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A behindtheears look at Disneyland
Imagine tens of thousands of visitors cheering, applauding and screaming with delight. Envision a haunting backstory about an ancient curse. Picture nail-biting suspense with the outcome always in jeopardy. Plenty of action. Memorable characters and sing-a-long tunes. Popcorn, hot dogs and other junk food at the ready. And performance after performance, with comforting consistency, the good guys win.
Since May, it has been Disney's greatest attraction. No, I'm not talking about Mickey's Detective School. You won't find it anywhere inside Disneyland or, for that matter, California Adventure. You'll find it in Anaheim five minutes to the east, at Edison International Field.
The Disney Company-owned Anaheim Angels are in a tense pennant race and, in 40 years, have never played better -- or been more fun to watch. As the final week of the regular season winds down, the Angels are not only battling the Oakland A's for first place in their division, but also challenging the New York Yankees for the best record in the league.
This season, their games have been packed with more drama and excitement than the best theme park attraction.
Unlike Disney's nearby theme parks, Disney's baseball team is:
Walt Disney's association with the Angels goes back to Day One. Walt sat on the Angels' original board of directors and its advisory board in the early 1960s. Walt helped convince former owner Gene Autry to move the club from Los Angeles to Anaheim in 1966. For years, Disney sponsored a Disneyland day at Anaheim Stadium, which included tickets to both Disneyland and an afternoon Angels game, complete with Mickey, Goofy and other characters dressed in baseball uniforms hamming it up on the field between innings.
By the mid-1990s, the Disney Company had launched its own pro hockey team, the Mighty Ducks, a block away from Anaheim Stadium and acquired the ESPN all-sports cable network in the Capitol City/ABC deal. The Company figured that adding the Angels could help provide the foundation for a Southern California regional version of ESPN. So, in 1996, Disney acquired a 25% operating interest in the Angels and purchased full ownership after Autry's death in 1998.
Disney's years in charge of the Angels, alas, would be at least as miserable as the pre-Disney years. The Company backfired in shifting the focus away from baseball and onto theme park-type entertainment. (Anyone remember the oversized teddy bear mascots or the over-caffeinated cheerleaders?) Hostile competitors forced Disney to abandon the regional ESPN idea. Soon, Disney became disenchanted with the economics of pro baseball, and in the last few years has tried to unload the team. Which makes the team's resurgence all the more surprising -- and sweet.
My first trip to Angel Stadium wasn't long after my first trip to the Magic Kingdom. It was, I think, in the spring of 1971 during a Freeway Series game between the Angels and crosstown rivals the L.A. Dodgers. At age 8, I could barely tell a baseball from a bowling ball. I spent the entire game switching my allegiance to the latest team to score a run. But within a few years I knew all the Angels players by number. I'd go to bed at night with a portable radio under my covers, listening to KMPC 710 AM (now Radio Disney) until Dick Enberg and Don Drysdale called the final out.
During summer afternoons, when my dad had to work, my family would spend two hours riding the OCTD bus from Costa Mesa to Anaheim, any time Nolan Ryan was pitching or there was a special giveaway, like Bat Day (when we received regulation Little League bats), Helmet Day, Ball Day (in an age when no one thought about throwing their souvenir on to the field), or Fan Appreciation Day (when they gave away almost as many expensive prizes as there were fans in attendance).
The often-inept Angel teams rarely rewarded my loyalty. While today's Angels more identify with the scrappy underdog Mickey Mouse, historically they were more like luckless Charlie Brown. The Angels are less known for winning than for freak injuries, off-the-field tragedies, last place finishes, and a handful of promising seasons that invariably ended with a last minute collapse.
This season, at least, that all can change. Tickets are still available for this weekend's three games against last year's division winner, the Seattle Mariners. If you can pull yourself away from your 200th viewing of the Electrical Parade, give the Angels a look. There's plenty of room on the bandwagon -- even though it will make it tougher for me to get World Series tickets.
David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.
After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999); all titles published by Bonaventure Press.
He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.
You can contact David here.
Click here to go to David's main page for a list of archived articles.
Visit MouseShoppe to purchase copies of David's books. (Clicking on the link opens a new window.)
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