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Want to know how it's done at Angel Stadium? He's giving it away

From launching T-shirts to giving away cars, there's a team of professionals making sure fans are entertained beyond the baseball game. He takes a peek behind the curtain.

August 17, 2011|Chris Erskine
  • Strike Force members shoot T-shirts to screaming Angels fans before a game against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday.
Strike Force members shoot T-shirts to screaming Angels fans before a game… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

Call them what you want -- bazookas, muskets -- the wide-mouthed guns used to zing T-shirts into the stands are one of America's greatest inventions, along with Weber grills and the telephone, not merely life-altering advances but social achievements that bring us closer as people.

Sports sociologist that I am, I have wanted to fire a T-shirt bazooka for years. When I first spotted one, I got the same sensation that Gretzky must have had when he first spotted a hockey stick. Or Dolly Parton a synthetic wig.

So here I am, on this hot August night, during the most significant homestand of the Angels' season, learning to properly fire the T-shirt gun.

Obviously, I make the most of my free time.

First, you must roll and wrap your projectile -- these things don't prep themselves.

Then you stuff it down the muzzle. Then you press a little brass button to set your pressure; like paintball guns, they are powered by CO2 cartridges.

Pull the trigger. Bam!

It's a nice recoil, like bargain tequila, and if you're not careful, or as fully muscled as I am, you can really do a job on yourself.

Set to full pressure, you could knock a squirrel from an oak tree with one of these puppies.

"Sometimes, the shirts fly clear out of the stadium," says Brittany of the Angels Strike Force pep squad.

"The first time I used a gun, my arm was all bruised up by the end of the night," Heather says.

Look, Heather, no one ever said military life would be easy.

Amid the rigors of another long baseball season, I am down in Anaheim this night, studying some of the behind-the-scenes things you always wondered about -- and a few you didn't.

For instance, how do those T-shirt guns work? Or, how much do these Strike Force members make? ($13 an hour)

And, most important: If the winner of a car promotion gets a new Fiat dressed in Wienerschnitzel insignia, what does the loser get?

Honestly, there are a million little things that go into what teams call "game entertainment" -- the music, the video, the giveaways.

Like it or not, the addition of big screens during the 1980s helped turn baseball games into more than just baseball games. As new stadiums sprang up, so did baseball's abilities to shake, rattle and roll.

The Wizard to the Angels' Oz is Peter Bull, who oversees the 25 to 30 people per game it takes to run the videoboards, point the cameras, fire the T-shirt guns.

"Something different tonight is the Wienerschnitzel Fiat giveaway in the fifth," he says at a pregame production meeting, with six Strike Force members and their four wisecracking stage managers.

But first, there is the T-shirt launch at exactly 6:36 p.m. Molly shoots with Kristin, Sasha shoots with Diana, Brittany with Trina.

"Anybody need a regloss?" someone calls out before we deploy, the Strike Force's version of "lock and load."

Thankfully, no.

At the top of the second, Brittany dons a Ruby's waitress outfit and delivers a milkshake voucher to a lucky fan in field seats.

In the middle of the second, Trina does a live shot up in section 519 to promote a home run tie-in.

"You're telling a story, you're telling a story," stage manager Karl Soderman tells Kristin as she crosses her hair over her mouth like a mustache, to promote an upcoming bobblehead/gnome giveaway in the middle of the third.

At the top of the fourth, I'm standing with Seth Lemmons, 8, near the Angels bullpen in left field. Cute as the Strike Force members are (Sasha's eyelashes could maybe brush the moon), Seth is way cuter.

Winner of the Steal Third promotion, the second-grader has come all the way down from his little town near Bakersfield with grandpa Donnie.

Seth's assignment: To race down and pick up third base in front of 44,000 fans (almost five times the population of his hometown of Taft).

"He really gets to keep the base?" Donnie asks a stage manager. "Hey, Seth, you get to keep the base."

In the middle of the fifth, we give away a car.

At least I think it's a car. The hot little Fiat is disguised in a Wienserschnitzel wrap with a little plastic hot dog on the antenna.

The winner is pulled from the thousands of entry slips dropped inside the car in the days leading up to the giveaway.

So, Megan Schneider of Cypress, I've got good news and I've got great news.

Tuesday night, you won a cool little Fiat at the Angels-Rangers game.

The great news? I think it smelled like sauerkraut.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter.com/erskinetimes

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