I’m still holding out hope that Spring Training won’t be the only baseball we get this year. In the meantime, we look for other ways to stay engaged with baseball. This piece by Lynn Rigney Schott was first published in The New Yorker on March 26, 1984. The author’s father, Bill Rigney, had played Major League Baseball with the New York Giants from 1946 to 1953. He then went on to serve as the manager for the Giants, making him their last manager in New York as well as the team’s first manager when they moved to San Francisco. Rigney would also manage the Los Angeles/California Angels and the Minnesota Twins.
The last of the birds has returned —
the bluebird, shy and flashy.
The bees carry fat baskets of pollen
from the alders around the pond.
The wasps in the attic venture downstairs,
where they congregate on warm windowpanes.
Every few days it rains.
This is my thirty-fifth spring;
still I am a novice at my work,
confused and frightened and angry.
Unlike me, the buds do not hesitate,
the hills are confident they will be
in the glass of the river.
I oiled my glove yesterday.
Half the season is over.
When will I be ready?
On my desk sits a black-and-white postcard picture
of my father — skinny, determined,
in a New York Giants uniform —
ears protruding, eyes riveted.
Handsome, single-minded, he looks ready.
Thirty-five years of warmups.
Like glancing down at the scorecard
in your lap for half a second
and when you look up it’s done —
a long fly ball, moonlike,
into the night
over the fence,
way out of reach.
Free agent Nolan Ryan signed with the Texas Rangers on December 7, 1988, making him the first major leaguer to play for all four original expansion teams. (The Rangers organization had played their first 11 seasons as the Senators in Washington, D.C.) Ryan first broke into the big leagues with the Mets in 1966, then went to the Angels in a trade in 1972 before signing with the Astros, who were originally known as the Colt .45s.
I must have watched Angels in the Outfield about half a dozen times as a kid. Even so, rewatching it yesterday, I was astonished at the number of actors I recognized — and how young they were! — who I knew little or nothing about back then: Danny Glover, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Matthew McConaughey, Tony Danza, Christopher Lloyd, Adrien Brody, etc. (Not that I know a lot about any of these individuals now, but I am slightly more inclined to recognize them.)
The story revolves around Roger, an 11-year-old foster boy who has lost his mother, and whose father struggles to get his life together. One night, Roger prays for a family… and for a little help for the California Angels to start winning some baseball games. Much to his surprise, his prayer is answered in the form of real angels appearing on the baseball diamond, assisting the baseball team on its way to an unbelievable winning streak.
George Knox, the manager of the Angels, has up to this point been a short-tempered skeptic whose language is laced with profanity. After Roger implores him to clean up his language, we see a shift in Knox’s attitude and behavior. Roger, along with his foster brother J.P., starts attending every game, letting Knox know who to put in to take advantage of the angelic assistance. Before we know it, the Angels find themselves going from last place to first in their division.
Meanwhile, Roger’s father makes the decision to give up custody of his son, an event that understandably tears Roger apart. With Roger missing that day’s game due to the court appearance, the Angels lose, and a depressed J.P. accidentally lets slip to broadcaster Ranch Wilder that real angels have been helping the baseball team. Knox is forced to address the rumor in a press conference, at which his players unexpectedly stand behind him against the media.
The movie, like a lot of cheesy sports movies, closes with the championship game. The angels, however, are forbidden from providing any assistance in a championship situation, so the California Angels are left to fight for the pennant on their own. Needless to say, I suppose, that the team pulls it off. After all, what would a feel-good family sports movie be without a championship victory?
It’s an overly sappy film, admittedly, though my own affinity for it as a kid does leave me with a bit of nostalgic affection for it now. It’s obviously a kid’s movie, and if I hadn’t seen it back then, I’d probably be shaking my head at its cheesiness now. As things stand, however, I can’t help but enjoy it.
One of a handful of Latinos in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Rod Carew was inducted into the Hall in 1991. His number 29 was also retired by the California Angels in 1986, and by the Minnesota Twins in 1987. For the most part, his speech is pretty standard, and towards the end, he gives a nod to many of baseball’s greats, naming them off as he accepts his place among them.
On this day in 1973 in Kansas City, Angels pitcher Nolan Ryan threw his first no-hitter in a 3-0 victory over the Royals. It would be the first of seven no-hitters that Ryan would throw over the course of his career — a Major League record. His second no-no would come only two months later against the Tigers in Detroit.