The Angst of an Angel Fan
I would like to offer an belated congratulations to the Laguna Beach High baseball team for winning the CIF title this spring. It is a great accomplishment for their program, the school, and our city.
Their success has helped ease my pain, as I suffer through another year of seeing my beloved Angels stagger towards last place. Oh, the pain, the frustration, the heartache of so many disappointing seasons.
The Los Angeles Angels came into existence in 1961, playing their first season in a minor league park called Wrigley Field. That first year, I saw them play the Yankees when New York had Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, and Whitey Ford. I have lived and died with them since that game, no matter what they called themselves: The Los Angeles Angels, The California Angels, The Anaheim Angels, and, now, The Los Angles Angels of Anaheim. They were the little team in the region, never seeming to escape the shadow of their crosstown rival, the storied Dodgers.
The years from 1961 to 1978 were barren of any post-season appearances. But each winter, I would wait until spring training thinking that this would be the year. Then in 1979, they made the playoffs. And then lost to Baltimore. Three years later they were back, this time against Milwaukee. I watched the game from Hoag Hospital, where my second son had just been born. The Angels lost the deciding fifth game of the playoff series, after they had been ahead two games to none.
In 1986 came the knife to the heart. Playing the Red Sox up three games to one in the series, they were one out, one strike away from going to their first World Series. Dave Henderson hits a home run and Boston went on to win the game and the series.
Fifteen years of wandering in baseball mediocracy followed. Then, like the Israelites coming out of the desert and finding the promised land, came 2002, and a World Series victory over the Giants. Thank you Scott Spiezio for your dramatic home run! My wife was hardly a sport’s fan, but even she cried as the Angels hung on to win game seven.
The Angels continued to play well in the early years of this century, making the playoffs several times. But, usually waiting for them in the first round were the Red Sox. The Angels were like Ahab, Boston, the White Whale. We sought them, we found them, they destroyed us.
Oh, to lose to Boston. Hey, don’t get me wrong, it is a great city, an historic city, and the people showed their resilience after the marathon bombing. And who could not love “Big Papi?” I am old enough to remember that they were the last team in the majors to use black players, and the legendary Jackie Robinson said of their storied owner, Tom Yawkey, that he was “one of the most bigoted guys in baseball.” The Sox fans that come to the Big A can be rather smug as they cheer on their team as they pound our poor Angels. I have asked several women I know who have worked in sports bars, “What team has the most obnoxious fans?” Universal answer: Red Sox fans. And remember, New York has baseball teams, too.
The most recent Angel seasons have been disappointing in the extreme, with the exception of the magnificent Mike Trout. Bad trades (see, Wells, Vernon) and horrible free agent signings (see Hamilton, Josh), and key injuries have plagued them. This season, in particular, has been pain inducing. But I still watch, live and die with each win or loss. And after this dismal season, I shall await spring training as eagerly as a young child waits for Santa on Christmas Eve.
Even if the Angels never make it back to the World Series, I am reminded of what Bogart said to Ingrid Bergman in “Casablanca,” “We’ll always have Paris.” And, we Angel fans, will always have 2002.
So, go Angels and go Breakers baseball! Even though I am pretty sure the Breakers will make it back to the playoffs before the Angels, I am already awaiting the 2017 season.
James Utt is a retired high school teacher. He admits he sees parallels between the Angels and Sisyphus.