Jump to content
  • Welcome to AngelsWin.com

    AngelsWin.com - THE Internet Home for Angels fans! Unraveling Angels Baseball ... One Thread at a Time.

    Register today to join the most interactive online Angels community on the net!

    Once you're a member you'll see less advertisements. Become a Premium member and you won't see any ads! 


OC Register: Hall of Famers Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman show baseball’s place in Orange County’s heart

Recommended Posts

In 1961, a kid on Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach could pedal his bike or beg his mom to drive him or hitchhike or take the bus north on Beach Boulevard and there was only one stoplight for about 12 miles until he hit Home Run Park.

He’d be carrying a wooden baseball bat and a pocket full of quarters so he could feed the robotic, metal-armed pitching machines, so he could hit ’til his hands bled, so he could get those good callouses, so he could dream about being a big league ballplayer.

That batting cage, which attracted dreamers from all over Southern California, is part of the root system that blossomed into Orange County becoming a fertile garden of baseball prospects (six first-round picks in the past two years). When you have an average high temperature in Anaheim in January at 71 degrees, and you have flat, open space to create more ball fields, baseball can flourish.

There were other huge factors – the Angels moving to Anaheim in 1966, and Cal State Fullerton becoming a college baseball powerhouse in the mid-’70s – that made Orange County into baseball paradise.

Home Run Park was there first.

“Baseball is ingrained in an Orange County kid’s DNA,” said Mike Paino, 36, who is now the owner/operator of Home Run Park after the business was handed down by his grandfather, then his father.

  • OCR-L-OCBASE-0729_06.jpg

    Erika Schubert waits for a pitch in the batting cages at Home Run Park in Anaheim, CA, on Tuesday, July 24, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • OCR-L-OCBASE-0729_01.jpg

    Mike Paino, third-generation owner of Home Run Park in Anaheim, CA, on Tuesday, July 24, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Sound
    The gallery will resume inseconds
  • Baseball-Hall-of-Fame_26463001_5579053.j

    FILE – In this Jan. 25, 2018, file photo, Baseball Hall of Fame inductees, from left, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones and Jim Thome, pose during a news conference in New York. Induction ceremonies will be Sunday, July 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

  • postangels0407_04-07-2007_o_uq63563_3.jp

    Los Angeles Angels’ Vladimir Guerrero points to the sky after hitting a three-run home run during the seventh inning of the Angels’ baseball game against the Oakland Athletics on Friday, April 6, 2007, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • 0827_SPO_LDN-L-ANGELS.05B_24390927_55133

    Vladimir Guerrero was inducted into the Angels Hall of Fame Saturday. The Angels were playing the Houston Astros in Anaheim, CA on Saturday, August 26, 2017. (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • angels.p1003.kjs2_25260209_458251.jpg

    The Angels’ Vladimir Guerrero is doused with champagne by teammates after the Angels defeated the Oakland Athletics 5-4 to clinch the American League West Championship Saturday October 2, 2004 at Network Associates Coliseum in Oakland. Vladimir Guerrero was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame today. (Photo by Kevin SullivanOrange County Register/SCNG)

  • 0728_SPO_LDN-L-WHICKER1.jpg

    Former Padres great and Savanna High grad Trevor Hoffman is being inducted Sunday as only the sixth closer in the Baseball Hall of Fame. (Elsa/Getty Images)

  • gettyimages-75976071.jpg

    SAN DIEGO – AUGUST 5: Closer Trevor Hoffman #51 of the San Diego Padres pitches during his team’s game against the San Francisco Giants at Petco Park August 5, 2007 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

  • rpe-l-storm-0413-tlpi_.jpg

    San Diego Padres relief pitcher and Major League Hall a Fame player Trevor Hoffman thanks fans during player introductions before the 25th season home opener for the Lake Elsinore Storm at the Diamond Thursday in Lake Elsinore, Calif. April 12, 2018. (TERRY PIERSON,THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE/SCNG)

  • OCR-L-OCBASE-0729_02.jpg

    Mike Paino, third-generation owner of Home Run Park in Anaheim, CA, on Tuesday, July 24, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • OCR-L-OCBASE-0729_03.jpg

