With the Red Sox playing in Anaheim this past weekend, I felt compelled to attend one of the games. Not only was it a chance to see the Sox play for the first time in years, but it was an opportunity to visit a park I’d yet to experience. A bunch of friends and I decided to go to the Angels-Sox game on Saturday July 6th. Here are some dispatches and anecdotes from the evening:
THE CALIFORNIA FREEWAYS
Anaheim being a relatively foreign place to us, the iPhone GPS was going to be important. Taking the 405 for nearly 30 miles was easy. Merging onto Route 22 wasn’t much harder. The difficult part was once we’d been on Route 22 for about ten miles, we had to enter a horror house of freeway twists and turns that seemed completely unnecessary. Using Google maps, the directions are very clear cut. Using Apple maps, the directions are a nightmare. Every 30 seconds there was something. Keep left. Keep right. Stay left. Stay right. Is there really a difference between “keep” and “stay”? Because Apple maps would have you believe there is. Discontinuing the GPS and going with freeway signage as our guide may have proven more fruitful, but even then, it would have been difficult. There were innumerable little swerves and turns and stays and keeps. I think we got on and off the 5 freeway three different times. Once we were in the city, it should have been as simple as getting off Route 22, hitting a major thoroughfare, and being at the ballpark in 5 minutes. Man I miss being able to just take the Green Line to Kenmore.
Anaheim is allegedly a city, and I don’t mean this to be derogatory in any way, but…it’s in the middle of absolutely nowhere. I’m not surprised that there were 10,000 empty seats at the game, because there are just mountains in every direction. Where was the downtown? Where were the office buildings, the fancy apartments? The only other recognizable building for miles is the Honda Center, home to the Ducks, which is a stone’s throw away. The freeway that runs behind the stadium is a nice touch, very California. The landscape is undoubtedly picturesque, with nice weather, palm trees everywhere, and Disney down the street. But the park just sits there in a huge open space. It’s kind of cool in contrast to some of the more metropolitan parks out there, but has a weird “’Field of Dreams’ set in a deserted city rather than an Iowa farm house” vibe to it. Speaking of which, there’s a huge, red letter “A” outside the stadium in right field that puts Hester Prynne’s to shame. It has a giant halo over it, and for some reason, reminds me of the Phil Alden Robinson masterpiece. People came from miles away to watch the game in Ray Kinsella’s corn field. In Anaheim, you can see the giant “A” for miles, as if it’s screaming to anyone with decent vision that the Anaheim Angels play right there, come check them out. Maybe they don’t have Shoeless Joe, but they do have Soulless Josh.
One final note on the scene at Angels Stadium: The parking lot is enormous, which is the most telling sign that your stadium is in the middle of nowhere. Drive to any stadium in a densely populated area, and you won’t find a parking lot of note. The Angels, even when they sell out, could likely fit over 90% of attendees’ cars in their parking lot.
Immediately upon entry, before we could even do that whole 360-degree spin around and see where you are and where you need to go, we were in the beer line. As my buddies claimed that the Angels have some of the most affordable food and drink in all of baseball, I was paying $12.50 for a beer. Go figure. They had somewhat of a point, though, because as I looked around (after going broke on a 16-ounce Blue Moon), I noticed novelties like bottled water and signature hot dogs for just $4 each, which actually isn’t too steep.
The only Angels fan in tow, Evan, was kind enough to inform my buddy AJ and I about Clyde Wright’s Tennessee Barbecue. Thing is, Clyde’s only has two locations. One’s in right field, and seeing that we were five rows from the top of the stadium on the third base line, that wasn’t happening. The other location was in our vicinity, but down on the ground level. So we walked. And after a few minutes, to twist a line from the worst rap song of the year: We started from the top and now we’re here. Actually, while we are here, Mike Trout uses that song for his plate appearances. A guy who started his career last year very damn near the top is trying to convince us that he started at the bottom. Not buying it, Mike. Anyway, Clyde Wright’s. Awesome. For the uninitiated, of which I was before Saturday, Clyde Wright is a former Angels pitcher from Tennessee, hence the joint’s name. He’s also the father of (get ready Yankee fans) former major league pitcher Jaret Wright. The signature item at Clyde’s is the Skeeter Dog, paying homage to his nickname. The Skeeter Dog is a footlong bratwurst topped with both brisket and pulled pork. Sold. The earlier point about reasonable prices held water in this case, as the Skeeter was only $8.50, which is a fair price to get a delicious, filling meal at a ballgame. Put another way: Our buddy Slo, who deemed himself “A third inning man” when it comes to food and abhorred us for eating before the game (even though we got there early and were starving), ended up getting some puny chicken strips and fries for a $9.00, a clear ripoff. Advantage, Skeeter eaters.
