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For Halo Faithful, Series Victory Is Just the Icing on Angel Cake

October 28, 2002|Joe Mathews | Times Staff Writer

"I didn't care nothing about the Series. Win or lose, I would have been satisfied."

Pop Fisher, long-suffering manager, in film adaptation of "The Natural"


We didn't care nothing about the Series.

Yes, it was glorious to send home the big-and-bad Giants, to uphold Southern California's honor, to bring a world championship trophy to Anaheim and to watch street celebrations erupt in the quietest of Orange County cul-de-sacs.

But while rooting as hard as we could for the Angels this weekend, longtime fans had already been celebrating. We wanted this World Series, the first we ever played in. But we didn't need it.

It's bad manners to worry about death when you've cheated it longer than you ever thought possible.

Take Bruce Gevirtzman. When he got married five years ago, he and his wife wrote their wills on a home computer. The La Mirada High School English teacher was particularly specific on the subject of his cremated remains.

His beloved Angels were so inept, so seemingly cursed whenever they approached the playoffs, that he would take no chances. His ashes "should be scattered around home plate at Angels stadium, so that one day I can see a World Series."

Last Sunday, Gevirtzman -- still very much alive at 53, with a young child and a new baby on the way -- sat in Edison Field watching the Angels play. At times, the emotions and nerves were too much and he left his seat for the concourse, preferring to judge the game's progress by the noise of the crowd.

In the end, the Angels had won Game 2, their first Series victory.

"I'm good, I'm happy. Why do I need anything more?" he said. "The mantra of every Angel fan I've ever known has been: Let's get to that World Series once. Whether we win it, that doesn't matter."

From the beginning of the World Series, I've heard Angel fans say versions of the same thing. "Getting here is the accomplishment," said Garrison Draper, 22, in the Edison Field parking lot.

Jay Boyarsky, an Angel fan who works as a deputy district attorney for Santa Clara County, stood in front of Pac Bell Park last week and pitied the Giant fans. "They're not having as good a time because they feel they have to win this," he said.

It feels greedy to demand something that goes beyond even fictional frames of reference. Some Angel fans last week were quoting a line from the film "The Natural," in which long-suffering manager Pop Fisher -- who, like the Angels, had never reached the World Series -- declares that all he ever wanted was to win the National League pennant. A movie perhaps dearer to Angel fans, the 1994 picture "Angels in the Outfield," climaxes with the team winning the American League West, not the Series.

"I used to break bread with Gene Autry," says former Anaheim City Councilman Irv Pickler, who attended every World Series game. The longtime Angels owner, he says, "always talked about getting to the World Series some day. I don't recall him ever saying anything about winning it."

To their credit, the Angels, while still pining for a Series title, recognized this. Word leaked out last week that Disney had planned a postseason victory rally for the team, with or without a Series victory. In the Edison Field parking lot, the players will be toasted, deservedly, as the best team in franchise history.

Of course, they clinched that honor three weeks ago, surpassing all expectations with a record 99 victories in the regular season and an upset of the Yankees in the playoffs' first round. In interviews, the players themselves have described having fun as their first priority in this World Series. Most did not expect to be here.

Beyond the deliciousness of surprise and the realization of long-standing dreams, I suspect there's one more reason for the widespread joy created by this year's Angels.

This is the first authentic Southern California team -- born and raised and still living here -- to amount to anything.

The Lakers, the Dodgers -- even the Raiders when they were here -- all won, but each brought a history and personality from somewhere else. Those teams may be beloved and beautiful but they will always be imports, the sports versions of the otherworldly pretty people you see on the tonier side of Los Angeles.

These Angels, with three big hitters from the Valley and a top reliever from Riverside, resemble the unwashed rest of us, the people for whom Southern California is and always will be home.

They are not always pleasing to the eye. They often go unnoticed, 25 more people on the freeways. But they work hard and play hard. They are aggressive as folks in a giant metropolis must be, but they know that good manners and generous spirits are signs of strength, not weakness. They respect opponents and don't talk trash. After so many years of frustration, these Angels not only made us fans celebrate them, they made us believe in ourselves.

"Even when we're down six runs, these guys taught us we can always come back," fan Thomas Byrd told me last week. "What better lesson is there than that?"

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