    Mike Paino, third-generation owner of Home Run Park in Anaheim, CA, on Tuesday, July 24, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • OCR-L-OCBASE-0729_04.jpg

    Throwing machines deliver pitches at Home Run Park in Anaheim, CA, on Tuesday, July 24, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • OCR-L-OCBASE-0729_05.jpg

    Alex Avalos keeps an eye on his daughter, Deynbre (cq) Avalos, as she takes in batting practice at Home Run Park in Anaheim, CA, on Tuesday, July 24, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • OCR-L-OCBASE-0729_07.jpg

    Mike Paino, third-generation owner of Home Run Park in Anaheim, CA, on Tuesday, July 24, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)



Fifty years after Home Run Park opened, an aging ballplayer trying to hang on in the game drove on Beach Boulevard to take his hacks. It was 2011, and the employees would gather to watch him pound laser-like line drives into the netting. The circumference of his swing was so big, he would sometimes hit the cage’s chain link fence with his bat on his follow-through.

That ballplayer’s name was Vladimir Guerrero. He was 36 years old and, in 2011, he got one last season with the Baltimore Orioles.

On Sunday, Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman will join Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, Chipper Jones and Jim Thome as the 2018 inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. It is not a coincidence that Guerrero, the first player who will be inducted wearing an Angels hat, and Hoffman, who attended Savanna High in Anaheim and Cypress College, have Orange County connections.

Hoffman is the fifth Orange County high school star to be enshrined in Cooperstown, joining Walter Johnson and Arky Vaughan, who both attended Fullerton High, Gary Carter (Sunny Hills) and Bert Blyleven (Santiago).

What is it about this place? What is it about this culture?

If you’re in a baseball family in Orange County, your life – year-round – is snack bars, raking fields, early morning drives to tournaments, pitching lessons, sleepovers and pizza parties. You spend hours in canvas folding chairs. You spit sunflower seeds. You eat lunch out of a cooler.

And you love every minute of it.

“We think we’re cuckoo,” said Kourtney Rutter, mother of three boys who played Little League in Rancho Santa Margarita, including Drew Rutter, one of the stars of last year’s team that participated in the Little League World Series. “We try to keep our lives realistic. But we love it. We love to watch our kids play. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Is it a coincidence that the lead actor in “Field of Dreams” was a Villa Park High kid who took a baseball class from legendary coach Augie Garrido at Cal State Fullerton? Kevin Costner starred in three of the greatest baseball movies of all time (“Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham” and “For Love of the Game”), and, even though he never played in a Titan uniform, he is part of Orange County’s baseball story.

Cal State Fullerton began playing Division I baseball in 1975, and the Titans have won four NCAA championships (1979, 1984, 1995 and 2004). If baseball on the field wasn’t enough, baseball fans briefly could take a class at CSUF called “The Lore of Baseball.”

Is it a coincidence that the guy who wrote the song that is played during every seventh inning stretch lived in Orange County for 20 years and is buried just a couple Mike Trout home runs away from Angel Stadium? Jack Norworth wrote “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” He lived in Laguna Beach and died in 1959.

In 1924, the baseball world had tilted west when Babe Ruth came to Orange County for an exhibition game against Walter Johnson near the oilfields of Brea (Population: 2,000 at the time).

In 2002, a perennial also-ran, the Anaheim Angels, won the World Series. In that unforgettable seven games, the Angels beat the San Francisco Giants and two of the all-time Orange County athletes, J.T. Snow and Robb Nen, who were previously teammates at Los Alamitos High.

In 2011, lightning struck again in Orange County with the arrival of Trout, the best player of his generation and, arguably, one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived. Trout’s presence didn’t hurt in December of 2017 when Shohei Ohtani, arguably the best international player on the planet, chose the Angels over 29 other teams.

If you are born in Orange County, baseball is not literally in your blood. The water is not spiked with magic juice. The little league fields from Los Alamitos to Garden Grove to Irvine to San Clemente aren’t sprinkled with fairy dust.

But sometimes it feels that way.

