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Confessions Of A
Tormented Baseball Fanatic

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The Big A. Image by Nandaro.(Left) Angel Stadium.(Center) Mike Trout. Image by Keith Allison.(Right) All images are in the public domain or used under the terms of a Creative Commons license.
After Decades Of Suffering Through The Ups And Downs Of Being A Fan, A Baseball Junkee Comes Clean About His Addiction And How Changing His Loyalties Just May Save His Immortal Soul

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By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

May 24, 2016 — Sports fandom is a strange thing. It can make an adult person pay $75 just to wear a shirt with someone else’s name on it. It can drive lifelong (likely drunk) friends to fisticuffs. It can convince a person that paying $35 for shitty chicken tenders and a Bud Light is a good deal because at least you can watch your favorite team play while eating it.

Sports fandom turns every man into a deluded expert. Despite the fact that you stopped playing ball in your sophomore year of high school, your undying dedication to your favorite team can convince you that you know better than professional managers, coaches, general managers and umpires the moment the winds of fate stop blowing your team’s way.

Don’t take this as criticism. I am just venting.

Because I am you.

I am a sports fan, but now I have had enough. After 20 years of fandom, I am ready to take a trial separation from my favorite team — the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California or whatever the hell they call themselves these days — because the team I see before me is not the team I fell in love with.

Usually, sports fandom is like Stockholm Syndrome. No matter how badly your team treats, you just love it all the more. Lose 100 games? More please. Raise ticket prices? May I have another? Pay aging superstars hundreds of millions of dollars to ride the bench or hit .190? Sign me up.

Sports fandom — or, more accurately, fanaticism — is a strange thing by definition. The contemporary term is derived from the Latin fanaticus, which means “insanely but divinely inspired".

It could also mean “he who abandons all logic and/or common sense in service of meaningless bullshit.” While that definition may not be etymologically correct, it accurately describes my experience with fandom. The Angels, outside of indirectly launching Joseph Gordon Levitt’s career, never did anything for me. They just lost and lost and lost while I bought limited edition baseball cards and new hats when the franchise changed its logo every four years (thanks Disney).

Once the bonds of fandom are solidified, you will abandon all reason in support of your team despite receiving nothing tangible in return. Before you know it, two decades have passed and all you have to show for it is a collection of limited edition baseball cards worth a total of $4 and a bunch of jerseys marked with names like Erstad and Spiezio on them.

But the glean is finally fading for me. Maybe it was one too many 10-year, $250-million contracts or maybe I am just tired of watching the baseball equivalent of Kim Kardashian’s vocabulary platoon in left field. All I know is, it’s time for the Angels and I to take a break.

But that doesn’t mean I am taking a break from baseball. No sir, I am still an avid fan of the game. It’s just that I would rather watch a young and exciting team like the Cubs attempt to win the franchise’s first World Series in the modern era or root for a quality franchise like San Francisco that knows how to field a competitive team (odd) year in and (odd) year out.

I know that makes me sound like a bandwagoner, but I don’t think that’s me. I’ve been a fan of many bad Angels teams in the past. It’s just this year’s team is somehow different. It’s filled with players being paid like superstars who play like, well, I did in high school.

So, how did I get here? How did I become the jaded monster you see before you? Let’s start from the beginning.

The Early Years
When I was five or six years old, my Dad went to a ballgame and brought me home a replica Angels batting helmet just by chance. He had wanted to buy me Yankees gear (his favorite team) but the team shop had nearly sold out of that infinitely popular merchandise. So, he bought my older brother the last piece of Yankees swag and, thinking nothing of it, purchased me the helmet representing the team most famous for being in Disney movie.

The Angels also happened to be one of the worst franchises in baseball, having never won a World Series since the franchise’s inception in 1960. Dad figured I could never latch on to a team that bad and would revert to Yankees fandom the next time the team shop restocked supplies.

He was wrong. That single random purchase forged an unbreakable bond between me and Los Angeles’ shittiest baseball team.

A bond called fandom.

