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Our Laguna: An up-close view of good-looking Angels team

March 21, 2012|By Barbara Diamond
  • Albert Pujols, new to the Angels this year, gets to know his team at the Angels Tempe Diablo Stadium complex during spring training in February.
Albert Pujols, new to the Angels this year, gets to know… (Mark Boster, Los…)

I watched the Angels/Dodgers spring training game Sunday on television.

It wasn't nearly as much fun as sitting in the stands at Tempe Diablo Stadium, the Angels' spring training home field in Tempe, Ariz., where I spent part of last week.

Cactus League games are not about winning. They are an opportunity for players to shape up and try to impress the coaches, for the coaches to evaluate them, and for fans to get up close and personal with their favorite players.

Kids toss balls and Sharpies to the players, who oblige with autographs and toss the balls back.

How fun for a kid to boast of catching a ball thrown by Jered Weaver?

Older fans aren't much more than about 20 rows from the field, either in seats or less expensive bleachers. And almost every foul ball ends up tossed into the stands.

Diablo Stadium seats 9,558, according to the official program. The 75-acre complex was built in 1968 for the Seattle Pilots and Milwaukee Braves and renovated in 2005. The Angels took it over in 1995 and have it leased to 2025.

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There are six and a half practice fields, in addition to the main stadium, which sits atop a butte — a modest climb. The Angels have staff-driven golf-carts wheeling from the parking lot to the entrance for those with less-than-youthful legs or lungs.

For the stat-lovers (show me a baseball fan who isn't): An 8-foot fence protects the folks seated on the knoll behind left field. Those seats are a bargain at $10. Dead centerfield is 420 feet from home plate; the left and right power alleys are 400 feet away.

Not an Angels fan? Fifteen teams, including the Dodgers, play in or around Phoenix.

Of course, the big draw for the Angels is Albert Pujols. He gets up two or three times per game, before he heads for the clubhouse, signing autographs all the way.

Pujols' name is ubiquitous on souvenir plastic cups, seemingly every other banner that hangs from the lampposts lining the streets around Diablo, and on the cover and in featured stories in the program.

"The Machine" is so popular with the fans — even opposing-team supporters cheer him — I wouldn't be surprised to hear people jokingly call centerfielder Peter Bourjos, "Bourhos." The speedy centerfielder was already one of my favorites, but even more so since he publicly favored the Angels resigning Torii Hunter when his contract ends.

Hunter came into training camp trimmer than last year, but with that same great smile — second in the sports world only to Magic Johnson's.

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