It was 4:30 a.m. Monday at a campsite along the Colorado River when Darline Gorman, 49, began driving toward Anaheim. Her destination: the California Angels' first daytime home season opener, against the Seattle Mariners.
"I just had to be here" in Anaheim Stadium, said Gorman, who moved to Anaheim from San Francisco in 1961. "I was here for the first game 20 years ago. I can't recall the score, but I remember the Angels played the Giants (the Angels lost 9-3, but recovered the next day, 6-5). It was an exhibition game. I've been coming ever since." A friend leaned across the aisle and said, "Maybe this will be our year."
"What do you mean maybe ? This is the Angels' year!" Gorman replied.
Bands, Banners, Cannon
Shouts of "Yeah!" and "You bet it is!" and "Go Angels!" came from other fans nearby. Asked why opening day was special to her, Gorman said: "I like baseball. You don't need another reason. I just wanted to be here."
It was like that for many of the 37,489 fans who attended Monday's game. They couldn't quite put their finger on why opening day is an extraordinary event, other than their self-acknowledged obsession with the national pastime.
The Angels did it up big, with bands, banners and cannon blasts.
Entertainer Donny Osmond, grand marshal for opening day ceremonies, was chauffeured around the warning track until he reached home plate. A 7-year-old girl who was marching on the field with her classmates in green plaid skirts turned to her father and asked: "Donny who?"
As more than 500 band, flag and drill team members from Katella, Western, Savanna and Magnolia high schools performed to strains of "Give My Regards to Broadway," some marchers displayed banners with slogans such as "Miss Anaheim Beauties Bring Out the Beast in Our 1986 Angels!"
Meanwhile, Angel ballplayer Doug DeCinces strolled over to wheelchair-bound March of Dimes representative Ben Spangenberg, 4, of Laguna Beach. DeCinces pushed his baseball glove into Ben's little hands, but the boy pawed the glove nervously, as if he didn't know what to do. "Go ahead, put it on this hand," DeCinces said, showing him how. Ben looked up at DeCinces with the smallest of grins. Later, Ben threw out the first ball to Angels ballplayer Bobby Grich. Ben nodded vigorously in approval as his pitch reached the plate.
In the dugout, Angels Manager Gene Mauch said of home openers, "They're all special. Each one is."
Singer Johnny Mathis sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," fiddling with headphones from one measure to the next. Rows of balloons mounted on the railings behind home plate burst on cue when Mathis finished.
'Good for Business'
Asked if opening day made his task any harder, Mathis smiled: "No, not really. It's just that the headphones they gave me last year were a lot better. They kept the reverb out of my ears from the stadium loudspeakers. This time they didn't."
Back in the stands, James Kirpatrick, 16, of Anaheim trudged up and down the aisles selling souvenirs. "Opening days are good for business," he said, "but particularly day games are good. We sell a lot of hats because of the sun." Kirpatrick shifted his load. "This is very heavy," he said. "It's hard work."
Meanwhile, sitting a few rows behind the back stop, state Court of Appeal Justice Thomas F. Crosby joked that he was gathering evidence for the Angels versus Anaheim trial, which involves contract disputes between the city and the ball club. The trial is in Superior Court but Crosby may hear it on appeal.
Apparently there are no hard feelings between the litigants because Anaheim officials, including Mayor Don Roth, were much in evidence.
Students 'Took Day Off'
Among the fans who occupied front-row field boxes were Wendy Sterman, 20, an economics major at UC San Diego, and her sister Tammy, 16, a student at Tustin's Foothill High School. Both admitted they were "playing hooky."
"We took the day off," said Wendy. "It's opening day, our dad got tickets, so we decided to be here. My dad used to take us to Angels games a lot when we were kids." Asked how their father was able to get front-row seats, Wendy replied: "My father is an accountant. . . . He has friends and connections. . . ."
Mark Hennemuth, 7, of Santa Ana chomped on a hot dog during the pregame festivities. He said he had been released early from school to attend the game. When classmates asked him why he was leaving early, he replied, "It's none of your business," according to Mark. But he told The Times he would take game souvenirs to school today to share with his friends.
"He's already a longtime Angels fan," said Mark's mother, Jan Hennemuth. "He went to his first Angels came when he was 5 days old."
'The Home Team for Me'
Elsewhere in the front row, James and Garnet Scarborough, both 76, of Chino protected themselves against the sun with straw hats. They said they have been going to Angels games for 15 years. They moved from Ohio in 1972, where they were avid Cincinnati Reds fans.
"I just like baseball, and this is the home team for me," said James Scarborough, a retired coal miner. "I used to play semipro ball, and now I just love to watch from the stands."
And Rae Miller, 65, said she attended the first Angels games in the stadium 20 years ago but can't recall much about them.
"We were part of a group from Autonetics back then," she said. "Now I get to about two-thirds of the home games. . . . Today I'm taking a break from a bowling tournament."
For others, like Karen Burleson, wife of Angels shortstop Rick Burleson, the day was special because her husband was returning to the lineup after a serious injury. She had brought the couple's three children--Tyler, 8, Chad, 5, and Kyle, 3.
Burleson said, "Can you believe it? They're actually going to see their father play."
They also saw the Angels win, 7-6.