For the first decade or so of my fandom, the Angels were awful. For the first 12 years of my life, the team never made the playoffs once. Yet, year after year, I sat glued to the TV on the three occasions every season that the team was actually broadcast on national television. I spent the rest of the baseball season scouring the sports page for box scores, so I could see how my favorite player, team captain Gary DiSarcina hit the night before (spoiler alert: he went 0-3 with a strikeout and a sacrifice bunt every single game).

The one upside of the Angels complete and utter ineptitude was cheap ticket prices. My family vacationed in the Los Angeles area most summers and we were always able to snag primo tickets to watch the Angels lose at Edison Field along with 15,000 other transient fans who couldn’t get their hands on Dodgers tickets.

By the time 2002 rolled around, I was just about ready to give up. I watched year after year as my brother and Dad celebrated Yankees championship after Yankees championship. I saw Wade Boggs ride the horse. I saw Mariano close out the Subway Series. I saw it all. With my teenage years nearly upon me and hormones raging, my body and my sports fandom were ready for a change.

And then, much like my high school ex-girlfriend, the Angels pulled me back in. In 2002, the previously shitty franchise managed to win 99 games and made it into the playoffs as a wildcard. The team then rode that momentum all the way to the World Series, where the team beat the San Francisco Giants in seven games to win its first championship in the team’s 42nd season.

And like that, I was hooked. I didn’t even care that steroids most definitely fueled that World Series win. There’s no way Scott Spiezio bats .327 in the playoffs that year without a shot in the butt every few days. (Sorry, Mr. Spezio, but it's my opinion and I’m sticking to it, true or not.)

The sheen from that World Series win held onto me for 14 years, but now I am done. The Angels have only been to the playoffs once in the past six years and I am not waiting around to give the team a chance to draw me back in.

So, how did I get here? I used to love shitty Angels teams year in and year out. Why can’t I love the losers that the team is fielding these days.

Fallen Angels
I think the answer is that I don’t mind the losing. I stuck with the Angels for a decade of futility for no other reason than I loved the team. I had that ethereal, mystical connection to the franchise that only fandom can bring. That helmet my dad gave me was the talisman that bound me to the haloed A.

How that team performed on the field was irrelevant because I had an emotional attachment to the franchise. It was the scrappy underdog, much like myself in adolescence (and now), who tried to compete with the big boys even though its budget and players were overmatched. I loved watching that team lose, because even in defeat it gave little guys like me the inspiration to fight on. It was like watching Major League without the happy ending.

That’s what made the 2002 World Series win all the more special. The team didn’t sell out and purchase a bunch of high profile players. Instead, it won with the same mix of journeyman players that I had grown to love. They just happened to catch lightning (and PEDs) in a bottle.

The team that takes the field now loses in a different way. It loses because of mismanagement and hubris. It loses because it has an owner in Arte Moreno that spends lots of money irresponsibly. It is a team that loses because it is handicapped by bad contracts given to the likes of Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and CJ Wilson.

Look at it this way. In 2002, the Angels had the 15th highest payroll in MLB at $61,721,667. The highest paid player was Tim Salmon, an Angels legend, who earned $9.65 million and hit .286 with 22 home runs and 88 RBI in the twilight of his career. That amounts to a WAR of 4.

In 2016, the Angels have the league’s 5th highest payroll at $172,632,489. Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and CJ Wilson (all free agent pickups under Moreno) are earning a combined $71.1 million in this year and are on pace to have less combined WAR than Salmon alone in 2002.

In fact, Pujols is the only one even playing for the Angels (and batting .228 as a DH). The Angels are literally paying Hamilton to sit on the Rangers DL and Wilson has yet to pitch this year as he deals with his own injuries.

The net result of that mismanagement is a team that consistently underperforms and is wasting the career of the best player in baseball in Mike Trout (the only $20 million player on the team earning his checks). If all of the team’s other follies weren’t bad enough, that last offense is enough to make me cut off the relationship for good. I wish the Angels would just trade Trout to a contender for a boatload of prospects and retool.

At this point, I am such a sad and broken fan that I would rather see my favorite team trade its best player away than watch Trout wallow away in the mess Moreno and company has created for the rest of his career. The entire franchise is in shambles and has the league’s worst farm system, so this mess is not going to get better any time soon.

And that’s why I am done. The Angels and I broken up for good this time...

Unless ... they happen to make it into the playoffs.
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