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The Triumph of the West II

How the Angels' heavenly win translated into a victory for Southern California and the Southern Hemisphere alike.

By 10.28.02

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"Troy Glaus! You've just been named Most Valuable Player of the 2002 World Series! What are you going to do now?!"

"I'm going to ... DISNEYLAND?! Aw, c'mon. Surely you guys can send me to Cabo. I mean, I can hit a Liván Hernández slider over to Fantasyland from here! Been there. Done that."

And he probably can and probably has. But before we exhaust the Cinderella metaphors, let's go back to the CNN Washington studio earlier Sunday. Wolf Blitzer, the straightest-shooting anchor on cable's number two network, has asked his "McLaughlin Group" wannabes about the World Series. He gets faux erudite ho-hums.

Donna Brazile likes the Giants because San Francisco elects "good Democrats." Ramesh Ponnuru, clueless, has obviously never thought about baseball. The guy from the Washington Post's website loves Barry Bonds. And then ace conservative slugger Christopher Caldwell, fresh from an astute but as-yet unproved observation that the Moscow hostage-taking will shift Russia to our side at the U.N., swings.

Baseball, he starts, is an early twentieth century enthusiasm of white males, mostly attached to the Eastern states; it does not transfer well to the West. America is little interested in it anymore.

Swung on and missed!

Wolf nods, announcing he'll be at the Redskins' game as the Angels and Giants battle out Game Seven.

Can anything be more ludicrous? Here's the otherwise sensible Caldwell trying to preserve baseball the sport in Cooperstown amber. Out on the Coast, where the old white man's game doesn't transfer well, everyone is positively electrified.

Maybe that's because we're not all white guys, either playing or spectating. In fact, we haven't been since the 1940s, which -- better period that it undoubtedly was, America being at its peak and all -- might be where Christopher's mind remains.

True, you cannot raise your hand and swear anymore that baseball holds on as the "national pastime." The professional gridiron and even NASCAR have eclipsed it in attendance and TV viewership. But it has become a universal pastime, Americanizing the world faster than Al Qaeda can terrorize it.

In much the same way, what we once called the Third World now finds itself evangelized by charismatic Christians. Followers proliferate throughout the southern hemisphere faster than radical Islamists spread through Central Asia. Africa now sends missionaries to us, trying to goose our tired clergy into finding something, gasp, Christ-like to say.

The comparison is apt. Not that baseball has taken over the worldwide appeal of soccer, which for a few weeks each year grips hooligans from Thailand to Greece. But its fandom might just be growing faster. What Caldwell and Blitzer's other guests miss is that televisions from the Dominican Republic to Cape Horn are tuned into the World Series. And every shinbun in Nippon puts color pics on its front page.

That's because so many of these swarthy sovereignties have sent players to our games. And, in off-seasons, why we send so many Yankees -- strike that, American players -- over there. As Angel catcher Benjie Molina was making himself a hero in Game Seven, his father was being honored as Puerto Rican amateur player of the year. Shortstop David Eckstein, than whom no baseball player plays with more intensity, already is packing his champagne-soaked duds for his season in Tokyo.

Overseas they love baseball because, precisely, it is American. Even when Fidel Castro used to put on a baseball uniform and pitch a few innings, at the height of the Cold War, you knew he was perversely sending a valentine to the U.S. Baseball does trump politics, which is why we Orange Countians allow Gov. Gray Davis to sit in an Edison Field suite and cheer our team.

As you read this, Troy, Tim, Darin, Scott, Garret, Adam and the boys will be parading through a sea of red from the Arrowhead Pond, home of Disney's other team, the Mighty Ducks, back to the Big A (I can't bring myself to call it "the Big Ed," in protest of the Edison Company's complicity in Davis's energy crisis). Manager Mike Scioscia, who made the joy of the game the team's winning X factor, will make modest bows, and Jackie Autry will invoke the spirit of Gene.

Angel lovers, draped in red, wielding their thunder sticks and bouncing their rally monkeys, will send back to eastern eggheads the message that "bowling alone" is passé. We are still a nation of community, and advance. And victory.

Their Halos fought back amazingly against the Giants, a Caldwellian-era team brought to the West by Horace Stoneham, a great American ball club consigned by the expansion Angels to Jurassic status. Their motto: "Never say 'die.'"

You may be thinking of Wellstone and Mondale. I'm thinking of Disney magic, another great American export. I'm thinking of how in these very precincts, in Anaheim backyards three and a half decades ago, we gave Ronald Reagan his political launch. (I'm also thinking of how, not two decades ago, in Washington, some of Reagan's most fervent admirers pretended he didn't come from California.)

Pardon me while I bask in another triumph in, and for, the West. Coming back from sure defeat as they did in Game Six, and again in Game Seven, the Angels were nothing less than Churchillian.

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About the Author

K.E. Grubbs Jr. is director of the National Journalism Center and editor of TheReporter.us