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The Angels move to Anaheim Stadium

After spending a year at cozy Wrigley Field (seating capacity 20,500), and four seasons as tenants at Dodger Stadium, the Angels christened Anaheim Stadium April 9, 1966 with an exhibition game against the San Francisco Giants.

The Giants clobbered the Halos that day, outscoring them 9-3 before 40,474 in attendance. The Angels evened their record the following day, however, when Jim Fregosi homered in the 10th inning to beat the Giants, 6-5. Earlier in the game, Willie Mays hit the first home run ever in Anaheim Stadium.

Now that they had a home of their own, Gene Autry's crew would no longer be know as the Los Angeles Angels. The name was officially changed to the California Angels.

Autry himself wielded the first shovel at the Big A's groundbreaking ceremony Aug. 31, 1964. After the team's first season in 1961, the owner had signed a four-year lease, with an option for three additional years, to play at Walter O'Malley's spacious new stadium at Chavez Ravine. In doing so, Autry was forced to make a number of financial concessions -- but that wasn't the only problem. The Dodgers were established pennant contenders, while the Angels were an expansion team. The difference showed up in the attendance figures. By the time the Angels played their next-to-last game in Dodger Stadium - a 4-2 loss to Baltimore - only 945 showed up to watch.

All that changed with the completion of the Angels' $24 million stadium, built on 157 acres of land which previously grew alfalfa, oranges and corn. Season ticket sales for 1966 nearly doubled from the previous year, rising from 2,600 to more than 5,000.

The Angels played their first regular season game at the Big A on April 19, losing to the Chicago White Sox, 3-1, before 31,660 in attendance. The winning pitcher was Tommy John, who scattered three hits over seven innings. The Halos reached the scoreboard in the second inning when left fielder Rick Reichardt belted the first regular season home run to inaugurate the Big A.

"I threw the ball well, but I always pitched well against the Angels, even though my record may not have shown it," John reminisced later. "We didn't have a good hitting ball club when I was with the White Sox, but we had good pitching and so did the Angels. Every time we played them it was a low-scoring game.

"The White Sox and Angels always played close, low-scoring games. We came in knowing we could hold the other team to three or four runs. It was fun to come out here to play because it was so beautiful. Anaheim Stadium reminded me of Dodger Stadium, with its red dirt infield," he continued. "I thought it was much, much better when the stadium was not enclosed -- it kind of reminded me of Kansas City's park, which is smaller seat-wise, but has 90 percent of the seats between the foul poles."

With the season under way, fans turned out in droves. Attendance nearly tripled, Skyrocketing from 566,727 in 1965 to 1,400,321 in '66. Only five players from the original expansion draft in 1961 made the move to Anaheim -- Dean Chance, Fred Newman, Bob Rodgers, Jim Fregosi and Albie Pearson. Bill Rigney, the Angels' first manager, remained at the helm.

Said Rigney when asked years later about it, "the first chill I ever received in this game came when I walked into the Polo Grounds for the first time. I received another when I walked into this park."

The new California Angels were to develop stars of their own, as well as trade for promising young prospects and dependable veterans. Following those players who were part of the transition came such favorites as pitchers Minnie Rojas, Clyde Wright, George Brunet, Rudy May, Jim McGlottextLgin, Andy Messersmith, Frank Tanana, Dave Laroche and Mark Clear, among others; and hitting stars like Jay Johnstone, Sandy Alomar, Ken McMullen, Dave Chalk, Dave Collins and Carney Lansford.

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