NOTE: At last! Here’s the long-delayed second in a series of Features describing the author’s first visits to various MLB ballparks around the country. In this post, the author visits Anaheim’s Angel Stadium, just a couple of days after the first in this series, a visit to San Diego’s Petco Park. Further posts in the series will come during and after a major road trip planned for June of this year. Keep watching this space for further updates from the road.
Angel Stadium, the longtime home of the not-so-longtime named Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, stands only about a mile away from the hotel where I was staying after my quick sojourn in San Diego. I decided to avoid the parking and/or transit fee and walk my way over to the park for a Tuesday night game between the Oakland A’s and the homestanding Angels.
As with my visit to Petco Park two days prior, this was my first time seeing a game in Anaheim’s stadium, so the whole experience was new to me…except that, in certain ways, it seemed strangely familiar–and not necessarily in a good way.
The walk to the stadium–along one of those huge boulevards that dominate the Los Angeles basin in general and Orange County in particular, the type of street-level road that may as well be a freeway in its own right for the speed and volume of traffic–passed quickly enough and without any particular incident. I soon arrived at the Gene Autry Way entrance to the Angel Stadium grounds and crossed the road to make my way in.
That was the point where I discovered the first thing that makes Angel Stadium uniquely Southern Californian: from that point of ingress, at least, there isn’t actually a walking path to get you into the stadium parking lot. In a very Los Angeles touch, the proprietors obviously expect everyone who shows up at the park to do so from within some sort of wheeled conveyance; walk-ups, in the literal sense, are not expected down there in Anaheim. That fact was a nuisance, but it was easy enough to stroll along the edge of the entry drive and keep enough out of traffic to make a safe approach to the stadium itself.
“The verdict: Angel Stadium is a usable place to watch a ballgame–but not even close to the best.”
Angel Stadium wears its aged pedigree right out front despite various efforts to spiffy up the place over the years. Some of the external architecture looks relatively recent, but the lack of any modern stadium amenities, particularly escalators to get up to the upper deck, are clear giveaways that you’re entering what is, at this point, an old stadium.
Fortunately for me, my ticket was marked for the upper part of the lower deck, so a short trip up a ramp was all I needed to get to my assigned level. Soon enough I found myself in my seat, in the first row of chairs in the top half of the stadium’s lowest tier. The only thing that separated me from the walkway in front of me was a railing–a fact that would grow in significance as the pregame gave way to actual game time.
After taking in the scene for a few minutes, I went back up to the concourse and bought my dinner. As in San Diego, I got a hot dog, nachos and a soda; such is my plan for all parks I visit this summer, in order to make comparisons meaningful.
The food was the first major note that sounded on the night, a minor alarm that told me that I was in for a lesser experience than I had had down at Petco Park. The hot dog was OK, but quite small in size. And when I went to the condiment table, there was only the basics of ketchup and mustard; extra dressings like onions, sauerkraut, or jalapenos were not in evidence. (There was a third condiment available at the table, perhaps relish, possibly BBQ sauce, but I must admit I can’t remember what it was after this passage of time.)
Things got really strange with the nachos. The basic nachos at Angel Stadium consist of a bag of Tostitos chips, then (per the stand worker’s request for your preferences) small, individual containers of cheese, salsa, onions, and/or jalapenos. The nachos are, in fact, a sort of build-your-own snack kit. This is problematic, because a) the containers with the ingredients are quite small, and portions are miserly, and b) keeping the nacho cheese in a small plastic (and thus meltable) container means the cheese is presented to you not particularly hot and less of a melted consistency and more of a gooey semi-solid blob of cheesiness. It works, as long as you’re the hearty sort who’s not particular about your ballpark dining experience–but it’s hardly up to the snuff you would find at most modern stadiums.
(It should be said that I stuck to the most basic items on the menu; had I sought out and bought some of the premium offerings–including more elaborate nacho concoctions–the Angel Stadium food might rate more highly. But I’m trying to be consistent from park to park, as well as save money, so the basics it is–whether they’re up to snuff or not.)
