- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 19, 2002

ANAHEIM, Calif. One club hasn't won a World Series in 48 years, when it played its games 3,000 miles away on the East Coast and had a kid named Willie Mays roaming the outfield.

The other has waited 41 years just to make it here for the first time, a franchise perpetually overshadowed by its Southern California counterpart from the moment it was born.

Welcome to the 2002 World Series, where the familiar has given way to a matchup no one could have foreseen in April. The San Francisco Giants and Anaheim Angels? In the World Series?

"It's a dream come true," said Jarrod Washburn, Anaheim's starting pitcher tonight against San Francisco's Jason Schmidt. "You dream as a kid to play in the World Series, and I get to throw the first pitch of Game1 this year. I can't wait."

Washburn and his fellow Series novices 45 of the 50 players have never been here before may be relishing the chance to claim the national spotlight for the first time. But will anybody else be watching an all-wild card Series that boasts just one recognizable star: Barry Bonds?

"I think it's good that it's two teams that were wild cards," Angels shortstop David Eckstein said. "And I think it's good for Barry Bonds that he's finally on the national scene. To be at such a peak in his career and to be on the biggest stage in the world, I think that's awesome for baseball."

Ah, yes, the Bonds factor. In case you hadn't noticed, the Giants' superstar outfielder has made this postseason his personal showcase event. Not 15 minutes have gone by this month without someone asking an opposing pitcher or manager how he is going to approach the game's most dangerous hitter.

Bonds, making the first World Series appearance of his 17-year career, didn't even want to broach the subject yesterday. Upon entering the interview room at Edison International Field, he was immediately asked about the various strategies taken against him.

"Next question," Bonds said emphatically.

Bonds may not want to discuss the attention that surrounds him everywhere he goes, but there's no denying that in a World Series short on recognizable individuals, he is undeniably the focus of the next four to seven games.

"You know what? If he wants to take it, give him all the attention," Angels right fielder Tim Salmon said. "He's the superstar of our game right now. It doesn't get tired. I don't know if I could deal with any more media right now."

Both the Angels and Giants are learning on the fly how to deal with life under the spotlight, a product of the low expectations each had when the season began.

Anaheim was picked by most to finish third in the American League West behind Seattle and Oakland. Some went so far as to tab the club for last place behind the underachieving Rangers.

Even when they started winning, the Angels went virtually unnoticed outside of Orange County. The attention was all on their division rivals in Oakland, who won a league-record 20 straight games.

Inside the Anaheim clubhouse, however, players who had seen their postseason hopes fade away time and again in seasons past came to recognize their own greatness.

"There was obviously a point where I realized this was a club that was going to be different than the other clubs," said Salmon, a 10-year Angels veteran. "We came out in the second half in the midst of Oakland winning 20 in a row, and we were right on their heels. I don't want to say we weren't believers before then, but we really proved to ourselves that we were ready to make it to the postseason."

The Giants had somewhat loftier expectations entering the season, but as recently as Sept.8 they were stuck in third place in the National League West behind Arizona and Los Angeles. Since then, they've gone 24-8, securing the NL wild card and then beating the Braves and Cardinals to reach their first World Series since 1989.

Even more staggering, the Giants have never won a Series since moving to San Francisco in 1958. The franchise's last title came as the New York Giants in 1954, when Mays made "the Catch" off Vic Wertz in Game1 at the Polo Grounds to trigger a sweep of a Cleveland team that had won 111 games.

The Angels' presence makes this Series even more intriguing for fans throughout California, regardless of whether the rest of the nation is paying attention.

"I have the opportunity to be here, and I'm excited to be here," Bonds said. "It's something I worked for forever. And every Angels player over there worked for it, ever since we were in Little League. We're the two teams that now have that opportunity to have our time, our day."

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