Friday, February 10, 2012
Opening Day - 1997
Looking for some Diamondback cards for a trade, I started looking through a box of cards labeled "Misc." The "Misc" boxes are for cards like Pacific, Sportflics, Denny's Holograms, or Burger King cards. I guess any cards that don't have enough of them to warrant their own 800-count box. I pulled a inch-thick group of them from the middle and the first card I see is this one.
I had not thought about Greene in years, but as soon as I saw this card, memories of Spring Training 1997 came rolling in like the first wave of patrons at Golden Corral. 1997 marked the end of the California Angels and the first season as the Anaheim Angels. I hated the name change, and especially the new uniform. There's nothing wrong with pinstripes, per se, but if you're not used to seeing your team in them, it's just really disconcerting. And the winged "A" and the periwinkle blue! That's a color you see at a paint store, or on a box of lady's shoes, or even on some pikey's caravan, but not on a baseball team!
But in '97 I was focused not on the uniform but on who was to be the next big thing. Todd Greene was him, he was going to be the next big thing! Everything I'd read about him in the LA Times sounded like he was going to sock the cover off the ball and nail anyone trying to even think of stealing second. Even though during the off-season, the Angels picked up Jim Leyeritz from the Yankees, I could not be dissuaded from my belief that the stocky power-punching catcher from Georgia would be wearing the glove and set up behind the plate come opening day.
I wanted to be there to see this, so I got my tickets, which for first time in years were actually tough to get... oooh, because we were playing Boston! Lineup cards are handed to the umps, and shortly they're displayed on the scoreboard.
Let's see, Greene isn't batting 3rd, not 4th, not 5th, 6th... I don't see him on there at all. The "C" is next to Jim Leyeritz's name. Huh? This can't be. Where's my catcher of the future? Oh, he's over on the bench.
Mark Langston pitches well, and the Angels take a 5-2 lead in to the top of the 9th inning. Out to the mound comes psycho closer Troy Percival. To most people, the game is wrapped up. As Anaheim Stadium has never been a hotbed of diehard fandom, the stands start to empty... The exodus had quietly begin with the 3rd out of the bottom of the 8th, but now it's really in full swing and things are starting to clear out.
Percival starts off the 9th by dropping Darren Bragg with a weak "oops" swing for strike three.
More fans start to get up, gather their stuff.
Nomar Garciaparra goes down swinging.
Now even actual long-time fans are standing up and getting their stuff together.
John Valentin comes up and slaps a double somewhere, seriously, I wasn't even looking at that point, I was picking up and getting ready to leave.
No problem, Mo Vaughn comes up, Percival very intelligently walks him.
Reggie Jefferson comes up, I'm watching out the corner of my eye, waiting to see that strikeout or weak ground ball so I can start heading out.
Jefferson hits a grounder and DiSarcina just can't do anything with it, so Jefferson is safe at first.
But 2 outs and a 3 run lead... Just get a ground ball and throw it anywhere!
Next batter... walk! in comes a run.
Next batter... another walk! another run comes in!
I'm being brief with the descriptions, but my stomach is in knots at this point.
Next batter... Percival plunks him and forces in the tying run!
I scream so loudly that I wake up sleeping babies as far away as Brea and Yorba Linda.
Finally Percival gets the hook and manager Terry Collins bring in... hell, I don't remember because I was leaving!
Yes, me, the one who throws empty paper cups at "fans" who bail from the game before the last out, I'm leaving.
I could not watch another minute of it.
I'm almost down the ramp to the main floor, when I can hear the moaning and groaning coming from the field.
Some guy near me with his radio says, "they got a hit! They just took the lead!", like it was exciting news. I wanted to punch him.
It was a quiet drive home.