Wide open spaces

Home Run Park was built by Al Paino Sr., a Ted Williams fan from Boston. Al Sr. came from a family that owned small amusement parks in New England. He built Home Run Park a little differently, without miniature golf, without an arcade, without anything else to do but hit. He built it in 1961, the same year the Angels played their first season in the major leagues. But they were still in Los Angeles.

“So many people say they grew up at Home Run Park,” Mike Paino said. “I think kids are better players at a younger age today. The twinkle in a kid’s eye – that is always the same.”

Former big leaguers Lenny Dykstra and Mike Sweeney once worked there, gathering up balls and loading machines. Clyde Wright, who pitched a no-hitter for the Angels in 1970, was the pitching coach at Home Run Park for years after he retired from professional baseball. Al Sr. had a mound built so Wright could teach pitching.

Al Sr. died in 1993. His son, Al Jr. took over. On Oct. 28, 2001, Al Jr. was killed when his car hit a tree in a street racing accident in Tustin.

Mike Paino was 19 when his father died, and he immediately became the owner/operator of Home Run Park.

“We were trying to figure out what we were supposed to do,” said Mike, who has since branched out in e-commerce, selling bats at cheapbats.com. “We survived on our good reputation. We didn’t even know where they got these pitching machines.”

All Mike had was a love for baseball. And somehow he kept the business going.

The price was once a quarter for 10 swings. Today, those same swings cost a dollar.

The clientele has changed over the years. For four decades, entire teams would come to take practice swings before tournament games. Mike said he remembers his father hiring parking attendants because the lot was so crowded. Now, the hitters are mostly kids working with individual instructors.

Too often, these days, baseball is practiced indoors. Kids hit in small spaces, into nets.

The secret to Home Run Park’s success, Mike said, is that it is outdoors and, “You can watch the ball fly.”

The Right Stuff

Scott Pickler is going to Cooperstown this weekend to witness the ceremonies.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” said Pickler, who was Trevor Hoffman’s coach at Cypress College in the 1980s. “He is a special person.”

Pickler has been a baseball coach for four decades. He grew up in Orange County, and he knows the fertilizer that made baseball grow.

“You have the weather,” Pickler said. “You have Cal State Fullerton. You have the Angels and the Dodgers. There are so many good coaches. When I was a kid, we played pickle and over-the-line and wiffle ball in the driveway. We failed at the game, and we learned how not to fail.”

Pickler said parents make ballplayers.

“The right parents,” he said. The parents who teach teamwork and toughness. The parents whose expectations are not too high.

“The right parents,” Pickler said, “understand you have to go out and earn it.”

Hoffman had the right parents – they also raised another major leaguer, his brother Glenn – and the right attitude, Pickler said. Currently, Pickler is coaching for his 21st year in the Cape Cod league, where, a few years ago, he saw a player he knew would be in the big leagues.

He was a kid from Orange County.

“There were bigger and faster kids,” Pickler said from a bus following a game. “But David Fletcher is going to make it.”

Fletcher, who went to Cypress High, is a rookie for the Angels.

What you do

Jason Mercier grew up in Michigan. He was not a baseball fan.

Then he moved to Orange County. The baseball culture captivated him.

“I’ve never played baseball in my life,” said Mercier, who lives in Buena Park. “Baseball gives me time with my boys. It’s worth every sacrifice I make.”

Mercier is the author of the book “The Next Nolan Ryan: A Father’s Journey.” In it, he writes about being a baseball dad and trying to temper expectations.

“We all have the dream, but in reality only a few make it,” Mercier said. “If you don’t enjoy the moments, you’re lost.”

Mercier said his 12-year-old son Adrian has played in 85 baseball games since November. His team, the So Cal Warriors, played a team from New Jersey recently. That team had played 15 games.

“There’s a lot to be said for honing your craft all year,” Mercier said.

A baseball family in Orange County can find tournaments nearly every weekend of the year within an hour’s drive. In other places, families sometimes have to leave the state to find good competition.

“We have all-star competition every weekend,” Mercier said.

Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s the open space. Maybe it’s the affluence. Maybe it’s the number of terrific coaches. Maybe it’s the competitive spirit among the parents.

“I don’t know what it is in Orange County,” Kourtney Rutter said. “When your kids are young, you sign up for Little League. That’s what you do.”

View the full article

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...