Since I was six years old, I’ve been watching Angel games from the stands, patiently enduring the years of mediocre seasons to arrive at the Promised Land with the 2002 World Champion Anaheim Angels.
So, naturally, I shrieked like a little girl when I got the opportunity to walk through the outfield on the very grass I’d watched from on high for 15 years – the same impeccably manicured lawn where Torii Hunter, Vladimir Guerrero and Gary Matthews, Jr. back up the infield, where Darin Erstad danced around the green shagging impossible fly balls and where Garret Anderson had taken the field for every season I’d been an Angel fan until his release last year.
I’d finagled my way into walking on the field, along with 239 other die-hard Halo fans, to unveil a massive 150 by 300-foot American flag during the National Anthem before game three of the American League Championship Series last Monday. Angel Stadium only goes all-out like this for opening day and postseason games, so I got pretty lucky.
My dad and I showed up to the Big A at 11 to check in and found our flag captain for the day, Amy, barking instructions for flag-bearing etiquette: No running to unfurl the flag, No picture-taking while on the field and ABSOLUTELY NO dropping your section of the flag.
For a little background: this 4500 square foot monster cost in the range of tens of thousands, according to my pal Amy, so stadiums don’t own flags. Instead, they rent them from a handful of companies, like Amy’s Fifty Star Productions, who tour the country performing such a service like the one I was currently partaking. We received our training in the bowels of Angel Stadium, right next to the hidden reliquary of steel kegs that supply 43,000-odd Angel fans each game. Regrettably, I had a job to do and hardened my resolve to resist a quick sampling.
As fans trickled into the stadium bedecked in Angel Red and – regrettably – Yankee Blue, the signal was given for our elite corps of mostly middle-aged volunteers to hoist our star-spangled burden. Our red, white and blue train shuffled out from under the stands in right field and hugged the warning track until we were about even between the foul poles. Let me tell you, true believers, the crunch of that red dirt under my shoes was only trumped by the lovingly-trimmed and patterned outfield grass. It was like a carpet of the gods. I may or may not have bent down and snagged a handful to keep under my pillow.
Even better, we were nigh 40 feet from Kendry Morales and Chone Figgins doing windsprints and 20 feet from Mike Napoli stretching out on the green. 238 pairs of jealous eyes along the flag watched as the luckiest of us lifted their burden so the six-foot-seven Jered Weaver could duck under and run to the outfield wall. I was two stations behind this utter phenomenon and followed the pitcher until he reached the back wall.
There, between the red pennant displaying Angel Western Division-winning years and the 405-foot mark, is an image stenciled into the back wall of Nick Adenhart, the promising 23-year-old pitcher slain earlier this year in a horrific drunk driving catastrophe. Weaver placed his hands on the relief and bowed his head. It was a moment of reverence and vulnerability, and then it was gone.
I was still taking in the wonder of standing where legends had trod when Rex Hudler’s imperious voice boomed to his eager followers in the stands below and invited his congregation to rise for the National Anthem. For any other sport, the procedural recitation of our country’s theme song may seem nationalistic, but for baseball, the National Anthem is woven in its britches, a beloved step that cannot be abridged or subtracted. I swell with excitement when I’m simply sitting in the stands during the invigorating invocation; unfurling the banner of the US of A on the hallowed ballfield is something I’m still telling myself was not a dream.
Since I’m a smart kid (i.e. my dad has done this before), I stood on the side that unrolled the flag from deep in center field, meaning I was barely 20 feet from second base when my side of the flag pulled taut. All 240 super fans around the flag were holding tight their assigned handholds, waiting anxiously for their moment of truth. When that forgotten singer belted out the later stanza, “Oh say does that star-spangled ba-a-nner-er yet WAAAAVE…” 240 brains jolted into action and 480 arms heaved their handholds up and down like a mighty bellows. The crowd went wild for the rippling regalia, and we knew that we had done our job.
But the magic had not yet reached its crescendo. A low drone filled the air and the Jumbotron framed a winged behemoth: a C-17 Globemaster III. To call this plane a military transport doesn’t do it justice: Google image search that baby and you’ll agree that its 170-foot wingspan makes it look like a regal hawk gliding in for the kill. Standing out from second base, I scanned the sky behind the outfield for any sign of the reclusive beast. Out of nowhere, the gigantic plane soared out from behind the Jumbotron, banking over the field between twin rocket flares that fired from the rock fountain. My dad, being a Boeing man, said it was probably a couple thousand feet in the air, but I swear it barely cleared the top of the stadium. My heart sailed right alongside that metal marvel, and then the moment was over.
We rolled up the flag and trumped down the warning track, satisfied that our job was done while Angel legend Rod Carew (Rod Carew!) threw in the first pitch. In a daze, we set down our burden and unclipped each stripe and the canton from each other to be stowed away for the next fabulous flag ceremony. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a ticket for the game itself, and walked out from under the stadium into the parking lot, leaving the frantic echoing cheers of over 43,000 fans.
My dad treated both of us to a congratulatory beer at a nearby brewery restaurant, where we watched the first few innings of what would be a hard-fought win for the Angels, and a better game than Tuesday’s 10-1 massacre by the dreaded, hated Yankees. Despite the regrettable retreat from yet another World Series, the chance to walk the field and take part in a moment of baseball magic will definitely be in my highlight reel when the Angels come to take me to the big field in the sky.