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Better Faithful Than Fickle, Crow Longtime Angels Fans

Sports: Today's playoff start is occasion for righteousness and a little scorn by die-hards who know of dashed hopes.

October 01, 2002|KIMI YOSHINO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

High above home plate at Edison International Field is Section 422, where the true Angels fans sit.

Not those front-row season ticket holders, whose bankrolled companies shell out big money for prime seats. Or the Johnny-come-latelies sporting their spankin' new red caps now that the Angels are finally winning.

No, these are the die-hards. Make that the long-suffering die-hards. And now their time has come.

"I sat here for soooo long in misery," lifelong Angels supporter Dave Irvin, 24, of Fountain Valley said at Friday night's game against Seattle, the first of three to mark the Angels' last home stand of the regular 2002 season.

"Every inning of every home game," bragged his uncle Jim Irvin, 47, of Lake Forest before Dave corrected him: "Every out of every inning of every home game."

Now, as they eagerly await today's playoff game against the Yankees--the Angels' first postseason appearance in 16 years--they feel superior to all those other fans, as if this team is part of them.

The newcomers are "all Laker fans; they're all Red Wing fans. Five years ago, they were Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls fans," scoffed Dave Irvin.

His uncle agreed. "You can just tell. They can't name five people on the [team]."

The fans in Section 422 take credit for the Rally Monkey. They say they were the first to bring stuffed monkeys the day after his image first popped up on JumboTron screen, inspiring a come-from-behind victory.

"How many fans can say they made their mark on the team?" Jim Irvin asked. "We made our mark."

The two dozen Section 422 faithful have formed an unlikely bond in this most unlikely of places. Over the course of more than 10 years, they've forged friendships--even an impending marriage--over their devotion to the Angels.

They celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Off-season, they gather for parties and holidays.

"You have to love baseball," said Jerry Didion, 45, of Mission Viejo. "And you have to love the people you're sitting with."

They toss around words like dedication, commitment and perseverance--characteristics of a real fan, they said. They list the Angels' loss to the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 American League championship series as one of the most heartbreaking moments in their lives. In that game, the Angels were one strike away from the World Series when Dave Henderson hit a home run off pitcher Donnie Moore.

It was the last time the Angels made it to postseason play.

Many of them can say with pride: "I was there." It is practically a badge of honor they wear as they look around the newly packed stands with a bittersweet feeling.

What would be worse, said Didion's wife, Aimee, 45, is sitting in a sold-out stadium with half the crowd rooting for the Yankees.

"If they stay fans, great," she said of the fair-weather crowds around her Friday. "I love this."

Daniel Rivas, 16, of Santa Ana is the kind of fan she means. He's been cheering the Angels on for a whopping two months.

"Hey, since they started winning," Daniel explained. "Last year, I liked the Yankees. I even bought the hat. I basically like whoever's winning."

Don't tell Section 422 old-timers--who still were trying to decide Monday where to watch today's game--that the odds are stacked against their team. Or that the Yankees have been to the playoffs every year since 1995 and to the World Series four years in a row, while no player in today's Angels starting lineup has ever played in the postseason.

That's another trait of true fans: They never stop believing.

"I think they have a shot to win the World Series," Dave Irvin said, discounting the team's late-season losing streak. "Every team has got to go through that. Now we've got it out of our system. I don't care if I'm down by 10. I think I'm still in the game."

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