Sports Arena

The Triumph of the West

The Angels? In the World Series? In Anaheim? In fabled Orange County?

By 10.18.02

Send to Kindle

Out here in the lower left section of the continental U.S., October brings a balmy cool. After sunset, and if you're sitting in a stadium, the impulse is to put the jacket or sweatshirt on, then take it off, then put it on again. There's a meteorological explanation, something about an early evening shift in marine currents, but it does give new definition to "cold sweat." If the Angels and the Giants are blessed, no Santa Ana wind will come ripping down from the Sierra Nevada as they slug it out for the world baseball championship.

It's true that Raymond Chandler described the Santa Anas -- I'm paraphrasing from memory -- as those edgy moments when teachers pulled schoolchildren off playgrounds and meek little housewives felt the edges of their kitchen knives and studied their husbands' necks. But Angel batters -- Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon, Adam Kennedy -- can handle anything blowing in from the Northeast.

The Angels? In the World Series? I know. A Greenwich Village friend emails me that this is a fluke, granted by the merciful Bronxees. He joins San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown in superciliousness. The mayor, who probably has his job for life, having come to his comfy seat once term-limited out of the Assembly Speakership, let it be known to a reporter that he'd rather be beaten by Boston or Minnesota. But by ... by ... Anaheim? Never!

Nor will he allow himself to wear mouse ears, for which the town is better known, if he loses his wager to Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly. A cowboy hat, in deference to the late Angel owner Gene Autry, will do. It is true that Disneyland only seems to share a parking lot with Edison International Stadium, once known as "the Big A" until the electric company cravenly redubbed it "the Big Ed." Pretty clumsy, that. Don't they get it? The "A" stood for both Anaheim and Angels, and that illuminated circle resting atop the enormous A-shape alongside the stadium denoted a halo. Willie'd never have stood for such an assault on civic tradition, though nobody in these parts remembers what they've named the Giants' post-Candlestick Park venue.

Then there's Giants manager Dusty Baker, whom we loved when he was a Dodger, referring to Anaheim as "South Los Angeles." Right. And San Francisco is South Napa Valley.

Let's get this out of the way: I'll not reciprocate the sneer. Any place that gave us both Ambrose Bierce and the Grateful Dead deserves some affection. You can taste some fine Napa wines in some splendid restaurants overlooking what someone -- was it Herb Caen? -- called "Baghdad by the Bay." I think that had something to do with the place's merry sinfulness and deadly bath houses, not Ba'ath socialism. Socialist San Francisco certainly is, but Willie's no Saddam. You do wonder, though, why Joe DiMaggio left his hometown to play ball in New York.

Some of us who came of age as Orange County sprang from bucolic citrus groves to one of the world's most cosmopolitan regions have waited patiently for four decades, praying if Protestant, fingering rosaries if Catholic, even thinking in sports koans if infiltrating from across the Pacific. We waited as superannuated Bill Rigney midwived the Angels from L.A.'s Wrigley Field, as Jim Fregosi breathed soul into the team, as starlet Mamie van Doren led a bad boy player around by the nose, as Gene Mauch tried to professionalize the boys, as Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew and Don Baylor, approaching pasture, tried to give them a world-class patina.

The smartest move, probably, was bringing in former Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia as the new manager. The stolid Scioscia's "one game at a time" approach surpasses the Zen method the media have lionized in Lakers coach Phil Jackson -- especially because Scioscia doesn't talk about it. Brand me not a syncretist, but it works.

The Angels are ready. In 1986 I was among the congregation inside the Big A when hurler Donnie Moore, a pitch away from taking the Halos to the World Series, allowed Boston's Dave Henderson a game-winning home run. In his suite, Autry picked up his cowboy hat, glanced over at his guest, the Crystal Cathedral's Rev. Robert Schuller, and smiled: "Well, we're still in the major leagues!" Now, that's positive thinking, which we do maddeningly well in Orange County, even as we try to forget that, a few years later, Donnie Moore took his life.

The Cowboy died in 1998, never seeing a pennant, and in waltzed Michael Eisner to Disney-fy the team. Imagineers brought in some goofy mascots and changed the team colors, including something called "periwinkle." Regal those uniforms were, but they brought no pennant. When local wags started referring to the team as "the Periwinkles," it was time for something more substantive.

They traded their star outfielder, Jim Edmonds, to St. Louis for the unheard-of Adam Kennedy, a local boy from Cal State Northridge. That was insanity incarnate until this season, and especially last week, when Kennedy's trifecta -- three home runs, one of them in a 10-run inning -- broke the spirit of the Minnesota Twins. And, oh yes, they switched the uniforms from periwinkle-and-white to red-and-white, which makes the Southern California throng look like a bowl full of Cornhuskers.

It's great for the Orange County spirit, too. The traffic-laden paradise last made national news with the kidnap-murder of little Samantha Runyon and the heroic police work of Sheriff Mike Carona. And it's been great for the local economy, with cash registers ringing for caps, jerseys, car-window flags and stuffed "rally monkeys," which possess talismanic powers. The lines from the Angels' merchandise shop seem to stretch all the way to, well, the Crystal Cathedral, whence the positive thinking loops back to home plate.

It'll be an exciting series, guaranteed. Up and down, back and forth, as nervous as changing jackets or sweatshirts in response to California's October. But, as The Cowboy's widow Jackie pledges, we'll do it in six. There's no gainsaying one of the smartest women in the West.

We'll do it this time. We'll do it for The Cowboy. We'll do it for Samantha. And we'll even do it to smite The Sniper, Osama bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein. Meanwhile, Willie Brown's looking rather Mickey Mouse lately.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

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