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His Devilish Vision

Angels Owner Arte Moreno Plans to Beat the Dodgers at Their Own Game by Delivering a Competitive Team, a Clean Ballpark and a Family Atmosphere. Oh, and the Cheaper Beer Should Help. By Bill Shaikin

April 04, 2004|Bill Shaikin | Times staff writer.

This is not a country club. It's a dive, really.

Arte Moreno pulls into the parking lot of the Tee Pee Tap Room, then squeezes his car into the last available space. To him, tender loving care is for people, not cars, even this sparkling silver convertible, a 1969 Chevy Impala with its original AM-FM radio. He lets his 16-year-old son drive it.

"Nothing fancy about it," he says. "It's just old. I'm not into having something you can't drive."

It's his weekend car, he says, and weekends are about playing ball with his son. His trunk might be better stocked than your local sporting goods store--bags of bats and gloves, buckets of baseballs. He owns one golf course in Phoenix and lives on an estate near another, but he's got a batting cage to go with the putting green in his yard.

When he sold ads by day and played softball at night, decades ago, his team traditionally adjourned to the Tee Pee after games. He sold so well, for others and then for himself, that he sold his company, made his fortune and bought the Anaheim Angels.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday April 09, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 65 words Type of Material: Correction
Baseball -- An article in Sunday's Los Angeles Times Magazine on Angel owner Arte Moreno incorrectly stated that Preston Gomez, one of the Angels' senior baseball advisors, was the first Latino manager in major league baseball when he was with the San Diego Padres 35 years ago. Al Lopez was the first full-time Latino baseball manager when he managed the Cleveland Indians in the 1950s.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 11, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 68 words Type of Material: Correction
Baseball managers -- The article in the April 4 Los Angeles Times Magazine about Anaheim Angels owner Arte Moreno said that Preston Gomez, one of the Angels' senior baseball advisors, was the first Latino manager in major league baseball when he was with the San Diego Padres 35 years ago. Al Lopez was the first full-time Latino baseball manager when he managed the Cleveland Indians in the 1950s.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 25, 2004 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Part I Page 4 Lat Magazine Desk 1 inches; 57 words Type of Material: Correction
The article "His Devilish Vision" (April 4) incorrectly stated that Preston Gomez, one of the Angels' senior baseball advisors, was the first Latino manager in major league baseball when he was with the San Diego Padres 35 years ago. Al Lopez was the first full-time Latino baseball manager when he managed the Cleveland Indians in the 1950s.

He still drinks here, at the Tee Pee, across the street from Karl's Custom V-Dub, Volkswagen Service and Repair--an everyman's hangout in an everyman's part of Phoenix. Moreno enters through a side door and strolls through the kitchen, greeting dishwashers and busboys in English and Spanish.

The Tee Pee serves inexpensive Mexican food--you can get lunch for two and a couple of cervezas and still get change for a twenty. Above the bar, neon beer signs compete for wall space with television sets.

Moreno grabs a table near the bar so he can keep an eye on the TV, and on his beloved University of Arizona basketball team. He invites a friend to join him for a few minutes; soon they're talking sports and swapping jokes and exchanging high-fives.

The proprietor, a gentleman everyone calls "Zippy," stops by the table with a Tee Pee T-shirt and points to the logo, which features a bull on his hind legs hoisting a margarita.

"A bull with a buzz," Zippy explains proudly.

Moreno laughs. He loves this place so much he opened a Tee Pee of his own downtown, near the Arizona Diamondbacks' ballpark. Business is better here, at the original. President Bush ate here in January, with Moreno and the owner and manager of the Diamondbacks stuffed into a booth a bit cozy for four grown men. The president wanted to talk baseball on a swing through town, and Moreno--a Bush supporter--almost decided not to take the call from the White House because he did not recognize the number displayed on his cellphone.

As Moreno dips into the chips and salsa and sips from his Michelob, he puts on his game face. This son of Arizona is now the man who would be king of baseball in Southern California. He spots the Dodgers 45 years of tradition, but he yields nothing to them. He did not enter this two-team baseball race to finish second.

The owner asks: "Why wouldn't you want to be No. 1?"

Meet Arte Moreno--ambitious businessman and regular Joe; a rich guy with beer taste and a champagne budget; a groundbreaking, bilingual, bicultural owner savvy enough to court Latino fans without alienating white ones.

On the first full day of the first spring training under his ownership, Arte Moreno escorts his wife onto the field--a couple all but stepping out of the pages of an Angel merchandise catalog. Arte, 57, wears a black polo shirt with the team logo and black slacks. Carole, 47, wears a necklace with the team logo, a cream-colored sweater and pants and a black blazer.

As he steps across the foul line, Moreno leans down and grabs a baseball. He twirls the ball, in one hand or the other, as he walks. He crosses the field and heads into the parking lot. He says hello to a security guard, a coach, a parking lot attendant. He stops to pick up several pieces of litter, then detours to a trash can to deposit them. "Will you sign this?" one fan pleads, holding a ball. "Your players wouldn't."

Moreno signs for that fan and anyone else who asks, including one who apologizes for presenting a baseball card with a picture of a player.

"They haven't come out with your cards yet," the fan explains.

On the other side of the parking lot, on another field, practice is getting underway. Moreno can't wait. That morning he had told his 15-year-old daughter that the first day of spring training is as exciting as the first day of school. Now, with his wife by his side, he leans forward on the field, watching his players go through the frankly boring motions of stretching and playing catch.

The couple met in 1979 in a bar in Kansas City, where he had moved from Arizona for his job. She asked whether he might like to accompany her to a baseball game. Talk about magic words.

"I was playing a lot of softball, doubleheaders a couple times a week and on weekends," he says. "Anybody else I dated didn't really care for that."

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