Tuesday, of course, connotes a special day for love across the country.
Some people think Feb. 14 has become too commercialized, syrupy and over-hyped, but to me these eternal, show-of-love words will never grow stale:
Pitchers and catchers report
Years ago, when he played shortstop and center field for middle-earth Orange County, we called it Bobby Valentine’s Day.
Anyway, if you love baseball you most likely have YOUR team. Maybe you inherited it from your father, or stumbled upon it honestly. In my day, you most definitely had a baseball card collection of your team.
My love of the “California” Angels was largely born of accident, serendipity and geography.
In 1966, as I recall these 50-some years later, my bookworm older sister won Angels tickets in a local library raffle. Local is the operative word here. We grew up in La Habra, then a city of avocado trees that was a stone’s throw away from Richard Nixon’s Whittier.
La Habra was also located, conveniently, to a spanking new stadium opening in Anaheim.
This new stadium would house Gene Autry's Angels, who had been renting Dodger Stadium while their next-door-to-Disneyland edifice was being constructed.
So, there you have it—it all came together. I got the raffle ticket my sister would never use in a million years—my guess is she has still never set foot in a sports arena, stadium, or pavilion.
I was 8 years old and, for years, my hazy memory was of Frank Howard, of the Washington Senators, hitting a home run half-way up the Big “A” scoreboard in left field.
Did it happen? Well, yes and yes.
My first game was likely May 11, 1966. The wonderful baseball website, retrosheet.org, years ago confirmed Howard’s dinger in the game log of that year’s daily box scores. Howard hit a home run that day off of Angels’ lefty George Brunet.
The only wobble in my story is that Howard also homered at Anaheim Stadium in 1966 on Sept. 2., off of Angels’ lefty Clyde Wright. It was definitely ONE of those dates.
Once you’re hitched to a team, though, you’re hitched.
One of the thrills of retiring from daily journalism last year was that I could openly root for the Angels without having to feign journalist impartiality.
Being IN daily journalism, though, also has its advantages. It put me into the Angels clubhouse on several occasions and last week led to being invited to moderate a golf-charity panel in Chino Hills for the contribution-worthy “Let It Be” Foundation.
The speakers were Angels manager Mike Scioscia, third-base coach Ron Roenicke and former hitting coach Mickey Hatcher. All three played for the Dodgers in 1980s and coached together for the Angels in the 2000s.
Scioscia, tanned and fit after a loooooooooong off-season, was as relaxed as he’s going to be for the next seven months. He was in such a jovial, joking mood that I decided to break it up by bringing up last year.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
I mentioned to Scioscia how much I had been looking forward to retirement so I could chronicle the daily exploits of my boyhood team, only to get sucked into the vortex of a 74-88 campaign marred by injuries and mayhem. The 2016 Angels brought back memories of my childhood only because they were 19 games out of first place in June.
It was, otherwise, an enjoyable night. Hatcher told several great stories, one about locking Tommy Lasorda in his room at Vero Beach by attaching a piece of rope to his door and then to a palm tree.
And I told the story of Hatcher, who attended the University of Oklahoma, catching two passes in 1976 Fiesta Bowl against Wyoming.
We talked about living in the presence of Mike Trout, the greatest player of his generation.
I mentioned to Scioscia I wrote a story for the L.A. Times on Trout, in May of 2012, claiming he was the best prospect in franchise history.
“Typical sportswriter,” Scioscia joked, “taking credit.”
I had been waiting all night for this:
“Well,” I said, “You were the one who sent him back to AAA Salt Lake after spring training that year.”
Zing. You could look it up. Trout had been fighting illness that spring and didn’t make the big club on Opening Day. The Angels called him up a few weeks later and the rest, as they say, is history.
February, though, is mostly about optimism, a time to rally around your team.
There are reasons to be optimistic about the Angels, too. They didn’t waste Josh Hamilton dollars in free agency (thank goodness), but added a few under-the-radar players who could really help.
Cameron Maybin and Ben Revere might finally solve the Bermuda Triangle problem in left field, while Danny Espinosa should fill the void at second base. Luis Valbuena is a solid acquisition at first base to spell C.J. Cron and Albert Pujols, who is coming off foot surgery.
The key, of course, is a pitching staff that seems to annually lead the league in Tommy John surgeries. And the back-end of the bullpen remains a blown-save waiting to happen.
Ah, but these are the laments of mid-season reality.
Feb. 14 is a day for dreamers. It’s about sunny prospects in Tempe.
It’s time to go love YOUR team, for better and worse.
Pitchers and catchers have reported.
Cupid, draw back your bow. And then get an MRI in advance of your probable Tommy John. [/membership]