Shohei Shopping at Angel Stadium

Albert Pujols, Mickey Mouse, and Linda at Angel Stadium. (I’m in there, too, if you look at the reflections in Linda’s shades.)

The Angels were in Kansas City, but we were at Angel Stadium in Anaheim. Linda and I haven’t been to a game yet this baseball season, and we thought our game gear could use an Ohtani refresh.

(Yes, the wife took off work so that we could go shopping.)

Albert, Mickey, me and Linda at the stadium, trying out our new Shohei Ohtani caps. Photo by Linda A. Mah, modified and used with permission.

It was a nice day out for the two of us. Much nicer than the game that followed in Kansas City. I slid a little further into Angels fandom just before the team’s defense suffered a series of hiccups in my home state. (As an aside, Kauffman Stadium is one of two stadiums that I’ve seen from the inside of a Greyhound bus, and it was one of the highlights of my decade-ago trip from Missouri to New Mexico.)

Our haul from the Angels Team Store: Ohtani hats (the one on the left is a New Era 9TWENTY; on the right is a 9FORTY), two Ohtani pins, and the Angels Topps Baseball 2018 Team Set.

I was beginning to think that my Shohei Ohtani hat—Linda wasn’t wearing hers. What the hell, Linda?—carried some bad Friday the 13th luck, but the Angels managed to tie it up, then take the lead, in the top of the 8th inning.

The cards in the Angels Topps Team Set. I used to collect baseball cards as a kid. But I wasn’t a kid by the time Albert Pujols broke into the majors. This is my first Pujols card, and I’m some odd mixture of excited and wistful about that.

We have tickets for the game vs. the Giants on the 22nd, when—if I’m counting correctly—Ohtani should be pitching. It’ll be our first time with front row seats. Hopefully, that game will go smoother than today’s game did.

But if it doesn’t, blame me.

I bought the damned hat.

The Arch and the Halo

Mom’s rally monkey and me. Photo ©2013 Linda A. Mah. Modified with permission, and used with permission, too.

I came to Orange County in late November of 2011. Albert Pujols followed suit not long after.

I had been raised as a St. Louis Cardinals fan. My mom was a St. Louis Cardinals fan, and my Grandpa Bill—Mom’s dad— had once shaken the hand of Cardinals great Bob Gibson. I had seen Lou Brock play in-person when I was nine years old, on the only trip to Busch Stadium (technically, Busch Memorial Stadium, which was—sadly—demolished in 20051) that I remember taking. It was a double-header against the Chicago Cubs, and Bruce Sutter pitched two innings in the second game2. We sat up high, and I took pictures with my Polaroid. The outfielders in those snapshots looked like action figures dressed in red and white.

The people sitting behind us spilled wine on my mom. It was September, 1979, and in those days, apparently, you could bring your own cooler into the game.

32 years and some months later, Mom and I were in her Buick in Orange, California, when we heard over the radio that Pujols had signed with the Angels. It felt like fate, to me. Coming to California had been a big, painful risk for my mom, my dog, and me, and Albert’s move to Anaheim made me feel like a piece of home had decided to tag along; that our change of scene didn’t have to change everything.

I saw Pujols play in person for the first time in 2012. Mom was in a nursing home by then. She couldn’t have gone to the game, even if she’d still been living with me. The dementia was too advanced for her to enjoy baseball, for her to tolerate crowds of people, and it had been so for a while. That had probably been true by the time we’d made the trip from Missouri, even if I hadn’t wanted to admit it to myself.

But Linda and I went. Linda was an Angels fan. I was a Pujols fan. It was a nice chunk of common ground for us.

Mom didn’t want to hear about it afterward.

I readily adopted the Angels as my second team, and I remained a Pujols fan. But my loyalties stayed Cardinals red.

Linda and I kept going to Angels games, though. And at some point, I realized I’d seen more games at Angel Stadium than I had seen, or likely ever would see, at any iteration of Busch Stadium. Living in Anaheim made the Angels accessible to me in a way that the Cardinals never were when I lived in Southeast Missouri, one hundred or so miles from St. Louis.

Even Mom, pretty far gone from caring about baseball, at all, loved the rally monkeys Linda and I had bought for her at the stadium. They were her babies. They were my dog who had made the trip with us before passing away in 2012. They were her cigarettes when she wanted to go through the motions of smoking, and her chew toys when she was frustrated.

But I was still a Cardinals fan. The Angels were still second. It wasn’t the Angels, after all, that I spent summers watching with Mom from our living room in the trailer park. It wasn’t the Angels who gave us a common interest, a shared cultural history, and a same side to be on which soared above political and economic realities.

That was St. Louis baseball, and goddamnit, I was a Cardinals fan for life.

Mom passed away four years ago. I’ve only been back to Missouri once, and that was to take her ashes home.

The Cardinals aren’t the organization that they were when I still lived in Missouri, and could still pony up to watch them play on Fox Sports Midwest. Yadier Molina is still around, as is José Oquendo, but most of the players are people I don’t know, and don’t have the opportunity to become familiar with. And Mom’s not here to share that opportunity with me, even if it came about.

But Albert Pujols?

He’s still here, and still knocking homeruns in Anaheim. I’ve gotten to know (from a distance) Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun over the past several years. Ditto Andrelton Simmons over a shorter period. Add on Luis Valbuena and Jefry Marté. And this year, I’m getting to know Zack Cozart, Justin Upton, Martín Maldonado and Shohei Ohtani.

Did I mention Shohei Ohtani?

Ohtani is the player who has most made me question my loyalties. Ohtani is the player I most want to watch. It may sound like bandwagoning, but I don’t care. Ohtani is a phenomenon.

