Located just 20 minutes from the birthplace of our 37th U.S. President, Richard Nixon, Angel Stadium is nestled next door to Disneyland and near all the major California freeways in the area, such as I-5, I-805 and I-405. And like our embattled former president, who was a huge Angels fan, the stadium has undergone many ups and downs and changes over the years.
Originally owned by the famous singing Cowboy, Gene Autry, the Angels began play in 1961 as the Los Angeles Angels. Since then, they have been called the California Angels, the Anaheim Angels, and currently, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Mr. Autry, who made a fortune from his classic holiday recording of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” went to the baseball winter meetings one year looking to find a major league team to broadcast on his radio station and came away with the ownership of one of the first expansion teams in MLB history. The team played its inaugural season in Wrigley Field – not the iconic landmark in Chicago, but the west coast based ballpark of the same name where the Cubs used to have their AAA minor league franchise. From 1962 through 1965, their neighbors to the north, The Los Angeles Dodgers, allowed the Angels to share their great facility, Dodger Stadium, until the Angels could build a stadium of their own.
Angel Stadium opened in 1966 and was almost immediately dubbed the big “A,” largely because of a huge sign in the stadium parking lot that was in the shape of the letter “A” with an Angel halo built around the top of the structure. That sign still beckons and welcomes fans today who arrive via one of the aforementioned freeways or by train. Yes, there is an Amtrak station in the parking lot deep behind the left field portion of the stadium. Many fans from north and south of Anaheim ride the train to and from Angel’s ball games. Another interesting item of note when I first arrived in the parking lot, this being the 38th MLB ballpark that I have had the opportunity to visit, was restroom facilities available to all tailgaters. And not just typically port-a-potties found in many stadium parking lots today, but permanent buildings provided for the convenience of the fans. It was just $10 to park, cash only, but a nice change from other stadiums around the country where the parking fee is much higher. Being that this is a large metropolitan area, I was truly surprised that parking was that inexpensive.
The main entry into the stadium behind home plate is also adorned with a huge halo with the name of the stadium prominently displayed on it, as well as giant wall photographs of many of the Angels premier current players on each side of the entrance. Once inside, you are instantly struck by the fact that this stadium is 49 years old. Although it has seen many improvements over the years, the one glaring impression that this facility is dated, is because all of the food, beverage and merchandise concession stands are located on the concourses either below or behind all the seating sections. Today’s modern ballparks allow fans to watch the action on the field while waiting in line for something to eat or drink because the newer ball parks have open concourses right where the seating sections are. Granted, all the food/beverage places had television mounted high for fans to watch the action while in line, but it is just not the same as seeing the field of play with the naked eye.
Behind the third base stands, in a nice fenced in area is a music field complete with a small stage. On various evenings throughout the season, live acts entertain fans pre and post-game with their musical talents. I had not seed something like this before at any major league baseball stadium that I have visited, that is, a permanent area dedicated to music. Truly unique! What is not so unique, is that the Angels really do not do justice to their own Hall of Famers. There is not a special room, building or area set aside to celebrate their heroes of the past. They do list their retired numbers on the right field wall and they do depict their Hall of Fame members with busts of each inside the main merchandise store, as well as list their names and accomplishments on a concourse wall across from the store. With such great players and/or coaches like Don Baylor, Rod Carew, Jim Fregosi, Bobby Grich, Jimmy Reese and Nolan Ryan, I would have thought they could have showcased them a little more. For all you trivia buffs: Jim Fregosi was actually traded to the NY Mets for Nolan Ryan prior to the 1972 season and Nolan, with all his phenomenal pitching records, has had his number retired by three different teams (Astros and Rangers are the other two)! The only statue on property is the one of team founder, Gene Autry, outside the stadium. Maybe because they have won only won World Series (2002), after three American League Championship losses (1979, 1982, 1986), they feel they are not worthy of a true Angels Hall of Fame and Museum. But, I would beg to differ.
If you sit high enough in the grandstands on the first base side of Angel Stadium, you do get a wonderful view of the mountain range beyond the freeways behind left field. And speaking of left field, way in the back, not visible from the lower bowl, is a sign that keeps track of Albert Pujols’ homerun total. With 518 proudly displayed during my visit, it is a nice reminder to fans that Prince Albert is the most recent member of the 500 HR Club. In dead center field, is probably the most recognizable feature of Angel Stadium, which is their rock formation and waterfalls. While other stadiums may feature fountains and distinct water features, this special piece of landscape was an addition added by the Disney Corporation when they owned the Angels back in the late 1990’s – early 2,000’s.
All in all, a nice ballpark, but being the 4th oldest still in use in major league baseball today, it is certainly showing its age. The public address system, musical selections, video board and fireworks all help remind us that we are in the 21st century, and the Angels organization are doing their very best with the building that they inhabit.
One last piece of interest for those of you who love baseball oddities: The Angels have only had two rookies of the year in their 54 year history, both are outfielders and both named after fish! Tim Salmon in 1993 and Mike Trout in 2012 – maybe that is why there is so much moving water in centerfield!