Unlikely Champion

I didn’t go to Boston to watch baseball.

It was hockey that drew me to one of my favorite cities last month, as TD Garden and the Boston Bruins played host to the Anaheim Ducks on Halloween night.

But as timing would have it, the night I flew in, October 30, was also Game 6 of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Red Sox were up three games to two, with the chance to close it out at home and claim their third World Series Championship in a decade.

And while I wasn’t at Fenway Park that night, I did watch the game and it had a surprising effect on me.

Being an Angels fan my entire life, there probably isn’t a team that gets under my skin more than the Red Sox. Some consider the cross-town Boys in Blue to be the Angels biggest rival, but as far as rivalries go, I place much more importance on the postseason and the Angels biggest postseason nemesis in my lifetime has been that team on Yawkey Way. They have caused more playoff heartbreak for Halo fans than any other team in the league.

So watching the World Series wasn’t at the top of my list of “things to do” when I arrived. But after my good friend Shawn picked me up from the airport, we headed to one of his favorite local restaurants, sat in the bar, surrounded by plenty of other Red Sox fans, and watched Game 6 from first pitch.

It’s a bit of a surreal experience, to be in another city when one of their sports teams, a team you don’t follow, is on the brink of winning a championship. It’s nearly impossible not to get caught up in the excitement of it all.

And as I watched John Lackey take the mound for the home team in this World Series clinching game, it became that much more surreal.

Wait a minute. Didn’t he just do this? For my team?

It was the rookie John Lackey that Mike Scioscia handed the ball to 11 years ago in the decisive Game 7 when the Angels beat the San Francisco Giants for their first and only Championship.

I could see that same fire in Big John’s eyes from when he pitched for the Angels. And I told Shawn, “No way Lackey loses this game. The Sox will win.” I could just tell.

Lackey pitched a heck of a game, even arguing with Red Sox Manager John Farrell when he wanted to pull him, just like he used to with Scioscia. That combined with timely hits and a lights-out bullpen and the Red Sox were the 2013 World Series Champions, winning at home for the first time since 1918. Just like that.

It’s easy to roll your eyes at how often sports teams from Boston seem to win championships. I know, “East Coast elitism”, right? But I could sense from Shawn and the others at the bar that night that this win was different for them.

At the end of the 2012 season, the Red Sox were in last place in the AL East, with a clubhouse implosion that was highly documented and fueled by chicken and beer.

Oh, how the mighty had fallen. That brought out more than a few smirks in these parts.

But the team cleaned house, brought in a new Manager, made some key signings, regrouped and showed up at Spring Training on Day One believing that this was going to be a special season, even when their fan base scoffed at the idea.

And then a couple of weeks into the regular season, their city was ripped apart by the unthinkable when bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon finish line.

As the city tried to heal, the Red Sox kept winning, going from worst to first and bringing hope to a city that desperately needed something to rally around.

Seven months later, the Boston Marathon bombing is not an event that is at the forefront of most Americans’ minds. But let me assure you, in the minds of New Englanders, it’s still very much there and very raw. They are a proud sports fan base and a proud region, hence the phrase #BostonStrong. And while they are healing, there’s still a long road ahead, not only for those who were injured in the bombings, but for those who are left with the emotional scars of a terrifying time.

I asked Shawn to tell me what he thought the three Red Sox championships meant to him and New England, if they were different in any way, and this is how he described them to me.

He said that the 2004 World Series Championship was for their parents, their grandparents and all those who lived through that 86 year curse, through Bucky Dent, through Bill Buckner, and who had passed on before they got the chance to see the Sox win it all. The 2007 World Series Championship win, as he described it, was for “us”, for the current fan base.

And this championship?

“The 2013 World Series Championship is for Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu, Officer Sean Collier and all the victims and heroes of the Boston Marathon bombings,” he told me. “We needed this.”

And there it was, one last time this baseball season, another example as to why the experience is often times bigger than the game itself. The phrase I had used to get me through the mess of the Angels 2013 season had followed me to Boston and showed me how sports and the belief in something bigger than the game can bring healing to a hurting region.

I didn’t go to Boston to watch baseball. But it was no accident that I was there at that time.

The experience caused me to view the Red Sox, and baseball, in a way that was much different than I had ever viewed them before.

And it made me an unlikely fan of a very unlikely champion.

