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Why don’t you build me up (Buttercup)


The last time I saw my dad smile was at an Angels game.

  1. For the family it had been a rough few years. I’d been in and out of rehab, dad lost his job, gramps wasn’t doing so hot. As with many in California, mortgages weren’t being paid and the banks were closing in on repossessing the one thing that should always be safe: home. People always think their children don’t know what’s happening the same way kids think mom doesn’t know you started smoking. Everyone knows. They always did.

After failing out of college for the second time I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to live with and help out my grandpa back down in OC, the same place my sister and I were born and raised. Angels games were always on the radio at papa’s house. The aggravating familiarity of Empire ads (1-800-588-Two Three Hundred, Empiiiiiire!), the horrible BEEPBEEPBEEPBOOPBOOPBOOP informing you traffic news was next. Gramps had lived there since Orange County meant what it said, moved from NYC to escape his demons and join the marines. The Angels were there. PCL, but they were there. Then the singing cowboy struck a deal and would you look at that, real deal professional baseball in Orange County!

All I had was the infinite love of my grandfather and the Angels to keep me going. I picked up a job at a gas station, got to joke with the landscaping crews terraforming the adjacent gated communities and lament Mike Scioscia’s brilliance in starting Jeff Mathis every game (excelllent pitch framer you know, Napoli can ride pine). I’d grown up with the Angels but in this desperate depression fandom took on a new dimension entirely: it was truly my lifeline.

Since I was living with gramps I was able to save some scratch. Come October, well would you look at that the boys are ready to go once again. We’d seen this story before: make the playoffs, lose to Boston, wait for April. But this year was different. We won. We fucking won. We actually beat Boston, and were going to play the Yankees for the ALCS.

I’d never seen playoff baseball in person. I’m sure that’s true for most. Tickets are beyond the reach of anyone save the excruciatingly shrewd or naturally rich. But I had some money. And I wanted to go.

I will spare everyone the history but to say my father and I had a complicated relationship would be the understatement of the century. I knew I wanted him to go with me. I didn’t want this for validation, I wanted this because the Angels were our common ground, our terra firma. So for his birthday, I let him know: find your way to Anaheim.

He arrives, dripping in Halo red. We hop the train and make our way to the stadium. This is a man who I had seen genuinely joyful approximately zero times in the then 23 years I’d been on this earth. He’s loose, almost smiling. We get to our seats, make friends with our neighbors, pound a few father son bonding beers. The game begins.

I know many of you watched and don’t need a recap, but this game had us biting our nails off through 11 innings. To be in the stadium genuinely felt like riding through an earthquake. You could feel the ancient concrete flex and bend as Angels fans jumped and screamed in unison. And in the 11th, magic happened. Jeff Mathis, King of the GIDP prior to Pujols, stepped up to bat. A swing, a CRACK. Out the ball goes straight to center, and somehow, right over the glove of the last Yankee in the outfield.

The Angels win. The Angels WIN. The series wasn’t over, because they had done the impossible and WON. I turned to my dad weeping and hugged him so tight I thought we’d both burst. I could feel his tears dripping hot on my neck. We were hoarse, couldn’t say a word. We didn’t need to. The Angels won.

Everyone knows what happened after. As for the family, well, Dad went down the Qanon rabbit hole and the same man who held me that night in 2009 hasn’t existed for years. But in Game 3 of the 2009 ALCS, I saw him smile. No matter what happens from here with this godforsaken curse of an owner and cynical cash grab of a team, there’s history here. There’s magic. And that’s what I’ll always hold dear.

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