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ANGEL REPORT

Eckstein Goes Hollywood

February 15, 2004|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

Not long after Gene Autry founded the Angels and invited his show business friends to come watch his team play, pitcher Bo Belinsky happily dated a parade of starlets. Four decades later, with a tip of the cap to the late "Singing Cowboy," shortstop David Eckstein is dating an actress.

She's Ashley Drane, who appears as Muffy in the Disney Channel show "She's So Raven" and played Jan Brady in the 2002 film "The Brady Bunch in the White House." Drane joined Eckstein at Saturday's Angel fan festival, which attracted 8,500 to Angel Stadium. The festival concludes today.

Eckstein, always wary of whether women wished to meet him simply because he played baseball for a living, discovered he and Drane had mutual friends and grew up near each other in central Florida. They have been dating for five months.

"I did my homework before we went out," he said. "She's really down to earth. That's the main thing. She's a really great girl."

Teammates had teased Eckstein for what appeared to be a dormant social life.

"The fact that he's dating anybody, let alone an actress, is great," designated hitter Tim Salmon said.

"He's single, a successful ballplayer and a good guy," second baseman Adam Kennedy said. "He's a good catch. Why not a movie star?"

*

While fans stood in long lines to meet players, impromptu lines popped up whenever owner Arte Moreno strolled the grounds. Moreno shook hands, posed for pictures, signed autographs and accepted the sometimes fawning gratitude of fans who knew he paid for $146 million worth of free agents, including outfielder Vladimir Guerrero and pitcher Bartolo Colon.

"There's a definite buzz around town," first baseman Darin Erstad said. "Everywhere you go, the first thing they say is, bless Arte.... There's more buzz now than even after we won the World Series."

Said Moreno: "I guess the question is, when is the honeymoon over? We still have to play."

Although the Angels won the World Series in 2002, the Oakland Athletics were the consensus pick to win the American League West in 2003. The Angels are the choice now, given Moreno's spending spree.

Eckstein said anything short of a World Series championship would be disappointing. Said Salmon: "If we're not in the postseason, it's going to be pretty frustrating."

"Arte's put that pressure on us now," Kennedy said. "He's put us in position to be in October."

*

Angel hitting coach Mickey Hatcher conceded nothing to the New York Yankees after hearing the news that American League most valuable player Alex Rodriguez might be joining George Steinbrenner's team as a third baseman.

"I don't care if they get A-Rod," Hatcher said. "We'll be able to compete with anybody."

*

As the Angels prepare to remove the Edison Field signs from the stadium, President Dennis Kuhl said the team had no plans to solicit other corporations to buy naming rights. Edison International terminated its contract with the Angels in December.

"We really would like to stay with Angel Stadium," he said. "I think the fans would too."

*

Moreno said he expected the Angels to move to their new spring home in Goodyear, Ariz., in 2006 or 2007.

He said he had agreed to provide the land and pay half the $40-million project cost, including cost overruns.

The Arizona Tourism and Sports Authority has agreed to reimburse $20 million to Moreno starting in 2019, although several state legislators last week introduced a bill that could restrict such payments if a team moves from one publicly financed facility to another.

Goodyear is about 15 miles west of Phoenix. The Angels' lease for their current spring facility in Tempe expires in 2007, and Moreno already has told city officials there he will not renew.

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