City Editor Michael Miller holds the baseball he had autographed in 1994 by Angels center fielder Chad Curtis -- and Curtis' wife, Candace. (photo courtesy Rachanee Srisavasdi)

City Editor Michael Miller holds the baseball he had autographed in 1994 by Angels center fielder Chad Curtis -- and Curtis' wife, Candace. (photo courtesy Rachanee Srisavasdi) (April 17, 2012)

As the Angels embark on a new season, I have a signed baseball in my collection at home that probably isn't worth much money.

But I don't care.

Suffice to say that it's probably the only baseball in existence signed by Chad Curtis, the Angels' left and center fielder from 1992 to 1994, and his wife.

Yes, his wife.

And anyone can see that, because, unlike the average ballplayer's, her handwriting is quite legible.

Right now, of course, it's hip to love the Angels. Just last weekend, former pitcher Jim Abbott, who famously overcame a disability to achieve major league stardom, visited Barnes & Noble in Huntington Beach for a book signing. When the Angels make the playoffs, the local sports bars turn into seas of red. That's what a world championship and a decade of contention will do for a team.

But that Chad-and-Candace Curtis ball, snug in its tight plastic box, evokes a time when following the Halos was a decidedly minor-league affair. Back then, the Angels and their fans felt more like a family, just because, frankly, there were so few of us at the ballpark.

When a new Angel season approaches now, pundits speculate on how far into the postseason they'll go. Two decades ago, the routine was much different — a smattering of interest for the first few weeks, then increasing apathy as the Angels sank below .500. By the All-Star break, many of the fans who bothered to attend took to cheering the visiting team.

It was in that environment that, one day in 1994, I learned that the Angels' wives were hosting a canned food drive outside of Anaheim Stadium. A few weeks back, I had scored Curtis' autograph on my ball, and I figured it was worth a shot to besiege his family members as well.

A note about Curtis: He was my favorite player then because, in the first game I ever saw, he was the only Angel to hit a home run. I thus reasoned that he was the best player on the team. A 12-year-old mind makes those kinds of leaps, although, in fairness, Curtis did lead the league in a few defensive categories and later hit a game-winning homer for the Yankees in the 1999 World Series.

In 1994, though, he was the struggling leadoff hitter for a struggling last-place team, playing to a meager crowd that struggled to stay optimistic. It didn't matter. I had his signature right below the red seam, and there was a space under it perfect for the Mrs.

A helpful stadium guard pointed me to the table where she collected cans with other Angel wives, and I approached with pen and ball at the ready.

"Hi, Candace," I said, dispensing with formalities. "I have Chad's autograph on this ball, and I was wondering if I could have yours too. Could you sign it for me?"

Probably astonished to meet a budding feminist outside of the ballpark, she repeated my question with amused disbelief. I gave an eager nod, and the other wives, peering over stacks of chili con carne and pumpkin pie mix, began egging her on. Eventually, she fanned herself and stammered that she'd never signed a ball before, but would do her best.

With a painstaking scrawl, she applied her first and last name to the white leather, then handed it back with a raise of her eyebrows, as if pleased that she'd met the challenge. I smiled thanks and went into the stadium to watch the game, which the Angels probably lost.

Granted, Candace Curtis' signature probably wouldn't fetch as much at a memorabilia show as Jered Weaver's or Albert Pujols'. But whatever it's worth, I'm never selling it.

Instead, I have it as a reminder of the days when to be an Angel fan was to be a nonconformist. It was a hard-won bliss, but I earned it. After all, I donated a can of food.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at michael.miller@latimes.com.