 

**Bottom photo by Darren Durlach, Boston Globe Staff

Just a Season

Ever feel like you need a do-over?

That’s how I feet about this past summer. For many reasons.

And that’s a bummer, because I really love summer. I always have.

Maybe it’s because I live here, in Southern California, which is quite possibly one of the most magical places on earth to experience summer. To me, the summer season means a break from the grind of the school year routine, glorious sunny weather, beach days, stunning sunsets and Angels baseball. It’s without a doubt my favorite time of the year.

But just as many fans felt like they were robbed of their season of Angels baseball, so did I feel about my personal summer.

This summer wasn’t so magical. It didn’t go as expected. Health issues and physical struggles were trying to rob me of the joy of my favorite season. And because I often use sports as my “escape from reality”, the Angels weren’t helping me out much either.

Last week, I sat in the upper deck of Angel Stadium for the final Halo home game of the 2013 season. I did the same thing a year ago, going by myself, putting away my phone for nine innings and just taking in the game. (If you’ve never done this before, I still highly recommend it.)

Since it was a day game on a Wednesday, and given the season the Angels have had, the crowd was sparse. But the weather was perfect. And playoffs or no playoffs, I was there for the Home Opener and I wanted to be there for the last game too.

I watched Jered Weaver take the mound, which made me happy. He was his solid, consistent self, pitching seven innings of one-run baseball. Erick Aybar had himself a game, going 3 for 4. De La Rosa and Frieri came in for the hold and the save and the Angels beat the Western Division Champion Oakland Athletics, 3-1.

And as I sat there, reflecting on an Angels season and a summer gone awry, I reminded myself that this is just a season. No matter how bad it seems, it won’t be like this forever. In Angels baseball and in life.

From the beginning of the season and the disappointing Home Opener, I’ve written about how instead of focusing on the team winning, I needed to have fun and enjoy the experience. Whether I was with my family or my girlfriends or the inspiring kids from the OC Miracle League, I learned time and again this summer that the experience is always bigger than the game itself.

Changes need to be made with the Halos, there is no doubt about that. Watching the talent of Jered Weaver, Mike Trout and others on a team that finishes 3rd in the West and below .500 makes me shake my head. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure what those changes need to be, nor do I have any suggestions as to how to fix my favorite team.

But I will say as MLB’s regular season comes to a close and we turn the calendar to October, I know that next spring, I’ll be excited as ever for that first pitch.

Because with the turning of each new season, comes new hope.

I still believe in summer days.
The seasons always change.
And life will find a way.*

 

 

 

*Lyrics from “Winter Song” by Sara Bareilles


The Good in Baseball

In my quest to continue to find the good in baseball this Angels season, I didn’t need to look any further than my good friends and supporters over at AngelsWin.com and their 2013 Summer FanFest.

This annual gathering during the regular season is always a great way to bring together the many fans who whine, cry, argue and celebrate together online at AngelsWin.com over our beloved Halos.

Besides being able to connect with these great fans in real life, my favorite part of this event is the fundraising they’ve incorporated into their fun-filled weekend for one of my favorite organizations, the Orange County Miracle League.

I’ve written plenty about the OC Miracle League in this space, but if you aren’t familiar with this great organization, they provide kids with disabilities in our community the chance to play the game of baseball. Run tirelessly by Steel and Debbie Morris and countless volunteers, they take the field each spring and fall at Pioneer Park in Anaheim on a diamond specifically designed for barrier-free play.

These kids get to play the game all kids their age should be able to play. No matter their ability.

And the smiles on their faces as they round the bases and cross home plate never cease to amaze me.

This year, AngelsWin.com really outdid themselves with their fundraising efforts. They got the weekend kicked off with their 1st Annual AngelsWin Golf Tournament held at San Juan Hills Golf Club, where 32 golfers came out to support these wonderful kids. Over $1000 was raised at that event alone.

The next day, the 7th Annual AngelsWin Softball Tournament took place at Pioneer Park, where Angels television play-by-play broadcaster Victor Rojas, and Riley Breckenridge from the band Thrice, were a part of four teams that vied for the championship.

Kids and families from the OC Miracle League were there as well, including eight-year-old Cael Studebaker, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch in the tournament. In addition to this honor, Cael was a guest the previous evening of The Sons of Baseball, who took Cael and his family down on the field at Angel Stadium for batting practice and the chance to meet some of his favorite Angels, including slugger Mark Trumbo. This amazing kid had himself quite the weekend.

