Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Is it the greatest thrill in the park? No. Does it regularly cash in on the franchise characters the kids are looking to see? It does not, except for around Christmas, when it gets a little lamer with the addition of Jack Skellington and friends. But the Haunted Mansion embodies that which makes it so difficult, despite everything, to hate Disneyland: the power to immerse. The experience starts with the gravestone puns you read while in line, it continues with the stretching elevator (a sequence we've yet to see anyone become jaded about), and it climaxes with the mix of hokey and hilarious and slightly—slightly—unsettling illusions the actual ride provides. There are plenty of tricks involved, but the trickery isn't the magic; the sense of escape is.
Orange County hockey fans can rest easy knowing that despite all rumors to the contrary, this 40-year-old family man from Coto de Caza by way of Finland isn't retiring just yet. That's good news for the Anaheim Ducks because Teemu Selanne is just about the greatest living hockey player anywhere on the planet. Among the top 20 goal scorers all time, he holds the record of all-time highest scorer in Olympic hockey with 37 points. In 2007, when he scored his 300th goal for the Ducks after joining the team just two seasons earlier, he became the biggest point-earner in the history of the franchise. While his speed and grace on the ice earned him the nickname "The Finnish Flash" even before he joined the NHL, Selanne has since earned a reputation for sportsmanship both on and off the rink that seems increasingly hard to come by in a sport in which brawls and cheap-shot checks are all too common. Just don't smash him against the glass, or he'll chase you down and try to slice you in half—with his stick. Just ask Dmitri Mironov.
The lanky right-hander is Exhibit A in the case against wins and losses as a worthwhile statistic for pitchers. Last year, Jered Weaver went 16-8 in 33 starts. This year, he went 13-12 in 34 starts. So, he had a better year last year, right? Sure, if you're stoopid. Wins and losses are a team stat; a pitcher can't control whether or not your best hitter breaks his leg stomping on home plate, eviscerating your offense for pretty much the whole year, fer crissakes! So, why was Weaver better this year? Let's look at some real stats: He has always had good control and has continued to not walk guys, but in 2010, his strikeouts were waaaay up (233, good for the American League strikeout crown). His ERA was a tick above 3 runs per game (quite a feat in the AL), and his WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) was just a few ticks above 1. That's sick. Some see a bit more velocity on his four-seam fastball—which also leads to more swings and misses on his straight change—as the biggest factor here. Others assert that his greater use of his two-seamer helps him keep hitters more off-balance. We've got a better explanation: He finally ditched that Carol Brady flip of blond locks that used to sprout from the back of his cap. Never underestimate the power of a decent haircut.
In a year when a lack of clutch offense—hell, any offense—was the team's biggest problem (10th in AL slugging percentage; 13th in AL on-base percentage), we just couldn't give anybody who swings a bat on this team our nod for best overall player. Yet Torii Hunter deserves at least a little love. He has, after all, continued to do his thing: hit for pretty good average, draw some walks, hit a lot of doubles and more than 20 home runs. But what makes him impossible to ignore? The quotability factor. In this dreary season, scanning the sports section for Hunter's latest gem has been one of the few highlights for Angels fans, be they boneheaded ("People see dark faces out there, and the perception is that they're African-American," he said of Latino players of African descent. "They're not us. They're impostors") or classy ("I could say I want to go for that 10th Gold Glove," he said about his move to right field. "But all that individual stuff, you let that go"). The Angels may lose, but Hunter is never at a loss for words.
During his 10 years with the Angels, Darin Erstad plowed into outfield walls, made hard slides into second base and generally showed more regard for winning than for his own body. Yes, the North Dakotan was slowing down a bit by the time he left Anaheim with a World Series ring, two All-Star appearances and three Gold Gloves, finishing his career with the Chisox and Astros. These days, he's a hitting coach for the University of Nebraska, but Ersty and his wife, Jessica, have not forgotten Orange County. She annually hosts the "Not So Serious" Women's Golf Outing to benefit the Orange-based Child Abuse Prevention Center, which also receives funds from the auctioning of baseball memorabilia donated by her husband and players he shared the field with. First runner-up is Tim Salmon, who also spreads the time, handshakes and autographs for many charities here in Halosland.
As far as we know, nobody showed up to any of the eight home games the former USC and Chicago Cubs phenom pitched for our local Golden Baseball League team dressed in a dark sweat shirt, a Cubs cap, glasses and headphones. Which is great, because we here in Orange County are far too gracious to remind a guy of his role in the 2003 playoff-dream-killing meltdown that merely added to the Cubs' long history of such things. Well, most of us are, anyway.