Long before Bill Engvall had a platinum-selling comedy album and long before he had his own TV show and constant gigs around the country on the hugely successful Blue Collar Comedy Tour, he found himself in Southern California on a family trip to Disneyland.
As a Texas native and huge baseball fan, the young Engvall was enthralled one night when a taxi driver handed Engvall and his father two free tickets to that night's California Angels game.
The Angels might have lost that night, they might have spent 41 years without a championship, and they might have changed their name a few times since that idyllic summer evening, but Engvall has been hooked on the halo ever since.
"I've been an Angel fan my whole life, and it all started that night because the team was so bad that they were giving tickets away," says Engvall. "Things have changed quite a bit since then."
Engvall lives by the beach now but gets out to Angels games as much as he can with his wife, Gail, and his two children. The grand baseball moment of his family's recent memory came five Octobers ago, when the Angels upended the San Francisco Giants in a dramatic seven-game World Series to finally bring a trophy to Anaheim.
Engvall attended the memorable Game 2 of that Series, when Tim Salmon homered twice and the Angels outlasted the Giants, 11-10, despite a Barry Bonds homer off Troy Percival that might still be orbiting around the earth.
He also had tickets for Game 6, but he had a comedy gig at a casino that night and couldn't attend. That meant he wasn't around to see the team fall behind, 5-0, in the seventh inning while facing elimination, and he missed Scott Spiezio's homer that sparked the club to a 6-5 win.
"I didn't think there was going to be a Game 7," Engvall says. "I mean, who did? So I'm in between sets, on the phone with my wife while the game's going on, and we're screaming at each other back and forth."
Engvall says his work schedule didn't allow him to attend the victorious Game 7 -- his wife and son got the tickets -- but he's pretty happy about how these occasional sacrifices have allowed his career to reach another level.
"The Bill Engvall Show" is on TBS right now, he has written a book, he continues to pack concert halls alongside Larry the Cable Guy and Jeff Foxworthy, and his albums, starting with 1996's platinum Here's Your Sign, continue to fly off record-store shelves.
Engvall is humbled by all the success and his good fortune. He says one of the great moments of his life, in fact, came when his wife bought him a spot in the 2003 Angels Fantasy Camp, and he arrived at the team's Spring Training locker room in Tempe, Ariz.
"I got there and the first thing I saw when I entered the building was 'Angels: 2002 World Champions,'" Engvall recalls. "To see that written, it really sunk in. It was amazing."
Equally amazing was the camaraderie Engvall says he felt among the fantasy campers. After the four-day baseball vacation, many of the players stuck together, forming a team that still plays in leagues in Southern California.
Engvall, a left-handed first baseman with significant Little League and Babe Ruth experience, impressed the Angels alumni with his smooth swing and fielding prowess, not to mention his gut-busting speech at the camp's banquet dinner.
Since then, he's been invited to address the team during manager Mike Scioscia's morning meetings during Spring Training, and he's become friendly with hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, pitching coach Mike Butcher, former Angels pitcher Clyde Wright, and former Angels Minor-League pitching coach Keith Comstock.
One night, after shagging fly balls with the Angels' Single-A club, the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, Engvall stuck around the dugout and made a sweet offer.
"The Quakes were behind by one run, and I asked (the manager) if I could do something to get them going," Engvall says. "I got my wallet out and took out a $100 bill, and I said, 'Whoever goes yard gets it.'"
Much to Engvall's surprise, the smallest Quake on the field, shortstop and current Angels utility man Erick Aybar, pumped one out of the Epicenter and claimed the Benjamin.
"You should have seen the smile on his face," Engvall says. "It was like I gave him 10,000 bucks."
Engvall says one of his goals is to work out a charity proposal with Major League Baseball called "Bill's First Pitch" in which he'll go around the league and take batting practice at each stadium, donating a certain amount of money for each ball he hits out of the infield, with $10,000 for each home run.
"My dream would be to hit one of out of a Major League ballpark," Engvall says. "And I think I can do it."
In the meantime, he says he'll continue to follow his Angels in this year's playoffs and beyond.
"I think the thing about baseball to me is that it's still a family sport," Engvall says. "I've made my career as a family comic and doing the family sitcom thing. And with baseball, a father can take his son and his daughter to a game and it doesn't move so fast that you can't really explain it to your child.
"Football is so violent, but there's something very artful about baseball. It's pitcher vs. batter -- I'm gonna throw it, you're gonna try to hit it. And there's nothing like that perfect double play.
"I don't think there's anything prettier to watch than that."