After the softball tournament wrapped up, fans gathered under the Big A for a tailgate party and raffle. Angels Vice President of Communications, Tim Mead, was on hand and spoke to the over 150 fans who attended. Fantastic prizes donated by Sarah Colonna, Chelsea Handler and the Angels organization (including a Chris Iannetta signed bat and a Jered Weaver signed baseball) were raffled off to some happy fans.

In all, AngelsWin.com raised $3,072.00 for the OC Miracle League. I was overwhelmed with joy when I found this out….

But wait!! There’s more!!

Angels pitcher Jerome Williams and his family generously agreed to match that amount, bringing the grand total raised to $6144.00!

So, so incredible, right?

The OC Miracle League is a fee free league, so all the funds raised will go directly to making sure that these inspiring kids get the chance to play the game they love. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

The following day, the kids and families of the OC Miracle League took in some Angels baseball at the Big A, but not before spending some time “under the hats” with Angels television broadcasters Victor Rojas and Mark Gubicza before the two went on the air.

Meeting Victor and Gubi was a real treat. And for some of these kids, it was the first time they had been to the stadium for an Angels game. I can guarantee you the final score mattered little to them. They were just happy to be there.

So a weekend full of AngelsWin.com and OC Miracle League goodness left me inspired and grateful for the wonderful community of Angels fans we have here and across the country.

Big thanks to Chuck Richter and everyone at AngelsWin.com, Jerome Williams, Victor Rojas, the Angels organization, and all who contributed in supporting the OC Miracle League in some way. Your generosity is forever appreciated.

See? Even in an Angels season like this, there’s plenty of good happening in baseball.

#AngelsFamily, you are awesome.

 

For a more in-depth recap of the weekend’s festivities, including more photos and video, visit AngelsWin.com

 

**Golf Tournament photos courtesy of Ellen Bell

**Tailgate Party photos courtesy of AngelsWin.com

**Photo of Cael Studebaker with Mark Trumbo courtesy of Clint Studebaker

 

 

On Rough Seasons, Sticking with My Team and an Attitude Adjustment

The Angels have become masters at surprising me. And not in a good way.

Just when I thought it couldn’t be a more frustrating season, and I could no longer be surprised by anything that happened with this team, they went to Texas recently and gave up three straight home run walk-off wins to their division rival, the Rangers.

My (filtered) reaction was something like this:

Game 1 loss: Oh, wow. Really, Angels? So predictable.

Game 2 loss: Are you kidding me right now?

Game 3 loss: Of course. Buttercup trifecta. Awesome.

That’s the first time I had ever seen anything like that, in any sport. And apparently, it was the first time this had happened in Angels club history (although not the first time in MLB history). Hooray for reaching new milestones! Eyeroll.

As I was sitting there after the Game 3 loss, stunned, staring blankly at the television, my two daughters skipped into the room (because they still do that), saw I had the postgame program on and asked a simple question.

“When are we going to the Angels game again?”

“Yeah, we want to see Big Bang Friday! And Mike Trout! And Mark Trumbo!”

They were totally serious.

I bit my tongue and thought to myself, “They have no idea what’s going on with this team. Clearly.”

But honestly, that wasn’t entirely true. They knew the Angels had lost that game and that the Rangers had hit a home run in the bottom of the 9th inning to make that happen.

But here’s the difference: They didn’t care.

Giving up walk-off home run wins to the other team. An unreliable bullpen. Sloppy fielding. Questionable base running. Big contracts that aren’t producing.

None of it fazes them.

They still wanted to go to the Big A and see the Angels play. Because the Halos are the home team, our team. And it’s summer. And that’s what we do in the summer at the Russo house. How the team is playing and what the win/loss column says are of little consequence to them.

So staring down at the final weeks of summer, I said, “We will be there soon, girls. Very soon.”

And the next morning, I drove myself to Angel Stadium, walked up to the ticket booth and got tickets for an upcoming Friday night game, along with a couple of other games.

Because it’s summer. And John and I only have so many summers with our girls.

While I was there, I made a long overdue visit to the Angels Team Store, with my Angels jersey in hand. There was something I needed to do, and I was thinking that the timing might be right for a sort of an attitude adjustment for me.

