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What the Angels Are Doing on the Field Should Fill the Park

September 22, 2002|DEAN J. SLOCUM

On the night before the baseball strike was to begin I was at the Big A (I don't know anybody named Edison) and saw a great game. The Angels ripped the Devil Rays right from the start. I sat in an expensive ticket-brokered seat on the first base line with a friend who is a true fan of the greatest game ever conceived.

The Oxford Dictionary of the English Language defines "fan" as a devotee of a particular activity. Fans of what activity? Based upon what I've seen over the years in Anaheim, the percentage of baseball fans to overall "fans" at Angels home games has declined every year.

We sat through the pregame rockets' red glare, the racket Disney calls music, beach balls bouncing off our heads and the cheers of a crowd weaned on "Funniest Home Videos." To top it off, we fended off the sloshes and dribbles from foraging hordes who in one grand evening consumed more calories than a small African nation does in a year.

What was happening on the field was incidental to the crowd's joy in spending wads of money on choice seats and expensive baseball gloves for preschoolers who soon learned that the chance of catching a foul ball is practically nil and who probably didn't want to be at the game anyway. Toward the end of the game, ire at the prospect of the strike boiled over as fans tossed water bottles, baseballs, beach balls and toilet paper onto the field. The announcer's pleas for sanity and order went unheeded.

The merciful ending was an anticlimax as a "Don't strike! Don't strike!" chorus was drowned out by more rockets signaling to the world beyond the gates that the home team had, indeed, won another game.

What I really don't get is why a winning team like the Angels is having such a mediocre season in terms of attendance. They are going lickety-split, having turned a sure losing season into the best one ever. This team is a joy to cheer for. All that is lacking is more real fans to fill the acres of empty seats beyond the first and third base lines--fans who come to see baseball instead of making human waves and tossing beach balls.

I was raised in South Providence, R.I., and got my baseball baptism at Fenway Park during the mid-1940s. My first game was organized by a friend's aunt who herded three young boys onto a train at Union Station. Fenway was packed to the rafters.

I had never before seen so many people in one place at the same time, let alone at a baseball game.

Williams and Pesky and Doerr and DiMaggio carried the day, and I tried to see and hear everything on and around the field.

The fans knew so much more than I did. From kids to adults, everyone seemed to know everything about the Red Sox players--batting averages, RBIs, ERAs, everything but players' cap sizes. Sure, people ate and drank and even smoked, but they were there for the game and were at one with the drama.

I couldn't afford to go to many games but kept glued to the family radio whenever the Red Sox played. Home games were broadcast live, and away games were "re-created" by a genius named Jim Britt who, to the incessant clicking and clacking of a teletype machine, decoded telegraphic symbols to produce an exciting and thoroughly believable re-creation of what was going on in Cleveland or New York.

The tape would deliver information like "Williams F8," which meant a long fly ball to center field. Britt would transform that cryptic bit of information into something like "Feller takes a long windup and delivers a knee-high fastball to Williams. Ted drives it deep into center field!" A few clicks later, he'd announce a great catch in center or another home run for the Kid.

Britt would turn GDP543 into "Pesky hits a sizzling grounder to third." Click, click, click. "Right into a double play, second to first!"

Years later I drove endless miles from Seattle to Corpus Christi and Los Angeles to Denver selling schoolbooks that teachers didn't understand and kids hated. The telegraph was long dead by then, but I used the car radio to tune into games, no matter who was playing. I would roar down the road listening with rapt attention to every word spoken. In my mind's eye, every game was being played in Fenway Park. I laugh about it today, but it was very real then.

So here we are in prosperous times in the land of plenty with a winning team playing exciting baseball. What we need is more fans of the serious variety who can fill the acres of empty seats at--OK, I'll say it--Edison International Field to enjoy a great game of baseball.


Dean J. Slocum is a baseball fan who lives in Costa Mesa.

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