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FOR THE LOVE OF BASEBALL & MORE, PART 3

Here is part 3 of the ongoing Father's Week saga.

PART 3 – BASEBALL, PAVILION PICNICS, AND OTHER ADVENTURES

     As I wrote yesterday, Dad decreed that we would not spend one cent on concessions for Angel home games at Dodger Stadium. He also wouldn’t allow us to spend any money either…no sodas, hot dogs or peanuts, and he definitely wasn’t going to pay for parking. So, game day was more like preparing for an excursion. Among my earliest Angel memories are of "hiking" into Chavez Ravine from somewhere near Elysian Park, Mom and Dad in the lead with 5 children of various ages trailing behind. I have no memories of attending games at Wrigley-LA, but the memories of these Angel games at Chavez Ravine are as vivid as any in this cluttered mind.

     My mind’s eye plays a portion of the scene. My Dad usually carried the ice chest. It was an all-metal chest, red with white "Coca-Cola" lettering on the side. It was stocked with sodas for us kids, and beer for Mom and Dad (Hamm’s, Schlitz, Pabst…whichever was on sale). I can still hear the sound of bottles and ice jostling around the inside of the chest as Dad lumbered it along the "trail". He had on his Angels cap, and invariably was chomping on a cigar. The term "second hand smoke" was yet to be coined.

Mom usually carried 1 or 2 paper bags (we shopped at the old Grand Central Station, so we re-used the old style paper bags with twine handles). Her bag(s) contained blankets for sitting on the bleachers. My 2 older brothers each carried other paper bags that contained some combination of homemade sandwiches, chips, peanuts, fruit, and cookies. The balance of the 3 of us alternated carrying more blankets, jackets, baseball gloves, baseballs and toys.

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We would make our way to the left field pavilion, and have...well...a picnic in the bleachers. The Angels were not a very good team in those days, and attendance was sparse. So, we could sit almost anywhere we wanted. Generally, we sat close to the bullpen. Dad enjoyed being able to peer over the railing to see who was warming up. There are so many sights and sounds I recall from those days…the sound of the ball hitting the catcher’s glove in the ‘pen, the cool marine air filtering into the stadium as a June/July/August evening progressed, my Mom gently coaxing Dad to calm down after a botched play or umpire "error" (he could heckle really LOUD), the smell of Dodger dogs…that I was banned from eating!

     So what would kids do in an almost empty stadium to pass the time? Among other things, we'd play various game, including...baseball! Well not quite. We couldn't bring a bat into the pavilion. We did play a lot of "catch" though. One time, my brother missed the ball,and it rolled over the railing into the bullpen. Uh oh. Did it hit anyone? We all thought we were going to be in trouble. We cautiously peered over the railing and saw the ball close to the middle of the ‘pen. It didn’t look like anyone had been hit. Whew! As we started to think of how to retrieve the ball, a relief pitcher named Jack Spring went over and picked up the ball. He looked up and must have felt sorry for us, seeing 5 sets of pleading eyes staring back at him . He said, "I’ll be right back". Upon return, he threw the ball back up to my brother…autographed! At future games, we intentionally tried this ploy again, dropping the ball into the bullpen and hoping for another autograph. It never worked. I realized...you just can’t fake innocence.

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      Another time, one of my brother’s friend tagged along for a game. He asked – out loud within earshot of my Dad – why we parked so far away when there were so many open parking spaces close to the entrance. He got a 30 minute lecture on the "evils" of that GDOM. From this, we learned to warn our friends...don’t ask ANYTHING about the Dodgers or Angels when my Dad is around, or you’re going to get a lecture!

     Dad was a serious fan of a these rather poor Angel teams. He wanted to win and especially wanted to see the Angels out-perform the Dodgers. I recall on several occasions where he just up and left because he was so upset with events on the field. Mom usually wanted to stay till the end of the game. So, we’d hike back to the car at the conclusion of the game to find Dad asleep in the car. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he needed the rest. He’d been working 2 jobs for over 5 years, and the pace was wearing him down. At times, I think he blew up at the games and stormed out equally from frustration and exhaustion. When I saw that movie "Cinderella Man", I was reminded in many ways of Dad's work ethic and general demeanor…a steadfast or perhaps brutal determination to keep going, to never quit (Russell Crowe’s character swore a lot less).

     The names of the players from those early days are permanently stamped in my memory…Bo Belinsky, Dean Chance, Leon Wagner, Ed Kirkpatrick, Bobby Knoop, Jim Fregosi, Ryne Duren, Steve Bilko, Bill Rigney, and my personal favorite, Albie Pearson. I don’t recall caring that much about whether they won or lost. I don’t even recall thinking anything was wrong with playing home games at the stadium of one’s cross-town rivals. This was Angel baseball, complete with an adventurous hike and family picnic with my Mom and Dad and brothers and sister, and even on occasion with other relatives or friends. Through the eyes of this child (and likely filtered through the fog of time), and all was right and good in my little slice of the world, and it was so.

 Tomorrow will be part 4, finding other ways to enjoy Angel baseball.

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