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Big Daddy At The Big A

"Welcome to Orange County," the Southwest flight attendant blurted over the PA as the aircraft bounced onto the tarmac last Thursday.

The airport sits in the city of Santa Ana; we were looking forward to watching the Sox play in Anaheim. We had hotel reservations in Garden Grove, and before the two days had ended we think we may have been in Tustin, Irvine and maybe even Costa Mesa.

It's all Orange County, home of the Los Angeles - located in Los Angeles County - Angels of Anaheim. No wonder these guys are 10 games under .500. They're confused. They don't know who they are. Not Albert Pujols nor Josh Hamilton nor Mike Trout can make sense of this.

An expansion team in 1961, the Angels originally were the Los Angeles Angels. They played in Wrigley Field - no, not that one - the former home of the Pacific Coast League team of the same name for one season before sharing Dodger Stadium the next four years.

Then owner Gene Autry got his own place, and the Angels moved to Anaheim into what today is known as Angel Stadium. In 52 years of existence, the team has had four names: Los Angeles Angels (1961-64); California Angels (1965-96); Anaheim Angels (1997-2004); and presently the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The name game continues when it comes to the ballpark. Angel Stadium originally was Anaheim Stadium until 1998, when it morphed into Edison International Field of Anaheim. That lasted only until 2003 when the energy conglomerate pulled out. Today it's simply Angel Stadium or the Big A.

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The Big A.jpg

I like the place. It's the fourth-oldest major league park behind Fenway, Wrigley and Dodger Stadium. While a number of renovations have been undertaken over the years, it has the feel of an older park. The further back you climb in the grandstand, the darker it gets, and the concourses feel like a ballpark rather than a shopping mall. The iron railings cordoning off sections of seats are reminiscent of Comiskey Park, and entering the park is a breeze: go through the gate, up the ramp, and you're there.

The Sox blew into town - I mean, county - after coming to life in Minnesota with wins on Tuesday and Wednesday. The 9-4 win on Wednesday afternoon featured 14 hits including a couple of home runs off the bat of Adam Dunn, and our guys made only one error in the two games, that coming when the webbing of Dunn's glove broke. That's not an error; it's equipment malfunction.

Getting to the Big A early for Thursday's game, we saw quite a few Sox fans, all of whom were happy to be in Orange County, especially since they were able to find the ballpark amidst the urban sprawl.

Seeing a couple about our age enjoying a pre-game meal and sporting Sox garb, we asked whether they were from Chicago.

"No," said the gentleman, "we're here because we have someone on the team."

Yeah, sure, I'm thinking. Maybe a distant cousin or that cousin's brother-in-law.

"Who's that?" I asked.

"Robin Ventura," he replied.

Turns out that John and Darlene Ventura had driven down from their home in Santa Barbara County - we'll stick with this county thing - for the weekend series.

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In the next 15 or 20 minutes, we had pretty much summarized what the Sox need to do to improve. It's didn't come as much of a bulletin when John disclosed that he had the MLB package so that he sees all the Sox games. I opined that the hits started coming in Minnesota, to which he replied, "Yes, but they need to play defense."

Papa Ventura is a big fan of his son having the team take infield and outfield practice prior to the first game of each series. In addition, five hours prior to the team's 4-2 win in Minnesota last Tuesday, Robin called a 45-minute practice session to emphasize fundamentals such as positioning, hitting the cutoff man, and playing tight defense. His dad thought that was a dandy idea.

Although we were talking baseball with the parents of the White Sox manager, it seemed more of a Sox-fan-to-Sox-fan exchange. John Ventura sees the same things all of us see. Like all Sox fans, he wants the club to play better, win more games, move up in the standings. He just happens to be the manager's dad.

Of course, the Venturas and all the Sox fans at the Big A were treated to a couple of sweet wins in the first two games of the series. On Thursday, the Angels played a very Sox-like game by committing two errors (both by shortstop Erick Aybar) and walking three batters (all by reliever Michael Kohn) in a Sox three-run eighth to give the game away 5-4.

Even Mr. Everything, Mike Trout, set up the winning rally by making an ill-advised attempt to nail Alejandro De Aza at third base with no one out on a hit by Alexei Ramirez. Trout had no chance to get De Aza, the throw was wide, and Ramirez alertly took second on the play. This kind of play has been typical of miscues the Sox have made this season. It's no coincidence that the Sox and Angels lead the American League in errors.

On Friday, Chris Sale continued his mastery of the Angels by shutting them out in 7 2/3 innings of work. The Angels are happy not to have to face Sale again this season. In two games the talented lefty has blanked the Halos - yet one more name for this franchise - over 16 2/3 innings on a yield of only four hits while striking out 19.

Unfortunately, the weekend resulted in two losses for our athletes as they head back home to face the Red Sox in a three-game set starting tonight. Hector Santiago had a rare wild streak on Saturday after his teammates had staked him to a 4-0 lead. Santiago walked four in three-plus innings, and three relief pitchers added six more walks in the 12-9 defeat. Even though the Sox pounded out 17 hits, they fanned 15 times. It was an ugly game.

And on Sunday, Jake Peavy, who has had terrific command this season, couldn't find the plate. Two of the five batters he walked came around to score and the Sox never recovered in the 6-2 loss.

Nevertheless, it was a 4-3 road trip in which the team began to hit and played acceptable defense in spots. Gordon Beckham is rehabbing in Charlotte and is expected back this week. His presence alone should immensely help the Sox catch and throw the ball.

One thing is certain. When the White Sox touched down last night at O'Hare, no one said, "Welcome to Cook County." Our mayor might not be much of a baseball fan, but it's Rahm and not Toni Preckwinkle who welcomes visitors to Chicago.

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Roger Wallenstein is our man on the White Sox. He welcomes your comments.

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1. From John Ventura:

That was a very nice article, very well written. Enjoyed visiting with you and your wife and hope the rest of your trip was enjoyable.

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