It's a beautiful day for a ballgame, with fans slapping on sunscreen and sucking on water bottles in anticipation of the first pitch. It's the season for spring training in Palm Springs, with players jogging to their positions beneath an impossibly blue desert sky, in the shadow of mountains crowned by snow.
Fans? Seven, if you count the one in the stroller. Players? The pitcher meets the catcher halfway to the mound and extends his hand.
"I'm Henry," says the pitcher.
"I'm Mike," says the catcher.
The Angels don't play here anymore. They trained at Angels Stadium for 32 years, then traded up for the comforts of Arizona in 1993.
They left behind memories of the most star-studded spring home in baseball history. Gene Autry, America's beloved "Singing Cowboy," invited celebrity friends like Bob Hope, Cary Grant, Lucille Ball and former President Dwight Eisenhower to watch his team.
The Angels left behind their stadium too. In their place, on a recent Sunday, is a recreational adult league.
"When I go out to the outfield, I think, my God, this is the same outfield Willie Mays played on," said Grant Doheny, 49, of Cathedral City.
To families across Southern California, Palm Springs was synonymous with spring training. Vero Beach, the Florida hamlet where the Dodgers train, is a pilgrimage. Arizona's Cactus League is accessible, but Palm Springs was baseball on a whim, a two-hour drive to swimsuits in the stands and the frozen lemonade cart behind home plate.
The cart is gone now. The national anthem is not played before Henry throws his first pitch to Mike. And, in an almost mocking way, the only public address announcements are those from a dog show in the adjacent park. The seventh inning is interrupted by a booming voice proclaiming, "We're ready to start judging the Chihuahuas."
On an exterior wall of the stadium, on a weather-beaten plaque a little bigger than your hand, a civic leader is memorialized "for his unceasing effort in bringing the California Angels to Palm Springs."
Miss that plaque, circa 1966, and you'll miss the only apparent evidence the Angels played here. Even the stadium name did not survive the Angels' departure; it's Palm Springs Stadium now.
Autry bought the Angels as an expansion team in 1960 and brought spring training to Palm Springs, at a time when the desert resort was Hollywood's favorite hideaway.
"Every day at the ballpark was an adventure--especially for me, a kid from Ohio," said Buck Rodgers, then the Angel catcher. "Every day, you'd see a star. The actors were all friends of Gene's."
Dinah Shore threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Angels' first game in Palm Springs. The players mingled with Doris Day, Angie Dickinson and Ann Margret at the Chi Chi Club and applauded as Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra performed to benefit the Palm Springs Police Department.
Rodgers recalls playing touch football with Desi Arnaz Jr. Outfielder Albie Pearson presented a bat, autographed by all the players, to Eisenhower.
"President Eisenhower was really quite a fan," Pearson said.
The Freeway Series was born here, with the Angels beating the Dodgers, 6-5, in 1962. The next year, the local booster club gave the Angels a golf cart, a dash of desert flavor, for shuttling relief pitchers from the bullpen to the mound. The Angels loved the idea, used the cart all season, and started a trend throughout the major leagues.
As Autry's contemporaries faded away, the stars in the stands were replaced by stars on the field. The Angels played to win--and paid to win--with high-priced heroes like Don Baylor, Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson, Bobby Grich and Fred Lynn leading the team to its only American League West championships in 1979, '82 and '86.
Palm Springs attendance more than doubled from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, with temporary bleachers accommodating overflow crowds, including a record 6,002 for a game in 1986. Game days were ditch days for kids at Palm Springs High, located just beyond right field.
"I used to skip fifth period and come over here," said Henry Bringas, 27, of Cathedral City. "All the kids would come out for batting practice."
Whether you caught a ball or brought a ball, you could join the scramble for autographs. The kid behind you might have been Troy Percival, a Fontana native who grew up to pitch for the Angels.
"I got to see [beloved coach] Jimmie Reese hitting fungoes, and I got his autograph. I got Rod Carew's autograph," Percival said.
"Reggie told me to get out of his way. Actually, I believe it was, 'Get the [bleep] out of my way.' "
The glamour evaporated, slowly but surely, on all fronts. Desert glamour moved east, as Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert attracted the wealthy, and Palm Springs struggled to define itself beyond senior citizens and spring break riots. Stadium glamour took a hit each time another team moved into a grand new complex in Arizona, triggering another round of Angel complaints about the cramped clubhouse and peeling paint in Palm Springs.