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The Big A: Anaheim's little slice of heaven

The Angels finished No. 1 in a recent fan-friendliness survey, but a couple of Dodger Blue-blooded fans had to see for themselves.

July 10, 2009|CHRIS ERSKINE

If you don't like Orange County, you don't like America.

They are happy here, "Hi, how are ya" happy. I wasn't welcomed with such passion at my own wedding, by my own bride. (It was an arranged marriage. She arranged it; I pretty much just showed up.)

Yes, it's good to be in Orange County, the county that never sleeps. We are here to see how the other half lives, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, to be precise, the team that won all those accolades last week for the way it treats its fans.

In case you missed it -- absorbed as you were with Michael Jackson's pharmacology -- ESPN rated the Angels the most fan-friendly team in the nation. That's not just in baseball, either. That's in all four major sports. Who's No. 1 when it comes to treating fans well? The Angels.

"WELCOME TO ANAHEIM!" says the lady at the parking gate, and for a moment I think she might jump in my lap.

As I said, they are happy here. Texas happy, and not just because they are in a playoff-caliber tussle with those longhorns. They are happy to live and play in God's County. Who wouldn't be?

"You can park over there," the nice lady says, pointing to 5,000 empty spots.

Right away, I am liking Angel Stadium, for there are not those swirling, flushing traffic circles you suffer at some other local venues. (Hey, Frank, you've got some good things going, but how about some pedestrian bridges?)

In Anaheim, the parking grid is more sensible. Five minutes after leaving the freeway, my date and I are walking toward the front door.

"This is nice," says my young son.

"Don't jump to conclusions," I say.

What does he know from nice? All he has ever seen is Dodger Stadium, which finished 50th in the survey. I like Dodger Stadium, Heck, on many nights, I love Dodger Stadium. Yet, evidently, it has a ways to go in terms of affordability and atmosphere.

But life is good for Angels fans. Not perfect, just very good. Angels fans still have the 57 Freeway to stare at every night. And that crazy Flintstones waterfall.

Yet the place is well scrubbed, the concession lines a dream, vendors everywhere. The food? Well, we'll get to that in a moment. Meanwhile, there are summer tans and pregnant women in halter tops. At least I think it was a pregnant woman. Might have been a guy.

Indeed, this is a very handsome ballpark, though I prefer a bit more symmetry to a stadium -- that's just me. A pleasing ballpark is like a good-looking face, everything in proper proportion. Angel Stadium, meanwhile, is strong-side right.

Outdistancing such quibbles is the world-class customer service that owner Arte Moreno and staff insist on. And a family vibe that surpasses every other Southern California sports venue -- no F-bombs exploding all around, no near-fights over beach balls. From a family standpoint, the Angels have it going, the lousy hot dogs notwithstanding. If you are going to serve me a lousy hot dog at a ballpark, just go ahead and poison me, for I will be that miserable.

The baseball itself? Mostly sublime. The Angels (46-37) boast more .300 hitters than the Gashouse Gang. Most nights they come ready to knock down Gibraltar with their ash and maple bats.

Some gripe that the Angels lack pizazz, but I don't see that. Out on the main lawn, Torii Hunter does the work of two men. He's nursing a groin pull now, but if he played on one leg and without a glove, he would still be better than half the center fielders in the game.

And Chone Figgins (sounds like English pudding, doesn't it?) is as gutty a little infielder as the game has to offer.

Vladimir Guerrero? I am a major fan of oddball physical feats: Garo Yepremian throwing a football, Carlos Zambrano throwing a fit. So to watch Vladdy run the bases at this stage of his career brings me a beer-like joy.

The other night, he reminded me of those videos you see of a deer that wanders into a convenience store only to be trapped in the toiletries aisle, all legs and adrenaline. Let's hope his bum wheel mends quickly.

"See that man run?" I tell my 6-year-old.


"Don't ever run like that," I say.

Honestly, an Angels game contains all that is good about going to a ballpark. In person, there is more perspective, more nuance. You can appreciate the way the defense moves with each pitch. You can worry for the infielders at dusk, as they struggle with a monster pop-up against a cotton-candy sky.

Baseball isn't a game; it's way bigger than that.

And these Angels get it right.


Erskine also writes the "Man of the House" column in Saturday's Home section.

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