And the icing on top of that Ohtani cake?

The Angels are playing well so far this year. They’re playing like an actual team, with contributions coming from everywhere in the lineup. They’re hitting for power, but playing small ball, too. If they can keep their starting pitchers healthy (and, yeah, all my fingers are crossed), the Angels could have a glorious 2018 baseball season.

As a loyal fan of a St. Louis Cardinals era that included Pujols, Oquendo and Yadi, along with Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Tony LaRussa, I appreciate quality baseball; and it’s great to see it being played in the city that I now call home.

I’m spending my spring—and, hopefully, the summer—bonding with my wife over Angels baseball, in our living room in downtown Anaheim. I’ll presumably be spending part of the season bonding with her at Angel Stadium, too.

All of my baseball hopes for this season, are pinned to the Angels and to Anaheim.

I still sometimes wear my St. Louis Cardinals cap around Orange County, and I will do so until either it wears out or I do.

But when I don that cap, these days, it’s not out of loyalty to St. Louis baseball. It’s out of loyalty to my memories of good times and great baseball I once shared with my mom.


Notes

  1. “Busch Memorial Stadium”. Wikipedia. Accessed 11 April 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Busch_Memorial_Stadium
  2. “Box Score of Game played on Wednesday, September 19, 1979 at Busch Stadium II”. Baseball Almanac. Accessed 11 April 2018. http://www.baseball-almanac.com/box-scores/boxscore.php?boxid=197909192SLN

Light that Monsoon Up!

Taosbound iMessage Sticker Pack, Part One: Good Morning Mountain, Prairie Rattler Love, and Prickly Heat

For the past few days, I’ve been working in Procreate1 on my iPad Pro2, getting the hang of drawing with an Apple Pencil3. I’m very late to the game. I’m sure I’ve even missed the seventh-inning stretch. I’m arriving as people are leaving their seats, heading to their cars to avoid the inevitable rush and jam once the game is actually over.

And yet—having missed out on the national anthem, six and a half innings of disputed calls, plays at the plate, and waiting for the pitcher to throw the damned ball somewhere other than at first base—I am instantly engaged. This is the best, easiest, loosest and most natural drawing experience I’ve enjoyed since liquid ink rolling ball pens4 on printer paper or a Rapidosketch5 on index cards.

I’m working on a series of images, with simple lines and simple color (far less purple than this prose), based on my experience of the high dessert—the American Southwest—from a Greyhound6 trip I made to Taos, New Mexico7, in 2007. That was a long time ago, and Taos is the sleepiest place I’ve ever visited, having drawn a dark veil over my mind, eyes, and heart for the duration of my time there. But there are still pieces of it stuck, like worn-down shards in my head, pressing against a compulsive neuron, firing up synapses which have had eleven years to recover from being drenched by their first monsoon8.

When the medium is good, or good enough, inspiration flows, and ideas crash in like those quick, clean rains, washing away roads built wrong and lighting up sand-strewn corners obscured in darkness and in dust.

Which is my purplest way of saying “Southwestern symbolism is great for drawing cheesy cartoons. Yes, even the one drawn in the bathroom. Yes, even the single-stroker drawn with the previously-broken, dysfunctional pinky finger that never quite healed correctly. Inspiration hits when it wants to.”

That leaves me with the problem of what to actually do with the series once it’s drawn. I’ve had a solid ten years to learn to hate creating designs for print-on-demand. Desktop icons—a contender for my all-time favorite art form—aren’t really a thing, anymore. Web icons tend toward the uniform, the generic, the instantly-recognizable-yet-unobtrusive, and the no-damned-fun-at-all.

So… sticker packs. Stickers for iMessage9. I really only use the ones that came with my favorite notes app, Bear10, in part out of fondness for the app, but also because they’re adorable. Most of the time, I just type what I want to say. But my lovely wife likes iMessage stickers, and getting to spend my time cartooning while simultaneously working toward something that makes my spouse happy?

I see that as pretty awesome.

Because I’m smart like that.

I hope I’m smart enough to turn these simple, fun-to-draw, cartoons—and the ones I’ll draw to complete the set—into something useful to someone, so that I can justify my time spent drawing them.

I also hope that, by the time late September rolls around, and the 2018 season is rolling up its grass, this new little hobby, Albert Pujols11 and Shohei Ohtani12 will all have exceeded my expectations, even if all three wind up only playing DH.


Notes

  1. Procreate for iPad. Accessed March 21, 2018. https://procreate.art/
  2. iPad Pro – Apple. Accessed March 21, 2018. https://www.apple.com/ipad-pro/
  3. Apple Pencil – Apple. Accessed March 21, 2018. https://www.apple.com/apple-pencil/
  4. Precise V5/V7: Pilot Pen. Accessed March 21, 2018. http://pilotpen.us/brands/precise/precise-v5-v7/
  5. Rapidosketch. Welcome to Koh-I-Noor USA! Accessed March 21, 2018. http://kohinoorusa.com/products/pens/rapidosketch/index.php
  6. Greyhound. Accessed March 21, 2018. https://www.greyhound.com/
  7. “Taos, New Mexico”. Wikipedia. Accessed March 21, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taos,_New_Mexico
  8. “Monsoon”. Wikipedia. Accessed March 21, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsoon
  9. Creating Stickers for iMessage – Apple Developer. Accessed March 21, 2018. https://developer.apple.com/stickers/
  10. Bear – Notes for iPad, iPhone and Mac. Accessed March 21, 2018. http://www.bear-writer.com/
  11. “Albert Pujols”. Wikipedia. Accessed March 21, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Pujols
  12. “Shohei Ohtani”. Wikipedia. Accessed March 21, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shohei_Ohtani