As with the food, the actual game-viewing experience at Angel Stadium left something to be desired. One particular problem grew directly from my seating situation: with a walkway directly in front of me, and a tunnel to the lower concourse letting out immediately to my right (in the direction of home plate), I found a constant stream of bodies meandering through my view of the action.
It must be said at this point that, thanks to the anemic Athletics’ and Angels’ bats, I did not in fact miss much actual game action due to my situation. The game turned out to be an exercise in offensive futility, as both teams wound up making it through nine innings without pushing a run across the plate. And make no mistake: while A’s starter Jesse Hahn and Angels starter J.C. Ramirez did yeomans’ work throughout their eight and seven innings respectively, the tenor of the game clearly leaned towards bad hitting.
It briefly appeared that the A’s would pull out a road victory in the top of the 10th, when pinch-hitter Josh Phegley finally broke the seal by taking a Jose Alvarez pitch deep to give Oakland a 1-0 lead, on what was only the Athletics’ third hit of the game. However, this was A’s vs. Angels, and that meant (of course) that Mike Trout was coming up to bat in the bottom of the inning. Naturally, “The Natural” hit a game-tying home run in the bottom of the 10th. That was enough to convince me that the outcome was foreordained, so I picked up and left at that point, since I didn’t want to be walking back to my hotel too late in the evening.
Also, by that time, my neck had developed a noticeable crick in it, thanks to my situation in the stands. Not only was my seat prone to a blocked view thanks to the passage of numerous bodies along the walkway, but because the seating in that part of the lower deck points directly towards the outfield–and not towards home plate–I had to turn my head to watch the vast majority of the game action throughout the night.
It also didn’t help that, thanks to Angel Stadium’s somewhat cavernous dimensions, my seat was quite a long distance away from home plate. (From within the stadium, and particularly when looking up at the top deck, the stadium’s large size becomes very apparent, much more so than when you’re watching a game from there on TV.) Sitting in that seat, it was nearly impossible to distinguish one batter on a team from another.
All of these elements–an old, cavernous stadium with bad sightlines, lack of modern infrastructure, indifferent quality food–felt oddly familiar to someone who was visiting the Angels’ park for the first time. In fact, the experience felt strangely similar to a ballpark experience I’ve had before: watching a game at Candlestick Park. Absent a bitterly cold wind, the two parks seem to share a lot in common. Both were new, or relatively so, in the early 1960s; both were at one point a facility shared with a football team; both parks started as open structures, then were closed off to accommodate seating for the football games (Angel Stadium ‘s outfield seating was deconstructed during the Disney days, while Candlestick never opened up again). Seen in that light, it makes sense that watching a game in Anaheim is a lesser experience than you’d get at, say, AT&T Park. Angel Stadium is an old park, and it shows it age even to a first time visitor.
Given that fact, it comes as no surprise that Arte Moreno and his Angels have been agitating for a new stadium. I didn’t know that had been happening, but I assumed it might be the case even before my web search turned up the link above. It makes a certain amount of sense–or at least as much sense as anything can make when you’re talking about a multi-billion dollar industry that comes begging localities for taxpayer dollars to help them continue to be a multi-billion dollar industry. (Spoiler alert: such plans are almost always bad deals for the cities/counties/etc.) Given the general mania for development that perpetually lives in Orange County, I’m guessing the odds are pretty good that Moreno’s team will get their new digs sooner rather than later.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not note that, whatever you may feel about mascots, the Angels’ stadium operations people are extremely clever in their video presentations of the team’s famous/infamous Rally Monkey. The bits where he is spliced into recent movie trailers–Beauty and the Beast and Rogue One were the ones I saw–are first-rate pieces of between-innings entertainment.
If only the teams’ bats had been so lively. And the nachos a bit better.
The verdict: Angel Stadium is a usable place to watch a ballgame–but not even close to the best.
See you on the road, in about a month, when a game in Pittsburgh should appear on the docket.