Evian Vendors. Baseball in California means Evian vendors. And clubhouse haircuts by Bruce of Laguna. Ballpark cappuccino. Dodger-blue skies in sun-Orange County. Early exits. No socks, just stirrups. Umps working the breakfast plate at Belisle's near Disneyland. Bleacher beach balls. Lou Rawls. Riot makeup games. Hotel wake-up quakes. Ballpark...sushi?
This is how I spent my summer vacation: Photographer V.J. Lovero, his assistant, Bob Binder, and I were assigned to commune with California baseball. So we rented a sedan with a sunroof and a cellular phone, took a Pasadena on the optional car-fax and set out to discover the Golden State's baseball ethos, or at least to locate its best fish-taco stand. Over seven games in seven days last week, we bagged rays in all five of California's big league ballparks and traveled light the length of the state. You have to travel light. As a sign outside Candlestick Park says: No cans, no bottles, no weapons.
It has been 35 years since Horace Stoneham pulled a Horace Greeley and went west. Stoneham moved his New York Giants to San Francisco after the 1957 season, the same year the Brooklyn Dodgers fled Flatbush for El Lay, and major league baseball had realized its manifest destiny. The Athletics are now in their 25th year at the Oakland Coliseum. Dodger Stadium just turned 30. Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego will host the All-Star Game next week.
This is a celebratory summer for California baseball, to be sure, but that is hardly the reason for our road trip, despite what I may have told my editors. No, for the real reason, I quote actor Tom Hanks, who once contentedly snatched and deflated a beach ball that violated his airspace during an Angel game at Anaheim Stadium, saying afterward, "I've always wanted to do that." Well, I've always wanted to do that, too, and here would be a week's worth of opportunities.
Oakland, San Francisco, Anaheim, San Diego, Los Angeles. That would be our itinerary. What should we expect? I asked Montreal Expo catcher Gary Carter, a Culver City, Calif., native and former Dodger and Giant who has played in each of the parks on our list. The Kid graciously offered this scouting report on California fans: Oakland—"Kind of laid-back." Anaheim—"Pretty laid-back." San Diego—"Somewhat laid-back."
I'll pick up the rest of Carter's candid observations later on, but for now, let's hit the road. Or shall I say, Let's get busy? That's the phrase with which Arsenio Hall begins most of his shows. Later I will meet a Dodger Stadium peanut vendor who has guested—it's a verb in California—on every major television talk show except The Arsenio Hall Show. "I'll wait until my book comes out before I see about his show," Roger (The Peanut Man) Owens will tell me while producing a business card from his wallet. "It is called Working for Peanuts—and Loving It!"
That same vendor also...I'm sorry. I've digressed. I inadvertently veered off on a mental exit ramp there, which is easy to do in California. We were about to begin the trip. But first a precaution: In case any of you become lost during this travelogue, we should arrange a place to meet later on in the story. How about the Rubio's fish-taco stand by the press gate at Jack Murphy Stadium? After all, it is there that I would overhear a man standing in line say to the group of kids he was chaperoning, "Let's all meet back here after the sixth-inning stretch, O.K.?"
O.K. by me.
Here, then, is my diary of the week. I'm calling it Seven Days That Shook the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina. See you after the sixth-inning stretch.
Sunday, June 28, Oakland