Since the departure of the Montreal Expos following the 2004 season, baseball fans in this city have had to look elsewhere for their fix of America’s pastime. Most are not Washington Nationals fans, though the team descends from the Expos franchise. I became a fan of the then Anaheim Angels, because of former Expos all-star, and my childhood hero, Vladimir Guerrero. Still faithful to the Halos, despite Big Daddy Vladdy’s departure, my father and I visited Angels Stadium in late August to see the team’s new #27 and MVP candidate, Mike Trout.
Last season, our father-son bonding expedition took us to Camden Yards in Baltimore to see the Angels play. Watching your team play in an opposing stadium is a very different experience from seeing them play at home. You form a connection with your fellow fanatics, but are the minority amongst tens of thousands cheering for the other side.
As we walked into Angels Stadium, something felt astonishingly different. Rather than receiving the dirty looks reserved for the enemy, I blended into the sea of Angels’ red in my vintage Guerrero jersey. The energy of the home crowd consumes you in a way nothing else can. It is powerful enough to make you truly feel at home, even though you might be over 4,000 kilometers away.
We entered through the left field gates, just as the home half of the first inning was about to begin. Though our seats were in the upper deck, we dashed to the standing room area along the third-base line, hoping to get a glimpse of Mike Trout, the Angels’ leadoff hitter.
Using my 6’4” height advantage, I peered over the bodies in front me, not wanting to miss a moment of the action. The rookie centerfielder Trout entered the day leading the American League with a .337 batting average. On the second pitch of the at-bat, Trout hit a frozen rope line drive into the rock pile beyond the centrefield fence. Fireworks erupted from the spot the ball hit, and the stadium went bananas.
The rock pile is Angels’ Stadium distinguishing feature. Complete with erupting geysers and trickling waterfalls, it was built during the stadium’s 1997 renovation, spearheaded by the Walt Disney Company after it became the Angels’ majority owner in 1996.
More significant was the stadium’s conversion back into a baseball-only venue. The facility had been expanded in 1980 to accommodate NFL football, as the Los Angeles Rams shared the playing field before moving to St. Louis in 1994.
The mezzanine bleachers in centrefield were pulled back to expose the San Gabriel and Santa Ana Mountains, providing a beautiful backdrop behind the scoreboard. Two gigantic Angels hats, size 649½, were erected outside the main entrance, welcoming fans to the new ballpark.
Distracted by the subtle beauty and distinct Southern Californian feel Angels’ Stadium exudes, our attention returned to the field in the bottom of the ninth by the Rally Monkey—a legacy of the Angels’ 2002 World Championship. With two men on and one out, Trout laced a single up the middle to even the score at 5-5. Torii Hunter, the very next batter, drove a sacrifice fly to deep center, scoring the winning run from third base.
What remained of the 39,000-person crowd exploded in sync with the fireworks from the rock pile. The halo around the 230-foot tall ‘A’ in the parking lot, illuminated only by an Angels victory, shone more brightly than the moon. Walking out, I felt like I was at home in Los Angeles.