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Popularity of Big A Landmark Hasn't Been Dimmed by Age : Anaheim Stadium: Angel and Ram fans find structure the place to meet and eat before a game.

July 27, 1990|ARA NAJARIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Ever since the Big A was moved out by the 57 Freeway, the darn thing just hasn't worked right.

Neither have the Angels--but one has to suppose that is part of their charm.

The club played its first season in the enclosed Anaheim Stadium in 1980 after the Big A scoreboard had spent nearly 15 seasons behind the left-center field fence. The stadium was enclosed to accommodate the Los Angeles Rams, who moved to Anaheim in 1980.

The 70-foot wide halo on the Big A used to light up for home runs and would shine after Angel victories (though in those days, there was not much chance of blowing a fuse).

Many were upset when plans were announced to enclose the stadium for the 1980 season and move the Big A. But it now may be more popular than ever.

Today, fans like the Big A just where it is. Though many still say they liked the stadium better when it was open, few complain about the Big A, which has become the place to meet.

If you want to congregate before a Rams game, Angels game or anything at Anaheim Stadium, look for the Big A.

"It's a good symbol for a meeting place," Sean Stiemlee of Huntington Beach said during the Angels' recent home stand. "I've been to 12 stadiums and it's one of the best things about this stadium.

"The big, iron A . . . It works as a meeting point. You can see it from anywhere. No one can miss it."

The Big A, which is 234-feet tall and weighs 240 tons, has had problems since July 17, 1979, when it was moved.

At that time, approximately 1,000 people watched as contractors used a 125-ton crane, two huge dollies and lots of cable to move the Big A.

But as a moving experience, it was all too brief.

The Big A made it about 10 feet when a dolly under its base started to tilt. That put the engineers and stadium officials on edge--as well as the Big A. Adjustments were made and the Leaning Tower of Anaheim finally made its 1,290-foot trip across the parking lot.

The plan was to use the scoreboard to announce upcoming dates and advertise stadium events. At first, it worked fine. But by 1984, the scoreboard was shut down because of performance problems.

But you can't read the scoreboard while you're standing under it.

Anaheim's little Eiffel Tower provides shelter when it rains, and shade in the summer--the Big A regulars move east with the shadows for their picnics--and it's a great reference point for finding lost cars. Plus, it has the advantage of being near the Katella Avenue entrance/exit, which offers the easiest freeway access, on the east side of the stadium.

It's a perfect meeting place for a big group. During the recent home stand, Unisys and TRW were among those having employee picnics under the Big A.

Steve Gillepie of Mission Viejo even likes the concrete base of the structure.

"It's a great place to barbecue because of the raised cement," Gillepie said.

And although it's illegal to drink alcohol in the parking lot, many of the people under the Big A take the risk.

"They're usually pretty lax about it for Angel games," Gillepie said. "For Rams games they're a little more up-tight and they might take it away, but they usually leave you alone if you pick up your trash."

While the party goes on under the Big A, the argument goes on inside the stadium whether the enclosed structure is better for baseball games.

"I like it better the old way," John Avella of El Toro said. "It gave the stadium more . . . personality."

Others disagree.

"I like it better this way," Mike Nabrotzky said. "I like a fuller stadium. There's less wind and I think the (crowd) noise reverberates."

Others don't care, just as long as the Big A stands.

"I helped construct this thing in high school," said a man who would only identify himself as Steve because neither his wife nor his boss knew that he took a day off to go to an Angel game.

"We worked on it during summer vacation. It was fun growing up in Anaheim then. We saw Disneyland go up and then this."

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