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The Greatest Day of My LIfe

We drove up to Oakland on Tuesday with tickets for Wednesday?s game. With the Angels needing to win one, we decided to check into out hotel and go to Tuesday?s game. We pulled into the Colliseum and bought FRONT ROW tickets from a scalper for THIRTY BUCKS. Face value was $35 apiece. There were actually two VIP rows in front of us ? a poor simulation of the Dodgers Dugout Club. But by the bottom of the 2nd inning we were an armstretch from the field, just passed First base, in between the Angels dugout and their bullpen.

As soon as I sat down, my cellphone rang ? it was The Guys Who Sit Behind Me at Angel Stadium, also known as The Guys in Row G. Do they have names? Yes. Do I know them? No. In 2004, A Red Sox fan once threw a peanut at me and one of TGWSBM punched him. Why ask for names after such a display of loyalty has already been offered? One of TGWSBM is referred to as The Dude Who is Always There. I?ve been to Wednesday games against Seattle when the Angels had a double digit deficit and this dude was there. So TDWIAT says ?Look to your right behind you.? I do. There they are, a quintet in red and beer.

Without having to get all Tarantino, I will keep this linear, so just remember that TGWSBM is in the house.

So the game of course is awesome, Santana is on, the Oakland crowd is rowdy and into it, the intensity of being practically on the field is making things heightened as all hell ? I take a few pictures, but am caught up in the moment. There were many Angel fans in attendance, but the 17,000 or so Oakland fans were all 100% into the game.

As the bottom of the Ninth draws near, I notice that Arte Moreno, Bill Stoneman, Dennis Kuhl and Arte?s two silent partners from the billboard days are being escorted out of their seats ten rows behind the Angel dugout. I point it out to my girlfriend who, for someone who didn?t follow the Angels in 86 or 95, is sure stressed. She wonders aloud if they are going to the locker room to prepare for the celebration. They were not. They were being escorted to seats close to the field. The seats exactly in front of us !!!

So a flyball to Juan Rivera ends it. We are the Western Division Champions. Arte turns around and high-fives me. With the front row seats and being present for the victory and now the high-five, I am thinking this is as good as it gets. Well, it was about to get great. First I meet Halos Heaven posters DodgerHater and Angels95, then TGWSBM walk over and ask me if I have room in my car. My girlfriend and I had rented a red convertible and had an empty backseat, so yeah, sure, what is up ? I am thinking that someone needs a ride to some party. Well, it turns out, they bumped into two friends at the game and wanted us to drive them back to their hotel in San Francisco. Oh and by the way, they are staying in the hotel where the Angels are staying.

So we drive in a three-car caravan to a ritzy hotel and hand the valet our keys. Hotel guest? ?They?re with me,? says one of the guys from Row G. We head into the lobby. Basically, some Angel fans are out on the sidewalk, but security is denying entrance to anyone who is not a guest of the hotel. So we are sitting in the lobby, and these guys are decked out in Angel jerseys and jackets and the head of security walks up to them and congratulates them on winning the division. He thinks TGWSBM are the ANGELS! One of them wisely heads out to the liquor store and brings back two cases of Corona, some Stoli Ice Malt thingies for the ladies and Diet Coke for the Rev ? thank you very much.

So this guy walks up to us and is real friendly and he?s waiting for the Angels too and he tells us he will introduce us to them. Okay dude, thanks! He speaks Spanish and sure enough the bus drops everyone off and he pulls every Latin player to the side and makes them run through our handshake gauntlet. Shy Juan Rivera, happy Bengie Molina (who is radically thinner in person than last season ? I was shocked) with takeout food, Kelvim Escobar who introduces himself to everyone, ?Hello, I am Kelvim, what is your name...? with total grace. Bartolo Colon walks by with a big set of portable earphones ? oblivious.

Almost all of them walk by ? Steve Finley pushing a baby stroller, Rex Hudler almost running by toward the elevator ? while Physioc and Jose Mota pose and chat. I can?t help being the ned and shouting out ?NED BERGERT? and ?RICK SMITH? when the veteran trainers walk by. They looke dup and looked confused at our posse and kept moving.

Orlando Mercado walks up, sits down, grabs a beer and starts talking to us like he has known us for years. Nice guy, knows his stats well, had told Frankie earlier in the evening that his 43rd save made him 2nd all time in single season saves for the Angels. I?m thinking about getting him to blog that to make my job easier. So he tells us that the bar is on the second floor and the party is just getting started.

So we all head over there, after TGWSBM put their beers in their room. The bar is pretty simple ? decorated with neon signs and has various autographs of jocks markered on the walls ? Wade Boggs was legible on one out of the way rafter. So as we walk in and look for an empty table and sit down we get a panicked look from Paul Byrd, plates of quesadillas in his hand, looking like we just took his table, we all jump up, but h is not about to play the role of royalty so he just moseys off. The bar looks like a collage of the back page of the Angels? media guide ? lots of familiar faces without the names to go with them. Scattered among them are Washburn, Quinlan, Salmon, Lackey, Shields (wearing last season?s May 5 Rally Beads ? the only Angel paraphernalia any player was wearing), Kennedy, Donnelly. Erstad stands still in the same spot for three hours, nursing a beer. Someone introduces me to Arte and he says ?we met at the game,? and we proceed to have a nice chat ? of course I go blank with my laundry list of changes that need to be made. When I mention that we drove up on my girlfriend?s dime for my birthday, he tells me is was his wife?s birthday. Then he thanks me for being a fan.

I go to tell my girlfriend but she and the women who we drove over are drooling over one super-sexy Angel in particular. Would you believe Alfredo Griffin! The ladies are a few drinks into the evening and talking like sorority sisters after the prom ? I had to go for a walk! There was Orlando Cabrera puffing a victory cigar on the sidewalk ? it is a non-smoking hotel.

Back in the bar, Lackey is singingDeep in the Heart of Texas. Vlad sits and chats - in perfect English - with all comers ? at his table, a quiet latin beauty sips red wine. Joe MAddon and Bud Black are keeping up with the boys at the bar. Josh Paul assures me he will be on the post-season roster while screaming across the room at some Angel employee that his alma mater, Vanderbilt, was 4-0. Jeff DaVanon is a late arrival. Kevin Gregg stands out with his beard. Steve Soliz gets a few laughs walking around asking "How do you say como se dice? Kelvim Escobar serenely sits in the corner of the room smiling, taking it all in.

So, yeah, all in all, it was a great birthday, this greatest day of my life.

Photo taken at Midnight of my 41st Birthday