For the first time in a long time, it seemed, it wasn't raining or threatening to this week. One couldn't help but launch into a thousand cliches about baseball and rejuvenation and Sunday afternoons.
Accordingly, Mission Viejo announced it has landed the Long Beach Riptide professional baseball franchise and will plop the team down on the Saddleback College campus for the upcoming season, and perhaps for years to come. A name change is in the offing, but that's no big deal because the team has been around for only two years and has had two names already. It was the Barracuda the first year before becoming the Riptide.
This is a master stroke for Mission Viejo. Where else can you watch a baseball game while getting a $5 haircut or massage in the aisle behind home plate? Where else would an umpire eject not only the manager of a team, but later in the same game the 16-year-old girl working in the press box who, after one particularly questionable call, played this taped remark over the loudspeaker: "I think we got hosed on that one."
For those familiar with Anaheim Stadium, let's just say things are a tad more informal at Riptide games. Not only will ushers not be watching your every move, you'll have a guy walking through the crowd offering a free pizza to the section yelling the loudest.
If you never attended a Barracuda/Riptide game, let me offer a preview. Two summers ago, Times staff writer Steve Emmons took in a Barracuda-Bend, Ore., game and filed this report for his friends:
Team 123 456 789 R H E
BEND BANDITS 000 000 020--2 4 0
BARRACUDA 000 000 001--1 9 4
"Fresh from a 22-11 loss on the road, the Cuda starts Rob Parkins and after seven innings, he still has a one-hit shutout going. No ball left the infield until after the 4th (I think). Unfortunately, the Bend starter, No. 7 (there were no programs; they'll be ready tomorrow, it was announced), was throwing nearly as well.
For most of the game, Cuda fielding was impressive but errors were the undoing of the Cuda once again. This time, it was a horrendous error by Parkins himself. Top of the 8th, bases loaded, one out, he blocks a hot grounder back to the mound, chases it down, then whirls toward home for the force-out. But mid-throw he realizes it's going to be too close a play and holds back his throw--almost. Trying to pull back his arm, he lets fly a looping wild pitch all the way to the backstop and two runs score instead of one.
NOW TO THE INTERESTING STUFF:
* Before the game they announced the Barracuda Sweetheart--or "Cuda Babe" as the center section would have it. It turned out to be my sister, whom I'd taken to the game on her birthday. She got a nice little corsage and a serenade by the buck-and-a-half-beer crowd on the way back to her seat.
* Those icy aluminum benches are still there. No stadium seats yet, despite promises by Cuda management. No new scoreboard, either. More importantly, no parking passes! They have screwed up their records somehow. In the meantime, it's pretty easy to talk your way past the barricade guard.
* Cuda outfielder Don "Bend From the Waist" Robinson, so named because he does NOT bend from the waist, at least not enough so that his glove can touch the ground, only has one error this season--because he's only been able to touch one ball.
* No one even came close to the porch in the Long Beach Press-Telegram "Porch the Paper" toss. Very bad showing.
* The biggest news: the introduction of the Cuda mascot, Barry Barracuda. This is some guy in a silver suit that makes him look like a foil-wrapped baked potato with teeth. He swaggered around during warmups, pretended to argue with the umpire and was eventually driven off the field in a golf cart made to look like a firetruck.
* The Cuda crowd is a tough one. When the Bend catcher blocked a pitch in the dirt with his cup, the crowd applauded when he finally was able to stand up. But for the next 20 or 30 pitches, the crowd issued agonized groans every time he went into his crouch.
* When Scott, our section's 13-year-old representative in the hot dog-eating contest, failed to win, he was booed on his way back to his seat.
* A guy three rows behind us continuously shouted "Jason!" at the top of his lungs for an entire half-inning. This happened in the 7th inning, proving that they have the beer cutoff timed just about right. He was too sozzled to realize that Jason, the Bend second baseman, is surnamed Bugg--much better heckling material.
* Mr. Balloon was back and once again blew up a balloon the size of a Volkswagen and climbed inside to dance. This man is an artist.
* The national anthem was sung by the Cuda catcher's great-uncle, a man so old that even with a cane he had to be helped up to the plate. Then he boomed like Jim Nabors singing through the Grateful Dead's sound system. Damned near blew the grandstand roof off. Very weird.
* Our section won the pizza again. My advice: Lose if you can."
That was Emmons' report.
I cannot promise that all games will be like that, but I do know this: I can't wait to find out.
Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at the Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.