I started going to California Angels games when I was very young (3 years old). I know I saw Nolan Ryan pitch a few times for the Halos, but I do not remember it. I saw fan favorite Carney Lansford plays as well. All I remember is some old lady ringing a bell and chanting Carney, whereupon the crowd would respond Lansford.
However, the first California Angels player I truly remember following was Hercules in the Flesh, Brian Downing. He became my favorite. I think the reason for this actually came before I ever went to a game that he played in. I remember I started getting into baseball cards and I was trying to get all the Angel players. I had almost everyone except for Brian Downing. I decided to trade away a Bobby Grich card for a Brian Downing card with my best friend. I only had a single of Grich’s card, but for some reason I just really wanted to get a Downing card. The next day I bought two packs of cards and the first card I pulled out was a Bobby Grich card, so now I had the whole set of Angels. There was no Brian Downing card in either of those packs so I was very happy with myself that I made such a good trade.
From this story I remember going to my first Angel game with my grandfather in 1982 and Brian Downing hit a home run in his first at-bat and I yelled, thank you Brian. I have your baseball card! Sort of seems silly now, but I was only nine back then. As I watched Downing play more and more often my affinity for him kept growing. I loved the way he could hit for power, but he also would sacrifice his body on defense while playing left field.
I remember seeing him close up and I was in awe of how big he was and was truly amazed. I saw Downing hit many more home runs over the year and my affinity for him continued. I went to the stadium once with my grandfather and we got a tour of the stadium from I believe a young Tim Mead (he was an intern at the time). He asked me who my favorite player was and I said Brian Downing. He asked me why I liked him and I gave him the reasons I listed above.
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So Mead told me a story of one time seeing Downing struggling to carry his bags to the team bus to go on the road trip and Mead said it surprised him because of Downing’s muscular physique. So he asked him what do you in your bags that is so heavy. Downing’s response was priceless. “My weights, I take them on the road with me because most team’s don’t have a weight room.”
Downing’s dedication amazed me. I always wished I could have met him, but never got the chance. It is fitting that Downing’s nickname was “The Incredible Hulk”.
I remembered how crushed I was when he ended up leaving the Angels for Texas after the 1990 season. It was so weird to see him wearing a Rangers jersey. For me Brian Downing will always be one of my favorite Angels and he was my first Angel that I followed.