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While there are a lot of great things about living in a small town, there are also limits. Geographically, you know where town ends. That's where the fields begin. In life, you see folks following in family farms and businesses generation after generation. It sometimes feels like your entire existence is going to take place in a few square miles and be a carbon copy of the generation before.
I spent a lot of time in those fields and perhaps the greatest thing about farming is baseball on the radio. While the sound of Vin Scully's voice is associated with urban Los Angeles by most, I actually recall freshly mowed hay fields and the smell of freshly watered almond orchards.
So it came to be that one day in early 1986 while sitting next to one of those almond orchards with my dad, an Angels game was on the radio. On what would have been an otherwise uneventful day a voice came out of those speakers saying "and now batting Wally Joyner."
I heard "Joiner" and was ecstatic. A guy with my name was playing big league ball. Right by Disneyland. "Dad, dad, did you hear that his name is Joiner?" I yelled. "It's not the same, he spells it with a Y," dad said, but I cared not. It sounded the same and to my 10 year old ears that was all that mattered.
The next time we went to the nearest mall (30 minutes away in Bakersfield) I bought a Wally Joyner poster. I started trading kids for Angels baseball cards, making some trades I knew were bad in value just to complete the team.
See, if Wally could make it, somehow I could make it. Following Wally came Jim Abbott, the epitome of overcoming obstacles. His poster hung next to Wally's until we moved following my junior year in 1993.
The years following the Wally World season of 1986 did not feature the multiple championships and parades I envisioned Wally would bring us. In fact, just two years later the Dodgers would win a title and my status as the lone Angel fan at school made me stand out even more.
I guess in some ways it is silly to base a lifetime of devotion and thousands of dollars in tickets and merchandise based on a homonym and there were times I questioned the wisdom of that decision. At no time was my faith in more in flux than 1995 .
I had endured the 86 meltdown, the hideous blue jerseys and the Disney film that made what my high school mind considered to be a mockery of my team. I endured the MLB strike of 1994 largely because I was busy transitioning from high school to college. But in 1995, I needed the Angels.
My friends were gone to other schools. For the first time in my life, I had to make new ones. Everything in life was different, including the Angels being in first place. That late season collapse which led to a loss in a one game playoff was almost too much.
But I'm a small town guy. We're loyal. And on we went until the ultimate payoff in 2002.
When the Angels won it all, I was back in my hometown. I went outside, cracked open a cold one, and thought about the 16 year journey to that day. I'd gone from a kid to a man. Highs, lows, loved and lost. And I thought back to that day I first heard "Wally Joyner" on the radio.
I actually think of that day pretty often.
Our friend who owned the land we were on died last year, and I thought of that day. My dad remembers that day and we've relived it many times.
Sometimes when I'm back home and go for a drive in the country, I'll go by that field and that day will feel like yesterday, not 30 something years ago.
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