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Time's Getting Late, but Angel Faithful Live in the Moment

October 26, 2002|Joe Mathews | Times Staff Writer

The score: 16-4, the Wicked Forces of the North besting the Angels of the South.

The scene: The aftermath of the most dispiriting and embarrassing defeat in the history of a long-suffering franchise.

My mission: To restore my faith. To share the loneliness of a possible World Series loss.

To step back from the brink.

To find the truest of fans.

First, the search:

10 p.m., Thursday night. After my 10-minute postgame cry, I call Russ Frazier, who is in charge of membership for the Anaheim Angels Booster Club. He says there might be fans at the airport to greet the team and perhaps some at Edison Field, where the Angels must return to pick up their cars.

"But after a late night and a game like this," Frazier says, "I'm not sure if you'll find anyone."

10:20 p.m. Put on red shirt and AL champs cap. Tell the wife not to wait up. Depart Hollywood, heading east.

11:05 p.m. Talk by cell with Larry Babcock, manager of baseball information for the Angels.

"Come on out," he says, recalling the hundreds that turned out at Long Beach Airport to greet the team last month after it clinched a playoff berth in Texas.

11:27 p.m. Two fans on a radio call-in show say they and friends are headed to the airport to greet the Angels.

11:32 p.m. Arrive Ontario International Airport. It is cold and windy. No Angel fans or radio callers to be seen. Only souls there are two photographers and a TV freelance guy looking for shots of the team arriving.

1:06 a.m. Team plane lands at old gate far from terminal. Still no Angel fans, unless you count the drivers of the three team buses and some members of the California Highway Patrol. Standing on tiptoes on an old baggage conveyor belt, I can see Angels getting out of aircraft. My three chants of "Let's go Angels!" draw no response.

Photographers don't chant, maintaining their professionalism.

1:22 a.m. Disappointed, I chase the Angel caravan down the Orange Freeway to Edison Field.

1:48 a.m. The three team buses pull into the stadium parking lot, but security, saying the stadium is on "lockdown" for the World Series, does not allow me to follow.

2:12 a.m. Park car on State College Boulevard. Begin walking perimeter of the Edison Field property in search of fans.

2:26 a.m. Fans!

There appear to be two of them.

Under a street light, the men sit in folding chairs they've set up on a sidewalk on the edge of the stadium parking lot. A player's car passes, and they nod.

"Scott Spiezio, I think," one says.

The first man has a white beard that gives him a wise and regal look. He is Thomas Byrd, 45; grew up in Anaheim. When he was a child, his grandparents brought him to the groundbreaking of the stadium standing behind him. He's still drawn to it.

He arrived shortly after the game, and stayed to see the team buses come back. He'll spend the night on the sidewalk and see if the Angels have a few extra Game 6 or 7 tickets to sell in the morning. He owns a painting company, he says, but business is slow now.

"I've got quite a bit of free time and a nice little nest egg," he says. "And I'm putting it all into the Angels."

Next to Byrd sits a young father. James Webb is 25. He's been out of work, he says, since being laid off from a furniture factory shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. He consoles himself with the Angels, a team he has followed since he was a 5-year-old living in Garden Grove and his favorite player was Reggie Jackson.

"I'd like to walk up there and get some autographs," Webb explains, pointing to the part of the parking lot where players are getting into their cars and driving off. "But I have him with me."


And suddenly there he is.

Swaddled in a blanket with wrestling logos and lying asleep in Webb's arms is a little boy. "His mother doesn't like that we're out here in the middle of the night," Webb says. "But he said he wanted to come."

Jaydyn Webb is 3 years old.

He is wearing an Angels shirt and a red stocking cap. When he's awake, Webb's son is never without a stick and ball.

"He's a special one," his father says.

"Jaydyn loves the Angels whether they win or lose."

4:17 a.m. Return home. Wife, half asleep, asks: How'd it go?

Fine, I say.

Sleep will come easily now.

There is hope.

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