Freeway Series becoming a commute

There was a time when the Freeway Series was an adventure to a strange land, a chance for Angels and Dodgers players to glimpse near-mythical creatures, players they had mostly read about before.

Mike Scioscia had a pretty good idea those 1980s Angels teams had star power. He had read about the exploits of Reggie Jackson, Brian Downing and Doug DeCinces, et al in the local newspapers. When his Dodgers came out of the Florida sun to play the Angels back in Southern California, there was a certain electricity to what would have otherwise been a ho-hum tune-up series for the regular season.

"You knew they were good, but you never saw them," Scioscia said. "We'd come into the Freeway Series looking to get into our season, playing under the lights, but you'd kept tabs on their players through the papers so you were kind of curious to see them."

Typically, the Angels had more to prove in those games than the Dodgers, whose primary rivalries were with the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants.

And what of today's Southern California baseball rivalry? Now that the Dodgers have bolted Vero Beach for Phoenix, the teams play several times a spring in Arizona, brush up against each other in the Southland before the season and then meet six times during interleague play. The novelty is long gone, and the roles have reversed. Instead of reacting to the tension on the field, the fans have essentially sustained -- if not created -- the rivalry.

The players feed off what's happening in the stands.

"The fans get really into it. You see a few brawls in both places," said veteran Angels reliever Scot Shields. "It's always special when you first come up and see the atmosphere at different stadiums, say New York or Boston, and then us against the Dodgers at their place. That's something special, too."

Dodgers reserve outfielder Garret Anderson has played in more of these games than anybody who will be on the field at Dodger Stadium this weekend. He grew up in the San Fernando Valley and would have as good a grasp on it as anybody.

"To me, it's not really a rivalry," Anderson said. "To me, it's just more of an interleague game between two teams that just happen to be close to each other. They're different cities, and there are different people in the two cities, different cultures. The only rivalry I remember us having was with Oakland, because it seemed like we were always battling each other for four or five years."

In the last several years, the games have taken on a bit more tension, in part because both teams have been built to contend. The quality of play has tended to go up as the Dodgers and Angels have become yearly playoff contenders. Last season, both teams fell one series short of a Freeway World Series. By the end of that series, the teams would have met nearly 20 times.

"I think it's awesome that we play the Dodgers," said veteran Angel Robb Quinlan. "Really, you've got to do what the fans want and the fans want to see that. It's fun that the fans get into it and it's always a great series playing them."