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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

Angel Fans Should Rejoice

September 15, 2002

It's September, and Angels fans with long memories are wondering whether their team will finally outrun the "Curse of the Singing Cowboy" and make it into postseason play for the first time since 1986. It's a nervous time, but a far better way to spend the waning days of summer than trying to digest a second-place finish during a strike-shortened season.

It's good that baseball's brains and brawn managed to walk out of a back room with a labor agreement instead of using the assembled klieg lights to spark a strike or lockout. But coming to grips with the salary cap and luxury tax is akin to bunting late in the game with the home team down by many runs.

Anaheim fans littered the field with baseballs, toilet paper and curses on Aug. 30, the night before the strike deadline that, thankfully, passed without incident. And, despite the Angels' high caliber of play this season, going into last week's series with the first-place Oakland Athletics, the team had sold out Edison International Field less than a dozen times. So it's clear that when it comes to fan loyalty, owners and players had best start swinging for the fences.

Let's start with the players. The Angels have had their share of athletes--Mo Vaughn comes to mind--who seem content to travel from franchise to franchise dragging along increasingly large sacks of money. Owners also have their work cut out. Fans had high hopes when the Walt Disney Co. bought into the team in 1996. But the media giant's only postseason play has been with "Angels in the Outfield," a movie featuring an angel who leads the hard-luck team to a pennant.

More than any other sport, baseball depends upon one generation passing along a love of the game to the next. It takes time and a patient tutor to explain the infield fly rule, the mechanics of a balk and the difference between a slider and a curve. A generation ago, Angels fans used the off-season to talk trades; now, they have their pick of Lakers and Clippers games, college football and professional hockey.

Younger consumers are at the heart of Disney's entertainment empire. But many youngsters won't sit still for games that drag on for more than three hours. A generation raised on "SportsCenter" and GameBoy understandably prefers to catch its sports on the fly.

But it is September and the Angels are solid contenders for a wild-card berth, if not a division championship. There's even an outside chance that October could bring a Freeway Series. For baseball fans, that's about as good as it gets.

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