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High Fives, but With Fingers Crossed

Sports: Anaheim is thrilled with the Angels' success but wary of celebrating too soon.

September 21, 2002|KIMI YOSHINO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Somebody should pinch Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly just to remind him it's not a dream: The Anaheim native--and rabid Angels fan--is basking in the glow of good PR and tooting the horn for civic pride.

Who can blame him or the rest of the city? The Angels are having the best season in their 42-year history--not to mention one of the best records in baseball. And for the first time, the word "Anaheim" is emblazoned on the team's road uniforms.

"The Anaheim Angels are mentioned prominently in every sports report every day in every corner of the United States--and not just one time, but every day for four to five weeks," Daly said. "I'm not sure you can place a dollar value on that."

Daly, who has cheered for the Angels since he was a kid, is positively giddy.

He's not alone. From city brass to bartenders, people in Anaheim--and across Orange County--have been stricken with Halo Fever.

The mathematics of the remaining games makes it almost certain the Angels will make the playoffs, barring a complete breakdown. If so, they could start postseason play as early as Oct. 1. Fans already are camped out at Edison International Field to gobble up playoff tickets that go on sale today.

All the excitement has the city engaged in a precarious balancing act. On one hand, it's scrambling behind the scenes to promote the ballclub. At the same time, the city doesn't want to jinx the team until a playoff berth is secured. After all, the Angels have a long tradition of collapsing in September.

"It's a little premature for us to break out the champagne," said Mike Neben, president and chief executive officer of Anaheim's Chamber of Commerce. "Until they clinch a championship role, we're not ready to start planning parade routes and things like that."

He couldn't help adding: "We do expect that they will win."

City spokesman John Nicoletti said Anaheim is taking a page from Mike Scioscia's playbook, a motto the Angels' manager has been preaching for weeks: One game at a time.

For now, they plan to congratulate the team for its record-breaking season with a proclamation at Tuesday's City Council meeting. They're also urging fans to pack Edison Field for the last series of the regular season, a three-day stand against Seattle beginning Friday. The first two days already are sold out.

Massive red banners measuring three stories high will start unfurling on City Hall, the Convention Center and other spots around town. Five hundred city employees will sport red Anaheim Angel T-shirts. Any reference to the year and the playoffs is conveniently absent from the shirts and banners, Nicoletti said, "so that we can use them again next October."

Nicoletti also is busy compiling Anaheim facts, comparing stats such as population and civic amenities with those of potential playoff cities New York and Minneapolis.

City officials want to ensure that sports reporters across the country needn't resort to the tired old jabs that Anaheim suffers an inferiority complex from being in the shadow of Los Angeles. They're sick of heckles about comatose fans and that the Disney-owned Angels are nothing more than a "Mickey Mouse team."

If Daly had his 10 seconds on CNN, he'd broadcast a simple message: Anaheim is a major league city. "It doesn't get much better than this," he said.

Daly's having trouble sleeping. He can't concentrate on work. A running joke at home is that he and his pregnant wife will name the baby (due in March) after the Angel who performs best in the playoffs. Even if it's a girl.

He takes every opportunity to talk up his team. At a recent groundbreaking for a police substation, he asked the crowd of 200 how many weren't from Anaheim. A few people raised their hands. "Welcome to our city," he told them. "You are visiting the home of the first-place Anaheim Angels."

The audience erupted in cheers.

On Oct. 1, which is the first day of playoffs, the City Council could face an interesting quandary since it also is scheduled to meet. Daly said he might play hooky or it could be one of the shortest council meetings ever.

After beating the Mariners, 8-1, Friday night in Seattle, the Angels remained one game behind AL West Division-leading Oakland. If the Angels beat Seattle today, they will clinch their first playoff berth since 1986.

Fans are proudly donning the Angels' baseball cap.

Johnnie Atkinson, manager of the National Sports Grill across from Edison International Field, said he's seeing a lot more red. And on a recent night at the Clubhouse in Costa Mesa, every TV was tuned to the Angels' game. Forget that other playoff race. Dodgers-Giants? Old news.

Angel management is playing it low-key now, but promises plenty of fireworks when the team returns home. "The PR is on the field right now. There's not much you can really add to it," said Tim Mead, the Angels' vice president of communications. "There's a pride in saying 'the Angels.' There's a buzz out there."

The buzz is in the victories. Win. That's all the fans want.

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