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Through the Rabbit Hole to the Angels' World Series

As it was for Alice, life on the other side of the looking glass can be quite disorienting.

October 22, 2002|Joe Mathews | Times Staff Writer

For us fans, to watch the Angels in the World Series is to walk on Mars, observe cold fusion, land in India with Columbus, or help Schubert finish that symphony.

So this is life on the other side of the looking glass.

"This doesn't feel real," says Bobby Flores, a 28-year-old corrections officer who watched Game 2 wearing an Angel cap with a halo he fashioned out of a coat hanger and gold paper Christmas ornaments.

For 41 years, Angel fans were used to seeing the wheels fall off their bandwagon short of the Series. Now, we are in a place we didn't dare imagine, a country where all objects -- not just the roses -- have been painted Angel red. A place with no Thomas Guide.

There is a power-mad monarch, name of Bonds. He apparently ate one side of the mushroom and became so big that his hits no longer fit in the park. There's our lovable Mouse, David Eckstein, who nibbled the mushroom's other side and shrunk into the world's smallest shortstop.

This adventure isn't free. A neighborhood parking lot off Katella Avenue that costs $8 in the regular season is now $20. Scalpers all grin like Cheshire Cats, as they rip off desperate fans with counterfeit tickets at $400 per. (Memo to Anaheim police: Off with their heads!) All around the stadium, Mad Hatters have set up shop, getting $35 a lid.

At this very important date, all this can be disorienting -- terribly, terribly disorienting.

Before this season, Angel fans lived in a small kingdom, hidden in the Southern California grid. Angel Land had few big crowds and little traffic. There wasn't always good baseball, but the Big A offered a refuge from the urban curses of cynicism and irony.

It was not a place to be seen. If you were on the run from the law, Anaheim's stadium in fall -- the crowd dwindling, the outfield grass dying -- would have been a smart place to hide.

This weekend, in the name of security, the place was crawling with more federal agents than a WorldCom shareholders meeting.

The stands were full of Hollywood actors, most on descent from the A to the B list, who took seats from fans for a few seconds of network TV time. The Fox network provided box seats to the casts of new shows that will be canceled by spring training. From the cheap seats, you could spot them by their hair, striking shades of yellow and orange not found in nature.

Judging by the crowd shots on the giant screen, you have to play for the Lakers to afford the best seats. Don Bainum, 33, a sales VP and lifelong fan, spent five innings searching for a way in Sunday before the Angels finally released those tickets that hadn't been picked up at will call. He paid $175 to see the final four frames. (Thanks to the anonymous donor who found me an upper-deck ticket at the $110 face value).

The resulting crowd was quieter than it had been for earlier playoff rounds.

In this Series, Angel fans find themselves sharing their once ugly duckling with the world. You know, the child who lived too long at home, the one who tried to walk out the door but never got past the front porch. She left home this year and wound up a cover girl.

We're thrilled for her, proud to find ourselves walking into a ballpark under a sign that says "Welcome to the World Series."

But it's not just our tea party anymore.

I wonder if there aren't a few Giant fans who feel the same way, having wrapped themselves in blankets for extra innings at Candlestick Park and now unable to find standing room at the team's new downtown palace.

California creates great fortunes, gobbles up land and swallows people of all kinds. There are few quiet successes here. The celebrity rabbit hole ushers in a new product every 10 minutes, and the Angels are far more worthy than most.

So, Angel fans, rejoice at finding yourself under the bright lights of Wonderland.

But a discovery, by definition, happens only once. And in the triumph of reaching the Series, another sweet sliver of uncharted territory is lost.

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