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When They Reign, It Pours

Angel title is the latest in a recent run of local championships

October 30, 2002|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

From Santa Clarita to San Juan Capistrano, there is a glow these days that has nothing to do with sunshine.

Switchboards are lighting up at radio stations across the region, fans calling sports talk shows, still buzzing over the Angels winning the World Series.

In a victory parade Tuesday, Mike Scioscia and the players carried their sparkling new trophy down the streets of Anaheim.

Add that glossy hardware to trophies won in recent seasons by the Lakers, Galaxy and Sparks -- even the Xtreme of the defunct XFL -- and you know what the glow is all about.

The Southland, which went a dozen years between major championships, has become Title Town.

Or Title Towns.

"We want to do this every year," Angel reliever Troy Percival told thousands of fans gathered at Edison Field for Tuesday's celebration.

This sentiment echoed across the county line at Staples Center, where Laker guard Brian Shaw said: "It's a fun type of pressure. The next team wants to keep it going."

If momentum has spread from team to team, it has been fueled by equal parts inspiration and envy. Just ask Galaxy players who lost in the Major League Soccer Cup three times before finally winning the title last week.

"Of course we noticed it when the Lakers were winning and we weren't," Galaxy midfielder Peter Vagenas said. "We watched those parades."

Front offices notice too.

A successful team across town is a potential boon to everyone because it grabs the attention of casual fans and new sponsors, gets them thinking about sports. But local teams, no matter which game they play, compete against each other for fans' discretionary income.

"You have the guy who tells his wife, 'Honey, I want to go to the Lakers game,' " said David Carter of the Sports Business Group, a Los Angeles consulting firm. "She says, 'OK, honey, but then we can't afford those tickets for the Dodgers.' "

While players and executives ponder over such matters, a larger question emerges: Has the recent string of titles done anything to improve the quality of life in Orange County and Los Angeles?

Law enforcement officials say that beyond isolated incidents -- a riot outside Staples, a stabbing death near Edison -- the crime rate does not change when teams win.

Los Angeles County mental health administrators see no rise or drop in incidents of people requiring emergency care at their facilities.

In business terms, winning teams certainly profit from the postseason. The Angels figure to make as much as $7 million from ticket sales, concessions and parking from the postseason. But it is hard to prove the economic impact extends beyond the franchise, the stadium or arena and a few nearby businesses.

So why do outside observers get excited about winning teams?

"There's certainly a lot to be said for what a championship does for the community in terms of pride and self-worth and self-esteem," said Peter Roby, director of Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society.

People start wearing team colors around town. They chat in bars, barbershops and grocery stores. Flags fly from homes and cars.

"Our city has been electrified the entire month of October," Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly said. "Our community has never been so united and so excited."

The bonding extends beyond city limits.

Though Orange County might be savoring this victory as all its own, something it can hold apart from neighboring Los Angeles, geographical distinctions blur when it comes to sports.

Orange County residents cheer for the Lakers. The Angel bandwagon is carrying more than a few Dodger fans.

"I can't believe that we've taken calls about the Angels from West L.A. and the Valley," said Doug Krikorian, a talk show host at KSPN (1110) sports radio and columnist for the Long Beach Press-Telegram. "Usually West L.A. and the Valley could care less about Orange County."

Angel first baseman Scott Spiezio recently said: "As long as they're supporting us, I don't care when they came on."

In a vast and often fragmented metropolis, a story like the Angels' playoff run gives millions of people an opportunity to share a common sentiment, which can make a difference on a personal level.

"Sports events bring us together as a community," said Dr. Roderick Shaner, medical director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. "Strong communities are associated with a better quality of life, a decrease in stress. These are good feelings and benefits that come from great sports events."

Such benefits cannot be measured. Maybe, as several experts suggested, we merely want to believe they exist.

Or maybe the best way to understand the glow that has come over the Southland is to look back a few years.

"We had become spoiled by the success of the Rams and the Dodgers in the '70s," Krikorian said. "USC was always a national championship contender. We had Showtime with Magic in the '80s and we had the Raiders."

Then the winning stopped. People called Krikorian's show wondering why the nation's second-biggest market could not produce a title.

It wasn't until recently this frustration was replaced by joy.

"The big thing is, and I've said this on the air, I've never seen a reaction like the Angels have inspired," Krikorian said. "They're a likable team, but I think a lot of it is due to that terrible drought."

The situation could be even better -- "We're missing a football team," Laker forward Rick Fox said -- but with so much celebrating the last few seasons, Roby believes sport is serving a valuable function: helping people forget, even for a moment, the worries of the real world.

"What's the alternative?" he said. "If the newspapers and television stations and radio stations weren't covering the victory, they would probably be talking about crime or budget cuts or people losing their jobs.

"This definitely makes life a little better."

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