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.
- “Busch Memorial Stadium”. Wikipedia. Accessed 11 April 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Busch_Memorial_Stadium ↩
- “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 ↩