04/01/2004 10:19 PM ET
Angels, Dodgers hit the 'Freeway'
Spring series should show fan support
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The changes in the Los Angeles-Orange County baseball landscape have been well-documented all winter, but spring means it's finally time to roll out the gear and play ball.
Both area teams -- the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Anaheim Angels -- have new owners. Both teams have new agendas. And both teams want not only to win the World Series but to win over the bulk of the fans in Southern California.
New Angels owner Arte Moreno lowered beer, souvenir and ticket prices, then plunked down $146 million on big-name, high-profile free-agent acquisitions Vladimir Guerrero, Bartolo Colon, Kelvim Escobar and Jose Guillen in an attempt to get the 2002 world champs right back to the top of the game.
New Dodgers owner Frank McCourt hired a member of baseball's hot new regime of statistic-minded front-office men, 31-year-old general manager Paul DePodesta, and has promised his fans a return to glory.
So when the teams meet each other Friday at Dodger Stadium to kick off a three-game exhibition "Freeway Series" before the regular season starts, this conflicting confluence gets a nice little trial run.
"Obviously, when you play a team of that magnitude it's exciting," Dodgers outfielder Dave Roberts said.
"And when you include the fact that it's so close in location and the fan interest, what could make it more exciting?"
Of course, as Dodgers manager Jim Tracy points out, the games don't really mean anything as far as standings.
"It's Spring Training," Tracy said.
"We are still evaluating, still making decisions. The fact that these clubs play six times during the season, we want to gear more towards the six games when it means something in the standings vs. three games that are meaningless in the standings. I'm not overly concerned about the outcome of the game."
Still, there's intrigue.
All winter, Dodgers fans waited for the Dodgers to improve the lowest-scoring offense in the Major Leagues last year, and so far Juan Encarnacion is the most prolific hitter they added.
Local papers have been a bit impatient, too, calling out the Dodgers for their reluctance to splurge for success and using their neighbor Angels as an example of how to spend wisely.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia, a former Dodgers catcher and minor-league manager, has said repeatedly that it's not about one team being bigger or better than the other.
"We don't want to take anything away from the Dodger tradition or the Dodger fans," Scioscia said. "We're trying to create our own tradition with the Angels. There's room for both teams in Southern California."
That's a philosophy the Angels have been banking on lately.
Their television ads are being marketed at the entire Los Angeles community, not just Orange County residents.
Recent commercials have shown Angels fans placing their trademark "A" with the halo on top on various L.A. landmarks.
And the club has negotiated to broadcast more games on television than ever before.
Whether all of this changes fan allegiance once these teams take the field remains to be seen, but it will be seen for the first time Friday in Chavez Ravine.
"It's hard to tell what'll happen," Angels shortstop David Eckstein said.
"All I know is that Anaheim fans have definitely been coming out strong the last few years. And then you have the fact that Dodger blue is rich in history -- they still have their fans, too."
When asked who might have more fans this year, Eckstein offers a sheepish grin.
"I can't really answer that," he said.
"But I think we saw a lot of them at (Angels) FanFest. There was a lot of excitement."
|Arte Moreno's (left) Angels and Frank McCourt's Dodgers are reaching out to SoCal fans. (Jon SooHoo/Dodgers)
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporter Ken Gurnick contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.