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Off to See the Angels in Baseball Heaven

Sports: With the team on verge of playoffs, fans camp out for days at the Big A for tickets.

September 22, 2002|KIMI YOSHINO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The campout for Angels' tickets was not for the fainthearted.

Fairweather fans were well advised to stay away.

If you're the type who hates waiting in any line, you were wise to avoid this one.

Only the bravest Angel fans mastered the system, snatching up red-hot tickets Saturday morning to see the red-hot Anaheim Angels in their first playoff appearance in 16 long-suffering years.

More than 5,000 people packed the parking lot at Edison International Field on Saturday, including some who had camped out since Wednesday.

Thousands of others jammed Ticketmaster phone lines and the Internet, trying to buy divisional playoff tickets. They were sold out by 3 p.m. Internet sales were actually cut off at 10:15 a.m., so fans at the park would have a better chance of getting tickets.

Winnetka resident Alan Senseman, 43, was at the head of the line. He arrived at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, armed with two sleeping bags, two jackets, a change of clothes, cigarettes and a wad of cash. The longtime fan had no intention of leaving the tickets to chance, or his temperamental computer.

"I'm tired. I'm burned," said a disheveled Senseman. "Don't get too close--I'm even smelling myself."

Within minutes of the box office opening at 9 a.m., Senseman was grinning broadly while camera crews captured the purchase. Fans whooped in the background as he held up the payoff: a handful of tickets to three home playoff games.

Some people, lamenting that they didn't arrive sooner, punched the redial button on their cell phones in pursuit of better seats through Ticketmaster.

As a morning fog burned off and the sun rose over the Big A, the atmosphere was festive. Winchell's handed out free doughnuts. Radio station DJs poured free coffee and passed out cereal, red and white beads, and plastic cups.

Fans savored every moment. They've been waiting since 1986 for the Angels' to make a return trip to the playoffs. That year, they were one strike away from a trip to the World Series, when Dave Henderson of the Boston Red Sox hit a heartbreaking home run, spoiling the Angels' chances.

This year's team, which has won a record-setting 96 games, has a good shot at the World Series title.

Their play inspired thousands to flock to Edison Field. Some, like Senseman, were there Wednesday and Thursday, but most started arriving on Friday, turning the parking lot into a sea of tents.

After hours of intense bonding and maybe a few beers, members of the crowd had become friends. They shared hamburgers and breakfast burritos, held each other's places in line while some snuck home for a shower, and stumped each other with Angels trivia questions.

Jeff Coppage, 22, of Cherry Valley--No. 105 in line--came alone Thursday night. By Saturday morning, he was leaving with friends he planned to keep in touch with, including La Palma pals Missy Bustamante, 17, and Laura Hanson, 18.

"Let's see," Coppage said, "Laura likes horses. She's going to finish her general education. She doesn't know what she's going to do with her life."

Oh, and did he mention he's been sick? "Really," he said, "I had the flu," adding that he hoped his boss wouldn't figure out the real reason he missed work on Friday.

The fans agreed that it was an unforgettable experience--all the way down to the overflowing Porta Pottis. They regaled late arrivals with tales of the "caped crusader" who circled the tents late into the night with shouts of "Go Angels!" There were air horns blasting, people calling radio stations with song requests from the parking lot, and a few shouting matches with a few Yankee fans who dared to wear their baseball caps.

Luis Castaneda, 20, of Anaheim said he partied until 3 a.m. only to return to the spot held by his family.

"There were a couple of singles checking me out. I ain't gonna lie," he said. But his cousins pointed out the real score. Castaneda came back alone.

As the fans awoke Saturday after their night of partying, the moment they have been waiting for drew one day nearer.

"All roads to the World Series are going through New York--and Anaheim," John Kelly, 43, of Fullerton said. "God, it feels weird saying that. We've been with them through all the bad years. This is pretty exciting."

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