I got my Angels jersey personalized with Number 36, Jered Weaver.

I’ve meant to do this for a while. I wrote about my intentions back when Weaver signed his extension with the Angels. And those of you who follow me know how I feel about personalized jerseys.

This is a big deal. The name on the front has always been more important to me than the one on the back. So much so, that I try to not get too attached to players on a team. Sure, I have my favorites. But the business of professional sports leaves too much room for disappointment in that department. And because of that, I left my Angels jersey unadorned for years.

But Weaver’s loyalty, his desire to stay close to home, and his realization that there was more to his decision than just the money stayed with me. And then he went and named his first-born son Aden, after his dear friend Nick Adenhart.

Seriously. He’s awesome.

And he quietly remains the ace of the pitching staff, without much fanfare and overshadowed by the underachievement of the team.

I fully realize that he may not remain an Angel his entire career. But nonetheless, he’s earned the spot on the back of my jersey.

As I left the stadium that day, I had a different perspective. And I felt a little better.

I thought back again to those words inspired by my younger daughter from Angels Opening Night that have become a sort of theme for this year of Angels baseball for me.

Don’t worry. Maybe they’ll win next time. Have fun and enjoy the experience.

Because sometimes, the experience is bigger than the game itself.

The team still isn’t playing to their potential. And it may get worse before it gets better. But I’m determined to not let it get me down.

The kids on the team have infused some new energy and exciting play into the season. Kole Calhoun, Collin Cowgill and J.B. Shuck can be seen making fantastic highlight reel plays.

And Mike Trout.

We have Mike Trout, y’all.

The guy hits home runs on his birthday. Two years in a row. If nothing else, we should be watching this team play just to watch him. He’s something special.

So we will continue to show up to the Big A this summer. Because our girls want to go. Time with them is fleeting, so we will take them. No matter how the Halos are playing. And no matter what the win/loss column says.

Rough season or not, I’m sticking with my team.

And I will always be a fan of the Angels.

 

 

Awesome Stadium Giveaways Always Make Me Smile

It’s been a brutal season so far, right Angels fans?

Right.

As I post this, the Angels sit at 34-43, in 3rd place in the West and 10 games back from the division leading Texas Rangers.

Honestly, it doesn’t even feel like they’ve won that many games.

In my April post recapping this season’s Opening Night at Angel Stadium, I wrote about how my younger daughter schooled me on what being a sports fan is all about, at least in her seven-year-old mind. Inspired by her, I decided I was going to approach this season a little differently than the others.

Don’t worry. Maybe they’ll win next time. Have fun and enjoy the experience.

Because sometimes, the experience is bigger than the game itself.

So that’s what I had in mind when I headed to the Big A last week with some of my favorite fellow writers to watch the Halos take on the Mariners.

And even better than that? It was Mike Trout Fish Hat Night!

How did we get so lucky?

Nothing makes me smile more than an awesome stadium giveaway. It may be quirky, but admit it, you wish you had one too.

As we settled into our seats for the game as guests of The Smile Generation, Allison, Ellen, Lana and I chatted about all things Angels, kids, writing and summer. Sometimes it’s just great to be with your girlfriends, especially those who love sports as much as you do.

The Smile Generation has a wonderful sponsorship going where they make a donation to the Angels Baseball Foundation for every strikeout thrown by Angels pitchers at home.

So as starting pitcher Joe Blanton took the mound, I instinctively blurted out a very bold prediction.

“I think Blanton throws 10 strikeouts tonight.”

Wait, what?

Joe Blanton, the starting pitcher who is 1-10, who gave up 6 runs in his previous start against the Red Sox and was skipped over in the rotation during the Yankees series?

Yeah, that Joe Blanton. I’m not sure what came over me.

But it was out there. All of my friends heard it. So instead of trying to talk my way out of it, I cheered Blanton on with every pitch. And every K he threw got a, “You go, Joe!!” from the Club Level.

And you know what? He didn’t throw 10 strikeouts that night.

He threw 11.

And now I’m some kind of baseball genius. Not really.

I was thrilled, but somehow the Angels still lost the game. Although Blanton pitched a gem, there was no run support for the guy. I think Josh Hamilton stranded 100 runners all by himself. Even after giving up two almost identical solo home runs, the Angels got two solo home runs of their own, including an Albert Pujols bomb in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game.

