day of my life!”
Afterward, I asked him how old he was, and he replied, “I’m 10.” I said, “So you were just a baby when that happened, huh?”
His response: “Yeah. But it was still the best day of my life!”
Two young boys, on the Gibson home run:
Kid #1: “Well, here we are at Yankee Stadium.”
Kid #2: “No it’s Dodger Stadium!”
Kid #1: “Oh yeah. It’s the Dodgers and the “A”s in Game 1. Sorry I forgot it’s not against the Yankees.”
Kid #2: “That is Mark McGwire playing first base for the “A”s. He looks skinny there. Hey, how long do you think after this was that he started using steroids?”
Kid #1: “Gibson swings and that is a home run! I didn’t see who caught it, do you think he will sell it on Ebay?”
I was impressed there were kids who had such an appreciation for
history, that they called moments that happened decades before they
were born. Of course, for some of these kids, even the ’02 World Series took place before they were born!
One of them, calling a moment from the 1955 World Series:
“Oh! Jackie Robinson is going to try and steal home! He is called
safe! But this catcher for the Yankees better watch out. He might get
thrown out for arguing with the umpire!”
A 12 year-old on Hank Aaron’s 715th home run:
“He hits it deep, is it out, is it out yet? Yes! Oh my God, he did it, he broke Babe Ruth’s record, that was awesome!”
Some of the more noticeable errors made (by adults) were:
“The Angels have beaten the Giants to win the pennant!”
“The Dodgers have won the game, 4-3!”
(Hey, excitement can get the best of anyone, even years after the fact.)
The Gibson home run was the longest segment of all, but it was the most popular among fans, overall. We had Dodgers and Angels fans both calling it; Yankees, Cardinals and Cubs fans called it. At 7 minutes plus, from Gibby stepping up to the plate, to the rounding of the bases and celebration at home plate, it was high drama unlike any of the other moments, and that is what makes it such a timeless bit of baseball history. And, as long as it may have lasted, I loved every second of it–even after seeing it for the thousandth time.
One guy, about 40, stepped up and selected 1988 World Series, Game 1, and I told him it seemed to be pretty popular. “I bet you’re sick of this one, huh?” he said with a laugh.
“Oh, no, sir,” I replied. “I never get tired of this one.”
I won’t go into many other details about the FanFest, other than to say if you’ve never been and you consider yourself a hard-core fan, it covers nearly every aspect of the game you could ask for. And, though Anaheim may be an American League town, there was definitely a Dodger/National League influence there, from all the blue at the
FanFest and the 1988 World Series calls, to the final game score.
And why did it seem like very few Angels fans, at least among the volunteers present, knew about their own team’s history? One of my friends (a Padres fan) and I both knew the answer to one of the trivia questions asked of the volunteers: “What was the Angels’ original home field and where was it located?” She won a pair of tickets to a future Angels game for answering correctly. (Wrigley Field, at 42nd and Avalon.) I wondered if many Angels fans knew the part Wrigley Field played in successfully establishing Major League Baseball on the West Coast, to begin with?
In general, though, I must say I did see a lot of friendly co-existence between Dodgers and Angels fans throughout those several days. Some families even showed up with several in their group wearing gear from either team.
On the stage outside the main convention floor, a variety of musical acts entertained fans over the five-day duration of the event. Listening to a mariachi band play “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, and
“It’s a Small World”, that well-known theme song from Disneyland located just across
the way, I was reminded of the message that baseball is, indeed, expanding across the
globe. One surf-sound band set
the tone for the overall All-Star festivities with a nice version of
“Good Vibrations”, which summarizes the love of both baseball and the beach for me. Was there a hidden trivia question there? (Brian
Wilson, a Giants pitcher with the same name as the Beach Boy who wrote
“Good Vibrations”, is an All-Star on the NL team.)
And the memorabilia that was available! For collectors like me, it’s heaven, much like the shops lining the streets of Cooperstown. I purchased a few old scorecards and yearbooks from early-to-mid-’70s era Dodgers. Some I was sure I’d bought before, at that time, but had lost track of over the years. Who knew when I was saving my hard-earned babysitting money back then to spend $2 on a World Series program, that I’d be spending $25 on the same all these years later? I even found an All-Star Game program from 1974, when my beloved Steve Garvey won the write-in vote to start at first base for the NL.
Disneyland, just down the street from Angel Stadium, is known as the Happiest Place on Earth, and with a National League win, the surrounding area continues to be known as a place where dreams really do come true. Many fans from out of the area raved about their wonderful visit to Southern California, and although I’d love to see another All-Star Game take place at Dodger Stadium, this was perhaps the next best thing. I’m so proud I has part of one of the most successful All-Star weekends ever.
After the FanFest closed on Monday evening, I drove home south along the coastline of PCH (Highway 1), watching a golden sunset out of the corner of my eye as El Sol sank into the Pacific. Like the Gibson home run, that’s something beautiful I never get tired of seeing. And so it was the next night that the sun set on 14 years of American League dominance.
Today, the sun rises on the rest of the 2010 season. Let’s make it a memorable one, just as my All-Star experience was.