Finally, the sun made an appearance in Southern California, as the low clouds and fog receded just offshore. Following a morning of exploring San Diego, I traveled up Interstate 5 to Anaheim to catch an evening game between the Seattle Mariners and Anaheim Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. The 90 minute trip was swift and uneventful, helped along by the fact it was Saturday.
Shortly after arriving at the stadium, I met up with my brother, who stayed just a block away from the park. Angel Stadium, located near the Santa Ana River, is a mere four miles from Disneyland. Had I know that at the time, I might have built in time to see the iconic amusement park before heading to the stadium. My brother stated that his hotel was boisterous, with a din caused by kids excited to visit Disneyland.
Parking was plentiful at Angel Stadium, as the field was almost completely surrounded by parking lots. By MLB standards, parking was relatively cheap ($10.00), and arriving almost two hours before the first pitch, we had our choices of spots. Since there was not much to see immediately adjacent to the ballpark, we encircled the stadium before entering through the gate behind home plate.
Angel Stadium has undergone several configuration changes since it first opened in 1966. Originally constructed with an open outfield, the stadium was completely enclosed in 1980, when the NFL’S Los Angeles Rams relocated to Anaheim. The enclosure increased the stadium’s capacity from 43,000 to over 63,000, where it remained through 1997. Following the departure of the Rams, the stadium was renovated, removing the enclosure, and restoring the view of the mountains in centerfield.
Replacing the enclosure in the outfield was perhaps the stadium’s most interesting feature, the “Rock Pile”. Also known as the California Spectacular, the rock formation was adorned with real trees, fake boulders and a geyser which spouts water that cascades down the rocks. This feature is always prominently displayed during national broadcasts from Angel Field.
The “Rock Pile” was accessible via the concourse that encircled the stadium, and not surprisingly, was a popular destination. Our tour of the stadium revealed it to be a former multi purpose stadium reborn into a baseball park following the renovations in the late 1990s. A large scoreboard in right centerfield was augmented by a smaller scoreboard in left centerfield, giving Angel Stadium a more modern look.
Following our trip around the stadium, we visited one of the many concession stands on the lower level to obtain our baseball dinner. Despite the Angels being a sub .500 team, the ticket demand was so high that we were only able to secure upper deck seats behind home plate. The climb was worth it; the view of the ballpark from our perch could not have been better.
The starting pitching matchup feature two journeyman right handers. Gil Meche, taking the ball for the visiting Seattle Mariners, and John Lackey, toeing the rubber for the hometown Angels, were both in the middle of mediocre seasons. Clearing skies, light winds and mild temperatures set the stage for a pleasant evening, with Lackey delivering the first pitch at 707 pm PDT.
Leading off for the Seattle Mariners was right fielder Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro was off to yet another great start, leading the American League in hitting at .369. In his sixth season with the Mariners, Ichiro was rapidly becoming the best hitter of his era, and a major draw while on the road. He did not disappoint this night, collecting three hits and scoring three runs. However, Ichiro grounded out to start the game, with the teams going scoreless early in the contest.
The Angels started the scoring the bottom of the second inning, with two runs via consecutive RBI singles off Mariners starter Gil Meche. The Mariners countered with three runs in the third inning. The score remained 3-2 going into the top of the fifth inning. Angels starter John Lackey intentionally walked Raul Ibanez to load the bases for Mariners 1B Richie Sexon. Sexon, a power hitter with a low batting average, deposited the next pitch over the centerfield fence for a grand slam. That home run ended Lackey’s night, and gave the Mariners an 8-2 lead.
Much to my surprise, despite the makings of blow out, the Angels fans stayed for the bulk of the game (so much for the stereotypical Southern California fan leaving early). The nearly full stadium generated a feel I would expect in ballparks across the Midwest or the Northeast. In addition, clear skies, light winds and temperatures in the 60s provided an enjoyable backdrop for a very pleasant baseball experience at Angel Park.
The Mariners tacked on four more runs in the seventh inning, including back-to-back home runs by Ichiro Suzuki and Adrian Beltre, essentially putting the game out of reach for the hometown Angels. The Angels did respond with runs in the seventh and eighth innings, but not nearly enough to put a dent in the Mariners lead. Angels star (and future Hall of Famer) Vladimir Guerrero was quiet in this contest, managing a double in four at-bats.
Overall, my impression of Angel Stadium of Anaheim was very good, better than I expected. Good weather and a large crowd made this possibility my favorite Southern California game. At some point, I’d like to visit the area again, and would consider a return to Angel Stadium an essential part of that trip.