But the Angels were done in by an RBI single off the bat of former Halo Kendrys Morales in the extra frame and they fell to the Mariners 3-2. Blanton, in his best start of the year, ended up with the no-decision.

It was sort of a microcosm of the Angels season. There’s a word for it now. It’s called being “buttercupped”. Sigh.

But, I still had a fantastic time. I came home with an awesome giveaway. And I got to spend some much needed time catching up with some special ladies who have been big supporters of mine over the years.

I had fun and enjoyed the experience.

And it was much bigger than the game itself.

My seven-year-old would be so proud.

 

 

A big thank you to The Smile Generation for allowing my friends and me to attend the game and for your continued support of the Angels Baseball Foundation.

For more information, visit smilegeneration.com.

And There Was Joy

It was a sunny, warm day. Perfect weather, I thought, for an afternoon at the ballpark. I got in my car, but I didn’t drive to Angel Stadium or the local Little League field.

I headed out to what is probably my favorite ball field in all of Orange County.

This ball field doesn’t have freshly cut outfield grass. Or that familiar gritty infield dirt. Or chalk lines creating the edges of a diamond.

But all of the necessary pieces are there. Each of the bases, from first to home. A big outfield, so batters can swing for the fences. There’s plenty of room in the expansive dugouts. There are bleachers covered with shade for cheering family and friends.

There are kids eager to play.

And there is joy.

Maybe you’ve seen the kind of joy that exists when kids pick up a bat, a ball and a glove and take to the field to play some baseball.

But beyond that, I think this joy–on this field–is unique.

I’ve watched these kids play on this field many times. And the joy I see on their faces when they play baseball is special.

It’s the kind of joy that is uninhibited. It’s the kind of joy you feel when you accomplish something others may have told you could not be done.

It’s the kind of joy that is found in freedom.

Have you ever known that kind of joy? Have you seen it?

When I go to the All-Star Complex at Pioneer Park in Anaheim, I see that joy with my own eyes.

Every. Single. Time.

Because when the kids of the Orange County Miracle League take to their field to play baseball, they play with that infectious, miraculous kind of joy.

On that sunny, warm day, participants and volunteers with the OC Miracle League, and others from the community, gathered at their field. It’s a field, I suspect, that is a place of refuge for many of these families. They gathered to celebrate and raise money for the organization that brings these kids such joy.

When the OC Miracle League says, “Every child deserves a chance to play baseball,” part of that mission includes being able to provide this opportunity to families free of charge. Because these families don’t need the extra burden of having to figure out how to pay for this activity for their child.

So Debbie and Steel Morris, who tirelessly run this program, along with others who support their efforts, do all they can to keep this a fee free league.

There were hot dogs, tacos, and tables decorated with bags of peanuts and Angels flags. There were carnival games for the kids. There was a silent auction, and raffle tickets were sold for some great prizes, including a Jered Weaver signed jersey and an Albert Pujols signed bat.

And there were the kids.

The whole reason everyone was gathered there that day was for these kids.

Every Sunday in the spring, this is the place these kids come together to play baseball, just like other kids their age who love the game. It’s a place they can play without barriers.

And even though they weren’t there that day to play a game, I still saw that joy. Because they were in their community, surrounded by those who support them, and at a place where they are free to be themselves.

That warm, sunny day was at the end of a hard week. It was a week where I, along with the rest of the country, had seen a lot of darkness from some cowardly people who tried to instill fear. But I also saw how bright the light shines when a group of people, a city, and a nation pull together to support their own.

But my heart was still heavy, my emotions still raw. And I found the best medicine that day on a ball field in Anaheim, being surrounded by these kids.

Without even realizing it, these kids gave me a gift that day.

They reminded me what it looks like, in real life, when love and the good in people win. They smiled those big smiles of theirs.

And there was joy.

For more information about the Orange County Miracle League or to donate, visit their website at ocmiracleleague.com

Oakley Store Opens at Angel Stadium

The temperature is heating up, and so are our Halos, after sweeping a three-game set with the Detroit Tigers over the weekend. If you plan on being at the Big A this week as the Angels host the Texas Rangers, be sure to stop by Section 113 and visit the brand new Oakley Stadium Store.

The first-ever Oakley store inside of a professional sporting venue, the Foothill Ranch-based sports brand chose Angel Stadium to house their new 1000 square foot retail space, which will feature their famous OC-active eyewear.

