Freeway Series isn’t the diamond lane it used to be
Garret Anderson is heading home and he doesn’t know what to think.
When the Dodgers visit the Angels for the start of the Freeway Series on Friday night, Anderson will be returning to Angel Stadium for the first time since he parted ways with the club with which he spent the first 14 years of his major league career.
The Angels declined Anderson’s $12-million option after the 2008 season, starting a sequence of events that led him to the Atlanta Braves last year and the Dodgers this spring.
The slugger’s change of uniforms adds at least a little intrigue to a series that has lost some luster in recent years, first with the advent of interleague competition and now with the clubs having already met twice during Cactus League play in Arizona.
“Since we do see them in spring training, it’s not like it was before when this was the only time we saw them,” said Angels bench coach Ron Roenicke, who spent parts of three seasons as a Dodgers outfielder in the early 1980s.
Just as Anderson and the Angels will be reunited, a host of Angels coaches -- Roenicke, Manager Mike Scioscia, first base coach Alfredo Griffin and hitting coach Mickey Hatcher -- experience something of a reunion every time the series shifts to Dodger Stadium.
“My first years [with the Angels] it was big for me and Mike because a lot of great things happened to us in the Dodgers organization,” said Hatcher, who won a World Series title with the team in 1988. “It meant something.
“Now, most of the people we played for, worked for, except for Tommy Lasorda, it’s all new people over there. It’s probably a different feeling, but the memories will always be there for us, so it’s always good to have an opportunity to go in there.”
Anderson, 37, said he doesn’t know how he’ll react when enters his old ballpark.
“It’ll be weird,” he said. “It’ll just be different. Not bad ones, just mixed emotions about everything -- personally, where I’m at in my life and my career.”
Anderson, who is trying to make the Dodgers’ opening-day club as a non-roster player, declined to talk about how his tenure with the Angels came to an end. However, he said he is looking forward to playing in front of the fans who cheered him on for nearly a decade and a half.
“I’ve been booed there before, but I would say in this setting I probably won’t be booed,” he said, laughing.
Anderson got a preview of what could come when the Dodgers played at the Angels’ spring training ballpark in Tempe last month. He said he didn’t turn around to look at the crowd when he was introduced prior to his first at-bat, but that he was later told that some fans rose to their feet to applaud.
Although Anderson said that players become more adept at blocking out crowd noise and other distractions, he said that on that day he heard the crowd loud and clear.
“You can hear it,” he said. “It’s different from a normal cheer before a game or an at-bat.”
Regardless of his presence, Anderson said he would expect the crowd in Anaheim to be louder than usual tonight because the Dodgers are in town.
“When the Dodgers would come down to Anaheim, I likened it to when New York, Boston and Baltimore came through,” he said. “It would be that type of same environment.”
Before interleague play began in 1998, the Freeway Series was the only outlet for the teams’ rivalry.
“After spending 40 days in Vero Beach we were excited to get into a stadium environment, be under the lights, and it was a great prelude to the season,” said Scioscia, who was a longtime Dodgers catcher. “Plus, there was a novelty to it. We got to see a team that we wouldn’t be playing against and never saw in spring training.
“Some of that has worn off with interleague play, but it’s still a great opening act for the players to get that stadium feel, to get into a night game, which brings a lot more energy.”
Attendance remains robust for the series, with a crowd of about 40,000 expected for Friday’s opener. Average attendance for Freeway Series games at Angel Stadium has been 39,198, only slightly below the average of 42,565 when the teams have met there during interleague play.
“The fans are into it, even these exhibition games,” Angels reliever Scot Shields said. “It’s one of the best atmospheres here when the Dodgers come into town. It’s always exciting to play those guys.”
The continued popularity of the series may be attributable at least in part to the fact that it remains the first chance for most Southern Californians to see their favorite teams each year. It also hasn’t hurt that both teams have been successful during most of the last decade, with the Angels winning the World Series in 2002 and the Dodgers advancing to the National League Championship Series the last two years.
“The players may have changed, but the Dodger and Angel brands, they haven’t,” said Robert Alvarado, the Angels’ vice president of marketing and ticket sales. “They’re still popular.”
Fans can expect to see mostly everyday players in the lineups, a tradition that goes back to Lasorda’s early years managing the Dodgers.
“I used the regular lineup because I was getting ready for the season,” Lasorda said. “We wanted to beat them.”
Roenicke recalls. Painfully so.
“Oh, I remember, because I didn’t play in those games,” he said, smiling. “It was the starters. Always the starters. I may get in one or two innings late in the game and that was it.”
Times staff writers Mike DiGiovanna and Jim Peltz contributed to this report.
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