An Angel to All-Stars in Anaheim
As preparations are made for its third Midsummer Classic, we explore Angel Stadium
If you're ever driving through Orange County at night, tooling along the 5 in SoCal, and you see a floating halo in the northern sky, don't freak out.
It's not a sign from the heavens telling you to forgo your evil ways and repent. (Although you should probably do that anyway, just to be safe.) And it's not a visitor from space choosing to make first contact in Anaheim. It's just the employees of Angel Stadium alerting the world that their beloved baseball team has notched another victory.
The halo sits atop the Big A, the giant electronic marquee in the parking lot of Angel Stadium. (To better envision the marquee, think of the team logo of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Then picture it 230 feet high.)
Note that the impressive A hasn't always mingled with the expensive cars of season-ticket holders in the parking lot; it once was the support structure for the ballpark's in-house scoreboard. The sign was moved as the result of one of the stadium's many face-lifts. It's fitting that in Southern California, a park of this age (at 44, the fourth oldest in Major League Baseball, behind Fenway, Wrigley and Dodger Stadium) can, after a lot of work, still look so young.
As Angel Stadium prepares to take center stage as host of this year's All-Star Game, on July 13, let's take a look back at the various nips and tucks it's undergone over the years.
The first incarnation
August 1964: Walt Disney premiered "Mary Poppins," Bob Dylan introduced The Beatles to marijuana and the Angels were sharing Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine with the Dodgers.
Angels owner Gene Autry, the Singing Cowboy of radio and TV fame, was searching Southern California for someone and somewhere to build the team's own stadium.
Long Beach was the front-runner until the city demanded the team change its name to the Long Beach Angels, a preview of the name-change controversies that would follow the team.
Instead, the city of Anaheim made Autry an offer he couldn't refuse: a 160-acre piece of land surrounded by freeways and a mere 3 miles from the most popular tourist destination in America; Disneyland reportedly drew 6 million visitors in 1964.
The first ballpark visitors walked through the turnstiles on April 9, 1966, to watch the newly named California Angels take on the Giants in an exhibition game. The Big A enjoyed its first regular-season home opener 10 days later, as the White Sox came calling.
The ballpark would host Angels games exclusively for the next 14 years, before the business interests saw a way to make money during the five months of the year when the stadium was vacant. Enter football's Los Angeles Rams.
"When the Rams came in," said Mat Gleason from the Angels blog Halos Heaven, "it killed the atmosphere."
As part of the deal to bring the Rams to Anaheim, changes to the park had to be made. Instead of magnificent views of nearby mountain ranges over right and left field, the upper deck and mezzanine were extended to create what some fans found to be a giant, circular monstrosity.
Sure, the 23,000 extra seats were brimming with activity during football Sundays, but the compromised view meant the game atmosphere lacked a sense of majestic calm away from the bustle of the surrounding metropolis. "It made for a sterile park," Gleason said.
Among the casualties of the renovation was the move of the Big A sign from its rightful place in left field.
"I wish it were still [there]," Gleason said. "I'd love to be sitting at a day game with that Big A in the outfield."
In old black-and-white photos of the park, the Big A looms over the action, a true landmark. Now, if you enter the stadium from the wrong highway or don't have nosebleed seats, you can miss seeing the sign entirely.
But that period also provided the stadium with some of its more memorable baseball feats. On Sept. 17, 1984, Reggie Jackson hit his 500th career home run, making him the 13th player to reach the milestone. Those years also featured two of the most important singles in baseball history: Rod Carew and George Brett logged their 3,000th career hits, Carew in 1985 and Brett seven years later.
The era of cohabitation came to an end in 1994, when Rams owner Georgia Frontiere moved the team to her hometown of St. Louis, leaving Angel Stadium in a moment of transition.
The team wanted massive renovations to restore the stadium to a baseball-only park. And if the stadium wasn't willing to undergo another face-lift, the Angels were considering relocating to Long Beach. Bluffing or not, there was the threat of the Angels ending their 30 years of Anaheim residency unless something drastic happened. Luckily, a mouse came to the rescue.