Thundersticks and Rally Monkeys have brought playfulness to Angel Stadium in recent years, but two violent incidents at the ballpark in the still-young season have raised the question of whether the traditionally fan-friendly atmosphere at the stadium has eroded.
Orange County fans may have clucked their tongues over the years about raucous and sometimes criminal behavior of fans in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and other cities, but Anaheim has been anything but the peaceful baseball sanctuary of yesteryear.
In the opening week of the season, a 27-year-old man died after being struck in the head during a fight in the right-field stands and then falling and striking his head on a concrete step. Then, after Wednesday night's game against Colorado, an off-duty Anaheim police officer shot two men in the parking lot. He said they struck him in the head with beer bottles. The two men remain hospitalized, and the incident is under investigation.
In a ballpark that once had a no-alcohol section for families and won over youngsters with Disney promotions, fans have taken notice, erupting on message boards and on Twitter. Several threatened to stop going to games. "Not willing to risk family safety because of gangbangers & thugs in SF, LA Dodgers, and now Anaheim Angels," one fan wrote. Many took shots at the "Los Angeles" in the Angels name. "When did Angel Stadium turn into Dodger Stadium?" one person asked. "Guess it really HAS turned into an LA team," another wrote.
Some may be referring to an altercation after the Dodgers' home opener this year when a man was stabbed multiple times in the parking lot after getting into an argument with several men. He survived. In 2003, a West Covina man was fatally shot in the parking lot after a Dodgers game.
Angels spokesman Tim Mead said team policy prevents him from discussing security details but said the organization doesn't think it has lost its reputation as fan-friendly. The team sees the two events as random, but that doesn't mean it discounts them, Mead said. The national perception among people who follow baseball is that the team is well-run. Attendance that started spiking after the team's 2002 World Series victory remains high.
Mead said the team's security force and Anaheim police meet regularly. Security is beefed up for certain series, including those with the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox. The postgame security report that came in Wednesday night before the parking lot shooting showed a "minimal" number of incidents, Mead said.
In a society that is already violent, detecting trends among fans may be somewhat difficult. For many sports fans, the perception that violent incidents are on the rise often becomes reality, says Christian End, an assistant professor of psychology at Xavier University in Cincinnati.
"The close proximity of events that have happened at Anaheim Stadium suggests that, boy, this is a disturbing trend and that this has become a huge problem," said End, who has studied fan behavior. "But it could be something that is completely due to chance." A very small number of people are involved, he said.
Gilbert Gonzales, 50, has been taking his two sons and daughter to Angels games since they were little, and the family became season-ticket holders about five years ago. He said he loved the stadium's family-friendly vibe and often chatted with other Angels fans' families.
But the incidents this year have made him think twice about renewing his season tickets next year.
"Things happen in any ballpark, but Anaheim is not that type of ballpark," Gonzales said. "What happened at the beginning of the year, with that gentleman getting knocked off the stairs, that made me sick. It's like, what's going on? What's happening to our stadium? We were always so family-oriented."
Longtime Orange County Register sports columnist Steve Bisheff, now retired, has been going to Angels games for more than 40 years. "The stadium always had the reputation of being a safe place," he said.
"It's always been a place where families felt comfortable, and there hasn't been a lot of rowdiness or anything.
"That one last night startles you. It definitely jars you. But my point is I've been to Dodger Stadium, and it wouldn't jar me nearly as much if I'd read about it happening at Dodger Stadium."
Bekkie Aguilar, 57, of Buena Park, whose father took her to her first Angels game in 1964, said the parking lot shooting Wednesday night won't stop her or her 88-year-old dad from going to the games. "They are isolated incidents," she said. Aguilar said the ballpark remains a safe haven, to a point: "I try to avoid all Yankee games and Boston games if I can help it."