Fans at Busch Stadium ask for the ball from Cardinals first baseman Albert… (Christian Petersen / Getty…)
As of Wednesday, the Angels were scheduled to appear on the Fox Network's national Saturday telecast five times in 2012.
On Thursday, after the Angels signed Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $254-million contract and pitcher C.J. Wilson to a five-year, $77.5-million deal, Fox put in a request to Major League Baseball to bump the Angels to nine national telecasts, the maximum for any team.
In 2010 and 2011, years in which they did not make the playoffs, the Angels appeared twice on ESPN's nationally televised Sunday night game of the week, three fewer than the maximum of five per team.
The network is still finalizing its 2012 schedule, but Mike Ryan, vice president of programming for ESPN, said he will be "looking to maximize our quota" of Angels games next season.
"They've been competitive, they're in a big market, and they have a number of well-known stars, but Albert takes them to an entirely new level," Ryan said. "It makes the Angels a lot more attractive to us."
Adding the most prolific slugger of the last decade and the top free-agent pitcher on the market to an 86-win team will not only help the Angels challenge the Dodgers as Southern California's premier baseball franchise. It will raise their national profile as well.
"I think fans can sense when a team is putting in an investment on the field, and they'll sense that in Los Angeles and nationally with the Angels," said Bill Wanger, executive vice president of programming for Fox.
"This is a major signing, a major push, by the organization, and it will be fun to see Albert in the American League playing the Yankees and the Red Sox. It's something new."
Both network executives said the Angels' budding rivalry with the Texas Rangers, who have won the American League West and reached the World Series the last two seasons, will heighten interest.
"Any time you have a team coming off two World Series appearances and a division rival loading up and taking one of their pitchers, it's going to be a bit of a war," Wanger said. "Wilson going from Texas to Anaheim is almost like Roger Clemens going from the Red Sox to the Yankees. I see this rivalry growing over the next few years, which is great for baseball. It's going to be fun."
For the players too.
"This rivalry has been great the last two years, but I think these signings amped it up a bit," Angels right fielder Torii Hunter said. "I can already sense it on Twitter. Rangers fans and Angels fans are going at it, texting each other. It's there.
"All that energy the fans give, what the media writes to make the rivalry, that energy goes to the clubhouse, and a lot of players feed off it. They eat it up."
No one expects Rangers-Angels to turn into Yankees-Red Sox overnight. The teams would have to face each other in the playoffs a few times, get into a few more beanball wars and brawls and start ripping each other in the media first.
But on the field, Angels vs. Rangers is just as compelling.
Though the Yankees and Red Sox are still powerhouses, with marquee stars and huge fan and media followings, the Angels and Rangers can match their talent.
The Angels rotation — led by Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Wilson and Ervin Santana — should be one of the best in baseball, and the lineup should pack plenty of punch with Pujols, Hunter, Mark Trumbo, Howie Kendrick and possibly Kendrys Morales.
The Rangers still have a strong rotation with Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and converted closer Neftali Feliz, and their offense, led by Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, Mike Napoli, Michael Young and Ian Kinsler, is prolific.
"We just acquired the best hitter in baseball, hands down, and we got one of top left-handers in the game," Hunter said. "We upgraded our team, big-time. Yeah, it's going to be a rivalry. Make no mistake, the Rangers are king. But we're in a good position to take that crown away."
Ryan, the ESPN executive, said networks look for compelling story lines, competitive teams and recognizable stars. On those counts, the Angels and Rangers are three for three.
"The Angels have arguably the biggest star in baseball, and C.J. bolsters an already a strong rotation," Ryan said. "The matchups, the stars, bring people to the TV set, but to get them back, to keep them, you have to have that competition, that on-field rivalry.
"I don't know if you could compare this rivalry to Yankees-Red Sox or Cubs-Cardinals because they've been around for decades. But it could absolutely move toward that."
The Rangers could make things even more interesting if they make a run at free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder or highly touted Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish.
Either way, they know what they'll be up against. Pujols, a three-time National League most valuable player and a career .328 hitter with 445 home runs and 1,329 runs batted in, torched the Rangers for three homers in Game 3 of the World Series in October.
"I think the AL West just got a lot better," Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine said. "We just saw Albert for seven games, and I'm not sure we figured him out. Every time he comes up, he causes concern and fear in opponents."