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.