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Bill Plaschke

Touched by Moreno

New Angel owner says he will cut beer prices and gives away tickets to a youth team from Mexico: Not bad for the first day on the job

May 23, 2003|Bill Plaschke

Onto a landscape dominated by bankers and bores, there has arrived a beer nut.

"I see where it's $8.50 for a beer," Arte Moreno, new Angel owner, said in his first local news conference Thursday. "That's a lot of money for a beer. I can go around the corner and get it for a buck and a half."

So, he was asked laughingly, are you going to think about reducing the prices?

"I'm not going to think about it," he said. "I'm going to."

He paused, and looked over at Angel business chief Kevin Uhlich.

Said Moreno: "I can do that, can't I?"

Said Uhlich: "You can, um, do anything you want."

The early verdict on the new caretaker of our world championship baseball franchise came down Thursday with a gasp and a grin.

Less Shilling. Sounds Great.

After paying $183.5 million to fulfill what he said was a dream since he bought his first baseball card, the billboard billionaire erected a first impression that was priceless.

He's a regular guy who can't believe his good luck. He's a lifelong fan who can't believe his new seats. He's not Fox. He's not Disney. And he's certainly not Anschutz, whoever that is.

Judging from a delightful news conference in which he talked about everything from stadium keys to child fans to the New York Mets -- whom he playfully ripped -- the Angels have more than a new executive.

They have a new mascot.

The Rally Owner.

"It's sort of like the American dream," said Moreno, 56. "You get to come to the ballpark and get free beer if you want."

Did we say he likes beer?

His day began, fittingly, when he was spotted trying to fit his new key into Edison Field's outer gates.

Well, wouldn't you?

"Look at this here," he said later, emptying his pockets and holding up the key and a security tag. "This is what I get! Two keys!"

He smiled.

"I thought I should have brought a couple of suitcases of cash for this," he said.

The surprises continued when he began his news conference by tackling the tricky issue of ethnic responsibility. A fourth-generation Mexican American, he is the first Latino owner of a major sports team, and everyone is wondering, what does that mean?

Standing at the stadium club lectern, he quickly pulled out a box and showed us.

Sombreros for everyone.

Giant, red, Angel logo on the brim, and, man, did Mike Scioscia look funny.

"Being Mexican American, I'd like to reach out to Mexican Americans," Moreno said. "But also to everyone."

When he later pulled out the same sombreros in the Angel clubhouse, the players smiled.

Better than mouse hats.

Said Tim Salmon: "I told him, I thought they might work well for hot Saturday and Sunday day games. But Ben Weber will have a problem when he does his fist pumps."

Said Weber: "I thought, it is really hard to believe this guy is worth a billion dollars, because he's acting just like us."

This behavior included showing respect to a certain Angel catcher, whose name was brought up when Moreno was given the ceremonial No. 1 Angel jersey.

Yeah, believe it or not, he knew who wears that shirt.

Said Moreno: "Isn't this Bengie Molina's number?"

Said Scioscia, smiling: "We can get him another one."

Heck, the new Angel owner already has a handle on the oldest Angel question.

What about the Dodgers?

"Who?" he said.

When the laughter died, he got serious.

"The Angels won the World Series. We are the No. 1 baseball team in the world. There is no reason for us to look over our shoulders," he said.

Maybe not at the Dodgers. But should the Angels and their employees be looking over their shoulder at Moreno?

Will he be a fan the way the Lakers' Jerry Buss is a fan? Or the way the Dallas Mavericks' Mark Cuban is a fan?

Asked for an owner role model, Moreno chose Buss.

Whew.

"He lets the experts take care of things," he said.

Moreno, who once took tickets while owning part of the Class-A Salt Lake City Trappers, said his job will involve the customers.

"My responsibility is to take care of the Angel fan," he said. "My job is to make sure we live up to the tradition. My job is to make people comfortable here."

He began that job Thursday when he spotted a youth baseball team from Mexico shopping in the team's store. He asked if they were going to Thursday night's game. They were not. He gave them 35 tickets.

"Lots of people never experience a game," he said. "I want to reach out to them, invite them here, let them have that experience."

While he will continue to live in Phoenix until his children graduate from high school in four years, he said he hopes to attend most home games.

And for fans, he will be part of that experience.

"Some people are only here once," he said. "I want them to have the best time possible. If I find people who work here are not responding, I'll eliminate them."

Rude ushers, beware.

Moreno delighted in telling the story of the family he met earlier this week, in the stadium's "Family Zone."

"I met a little boy, he introduced me to his dad," the owner recalled. "He said, 'Mr. Moreno, this my first game. I said, 'Welcome, what can I do for you?' "

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