THE SCOREBOARD SMEAR CAMPAIGN
Anyone who’s ever been to a baseball game before knows that part of the game presentation is the fun facts that run with each players’ stats and picture on the scoreboard when he comes up to bat. You know, under the average, home run, and RBI totals, the scoreboard operator can punch in cool stats that, when done properly, tell us a bit more about the player. In Anaheim, the goal of the scoreboard operator isn’t to educate the fans about the players in the game. Oh no. The way the scoreboard operator at Angels Stadium does his job, he could give Joseph Goebbels a lesson in propaganda. At first, I made a remark to my friends, “Hey, I think they’re running a smear campaign against the Red Sox. Look at what kind of stats they’re putting up for our guys.” My friends got a good laugh, especially when the stat was about Mike Napoli and how poorly he’d been doing lately. Fair enough, as Napoli has struggled since early May. But then I reminded the guys how in the first inning, they ran less than flattering, completely arbitrary stats for Jacoby Ellsbury (playing great and now hitting over .300) and Dustin Pedroia (an All Star who’s been over .310 all year). The stat they ran for David Ortiz was “Career in Angels Stadium: .200, 10 HR, 25 RBI.” Why run those stats? Why not mention Ortiz’s season average of .320? Or his career 3-5 with 2 HR against the pitcher? Or that he’s ranked in the top three in the AL in OBP, slugging, and OPS? Or hey, how about “Home runs since last night,” seeing that he’d come off the bench the previous night and sent a moonshot into right field to put the game out of reach. Nope. Nothing nice about Ortiz, who’s just hitting the Mendoza Line at Angels Stadium.
As we kept paying attention, we kept laughing more and more at how ridiculous the stats were. For Sox third baseman Brock Holt, they put up his season averages of .000, 0 HR, 0 RBI. Very fair and balanced, as this was Holt’s first game of the year. Why not do some research and put up his stats in AAA, or last season with the Pirates? They kept going, giving some players’ averages during arbitrary time spans like “Before June 10th” or “Since June 25th”. The only player they didn’t post a stat for was Jose Iglesias, who, inconveniently for the scoreboard operator, is hitting over .400 and really hasn’t slumped since getting called up. I was shocked that they didn’t run his disastrous, sub-.200 average with Pawtucket. All told, they made a team with the best record in baseball, a team who’d won nine of ten games, look like the ’62 Mets.
And, not that it needs to be said, but every fun/arbitrary stat shown for the Angels players made a team hovering near .500 look like the ’27 Yankees.
THE SCOREBOARD SCORING & REPLAY SYSTEM
This is not to advocate for “scoreboard watching” as the primary experience at a baseball game. The game is on the field, and fans should pay attention accordingly. Being at a live game allows you to marvel at things like how fast the pitcher is really throwing, how fast some of the players truly are, and how quickly some outfielders can track the ball and get it back to the infield. And the sight lines at Angels Stadium are excellent. Even from way up high, we could see everything, including plays being made by the left fielder close to the line, right below us. Every pitch was clear, and while we jokingly complained about balls and strikes on the premise that we could see better from 300 feet away than the plate umpire, it was actually pretty easy to tell which pitches looked good and which did not. In terms of game, viewing and aesthetics, Angels Stadium is a winner.
Yet, the scoreboard plays its own, underrated role within the course of a game. We need replays on the board after each play. Even routine ground balls should be quickly replayed. We can’t rewind the TV or listen to the announcers, so we need the scoreboard to show what just happened. At Angels Stadium, they don’t show replays. At least, they didn’t show them on Saturday night. And no, I’m not keeping up with the smear campaign gag and saying that they refused to show Red Sox-centric replays. They didn’t show any replays. The Kendrick and Trout home runs? Nothing. A strikeout by Angels starter Jerome Williams? Hopefully you saw the 90 mph pitch go by, because it wasn’t being shown again.
