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ORANGE COUNTY | Dana Parsons

Keeping the Celebration in the Family

October 30, 2002|Dana Parsons

What is this strange grip sports has on us? Perhaps there's no better time to ponder that again than while in the midst of thousands of people lining the street and standing on rooftops, waiting for a caravan of baseball players to come by. Which is what we were all doing Tuesday morning out on Katella Avenue in Anaheim.

No mystery, really. The answer lies in watching Bryan Wilkerson and his 4-year-old son Jake among the crowd that has come to glimpse not just any ballplayers but the newly crowned World Series champs, the hometown Angels.

For Wilkerson, 34, having grown up in Anaheim, this pursuit of a World Series has been a life's work. So, the Wilkersons--Bryan, his wife Angel, Jake and daughter Alyssa, 1 1/2 -- claimed their territory on Katella around 8:45 and waited for the 11 a.m. start time.

"Who's going to autograph your ball?" Wilkerson says to Jake. "Tim Salmon," Jake replies. "Who's number 25?" Bryan says. Jake, either too shy or too proud to perform on command, hesitates. "Troy--" his father suggests. "Troy Glaus!" Jake says.

It's that simple: the Wilkersons are here because even a 4-year-old knows the players by name and because they want to see if one of them will make their son's day.

His plan: When Salmon passes by, Wilkerson will toss him the ball and a pen. "If I throw it to him, he has to catch it, right?" Wilkerson reasons.

Jake has Plan B; it involves a red horn. "I'll blow the horn, and you hand him the ball," he says to his dad.

Bryan has been chided annually by his Dodger pals. Now he's the one laughing and has passed the gene on to Jake, who spots a Dodger-blue horn in the crowd. A moment later, Jake proclaims, "No Dodger parade, no Dodger parade!"

As the bounty of women and girls on this day proves, baseball is about much more than fathers and sons. But a lot of it is about fathers and sons.

In a greensward behind their parade spot, Jake and Bryan kill time playing catch. "Bring the heat," Bryan says. "Daddy, I'll bring the heat," Jake replies. "He literally learned a windup watching "The Rookie," Bryan says, referring to a baseball movie that came out earlier this year.

I ask Wilkerson why grown-ups pay homage to ballplayers. "Somehow, you're a part of it," he says, referring to the Angels' championship season. "Or, you think you are."

At 10:55, a loud cheer erupts. "They're starting, Jake!" Bryan says. Jake reaches into his father's pocket and pulls out the baseball.

At 11:20, the caravan begins passing in front of the Wilkersons. Shortstop David Eckstein is among the first players spotted, and Wilkerson extends the ball toward him. Eckstein politely mouths, "No way," referring to the logistical impossibility.

Wilkerson calls out the players to Jake. "There's Troy Glaus! Garret ... ! Spe-e-e-ez ... !"

They spot Salmon but can't get his attention. And that quickly, the parade is over.

"You know why they're not signing it?" Jake laments afterward to his father. "You're not telling them!"

From what I know of Salmon, he'd have signed it if he could.

Wilkerson knows the truth of the matter. Someday, Jake will tell his own children of the day he couldn't get Tim Salmon to sign his baseball. And they'll laugh about it.

"It was something we won't ever forget," Wilkerson says of the day. "I've got plenty of buddies I watch games with, but there was a reason why today it was me, my wife and our two kids. It's our little tradition. My parents did it with me, and when you look back on life, the things I like I want to pass down to my kids."

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Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to dana.parsons@latimes.com.

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