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Orange County | DANA PARSONS

Weighing the Costs of an Angels Championship

November 07, 2001|DANA PARSONS

Fifty miles west of Phoenix and driving in the midnight hour through the kind of desert rain that invites you to roll down the window and inhale the freshness, this thought occurred:

Anaheim was far, far away.

It wasn't the miles left to go on Interstate 10. They could be navigated.

No, what made Orange County seem much farther was the ringing still in my ears from having been in Phoenix for Game 7 of the World Series.

It was the sight and sound of 50,000 fans in sustained delirium--some crying, some hugging, some whooping, but all sharing a common joy that didn't need to be explained.

It was the scene on Van Buren Street and on Jefferson Street and on 7th Avenue and on any other number of streets around downtown Phoenix after the game: streams of cars, slowed to a crawl, full of people honking, shaking hands with people in cars next to them and exulting to total strangers, "We did it!"

Why Phoenix, a city that only got a franchise four years ago, and not Orange County?

I tried to transpose that unbridled happiness to Katella Avenue or State College Boulevard. Not impossible, but it begged a couple questions.

Does Angels management really want what the Diamondbacks got? Do Angels fans want it?

"Of course, you idiot!"

That's the knee-jerk response. I wonder, though, because such things don't come cheap these days.

The Diamondbacks have one of the largest payrolls in baseball. The Angels are settled comfortably in the middle.

Diamondback ticket prices and ancillary costs of going to a ballgame--the things that help pay those payroll costs--are in the middle range. The cost of going to an Angels game is among the cheapest in the majors, according to Team Marketing Report in Chicago.

Big payrolls don't guarantee World Series winners. But low payrolls, with a few exceptions, almost certainly eliminate teams from World Series contention.

We'd love it if a scrappy Angels team, with a payroll in the middle of the pack, won a World Series.

But Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo determined things don't work like that. He decided to build a Series contender quickly.

In the aftermath of Sunday's game, Colangelo said: "This town can now say with pride that we are champions. There are wannabes all over the place, and we broke through that door. The psychological impact, especially in a time of high stress, when people are losing their jobs, it's going to have an incredible effect on the people of Arizona."

Colangelo's strategy has cost him dearly. To help pay bills, some of his star players have deferred promised payments for a few years. Somewhere down the road, Colangelo will have to pay those bills.

Is it worth it?

Many baseball fans, including die-hard ones like me, tend to say no. We hate the high cost of everything associated with the game these days.

But get lucky enough to see a Game 7 in person, where the home team wins in spectacular fashion, and you have second thoughts.

I'm not a Diamondbacks fan and couldn't share the rapture, but all I needed to do was look in the seat next to me at my sister, a Tucson resident and new baseball fan because of the D'backs' presence in the state.

At the end Sunday night, after Luis Gonzalez's blooper fell in to win the Series, she was crying and shaking. "I can't remember the last time I felt this much joy," she blurted out.

She wasn't alone. I surveyed the pandemonium around the stadium.

What else in life, I thought, brings this many people this much simultaneous exhilaration?

Life brings much happiness, but this was ear-splitting, deep-inside-your-bones exultation that nothing else I can think of inspires.

How to price that? Can we decry something that generates such euphoria? That creates a moment that will last a lifetime for many of those who were there?

Those are questions for baseball owners and, to a lesser extent, fans.

Do the Angels want to see what it would feel like to have a night like last Sunday in downtown Phoenix? Do Orange County residents?

Driving out of town late Sunday but still hearing the echoes from the cheering, I had to admit: The prospect sure sounded good.

*

Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821; by writing to him at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626; or by e-mail at dana.parsons@latimes.com.

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