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Our Laguna: In training for a great baseball season

This column has nothing to do with Laguna, so if you want read about your neighbors, friends or community activities, turn the page.

However, if the names Torii Hunter or Manny Ramirez ring a bell, read on.

I spent last weekend at the Cactus League in Arizona, where both the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Los Angeles Dodgers have spring training facilities — along with 13 other teams.

During the trip, I wore no jewelry and no makeup, but lots of sunblock, and it was one of the best times I have ever had — the fulfillment of a longtime dream. Corny, but true.

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My (step) sister-in-law and dear friend, Patsy Hadlich, and I saw the Dodgers play the Seattle Mariners on Saturday and the Angels get trounced, 15-5, on Sunday by the Cleveland Indians.

The Mariners’ Milton Bradley, who has a lot of anger issues, came in for a lot of boos at the plate. He has already been thrown out of two games this spring and Dodger fans were heard to say they were happy to be rid of him.

The good thing about the Angels game was we got a chance to see a ton of hopefuls. After Ervin Santana was pulled in the fourth inning, he was followed to the mound in quick succession by six pitchers, including Scott Kazmir, Fernando Rodney and Brian Stokes.

Kazmir is in the starting rotation, Rodney will be in the bullpen. Not sure about Stokes, but Trevor Reckling, Tommy Mendoza and Michael Kohn were among the 27 players invited to attend spring training with no guarantees.

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Erick Eybar, Kendry Morales, Howie Kendrick and Brandon Wood started in the infield. With Chone Figgins off to Seattle, Wood has his shot at third base. He is expected — needed — to provide the power he showed in the minors. His production in the Bigs was disappointing in 2009, but he wasn’t playing everyday and no one expects him to do the heavy lifting all by his lonely.

Also keep an eye out for prospects Hank Conger and Peter Bourjus.

Morales, a switch-hitter, is considered a candidate for MVP honors this year.

Godzilla has joined the team. Hideki Matsui’s primary role is designated hitter — he has a .370 lifetime on-base average — but he can spell the outfielders.

Barring injuries, the starting outfield in Sunday’s game will be on the field Opening Day at Angel Stadium: Juan Rivera, Bobby Abreu (pronounced Ah-Bray-you) and Hunter, all proven players.

Hunter, coming off his ninth consecutive Gold Glove season, made a diving catch in deep center Sunday that had the fans applauding.

We won’t talk about the ball that dropped between Rivera, Wood and Hunter or the six-run inning that wiped out the Angels’ 4-1 lead, with more, much more, to come.

Mike Napoli, who rotates with Jeff Mathis in the regular season, was the starting catcher.

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The Angels spring training season is played at Tempe Diablo Stadium, built in 1992, remodeled in 2006. It seats 9,558 and has parking for 1,350 vehicles.

We paid $23 each to sit along the third base line in Row Z — maybe 20 rows up from the field.

It reminded me of the old Seals Stadium in San Francisco, where the Giants played when they first moved to the West Coast.

I went to the first game of the first season, Giants against the Dodgers. Until Willie Mays captured my heart, the Dodgers were my favorite National League team — mainly because the left fielder was Gino Cimoli, with whom I had gone to high school and was married to the girl that I and half of the rest of the girls in our school wanted to be when we grew up.

My husband and I were sitting in the stands when some people noticed Gino and other Dodgers standing in center field as he circled his hand above his head. They couldn’t figure out what he was doing. I said he was probably trying to describe the wind patterns in San Francisco.

Before the two New York teams moved to the West Coast, we had a minor league circuit and the major leagues on radio; there was no TV. But actually it was a local station announcer reading ticker tapes from East Coast and Midwest, adding in crowd noises and the crack of bats.

I also remember the Giants watering down the base paths at Candlestick Park to a virtual swamp in an attempt to slow down the likes of Maury Wills. Lotsa luck.

We also hooted the first time the Dodgers showed up with batting gloves. We thought it was because they wimped out at the cold weather.

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But the Dodgers’ spring training complex, completed in 2009 at Camelback Ranch-Glendale in Arizona, is a far cry from Seal Stadium or even Tempe Diablo — it had to be to lure the Dodgers from Vero Beach, Fla.

The team shares the grounds with the Chicago White Sox. When one team is “at home,” the other plays an away game — maybe 15 minutes away. It has the largest seating capacity of any stadium in the Cactus League, 10,000-plus fixed seats, 3,000-plus on the grassy berm, suites, Legends deck and two party areas.

When we walked through the gates, all I could think was “No wonder California has no water.” But recycled water is used on all 12 practice fields, the sizable stadium diamond (straightaway centerfield is 410 feet to the wall, compared to the Angels 420), landscaped areas and the 5-acre lake. None of the grass looks real.

Our seats in Row 13 in about the same location we had for the Angels game were $26.

Vin Scully was calling Saturday’s game. When he was spotted by the crowd in his bright yellow shirt, he was given a standing ovation for which he doffed his cap.

Former Dodger ace Don Newcombe, the only pitcher to win Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and the Cy Young awards, threw the ceremonial first pitch.

The biggest excitement of the day was Ramirez at the plate, loudly cheered. He is faster than you think and trimmer than he looks in uniform.

More excitement came in the third inning when Dodger outfielder Andre Ethier belted a homer to make a 3-0 Dodgers.

Mariner Figgins also was roundly applauded by the record-breaking 15,000-plus crowd, which included a lot of red-shirted fans — probably unable to get tickets to the Angeles-Giants game, which was sold out about a week-and-a-half ahead. Figgins got one hit in his four at-bats.

The Dodgers won, 3-1, on five hits. Seattle had six hits.

So much more to tell, but no room. Darn.

Will Patsy and I go again? You bet. The 400-or-so-mile-trip in my Mustang was a breeze — until we hit Phoenix in Friday afternoon commute traffic. Even so, we made it in about seven hours — quicker coming home.

But next year, I would like to see a Giants game, too.

I was never an Oakland A’s fan when I lived up north, so I had no trouble rooting for the Angels. I have continued to root for the Giants, which kind of puts me in the middle of my Northern and South California families, but I couldn’t lose when the Giants played the Angels in the World Series.

And if you like baseball, you can’t lose going to spring training.


OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 380-4321 or e-mail coastlinepilot@latimes.com


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