I watched the Angels/Dodgers spring training game Sunday on television.
It wasn't nearly as much fun as sitting in the stands at Tempe Diablo Stadium, the Angels' spring training home field in Tempe, Ariz., where I spent part of last week.
Cactus League games are not about winning. They are an opportunity for players to shape up and try to impress the coaches, for the coaches to evaluate them, and for fans to get up close and personal with their favorite players.
Kids toss balls and Sharpies to the players, who oblige with autographs and toss the balls back.
How fun for a kid to boast of catching a ball thrown by Jered Weaver?
Older fans aren't much more than about 20 rows from the field, either in seats or less expensive bleachers. And almost every foul ball ends up tossed into the stands.
Diablo Stadium seats 9,558, according to the official program. The 75-acre complex was built in 1968 for the Seattle Pilots and Milwaukee Braves and renovated in 2005. The Angels took it over in 1995 and have it leased to 2025.
There are six and a half practice fields, in addition to the main stadium, which sits atop a butte — a modest climb. The Angels have staff-driven golf-carts wheeling from the parking lot to the entrance for those with less-than-youthful legs or lungs.
For the stat-lovers (show me a baseball fan who isn't): An 8-foot fence protects the folks seated on the knoll behind left field. Those seats are a bargain at $10. Dead centerfield is 420 feet from home plate; the left and right power alleys are 400 feet away.
Not an Angels fan? Fifteen teams, including the Dodgers, play in or around Phoenix.
Of course, the big draw for the Angels is Albert Pujols. He gets up two or three times per game, before he heads for the clubhouse, signing autographs all the way.
Pujols' name is ubiquitous on souvenir plastic cups, seemingly every other banner that hangs from the lampposts lining the streets around Diablo, and on the cover and in featured stories in the program.
"The Machine" is so popular with the fans — even opposing-team supporters cheer him — I wouldn't be surprised to hear people jokingly call centerfielder Peter Bourjos, "Bourhos." The speedy centerfielder was already one of my favorites, but even more so since he publicly favored the Angels resigning Torii Hunter when his contract ends.
Hunter came into training camp trimmer than last year, but with that same great smile — second in the sports world only to Magic Johnson's.
Other invitees who played in the Angels' 3-1 victory over the Reds included Alberto Rosario, who would also play against Cleveland the next day when newly signed catcher Chris Iannetta caught a foul ball with his elbow and left the game in the second inning.
There wasn't as much "red" in the stands March 15 when the Angels played Cleveland, winning 7-0.
The game started off with a pop. Angel shortstop Erick Eybar, who is still in contract negotiations, whacked a home run on the first pitch. Pujols, batting third, also hit a home run in the first inning and a double in the fifth inning to raise his batting average to .455 — it has tailed off slightly since then.
Mark Trumbo, who was knocked off of first base by the acquisition of Pujols, is trying to hone the skills needed at third base.
Management wants him in the lineup for his bat. Earlier in the week, he had smashed a ball over the left field knoll, estimated to go 500 feet.
Garrett Richards, looking to become the fifth man in the regular season rotation, pitched four shutout innings, followed by a combination of Trevor Bell and LaTroy Hawkins, who are on the training camp roster, and three invitees, including Jason Isrinhausen, who was given a shot at making the squad.
Unfortunately, the Angels' No. 1 prospect, the highly touted Mike Trout, was sidelined by illness — he had lost 10 pounds, so we didn't see him — but we certainly will during the regular season.
Meantime, Kendrys Morales, who hadn't played a game since breaking his ankle in 2010, was playing in two minor league games, alternating between the Angels' Double A and Triple A teams. He got two hits in five at bats — feeling no pain and looking good.
So are the Angels.
'Why My Dad Is A Hero'
Mayor Jane Egly will present an award Thursday to the winner of the "Why My Dad Is My Hero" contest, sponsored by Miracles for Families.
The event celebrates fathers with stories of everyday heroics, written by their children.
"This is a great opportunity for kids to brag about their dads," said Maria Crockett, Miracles' executive director. "There are many things, large and small, that fathers do to strengthen the family unit, build a strong community, and contribute to a thriving society.
"We're excited to showcase everyday heroes who make this happen quietly, yet with a lasting positive impact."
The winning child and father will receive $100 at the award presentation and fundraiser from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on the third floor of Wells Fargo Bank, 260 Ocean Ave. The event will include a silent auction and musical entertainment.
Tickets are $50 per person or $75 per couple and include a light dinner, beverages and a $1,000 voucher ($500 in restaurant savings, $500 in grocery savings). Children are admitted free.'
Stories of 250 words or less must be submitted by Wednesday to Hope@MiraclesForFamilies.org.
Funds raised will be used to support the sponsor's Healthy Relationship Education programs. Tickets may be ordered via Hope@MiraclesForFamilies.org or by calling (949) 813-3584.
The nonprofit organization provides free programs for adults, teens and children to improve their communication skills in Spanish and English.
OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (949) 302-1469 or email email@example.com with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.