Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Another West Title, but.....

With another win over the Yankees, plus a loss by the Rangers up in Seattle, my beloved Angels have won the AL West for the 4th time in 5 years.

If you've checked my profile, you know that I'm a resident of Los Angeles. However, I must admit that I'm not a Dodger fan. I hate the Dodgers. Absolutely hate them. With a passion.

I grew up in Orange County; about a 15 minute drive from "The Big A". This was back when they were the California Angels, and for the record, I wish they had kept that name. Not only did I go to Angel games with my brother and dad as a child, but a school classmate's father had season tickets, up on the Terrace Level right behind first base, and I caught several games from that vantage point. I remember those dark years in the late 70's, with Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana on the mound, Dick Enberg calling the games on KLAC radio, and the Kansas City Royals constantly kicking our ass.

But, then there was 1979. They finally got the Western Division, beating the hated Royals at the Big A to do it. The game was running past my bedtime, but I remember being under the covers, listening to Dick Enberg calling the final out. The fact that the Baltimore Orioles beat us 3 games to 1 in the Championship Series didn't dampen my enthusiasm; we finally won the Division.

Later, there were the Division titles in 1982 and 1986. The 1982 choke job in the ALCS to the Brewers didn't bother me, but the gag fest in 1986 broke my heart. In '86, I was a sophomore in college, up at UCLA. I was watching Game 5 on TV, and I was going to sit there and watch the final out, then figure out how much of my CalGrant money was going to be needed for bleacher seats for the World Series.

But of course, Gene Mauch happened. That idiot, coupled with Donnie Moore, who was running on fumes by then, coughed up Game 5 when we were one strike away from the Series. I knew that we had no shot in either of the next two games at Fenway Park, and didn't bother watching the collapse. And, of course, I got my revenge when the Mets stole the Series from Boston.

As the years progressed, it became obvious that the Angels, and their fans, were cursed. In addition to having to hear from sanctimonious Tommy "I even crap Dodger Blue" Lasorda every October, we endured: the shooting death of Lyman Bostock, the bus crash outside Baltimore that nearly killed manager Buck Rodgers, and the surreal collapse in 1995, which featured Mark Langston sprawled on his back at home plate in Seattle's Kingdome, as jubilant Mariners circled the bases in a 163rd game laugher.

But, all of those tears and rendering of garments were forgiven and forgotten in 2002, when Darin Erstad caught Kenny Lofton's fly ball in center, and the Angels were World Champs. Watching the celebration at home, my wife was shocked to see tears in my eyes. I couldn't explain to her what that championship meant to me; only a Cub or Red Sox fan in 2002 could understand those tears of disbelieving joy. To this day, I look at my ThunderStix sitting on my bookshelf and smile.

And since then? A plethora of riches: one MVP (Vlad!), one Cy Young (Bartolo "Have another churro" Colon), and 4 Division Titles. No World Series, but, who cares? I still have 2002.

And, there's the rub. I still love the Angels. I take pride in seeing the national media recognize them as a model baseball franchise. We have a great manager, solid ownership and front office, and free agent players now want to play here. This year's team has a great chance to win another World Series, and, in fact, the season will be a disappointment if we don't even make the Series. But, a World Series win won't reduce me to tears. I'll be happy, but not moved to write a letter to the editor of the LA Times like I did in 2002. To this day, that letter to the editor is the only time I've ever seen my name in print. I still have a copy if you want to see it.....

So, what am the moral of de fable? I guess it's this: Just like you never forget your first love, the first World Championship after years of bad luck is such an experience that nothing else compares, including subsequent World Championships.

That's unfortunate. Only one team every year goes away happy. Unless you're a Yankee fan, World Championships shouldn't be a "ho-hum" experience. And yet, what have I become? A jaded Angel Fan? I sincerely hope not. But, we'll just have to see what happens in October.

In the meantime, congrats to the Angels, and I hope the Dodgers choke.

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