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Archive for Sunday, October 20, 2002

Series is heaven for longtime fan

Long Beach retiree has been rooting for Angels since team’s inception

October 20, 2002

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— Frank Blair has followed the Anaheim Angels through three name changes, three stadiums, four children and 10 grandchildren.

His only relationship that has lasted longer is a 57-year marriage to his wife, Ruth, 77.

The 85-year-old retired dentist is the first Angels season-ticketholder. He watched in 1979, 1982 and 1986 as his beloved team failed to win a playoff series.

This year, however, the Angels beat the New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins to get to the World Series against Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants.

"This is the year; I can feel it," Blair said. "I think they can win in six games, maybe seven. But I don't know how they're going to pitch to Bonds, whether they'll walk him."

For 42 years, Blair and his family have had six front-row seats.

Getting the seats the first time was easy. In 1961, he simply called the Angels' ticket office. The phone was answered by Hank Greenberg, a one-time Detroit Tigers slugger who was helping owner Gene Autry promote the team.

"He said, 'You're the first one who asked,' and he gave them to me," Blair said.

The tickets cost $1,500 that year. Forty-one years later, those six seats cost $13,000.

The Los Angeles Angels played at the city's Wrigley Field while Dodger Stadium was being built. They moved into the new park in 1962 and shared it with the Dodgers for four years. The Angels then moved to Anaheim Stadium, where they changed their name to the California Angels. The team became the Anaheim Angels after it was bought by the Walt Disney Co., and the stadium now is called Edison Field.

Blair's Long Beach home, about 20 miles from the ballpark, is no Angel sanctuary, but there is some memorabilia a stack of programs, green ticket stubs and letters on California Angels stationery.

A World Series win would be a fitting tribute to Autry, Hollywood's "Singing Cowboy," whose music the couple has listened to since the 1930s.

"When I was little, we went to the Westerns every Saturday for a dime," Ruth Blair said. "He was my cowboy. He had faith in the team, like we do. It was sad for so many years to see them try and fail."

Autry sold his controlling interest in the club to Disney in 1996 and died two years later.

Blair says it's up to "young kids" such as Adam Kennedy, Tim Salmon, Troy Percival and Frankie Rodriguez to make a fitting tribute to Autry by winning the World Series championship.

Bobby Grich will always be Blair's favorite Angel. Grich grew up with Blair's daughter when they went to Wilson High School and as a teenager was a frequent visitor to the Blair home. Grich played for the Angels in the 1970s.

Nolan Ryan's no-hitter in 1975 is among Blair's favorite memories. It's right up there with 1979, when Hall of Famer Jim Fregosi Autry's all-time favorite player led the Angels to the American League playoffs for the first time.

Blair, who fought in the Pacific in World War II and still plays saxophone with a big band, recalls quieter, more comfortable times at the ballpark before ThunderStix, the plastic batons that fans now bang together, or the Rally Monkey.

He prefers the Dixieland bands of old to the blare of rock music that's now played between innings.

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