As a baseball fan(atic), it is difficult being a displaced fan. Sure, there is MLB.tv if you want to fork out $150 for lag and a buffering screen. But it is nothing like being surrounded by the community that fully supports that same team colors that you do. It is nothing like being able to simply turn on the TV at game time, sit back with family members or friends, grab some snack food and enjoy the game on the boob tube. It is nothing like being at the ballpark of your hometown team and basking in it’s surroundings. Last week, I was able to make the pilgrimage back into friendly territory, and I got to expose my two young children to the place where my love of this game began.
I woke up in Southern California on Friday July, 18th for the first time in over six years. Giddy at the idea of being home. I woke up on Saturday prepared for a day filled family fun and with prospects of seeing people who, in some cases, I had not seen in more than 10 years. But, on Sunday July the 20th, I woke up with a different sense of excitement. On Sunday, I was going to be at the Big-A for an Angels afternoon game against the Mariners. Tyler Skaggs was pitching; Mike Trout was sure to be in center field; future Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols was in the lineup; finally I was going to see these players live in action, and finally, after so many years, I was going to be sitting at the Big-A.
The game didn’t start as well as I hoped it would. Skaggs got knocked around in the first inning for three runs and the crowd seemed a little bit lazy because of it. The crowd stirred in the bottom half of the inning when Josh Hamilton doubled home Kole Calhoun, but didn’t get the big inning that they hoped for.
In the third inning, the crowd started to get their money’s worth. Calhoun led off the inning with home run down the right field line. The crowd erupted. Then Mike Trout followed him by launching a home run to straightaway center field. The crowd exploded. People went bonkers, myself included. Everyone except for one person, my son.
My son sat quietly in his seat, still very much unsure of his surroundings. But even though he didn’t quite know what to make of where he was, I saw him, in my peripheral vision, take both of his arms and do a silent double fist-pump while mouthing the word “yes.” The Angels could go on to lose this game, but he wouldn’t care. Mike Trout, his favorite player, hit a home run on his first ever trip to the ballpark. It was almost as if Hollywood had sent over a script before the game. It was almost as if the baseball gods knew we were there.
As both pitchers began trading zeroes for the next three innings, it was time for some moving around. The kids got their first ballpark hot dogs (Actually warm!) and I spent a little time meeting people who I had become friends with on Twitter. I don’t normally suggest using the ballpark as a place for social interacting, but it made sense for me while I was there. Besides, I was so amped up at the idea of simply being at Angels Stadium, that the prospect of sitting for the whole game was completely out of the question.
In the seventh inning, trouble began to brew. Skaggs ran into trouble for the first time since the first inning. The Mariners pushed two more runs across, and the 23 year-old’s day was over. The Angels turned around and got one back in the bottom half, but still trailed by one going into the eighth.
And in the eighth inning is where things went all kinds of topsy turvy.
With one out and a man on in the bottom half, Fernando Rodney was summoned. A strike out and a long flyout to center ended the inning. But before leaving the mound, Rodney reached into his imaginary arrow bag and fired one of his trademark invisible arrows at the Angels dugout. I don’t know if everyone in the crowd saw it, but everyone in my section did. And we all got loud. Very loud.
Fernando Salas did his part to keep the Mariners off the board in the ninth, and with three outs left, the Angels had Trout, Pujols and Hamilton coming to the plate against Fernando Rodney, a pitcher that had just shown up the team and its fans.
The crowd was already standing when Trout drew his leadoff walk. We wanted payback, and we wanted it bad. And then, when Rodney threw a 1-1 fastball to Pujols…
For those of you who have never experienced a ninth inning rally live and in person, let me break it down to you like this: When someone tells you that the feeling that they felt while standing in a crowd that was feeding off what was happening in front of them as electric, believe that what they are telling you is true.
When Pujols looped a double down the right field line on a fastball from Rodney, everybody in attendance went bananas. As Trout rounded third and headed for home, you could feel the energy and the excitement and the euphoria of each and every person in that stadium. And then Pujols fired his own arrow at the dugout. And then Trout fired one right back, and the fans lost their shit all over again.
A David Freese double play nearly killed the inning, but a couple batters later, Grant Green sent the Angels, and all of their fans, home in a delirious frenzy when bounced a base hit up the middle to drive in Josh Hamilton and win the game.
I remember once back in 1995 (Warning: aging myself) being at a game at the Big-A for Little League Day. I remember that the Angels came back to take the lead in that game, and I remember it being my first live introduction to the power of Troy Percival on the mound. I was 11 years old. Sunday’s game, eclipsed that. And as we walked away from the ballpark, my son asked me if I could carry him on my shoulders to the car. I obliged. And while walking, my wife took this picture of us with our backs to her:
My son wearing his Mike Trout jersey, and myself wearing my Tim Salmon jersey. Two generations of Angels fans with a third generation, my dad, waiting in the parking lot for us to get back to the cars after the kids got to run the bases after the game. It was the perfect day for a game, it was the perfect game for both a return trip and a first time adventure. It was simply, perfect.