In addition to offering their standard performance sunglasses, the store features a custom eyewear bar, where shoppers can design a custom eyewear solution from several lens and frame options right there at the store.

For the first time outside of their headquarters, Oakley is offering on-site etching of their eyewear, including the Angels logo. And fans don’t have to worry about missing the game while they wait for their custom order, as the store staff will hand deliver the completed sunglasses right to their seat.

Oakley CEO, Colin Baden, and CMO, Raphael Peck, along with Angels Chairman, Dennis Kuhl, welcomed our group for the store’s opening. As the official eyewear of Angels Baseball, the two organizations are definitely excited about this partnership.

Worn by current Angels Howie Kendrick and Mark Trumbo, Oakley’s performance eyewear is specifically designed to not only protect the eyes from dirt, debris and the long-term effects of UV rays, but from injury as well. Their shatter resistant lenses and frames make all the difference in the event of impact from a foul ball or line drive.

The space is beautiful, and a welcome add to the stadium. Besides the awesome products that Oakley is known for, the store is stocked with MLB licensed Angels apparel, accessories and more that you won’t find anywhere else. Very cool stuff. I bought a sweatshirt for my husband on the spot.

And in a fantastic move to support our veterans, the store will also carry other products from the Infinite Hero Foundation, an organization that, “combats the most difficult front line issues—mental and physical—facing military heroes and their families.”

So next time you’re at the Big A this spring or summer cheering on our Halos, check out OC’s very own Oakley Stadium Store. You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

OC Miracle League to Host “Swing Big!!” Annual Fundraiser

It’s time for baseball, which also means the inspiring kids from the Orange County Miracle League are back out on their field at Pioneer Park for the spring season.

To help get things kicked off, they are hosting their annual fundraiser, “Swing Big!!”, on Saturday, April 20, from 4:30pm – 7:30pm.

This family fun day at their field at Pioneer Park’s All-Star Complex will feature music, great food, entertainment, games, incredible raffle prizes and more.

But most of all, this is a chance to raise money for an amazing organization that gives special needs kids in our community the chance to play the game they love. As their motto says, “Every Child Deserves the Chance to Play Baseball.” Debbie and Steel Morris and all the volunteers who work tirelessly to offer this program to our local kids could sure use the support. They provide this program free of charge to the families who participate and this can only happen with support from the community.

Here are some of the awesome raffle prizes available:

Autographed Jered Weaver jersey
Autographed Jered Weaver baseball
Autographed Albert Pujols bat
Autographed Tim Salmon photo
Autographed Mickey Mantle photo
Autographed CC Sabathia baseball
Autographed Ervin Santana baseball
Autographed Kendrys Morales jersey
Autographed Hideki Matsui baseball
and more!

And here are the details:

What: OC Miracle League “Swing Big!!” Annual Fundraiser
When: Saturday, April 20, 2013 4:30pm – 7:30pm
Where: Pioneer Park All-Star Complex, 2565 E. Underhill, Anaheim, CA 92806
Why: To benefit the OC Miracle League
Cost: $20 per adult, $10 per child
How: Purchase tickets online at ocmiracleleague.com. Click “Donate” to use Visa/MasterCard/Discover. Or mail checks to OC Miracle League, 6231 Apache Road, Westminster, CA 92683

I adore these kids and families, so I will be there on April 20 in support of one of my favorite local organizations. And I hope you will consider joining me. If you can’t make it out to the park, but would still like to support their efforts, you can make a donation online at ocmiracleleague.com. All donations are tax deductible. And you’ll be helping to ensure that these amazing kids continue to have the chance to play America’s pastime.

Are you an Angels fan? Then you are familiar with Victor Rojas and his familiar “Light that baby up!” call whenever our Halos secure the victory. He has recently launched The LTBU Shop, featuring clothing and more with the winning phrase. The best part is that all proceeds from sales of the products go to benefit the OC Miracle League. Click here to shop.

For more information about the OC Miracle League, visit ocmiracleleague.com

What My Daughter Taught Me on Angels Opening Night

Although the MLB season got its start over a week ago, Tuesday night meant it was finally time for the fans to descend upon the Big A and welcome the Angels back home for the start of the 2013 season.