What’s worse, is that the PA announcer was nowhere to be found. Rarely would he announce what the result of the previous play was. I know it’s antiquated, but some people like keeping score and want to know what’s a hit, what’s an error, and what’s a fielder’s choice. The scoreboard actually did provide that information on most occasions, but the PA announcer usually did not. And on the strangest play of the game, the powers that be in the stadium sort of pretended like nothing happened. Ellsbury swung and fouled off the pitch. He was awarded first base. We assumed that the ball hit him on the hands during his swing, but there was no confirmation. The stadium fell under a silent confusion. The PA was mute. The scoreboard just froze. And a moment later, the music for Shane Victorino started blaring as he approached the dish. Let’s just say there probably aren’t many of those “I’ve kept score at every game since 1976” type of Angels fans.
My last thought on the game presentation is that there are too many fireworks. They shoot off fireworks for every name announced in the starting lineup. For every Angels home run. And when the Angels win. I get the last one, but the others we could probably do without. Although maybe they were leftover from July 4th, so I’ll give them a pass.
THE RALLY MONKEY
When the Angels won it all in 2002, the two big things were the Thunderstix and the Rally Monkey. The Stix were sparse on Saturday night and may have waned in popularity, at least during the regular season. But the primate is alive and well, and, above all, hysterical.
It started around the 6th or 7th inning when the Red Sox were leading. The scoreboard shows Jodie Foster on her way to see Dr. Lecter. On the way, she sees random comedy icons interspersed in holding cells, which is alarming on its own. When she finally reaches her destination, she’s greeted by…the Rally Monkey. And the entire stadium erupts. The sound system blares the monkey screeching noise and then shows the monkey jumping up and down in an Angels jersey. Goddamn is it funny.
An inning later, it’s not looking so good for the Angels. And the scoreboard is showing some promo for “The Bachelorette.” I’m thinking “Okay, let’s see, the Angels…Disneyland…Disney…ABC…The Bachelorette.” Makes sense, it’s all tied in. So Chris Harrison welcomes the bachelorette out of her limo and they talk briefly in the driveway. It’s all smiles, as the woman is excited to meet her suitors. Harrison gestures over towards a handsome limousine pulling into the driveway. As the door opens, we see the excitement building on the woman’s face. And out comes…the Rally Monkey! He leaps out of the backseat and starts jumping in the driveway. We all died laughing, the hardest any of us had laughed in awhile. They don’t show replays and the PA announcer is silent, but the Rally Monkey makes up for it all, and then some.
Of course, as Red Sox fans, we had some bad karma coming our way for getting so much pleasure out of the Rally Monkey.
We certainly got our money’s worth, and that’s before the game went into extras. We saw some home runs, infield singles, stolen bases, errors, sac flies, and a killer outfield assist from Victorino to nail a runner at third. Outfield assists might be the most underrated part of the game, especially in person. It was electrifying seeing the throw come across, assuming the runner would be safe, but then realizing that Victorino had made a perfect toss that got there just in time.
The most jarring moment of the game came when Andrew Bailey was summoned to face Mike Trout. Runners on first and third, one out, Sox up three. Anyone who’s seen Bailey pitch knew to expect a three run homer from Trout, who’d already gone yard in the game. I was 100% positive the game would be tied within seconds. Instead, I was utterly shocked to see Bailey induce Trout into an inning-ending double play on his first pitch. Absolutely stunned. That had to be a good sign.
And then, the ninth inning happened. Farrell figured the lead was safe and brought in Alex Wilson to get through the ninth. He faltered, so closer Koji Uehara came in. Uehara had been steady since his promotion, but immediately coughed this one up. In the blink of an eye and a few hits later, the game was tied. It was going to extra innings, but the way the game was going, and with the Red Sox bullpen in shambles, we knew where it was going. Even worse, Josh Hamilton hit the game winner. A guy who has Jesus-themed Christian rock as his at-bat music hit the game winner. Oy vey.
Still despondent over how the game ended, we walked in a collective stupor back to our cars. It’s only one game out of 162, but man is it tough to lose them like that. They’re not divisional rivals, but it would have been a great feeling for the Sox to get the win, clinch the weekend series, and be loose going into Sunday’s finale against Weaver. Instead, they were tired, tight, and got shut out.
I can’t last very long when playing the “Name all the ballparks you’ve been to” game, but it’s nice to now add Angels Stadium to my list. It’s nice, clean, modern, and though it lacks the nostalgia of Dodger Stadium or Fenway Park, it’s an enjoyable place to catch a game. It doesn’t have that big city feeling that many of the east coast parks have, but in terms of a laid back California sporting experience, it has everything you need.