2009 Postseason Throwdown: Angels' Original Owls Fly Again

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Courtesy of FutureAngels.com
Seven of the eight Statesville Owls of 1961 who came to Tempe pose for the camera.
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The not-yet-dead Texas Rangers are trying to prevent the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim from winning the American League West crown, something the Halos can achieve as early as tonight at the Big A with a win against their Lone Star state rival.

It makes one wonder who players from the old Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers of the American Association are rooting for. They were the Angels' Triple-A ballclub when Los Angeles made its major league debut in 1961, also being affiliated with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Judging from the Angels' caps worn by the chaps pictured above, there's no question where the loyalties lie among the Statesville Owls of 1961. Forty-eight years after the Angels' North Carolina farm club ended its inaugural season with a playoff loss to rival Lexington, players from the Owls reunited Friday at the franchise's Tempe, Arizona, minor league facilities.

A former Orange County resident brought them all together.
Stephen C. Smith, who moved earlier this year from Irvine to Cape Canaveral, Florida, is a lifelong Angels fan who for years has covered and blogged about the players winding their way through the minor leagues at FutureAngels.com.

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Courtesy of FutureAngels.com
'61 Statesville Owl Ed Thomas catches up in Tempe with Bobby Knoop, a three-time Gold Glove-winning second baseman for the Angels in the 1960s.

His research led him to Bill Moose, a Statesville historian, columnist and college teacher who pored through local newspaper archives and sent Smith seven pages of notes about the '61 Owls. That led Smith to two years of research of his own tracking down 12 surviving members of that team.

He arranged the reunion in Phoenix, partly because it's a major airline hub, partly because of the Angels minor league facilities are in Tempe and mostly because he received much assistance from a resident there, Roland Hemond, who was the Angels' first farm director before becoming the general manager of the White Sox and Orioles. He's now a special assistant to the president of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Friday morning, the Owls were introduced to young players receiving instruction. They later shared stories with the farm hands. That evening, they met with Hemond and shared an informal dinner at a local hotel.

On Saturday, most Owls had to leave for home, but a few remained behind to accept Hemond's offer to attend a Diamondbacks game at Chase Field. They were given a tour of the executive suites, then sat with Hemond in field level seats behind the visitors dugout.

"In the fourth inning," Smith writes on FutureAngels, "they were shown on the video board and introduced as the 1961 Statesville Owls--but got booed a little for wearing Angels caps!"

Smith, who was still cheering over the reunion getting pulled off at all, could not help but think to today's Angels' farm club.

"To give you an idea of the scale of this accomplishment, if Tom Kotchman's 2009 Pioneer League champion Orem Owlz were to hold a reunion 48 years later," Smith notes, "it would be in the year 2057."
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