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Whole Lotta Shakin' in Rancho Cucamonga

SIX DAYS IN SINGLE A; Today: Rancho Cucamonga

August 14, 1993|MIKE HISERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — In the reams of press clippings generated by the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, at least two descriptive phrases have been worn out.

Rancho Cucamonga Rocks . . .

Or, Quakes Jolt . . .

So, in the interest of originality, let's try to forget those verbs. They can create the wrong impression, anyway.

They insinuate surprise.

And the impact of these Quakes shouldn't be a shock to anyone:

* Rancho Cucamonga's new $11 million stadium is equipped with a $300,000, state-of-the-art electronic scoreboard and a fountain in left field that shoots fireworks after every Quake home run and victory.

* Mr. and Miss Trash, a Ken and Barbie-like teen-age sanitation crew, keep the stadium's seats and aisles clean enough to eat from.

* Tremor the "Rallysaurus," No. 4.8 in your program, is the most entertaining sports mascot this side of the Phoenix Suns' Gorilla.

* There isn't a bad seat in the house. From a perch down one of the baselines, fans are still close enough to see the peach fuzz on the cheeks of the players.

* Tickets are cheap, ranging from $2.50 for a place in the bleachers to $5 for a location behind home plate.

* In Rancho Cucamonga, and many of the surrounding areas, there is nothing better, or more affordable, to do.

So the Quakes already have set a California League attendance record and are on pace to draw 325,000 fans. What's the upset?

Hank Stickney, the club's owner, surely is chuckling all the way to the bank. He knew he had a winner when a local radio station dropped the Dodgers to pick up Quake games.

Stickney uprooted the franchise from San Bernardino, where it led the California League in attendance five of six seasons, to move to this smoggy suburban sprawl.

Rancho Cucamonga is only 42 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, making a Quakes game more convenient than a Dodger game for residents of the eastern San Gabriel Valley and a shorter drive than Anaheim Stadium for potential fans from north Orange County.

A maze of tract homes has replaced acres of vineyards, but Stickney noticed one other thing: an absence of movie theaters, malls and other forms of entertainment.

A Quakes game is now the place to be seen in Rancho Cucamonga. The mayor, three of the four City Council members, and the city manager all have season tickets.

The mayor rents one of the stadium's 14 enclosed "sky boxes"--8-foot by 10-foot, air-conditioned cubicles each with smoked glass, padded chairs, a television, refrigerator, bar and hot plate. The rooms seat eight comfortably. The price, for 68 home games, is $7,000 per season. Catering and waitress service also are available.

The stadium, which has unofficially been dubbed "The Epicenter," has been expanded by an additional 500 bleacher seats. The venue regularly is bulging at near capacity, which is 5,100.

Many minor league franchises give tickets away to fill seats and spur concession sales. Rancho Cucamonga doesn't need to.

"Minor league baseball is a tremendous product," said John LeCompte, the Quakes' general manager. "We feel we would be sending very much of a mixed message if we say we have this great entertainment and we're giving it away for free."

LeCompte is talking from behind the desk in his spacious office on the hotel-like third floor of the stadium. The carpeting is plush, the decor stylish, his desk cluttered.

There is an elevator in the lobby. Next to it is an earthquake evacuation map. A nice touch.

Downstairs, near the turnstiles at the main entrance, is a statue of Jack Benny.

Before the Quakes hit town, Rancho Cucamonga was best known for its vineyards and a place in Benny's radio routine: . . . "Train leaving on track 5 for An-a-heim, A-zoo-sa and Coo-caa-mon-gaaa . . .

There are television monitors adjacent to the main concession stands.

The team itself has become a fairly inconsequential part of the package.

"When I was coming up, there was no place like this in A ball," said Quakes' pitcher Scott Garrelts, a former major leaguer who is attempting to rejuvenate his career. "The entertainment they provide for the fans here is amazing."

Garrelts is certainly not referring to the team itself, a San Diego Padres affiliate that is last in the Southern Division the second half with a 19-30 record.

The team might not be a winner, but ownership is doing far better than break-even on the business end.

Stickney figures the club makes money each time the stadium is more than half full. In other words, every game.

Season ticket sales were cut off at 2,500. The rest is profit.

Earthquakes that shook the area last spring inspired a marketing expert's dream.

Chuck Buquet, the city's mayor pro-tem, came up with "Epicenter" for the stadium. "We didn't want to name it Quake Stadium, for obvious reasons," LeCompte said.

The team's name was selected from more than 2,000 responses a local newspaper received in a name-your-team contest.

Already saddled with multisyllabic Rancho Cucamonga to start, the club preferred a short nickname.

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