Angels' home opener a stark contrast to Dodgers' debacle

Friday was another messy day for baseball, and the Angels' home opener served as a reminder that normality will return.

No, the Angels didn't win. And Angels fans hope, losing will not become normal. But their 3-2 loss to Toronto was just baseball, not off-field baloney.

Juxtaposed against a tense Dodgers news conference up the road and the announcement that Manny Ramirez had retired from the game — apparently quitting Tampa Bay before being tossed out for yet another drug violation — the big flag was unfurled at the Big A, four jets flew over in formation and a sellout crowd of 43,853 dressed up mostly in red and came to have a grand old time.

It is the Angels' 50th anniversary season, and the memories of Dean Chance and Bo Belinsky and Rod Carew and Tim Salmon and Nolan Ryan and so many others deserve to be revisited. Eli Grba, 76, who threw the first pitch on Angels opening day in 1961, threw out the first pitch Friday night. Owner Arte Moreno was the catcher and made a nice scoop on Grba's low floater.

Discussion of the Angels still focuses on baseball. They began the night 3-3, got a strong showing from Ervin Santana, who looked unbeatable as he entered the sixth inning with a 2-0 lead, having thrown only 62 pitches, 42 strikes. But Adam Lind, who had flied out in his previous at-bat, hit a two-run double, and newly acquired Jayson Nix finished the deal with a homer in the eighth.

But it remains early and Angels fans seem to be as patient as all too many Dodgers fans seem to be rowdy.

In the Angels' ninth, with the stadium still packed, catcher Hank Conger kept hopes alive with a two-out single to center field. Speedy Chris Pettit ran for him and even speedier Peter Bourjos, the Angels' vacuum cleaner center fielder, came to the plate. From the noise level, you'd have thought a hit would have clinched a playoff spot.

Conger is 23, Pettit 26 and Bourjos 24. They are among the future, but the sea of red wanted the big moment now. Hope sprung. Bourjos struck out.

They'll play again Saturday. That's baseball. Or what it should be.

So far, early as it is, this has been the season of discontent for the game. Commissioner Bud Selig is certainly longing for the boys of summer to replace the thugs and drugs of spring.

Friday morning at Dodger Stadium, the topic wasn't baseball. The team wasn't even playing there, but scheduled down the road at San Diego. The topic was damage control. Four men — a mayor, police chief, council member and the team owner — stood in suits and tried their best to clean up the mess from Dodgers' opening day last week.

A man dressed in the jersey of the rival San Francisco Giants had been beaten in the parking lot afterward. He is in a hospital now, with brain damage. The Dodgers' initial reaction seemed to be that it was too bad that something like that happened on their glorious opening day. Owner Frank McCourt has hired handfuls of public relations experts and has seemingly learned nothing from any of them.

As the public outcry got louder, the backtracking began. The Dodgers return to Dodger Stadium Thursday and chances are decent that there will be more cops than fans. McCourt was emphatic. He told the fans, via the news conference, "I hear you." A cynical person might translate that to mean, "Please don't stop buying tickets."

The question now is whether enough Dodgers fans are left to even listen. Or care.

Poor McCourt. It is hard not to shake your head in wonder at how entangled in negative stuff one person can get. Ramirez was no longer with the Dodgers when his most recent screw-up became public, but his theatrics with them the last two years, from days of heroism to days of sulking, are certainly part of recent Dodgers lore. McCourt got him cheap and knew the baggage that would — and did — come along. No matter what, Manny was going to be Manny. He proved it again in Tampa Bay. The Angels have no part in this, other than geographical proximity. But baseball is baseball and when clouds gather over one team, it gets a little darker over the others too. Manager Mike Scioscia, a longtime Dodgers catcher, had the correct, and telling, reaction when asked about the Dodgers' incident.

"It's disturbing, for sure," he said. "It's terrible. Dodger Stadium is one of the great meccas of sports in our country. I don't ever remember anything like that happening when I was there, nor anything like that when we went up to Candlestick."

Moreno's response was also telling on the overall import such an incident has on the game.

"I really can't talk about that," he said, looking as if he really wanted to.

The evening ended with the usual Friday night fireworks at the Big A. Kids oohed and aahed.

They've played games for a week in the majors, and pretty soon, with any luck, we can start calling it a baseball season again.

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