I have a confession to make. I have never been to an Opening Night (or Day) game ever. Finally it is time to check that off the list.
After a very stressful week of (real) work. I found a way to make it out to the Los Angeles Angels home opener versus the Seattle Mariners. That may seem like a simple task, but when you live in Los Angeles and have to commute on a Friday to Orange County, nothing is simple.
But first, I had to make a call to my Beer Baseball Blog field correspondent (and longtime California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels fan) Kevin Lyon and ask him for some permission. That permission was to have the Angels as the team I follow this year in the American League. My plan is to see many games this year in Anaheim and it would be nice to have a little emotional investment in that.
As was stated in a previous blog post, even though my longtime loyalty is with the St. Louis Cardinals, I have vowed to root for the home team in contests between two teams that I had no ties to. My bases would have been covered (no pun intended) by rooting for the home team, but I was looking to really invest my efforts here. And trust me, watching my former favorite player (Albert Pujols) and my current favorite (Mike Trout) play live makes it a lot easier.
Since it was my first Home Opener, I am eager to get to into the park. But, this time I actually took my time walked around the park to get a glimpse of some stuff that I might not have seen if I just went directly into the stadium.
The first thing I noticed was there was actually tailgating in the parking lot before the game. It was more like football than baseball. I think San Diego is the only other place that might do this, but definitely, it’s not a West Coast thing in baseball. I will be on the lookout in the future to see if this happens at other stadiums.
The second thing is the stadium itself. It probably ranks low in my opinion of ‘must see’ baseball stadiums. It is the fourth oldest stadium in the MLB and lacks a unique identity. Aside from the landmark 230 foot high, 210-ton giant ‘Big A’ sign next to the freeway sign complete with a light-up halo that is lit after an Angels win, this stadium falls short. But, there are so many missed opportunities here.
Missed opportunity 1: For instance, last year was the 50th anniversary of the Angel Stadium. That is something pretty special and you would have thought they would have had a year-long celebration. But, the only reason I even knew that was a minuscule sign in deep center field that was visible if you REALLY looked hard. On it was a special logo made for the occasion.
Missed opportunity 2: This year, Albert Pujols is fast approaching 600 home runs. Literally, he would the ninth player in baseball history to do so. That is an incredible feat. And how is that celebrated? By an incredibly underwhelming small black and white ‘PUJOLS 591’ sign in center field that changes with each home run. You’d miss it if you didn’t know it was there. Definitely not inspiring.
Missed opportunity 3: How they are not taking advantage of the fact that two of the Angels’ biggest stars, Tim Salmon and Mike Trout, have names that are fish related is beyond me. I am talking going all out with unique sushi rolls named after them. Maybe a huge koi pond with a statue in the middle. Something!!! The only thing I see is an 80’s-ish foam Trout headgear that I would never wear. In fairness, there is a Trout/Salmon blanket promo but it just seems not enough. Luckily the fans are more creative than the Angels promotion team by bringing a fishing net to catch Trout home runs (watch).
Unfortunately, Angel Stadium feels like a large clunky minor league park and lacks many standard modernisms that most other current ballparks have. But, as I have come to realize, it may not be all their fault.
The stadium (opened in 1966) has gone through many transformations and may have lost some identity in the process. It was reconfigured to accommodate the Los Angeles Rams football team from 1980 through 1994. It then suffered earthquake damage as a part of the infamous Northridge Earthquake in 1994. Angel Stadium’s inside configuration very much resembles Dodger Stadium, another stadium that built around the same time. But, for some reason (in my opinion) lacks the same sense of history that Dodger Stadium enjoys.
1996 ushered in the ‘Disney Era’ when the Walt Disney Company (Disneyland is a mere 3 miles from the stadium) became a minority owner of the team and construction began to convert the stadium back to a baseball-only facility. Added to the $100 million effort was a ‘California Spectacular’ rock formation behind the left/centerfield wall complete with running water and geysers and is where fireworks and shooting flames erupt after home runs and team wins occur. I’ve only been in Southern California for 20 years, but this is literally the only rock formation or geysers I have ever seen here. But I digress.
So now that I got the negatives out of the way, let’s explore some positives.
1. Tickets (in general) are extremely easy to get and affordable. On this night, as in the past, I bought a cheap ticket and roamed around the park, watching from multiple standing-room-only places. The stadium has very good sight lines from almost anywhere in the park. When I do sit, I tend to do it at the very top level behind the plate for a fantastic sight line of not only the field but of the city of Anaheim as well.
2. The fans (in general) are pleasant and passionate. One of my main criticisms of certain home team fan supporters is that it is usually that ‘your team sucks’ attitude. I wish more fans would just stick to rooting for their team and not make personal or verbal attacks on others. I’ll never understand how someone showing support is seen as a bad thing. It should be encouraged to make for a better atmosphere. The World Baseball Classic games this year definitely showed a level of enthusiasm that has been lacking for many years.
3. Craft Beer. While I am not 100% enthusiastic about the selection of Craft Beer at the stadium and the fact that it is only in a very limited area, there are some alternatives. But they are outside of the stadium.
Backstreet Brewery (1884 S Santa Cruz St, Anaheim, CA 92805) is a half mile west of the stadium. A good place with a nice selection to hit up before a game.
Noble Ale Works (1621 S Sinclair St B, Anaheim, CA 92806) is a half mile north of the stadium. In my opinion, the best place to hit up before, and after, a game. Great selection of unique beers and currently expanding to meet demand.
Karl Strauss Brewing Company (2390 E Orangewood Ave #100, Anaheim, CA 92806) is a half mile south of the stadium. Another great place for food and beers before and after the game with a nice view of the stadium from the patio.
It only made sense to embrace this team as the team I follow in American League this year. The Angels, while only winning one championship in 2002, has a rich history of great Hall of Fame players such as Rod Carew, Nolan Ryan, Reggie Jackson, Eddie Murray, Frank Robinson and Dave Winfield to name a few.
But I came to see Mike Trout, possibly the greatest player I will ever have the chance to see play in my lifetime. Just put this into perspective, aside from 2011 when he played 40 games, in 5 complete years in baseball Trout has won 2 MVP awards and finished as the runner-up 3 times. Plus, he is a 2-time All-Star MVP, 5-time Silver Slugger Award winner and 2012 Rookie of the Year. That is crazy!! All this by age 25. Wow!!
On this Friday night, my man Trout went 1-2 with 1 RBI. Not spectacular, but enough to be part of a 5-1 win.
Trout would later homer on Saturday in a 5-4 win and be a part of a 7-run rally to beat the Mariners on Sunday 10-9.
3 straight wins. Not a bad way to start off my year of fan loyalty. Go Halos!!