Starting a sports season on the road is always sort of a curious thing to me. It’s like there are two Opening Days. It’s no longer preseason, as those first games on the road actually count. But I never get the feeling that the season has really begun until I see the boys out on the Angel Stadium grass.

This year’s Opening Night was in stark contrast to what I experienced a year ago. Last year, the excitement was through the roof. Jerry “Santa Claus” Dipoto had brought one of the best players in the game in Albert Pujols to the roster. I was fortunate enough to be a part of The Orange County Register’s “news mob”, where over 70 writers covered the Angels from all different angles on that day. ESPN was broadcasting from the in front of the “hats”. And we opened the season at home. It was wall-to-wall Angels and it was awesome.

This time, the vibe was completely different, at least for me. Opening the season on the road meant that the Angels showed up here already in a bit of a hole at 2-4. It was announced that morning that the Halos ace, Jered Weaver, would be out 4-6 weeks with a broken left elbow. Newly signed superstar Josh Hamilton is struggling at the plate (so predictable), as are many of the Angels’ bats. The voice filling the stadium was not that of David Courtney, the Angels long-time public address announcer who died last November of a pulmonary embolism (although Michael Araujo did a fine job). And it was the 4th anniversary of the death of Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart.

So the mood was, how shall I say, a bit more reflective for me. With all of that hanging over the halo that night, I was determined not to let it get to me. With my husband and older daughter out of town on a school field trip, I had the unique opportunity to attend the game with my seven-year old girl. Just her and me. And as far as she knew, it was Opening Night for the Angels. That’s it. She wasn’t bogged down by any of the surrounding details. She was just excited to be there.

So we took our Upper View Level seats along the third base line, just as they unfurled that beautiful, enormous American flag. And it felt good to be home. We cheered as they announced all of the players. I told her about the “new guy” (Hamilton). And even as starter C.J. Wilson seemingly forgot how to pitch and the Angels were down 4-0 before they ever came up to bat, she never lost her enthusiasm.

She held my hand. She snacked on Easter candy we had brought from home, sharing some with me. She giggled uncontrollably as those crazy bird-size moths at the stadium dive-bombed us the entire night. She waved my Rally Monkey fearlessly as the Angels staged an exciting comeback in the bottom of the 6th. She high-fived everyone around us as the runs kept crossing the plate.

She literally never stopped smiling.

We left the stadium at the top of the 7th, with the Angels leading 5-4, not because we wanted to, but because we had to get to the airport to pick up the rest of our family. The time it took us to walk from our seats to the car, the A’s had scored five runs and were up 9-5.

Sigh. I felt like I had been punched in the gut.

And as we pulled away from the bright lights into the darkness, I heard my little girl’s voice from the back seat.

“Don’t worry, Mommy. Maybe they’ll win next time. I still had a lot of fun.”

And there it was.

That internal struggle that had been plaguing me all game—this push and pull between the possible reality of facing another April like all the rest and wanting to stay positive—all just disappeared.

Much of what I write about it this space is how I experience being a sports fan through the eyes of my daughters. As it often happens with kids, it took my seven-year old to remind me of something that night. That sometimes the experience is bigger than the game itself. She got one-on-one time with her mommy that she rarely gets these days. She got to be at the Big A to see her favorite baseball team, the Angels, play on Opening Night. And even though the scoreboard didn’t read in our favor, she saw the night as a total win.

So regardless of what happens with the Angels this season, and for those moments where I feel I’m creeping ever so close to a Halo freak out, I’m going to keep the words of my daughter in my head and close to my heart.

Don’t worry. Maybe they’ll win next time. Have fun and enjoy the experience.

Because sometimes, the experience is bigger than the game itself.

 

Fun in the Sun: Angels Spring Training

My family and I got up before dawn on Saturday morning, and prepared to make the over 350-mile trip to Tempe, AZ.

We packed all of the essentials: my Rally Monkey, Angels t-shirts and jerseys, hats, sharpie pens, brand new Angels baseballs just waiting for autographs, smiles and anticipation.

There’s something about taking to the open road at sunrise, with few others around. A clean slate in front of you, full of promise. Much like the beginning of a new baseball season.

This was our second trip to Angels Spring Training. Our rookie visit last March was amazing and would be hard to top. But this trip did not disappoint, and in many ways, even though it was shorter, provided a lot more unique experiences and memories, both for my family and for me.

