It all started with an orange speedo…or rather the search for one, as in “Mike Napoli Orange Speedo.” No, I wasn’t the one looking for this, but I started getting search engine hits using this phrase and had to laugh. Initially, I assumed that the legends of Mike Napoli, man’s man, ladies’ man, man about town (gee, can you tell I’ve been watching Down with Love? 😉 ) were finding new inspiration in Texas. But eventually a hash tag clued me in to the fact that this was a Twitter thing. Apparently Naps has been ending most of tweets with #orangespeedo. Color me amused…and also clueless so, hey, if any Ranger fans in the know would like enlighten us, feel free. 🙂
Tracking down the story behind this goofy micro-trending topic got me thinking about Twitter in general and baseball players who tweet in particular. We’ve all heard the wonderful stories of the relaxed atmosphere fans enjoyed around the ballpark during baseball’s Golden Age, how baseball players and fans used to casually interact more regularly. My grandfather and his friends used to shag balls for the minor league Angels during batting practice. My father-in-law remembers being among the random kids who were invited down onto the field to play catch with one another and some of the ballplayers before Hollywood Stars games. Now those were minor league teams, at the time the only baseball we had in Los Angeles, but I have heard similar stories about major league teams on the lucky-to-have-them east coast. The father of a friend and a few of his buddies were occasional Brooklyn Dodgers bat boys, not because they were anyone special. Quite the opposite in fact: because they were neighborhood kids who hung around Ebbets all the time.
It’s not as if the average fan developed close, personal friendships with baseball players in the Golden Age but there was definitely a greater feeling of closeness than, say, I experienced in my youth. Fans got to learn a little bit about the players as people from their own small interactions with them, or from a friend or family member’s interactions with them. When I went to ballgames as a child and a teen, the players were certainly nice to the fans, with plenty of smiles for the kids especially. But I definitely envy the chattier atmosphere enjoyed by earlier generations.
I think Twitter and other social media brings a little bit of this closeness back to the player/fan relationship. As with the Golden Age, the average fan is not going to develop a close personal friendship with his or her favorite players over Twitter. But, depending on how they choose to tweet, we can learn a little bit more about them as people. A lot of it is every bit as unentertaining as our thoughts are to other people. But some of it is sweet, funny or interesting. Mike Napoli and Torii Hunter still talking a little trash over who is the reigning dominoes king of the Angels clubhouse – my money’s on Torii ;). Howie Kendrick has taken up photography and, like CJ Wilson, occasionally shares his work with the fans on Twitter. And so on. In a way, this is even more casual and relaxed than what our grandparents experienced…just not in person.
Sadly, just as insurance and safety concerns along with fans venturing to the ballpark in greater and greater numbers brought an end to the casual chats and games of catch of the Golden Age, easy Twitter access to ballplayers is bound to come to an end at some point. As more and more people get Twitter accounts and begin following their teams and others, instances of jokes or comments take out of context or just plain taken the wrong way will increase, the occasional truly inappropriate breach of clubhouse confidentiality will occur, or something else will happen (perhaps even an outright MLB rule requiring such 😦 ) that will lead to players keeping their public accounts very bland and public relations-ish indeed, or shutting them down altogether. So it’s best to enjoy it while it lasts. Just think, eventually our grandchildren will listen to our glory days stories and exclaim in a mixture of awe and disbelief “You mean they really used to tease each other and crack jokes and post their favorite workout mixes and stuff right there on the Internet for everyone to see?! Wow, you were so lucky!” …you know, after we re-explain such quaint technologies as the Internet and Twitter to them for the 14th time.
