Paul Schneider takes us out of our comfort zone and talks about being a fan of two baseball teams in the same city—weird.
Permit me a few moments of childhood reminiscence.
Though I have lived in Evanston, Illinois for almost half of my life (in fact, July 29, 2016 will mark my 27th year here, and I will have crossed over that 50 percent threshold), I have never relieved myself of my allegiance and passion for my beloved hometown baseball teams, the Dodgers and Angels.
Unlike Chicago, where, though unwritten, it is for all practical purposes against city statute to be a fan of both teams (either you’re a Cub fan or a Sox fan – no exceptions), or New York, where a Yankee supporter would never be caught dead attending a Mets game (some Yankee fans old enough to remember when their city had three teams don’t even recognize the existence of the Mets), in Southern California, feel free to root for both teams.
For while it is less than a half-marathon from Wrigley Field to U.S. Cellular Field, and a hint under 10 miles between Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, it is 31.1 miles from Dodger Stadium to Angels Stadium. And let’s face it, the Angels can call themselves the Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles or the Los Angeles Angels or whatever they’re known as these days, but the fact is, the two teams don’t even play in the same county.
Oh, there was a time back in the early and mid-1960s when they shared tenancy in Dodger Stadium, but once the Halos made tracks for 200 E. Gene Autry Way in Anaheim in 1966, the gulf betwixt the two teams was forever sealed.
Thus, I was, and forever am, a fan of both teams.
I bring this up because as the 2015 baseball season is about to enter its second half, both of my clubs sit atop their respective divisions; the Dodgers lead the National League West by 4 ½ games over the hated San Francisco Giants, while the Angels currently maintain a ½-game lead over the suddenly slumping Houston Astros.
I close my eyes, and for a few moments I’m back in my bedroom on Beeman Avenue in North Hollywood, listening to Vin Scully call a Dodger game on KABC 790, and then I switch over and hear Dick Enberg announce an Angel game on KMPC 710. These days, Scully is still in the Dodger booth, working his 56th season and still sounding as fresh and silky as he did in the 1970s. Enberg is working for the San Diego Padres and he sounds as good as ever.
Though both the Dodgers and Angels have at least 72 games left, a distant man’s thoughts turn to the possibility of both of his teams playing in the World Series. Back when the Dodgers were in Brooklyn and the Angels were still a minor league affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, the Dodgers and Yankees faced off in the World Series six times between 1941 and 1956, events dubbed the “Subways Series.”
On only two previous occasions since the Angels were born in 1961 have both of Southern California’s teams been in first place at the All-Star break. In 1985, the Dodgers were eliminated in the National League playoffs by the St. Louis Cardinals (sound familiar, Dodger fans?) when, after going up 2 games to none, lost the next four. It still pains me to think of Tom Niedenfuer trying to sneak a first-pitch fastball by Jack Clark with two out and two on in the top of the 9th inning of Game 6.
Bad idea. Clark turned on it and hit it into the right-field pavilion at Dodger Stadium to give the Cardinals the victory and propel them into the World Series.
Across the region, the Angels and Texas Rangers were tied for first place as late as October 2, but Texas then beat the Halos the next day 4-1 and went on to win the division.
Then, in 2009, the Dodgers and Angels again led their respective divisions at the break. This time, both teams made the postseason, but fell short of meeting in a Freeway Series when the Dodgers were eliminated by the Phillies in the NLCS 4 games to 1 (hey – at least they beat the Cardinals in the Division Series!), while the Angels, after sweeping the Red Sox in the first round, were knocked out by the Yankees 4 games to 2.
So is the third time a charm? Can Mike Trout (26 home runs, 55 RBI, .312 average, 1.019 OPS) lead the Angels to post-season glory? Can Zack Greinke (8-2, 1.39 ERA, 4th lowest all-time at the All-Star break, 0.84 WHIP) continue to mow down Dodger opponents and lead them to the Promised Land?
Let’s look at the Angels first. Manager Mike Scioscia knows how to win, having led the Angels to a World Series title in 2002, and playoff appearances in 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 & 2009. Despite recent upheaval in the front office leading to the dismissal of General Manager Jerry DiPoto, the Angels have won 7 of their last 10. At the same time, the Astros have gone into a tailspin, having lost 8 of their last 10.
Looking ahead, only 33 of the Angels’ last 74 games are against teams with winning records. Albert Pujols and Trout currently stand 1-2 in the American League home run race, and Hector Santiago (2.33 ERA), rookie Andrew Heaney (3-0, 1.32 ERA), Garrett Richards (3.53), CJ Wilson (3.83) and Jared Weaver (4.75) are perhaps the best starting five in the AL. When Weaver is your worst pitcher, you know you’ve got a quality staff.
The Dodgers have a bit of a harder road though they have a larger lead and the Giants are streaky at best. 35 of their last 72 contests are against teams over .500 and they start the second half with a three-game series against (gulp!) the Washington Nationals. With a payroll north of $200 million, their offense has been holding up its part of the deal, leading the NL in OPS (.757) and home runs (113) and sitting 4th in runs scored.
But the pitching? Yeesh. Yeah, Greinke is the best pitcher in baseball at the moment, and though he’s having a sub-par (for him) season, as long as 3-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw is breathing, one can never count the Dodgers out. But injuries have decimated the rest of the starting staff so that LA has to run Mike Bolsinger, Brett Anderson and Carlos Frias out there every 5th day. So far, Anderson has been good, as has Bolsinger despite his ERA rising from 1.98 to 3.08 in the last six weeks. But Frias hasn’t gone beyond 5 1/3 innings in any start since June 9. And except for Kenley Jansen, their bullpen is an adventure.
As an old Cardinals catcher once said, “Baseball is a funny game,” and with half a season left, of course, anything can happen. But if past performance is any indicator of future return, then I like my teams’ chances of at least getting to the postseason.
Could it happen? Could there finally be a Freeway Series between the Dodgers and Angels? A distant man wistfully dreams.
Photo: Flickr/Peter Burgess