My best friend, Kent, is a stocky, long-haired, divorced-with-one-daughter guy who rents an apartment in San Clemente, drives a concrete mixer, collects guitars, just started restoring an old Volkswagen Vanagen and has always rooted for the Angels. We've been Angels fans since we were growing up in Bellflower in the mid-1960s, pretending we were Angels "stars" like Aurelio Rodriguez and Bubba Morton—or Kent's very distant cousin, Chuck Cottier, who briefly played the infield in Anaheim and once turned a very impressive 5-4-3 double play on TV. When the Angels clinched the 2002 American League pennant, Kent left a message on my answering machine in which his voice cracked and he admitted he was teary with happiness. He was still just as emotional when I talked to him about the Angels this week—but not nearly so happy.
Kent: To tell you the truth, I wish we could all pretend none of this ever happened. Me: Why? What's wrong?
The Thunder Sticks, I guess. I was washing out my mixer at the end of the day, hanging off the ladder that runs up the side of the truck, when I looked down and saw a guy driving through the construction site. There was a pair of Thunder Sticks on his dashboard, and it was just so obvious he propped them there so people would notice. I thought, what an asshole! And it was that moment I realized: assholes like this, overnight, have become the new Angels fans.
It's a little over-the-top, but these people have been waiting 40-some years for this, just like you have.
No, they haven't! That's the point! These are not the people who have been sticking with the Angels all these years—or even this year. It's a whole new kind of fan: people who are just fans of winning. Otherwise, where were these people all season? The Angels were, like, 16th in the majors in attendance. I've heard people say, "I don't really pay attention during the season, but if one of the local teams gets to the playoffs, I follow them then." A lot of people say that! And a bunch of them are calling themselves Angels fans now, but they're notAngels fans. Most of them just want to attach themselves to a winner, which is not the only thing that being an Angels fan is about.
Obviously. So you had to figure that things were going to be a little different when the Angels finally did win, didn't you? I mean, you felt different, too, when the Angels clinched.
I felt euphoric. But even then, I was a little concerned about the fans. This stuff picked up during the last week of the season. People started going loony. All this Thunder Sticks crap, and Rex Hudler blabbering like an idiot, and people dressing their kids like Rally Monkeys. I went to see the Dodgers in the World Series in 1988—the game Kirk Gibson hit the famous home run—and it was a regular baseball experience, even though it was historic. People behaved like they should at a baseball game, like baseball fans. The people who went to the Angels game last Sunday—well, I'm surprised they didn't race over to the Rose Bowl after the Galaxy won, so they could gravy train off that, too. If the Dodgers win next year, they'll be there with blue Thunder Sticks. But for now, they're wearing Angels caps—and when they wear them, the A on those caps stands for A-hole!
This doesn't make you want the Angels to lose the Series, does it?
In a way, yeah, because I want my Angels back. If they win, I'm going to be subjected to flags on the cars, the news media talking to obnoxious people, the ruination of the Rally Monkey—which started out as a pretty cool thing. And then, of course, higher ticket prices next year.
C'mon. Now you're for the Giants?
Well, no. I like the Angels players. They're a really deserving team. I'd like to see Tim Salmon win a title. When he was holding the trophy after they clinched against the Twins, that's when I was tearing up. But I'm having a hard time with all the cheesy artificial stuff—including the way Michael Eisner and Jackie Autry have shown up to start acting like they care. So, if they lose, I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. I'll get my Angels back, and all these jackholes will go away.
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People like Michael Eisner and Jackie Autry.
I mean, Eisner—whatever. Having Jackie Autry around is what really makes me sick. Because if she still owned the Angels, they'd never be in the World Series. When Gene Autry got old, she took over and started dumping players. And then when he died, she dumped the team and made millions. She's the Anna Nicole Smith of Orange County. She never cared about winning. Yet now they allow her to show up in her vast array of plaid—crap they don't even sell at Wal-Mart—and pretend she has something to do with all of this. But all those idiots in the stands who don't know any better give her an ovation. And I don't know what Chuck Finley was thinking when he kissed her. That was very disturbing.
All that said, do you think the Angels will win?
I'm ambivalent—like a real Angels fan should be.