My husband and I spent this evening with his parents – we provided tech support services and then joined them for a nice dinner and the usual lively conversations that I have come to enjoy as a part of his family. Somehow we got on the subject of Angels games, which is odd because my in-laws are not really baseball people, a fact my father-in-law had just laughingly reminded me of when a nostalgic, childlike grin broke over his face. He’s not a big baseball guy now, but when he was a kid living in the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles in the 1940s apparently he and his friends used to go watch the Hollywood Stars play. Have you ever heard of the Hollywood Stars, he asked me. But of course. I love baseball history and the history of the Los Angeles minor league teams, the Hollywood Stars and their arch-rivals the Los Angeles Angels, is a lot of fun.
My father-in-law then told us how he and the local kids would go to see the Stars play, sometimes in the stands from the beginning, other times hanging out at the back fence, jostling one another for glimpses of the game though the chain link until the team would throw the gates wide open in the 7th inning and let everyone come in to watch. Apparently the latter was known as being part of the Knothole Club. I think we all get what I call my giddy little kid feeling when we talk about our baseball memories and my father-in-law was no exception. He beamed as he told us about getting to hang out on the field and chat with the Stars while they warmed up before games. It was a completely different era, a minor league environment in a city that had never known a major league baseball team and it sounds the Stars were pretty laid back. You could be on the field before games as long as you stayed outside the foul lines and didn’t make a nuisance of yourself with the players until the umpires took the field. Once the umpires made an appearance, it was find your seats kids, it’s almost time for first pitch. It had been so long that my father-in-law didn’t really remember specific players’ names but it was clear the he remembered the feeling of being there and, although I only wish I had so many memories of being that close to the game, I can totally relate.
Oddly enough, this took me right back to my own childhood and my grandfather’s parallel stories with the rival team. In the 1920’s (or early 1930’s, my own memory gets a little fuzzy here) he and his friends hung around the old Wrigley Field watching the minor league Los Angeles Angels. The Angels would let the local kids shag balls during their batting practices and, occasionally, give them tickets to come and watch a game. I also got the impression that my grandfather and his friends snuck into a fair number of games or that any security that may have been around looked the other way, not that he would have specifically told a granddaughter such things. Regardless, the Angels paid enough attention to their youthful fans that it made quite an impression on my grandfather and he became a life-long fan, first of the minor league Angels, then of the major league expansion which included a few players from the minor league team. I remember that during baseball season the radio next to his armchair was always tuned to the Angels games. While my grandfather was alive, I was primarily a Dodgers fan along with the rest of the immediate family. But watching his passion and hearing his stories, gave me an affection for the Angels, my immediate family’s “American League Team,” that I believe helped plant the seeds for my eventual conversion as an adult.
I love history. I love hearing people’s stories. And I love baseball. I treasured my grandfather’s stories and the hand me down connection they gave me to our part of California’s early baseball history. It made me smile to discover that my husband has that connection as well.
A little Pacific Coast League history, for those who are interested, that provides background for the stories above as well as the amusing, rivaled, often intertwined and occasionally downright incestuous relationship between the Dodgers and the Angels:
The Hollywood Stars my father-in-law grew up watching were actually the second incarnation of this minor league baseball team. Several Hollywood actors owned stock in the team including one Mr. Gene Autry. The Stars had a few major league affiliations, including at one point the Brooklyn Dodgers. Their rivalry with the Minor League Los Angeles Angels came about largely because, in their first incarnation, the Stars had been tenants of the Angels and alternated playing time with them as the “B” team at California’s Wrigley Field. This is truly humorous when you consider that from 1962 until 1966, the newly created major league Los Angeles Angels had much the same relationship with the Los Angeles Dodgers and were considered the “B” team at the new Dodger Stadium. It was the Dodgers move to Los Angeles that brought about the immediate demise of the Hollywood Stars and the minor league Los Angeles Angels (whom O’Malley now also owned) move and transformation into the Spokane Indians the following year.
That famous interlocked L and A? It was originally the minor league Angels logo. When Gene Autry founded the major league Los Angeles Angels expansion team, he had to buy the rights to the Los Angeles Angels name from Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley. Stories like this are part of why I love baseball history! Seriously, how could you not love stuff like this?