Sunday, April 5, 2015

By Ellen Bell, Columnist - 

People ask me all the time: why do I write about baseball?

I mean, I’m not a sports writer. I’m not a guy. In fact, I’ve never even played the game.

Why would someone with so little practical experience with a subject feel compelled to write about it?

The truth is, it’s the people. 

I love baseball because of the impact it has on those who watch the game. To me, baseball is more than stats and box scores. It’s memories and friendships and history and tradition. It’s the very real relationship that fans develop with a group of strangers who play ball on a grassy field. To me, baseball is a living, breathing experience and I feel privileged to share its stories.

In 2009, I was lucky enough to meet Sally Finnen and to share her story as part of my Afternoon Angel blog at OCRegister Sports. A mutual friend suggested I write about Sally because she was a die-hard, never-miss-a-game, Angels fan with more enthusiasm than most 82-year-old ladies. Soon after meeting her, I realized I had found a kindred spirit in this petite, spunky woman wearing a red, floppy hat. She was funny and smart and quite opinionated about “her Angels.” Our mutual obsession with baseball made us friends.

Last week, I learned of Sally’s passing earlier this month. You may never have met her, but I’m sure you will recognize someone you know in her story. We’ve all met Sally Finnens; the people we encounter and who become our friends because of this sport we love. She probably wouldn’t like me mentioning her 88 years, but I know she wouldn’t mind me sharing her story with all of you; a story and a friend I wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for baseball.

From OCRegister Sports, July 2, 2009

A few weeks ago, I watched the Angel game with Sally Finnen of Irvine. She and her husband Bill took time out on their 53rd anniversary to meet me at The Claim Jumper and take in a few innings of Halo baseball.

Sally is a die hard fan who has followed the team faithfully ever since they came to Anaheim. I met her at the Lake View Senior Center, where I volunteer and she takes aerobics classes.

Even though we are a few years apart in age (Sally has taken the word “old” out of her vocabulary, she prefers “mature”) we are kindred spirits. I knew it when she came into the restaurant wearing an Angels hat. A red, floppy hat

For the next few innings, we talked about baseball. She told me how she and Bill moved to Costa Mesa and were invited to their first Angels game in 1961 by their neighbor, whose brother was Los Angeles Angel catcher, Johnny James.

She said that she loves the Angels so much that she even went to a game once all by herself. She told me that even though she doesn't go to Angels Stadium much anymore, she never misses a game on TV.

“The bullpen drives me crazy,” she said, “Sometimes I have to get up and walk around so I don't get too upset.”

Over the years, Sally has met many players and has filled a display case with autographed souvenirs and Angels memorabilia. She goes to car dealerships, visits fan fairs, and even went to Howard's Appliance Store in hopes of meeting her favorite players.

According to Sally, Jeff Mathis was charming, Frankie Rodriguez was shy, and Mo Vaughn had the best penmanship. “But Chone Figgins is my favorite, “she told me as she looked up at the flat screen just in time to see Figgy scoring from third.

I asked Sally why she liked baseball so much, halfway hoping for an explanation for my own addiction to the sport. “I don't know,” she said, “I guess you just watch for awhile, and then you take to a team. They become your boys.”

I smiled at her answer, realizing that I know just what she means. Sally, Bill and I spent the next hour watching “our boys” beat the Rays. “Just think,” Sally said to me as she and Bill were getting ready to leave, “you could still be an Angel fan when you're as mature as I am!”

If only I could be so lucky.
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