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Fremont County's Daily Newspaper

News of Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming, from the Ranger's award winning journalists.

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Time to play ball

Apr 11, 2012 - By Carolyn B. Tyler

When Bruce Tippets mentioned the Los Angeles Angels in his baseball preview column in last Friday's Ranger, it caused me to dust off my autographed California Angels baseball, my own personal bit of baseball history.

The ball came my way 29 years ago when I wrote a column about the start of the 1983 baseball season, saying the Angels were my favorite team because I liked the owner, Gene Autry.

Autry had been my childhood cowboy favorite because, unlike his silver screen competitor, Roy Rogers, he always kissed his horse instead of the girl.

The late Jim Moore, then superintendent of the Riverton District 25 schools, stopped in the office the next day, as was his frequent wont en route on a walk from his house to the post office.

"Would you like to have an official California Angels baseball?" he asked.

"Sure," I answered with surprise and wonder.

"Who would you like to sign it?" Jim asked.

"Gene Autry," I answered, still confused by the conversation.

"He seldom signs autographs related to baseball," Jim told me, "he sticks to movie memorabilia."

By then I was sure Jim was pulling my leg so I rattled off a couple of the big names of the season, "Reggie Jackson... Rod Carew..."

"OK," Jim said, and left to finish his post office trip.

I didn't give the conversation a second thought.

Then, about six weeks later on another stop in the Ranger office Jim said, "Here's your ball" and handed me an official California Angeles ball with a dozen signatures on it.

On it was written "To Carolyn Tyler" and was signed by not only Gene Autry but also players Reggie Jackson, Juan Beniquez, Geoff Zahn, Bobby Clark, Bobby Grich, Tim Foli, Andy Hassler, Rod Carew, Billy Travers, Bruce Kison, and Rob Wilfong.

Then the story came out. Jim's cousin, Shay Torrent, was the "Angel Organist" who had made the music for the Chicago White Sox in the 1950s and 1960s, then moved West and joined the Angels franchise owned by Gene Autry. He had daily access to Anaheim Stadium from the broadcast booth, to the front offices, to the locker room. At Jim's request he got Autry and an array of the players to autograph a baseball for me.

I encased the ball in plastic and kept it in my front office window at the Ranger for several years, over which time the signatures faded some. But all are still readable, and nowadays it is protected from the daylight under an Angry Birds hat.

Except for the faded condition, I imagine the ball is worth quite a bit. I see Gene Autry-autographed baseballs going on-line for $300-$600. But I don't intent to part with it.

After that I exchanged several letters with Shay Torrent and even bought some of his Hammond organ records on vinyl.

When Gene Autry died in 1998 at age 91, I wrote another column about my baseball. Torrent passed it along to Autry's widow, Jacqueline. Some months later she was kind enough to telephone me and thank me for the tribute to her late husband, the cowboy star and baseball owner. She confirmed that he preferred to autograph movie stock over that of the sport of baseball.

So I do have a real keeper -- from Gene Autry to Reggie Jackson with 10 other Angels of the era.

The Angels, too, still carry the Autry mark, playing ball from 2000 Gene Autry Way in Anaheim, Calif.

And although my baseball carries the printed "California Angels" logo and Bruce referred to the "L.A. Angels" they are the same team. The team, initially called the Los Angeles Angels upon its 1961 debut, moved to suburban Anaheim in 1966, and was renamed the California Angels, then the Anaheim Angels from 1997 until 2005, when it became the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

And, as for the year of my baseball, the 1983 California Angels played 162 games during the regular season, won 70 games, lost 92 games, and finished in fifth position in the American League West. They played their home games at Anaheim Stadium where 2,555,016 fans witnessed their 1983 Angels finish the season with a .432 winning percentage.

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