That night, we met up with the group from the fan website AngelsWin.com for their annual FanFest dinner. What started out several years ago as some fellow Halo fans getting together in a sports bar in Tempe to talk Angels baseball, has now turned into a full banquet dinner. With a check-in table. And entrance wristbands. And table linens. So fancy!

But beyond the fanciness and the over 200 people in attendance was the fantastic program, which included “Mr. Angel” himself, Tim Salmon, Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto, and members of the media such as Joe McDonnell from FoxSportsWest.com, Jeff Fletcher from The Orange County Register, Alden Gonzalez from MLB.com and Angels television play-by-play announcer Victor Rojas.

Tim Salmon was up first, answering questions from AngelsWin.com Founder and Executive Director, Chuck Richter, and then from the fans themselves. He was thoughtful and intentional with all of his responses, speaking of perseverance, and reminding me that even post-career, he is good for the game and good for the Angels.

The media roundtable discussion gave us all a glimpse into what it’s like to cover a professional sports team. The guys were candid and honest, speaking not only about the obvious unique opportunity they each have, but the challenges that come with covering this team full time. And they all agreed, that “on paper”, the Angels are the team to beat in the West.

While my kids munched on chicken strips and French fries and I inhaled the chocolate cake dessert, Angels GM Jerry Dipoto stood at the microphone, answering questions from AngelsWin.com Director of Social Media, Geoff Stoddart, and again from the fans in attendance. Jerry, just like Angels owner Arte Moreno, wants to win. He’s smart, articulate and loves the game of baseball. He absolutely believes in this team that he and his staff have put out on the field and knows that for every Josh Hamilton or Albert Pujols, there will be someone you least expect who steps up at just the right moment to create an opportunity.

All of this awesomeness, and we had yet to even get to the ballpark.

Sunday morning, my family, along with many others from the previous night’s dinner, headed out early to Tempe Diablo Stadium and sat in the warm sunshine across from Angels Vice President of Communications, Tim Mead, as he conducted his yearly “dugout chat”.

He too, just like the rest of the speakers, was honest and insightful with his answers to the fans’ questions. He spoke of everything from “dynamic ticket pricing” (it’s the future direction for all sports ticketing) to the relationship between Jerry Dipoto and Angels Manager, Mike Scioscia (“solid”). He even shared about his own journey into this career, and how after 34 seasons with the Angels organization, working for this team never gets old.

But most of all, his words served as a great warm-up for the new baseball season that is upon us. With Opening Day just a couple of weeks away, there was no better way to get in the “Angels baseball frame of mind” than to sit together with fans of this team and get excited about the 2013 season.

Just as Tim wrapped up, the players slowly came out for batting practice. We took our girls to the corner of the fence where the players take the field and they waited patiently, baseballs and sharpies in hand, hoping one of the many familiar faces on this team would come and say hello.

And they did. Our girls got autographs from Peter Bourjos, Mike Scioscia, Albert Pujols and even former Angels closer, Troy Percival, in addition to about 15 other names. My husband and I stood behind them, frantically taking photos and video. I’m not sure who was more excited.

And then we watched the game from behind the Angels dugout, as the Angels defeated the San Diego Padres, 7-4. Even though the game doesn’t count, it still felt good to get a Halo victory.

We headed to our car and back to Orange County, sun soaked, tired, but happy. Our short stay was as fantastic as it could have been. And our girls are still insisting that we make this an annual trip, even if it’s for less than 48 hours.

As we drove home, I got to thinking about how the anticipation of this season among the fans is different than last year. Spring of 2012 was off the charts with excitement and hype. The arrival of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson were like the best Christmas presents Angels fans could have ever hoped for. That team was going to win it all, right?

And then the season that never was supposed to happen, happened.

This year, I sense a more quiet confidence in the fans. Even with the addition of Josh Hamilton and the emergence of Mike Trout, the expectations are more subdued, but not any less resolved. The fans know this team can win. And I think maybe the players themselves have a better handle on how to be the “frontrunner”. A strong start out of the gate would sure be the way to go this time around.

Thank you again, AngelsWin.com, and all of the speakers who participated, for such a wonderful FanFest event. My family and I created some great Angels Spring Training memories that we won’t soon forget.

Can’t wait for that first pitch!

Be sure to check out the best Angels fan website around at AngelsWin.com