Can L.A. be Angels' city?

THE BALTIMORE SUN

New Angels owner Arte Moreno spent a fortune to upgrade the team over the winter and a few million more to enhance the ballpark experience at newly renamed Angel Stadium of Anaheim, leading some to conclude that he's trying to displace the Los Angeles Dodgers as the premier franchise in baseball's second-largest market.

The Angels signed superstar Vladimir Guerrero to beef up an already explosive batting order and free-agent pitchers Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar to augment a good, young starting rotation. Moreno also moved decisively to keep homegrown superstar Garret Anderson with a four-year, $48 million contract extension last week.

Moreno, who bought the franchise from the Walt Disney Co. last year, claims that the big push is not directed at the Dodgers' long-standing preeminence in the area, but the Angels also have placed huge billboards at some of Los Angeles' most-traveled locations, including the famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine.

The advertising campaign promotes the Angels as "The 'A' Team" at a time when the Dodgers are struggling to assemble an adequate offensive lineup and the Angels are only one year removed from their first World Series championship. The underlying message appears to be clear, but Moreno insists it has nothing to do with the Dodgers.

"We're not focused on that," he said after the Angels announced Anderson's contract extension on Tuesday. "We're focused on selling our own product to our customers.

"There are 16 million-plus people in the metro area. We both drew over 3 million people last year. There is absolutely no reason to try and erode their base."

That might be true, but the Angels' organization has long resented the second-class status the team was forced to accept while the Dodgers dominated the market. Moreno already has become a local hero for his efforts to elevate the franchise, and received a standing ovation from the big crowd (44,443) that showed up for Opening Night on Tuesday.

Not-so-mighty Casey

Arizona Diamondbacks rookie Casey Daigle didn't have a lot of fun in his major league debut, but at least he wrote his name in the record book.

Daigle gave up five home runs in two innings against the St. Louis Cardinals, becoming the first pitcher in baseball history to allow five home runs in his major league debut.

The last time any National League starter gave up that many home runs while lasting less than three innings was former Orioles Cy Young Award winner Steve Stone, who accomplished the dubious feat against the explosive Cincinnati Reds when he was a young pitcher for the Chicago Cubs in 1974.

Not too complicated

Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly doesn't need a stat sheet to figure out why his team lost six of its first eight games to equal the worst start in club history.

"By my unofficial calculations," Brenly said, "we're giving up two base runners an inning with hits and walks and serving up home runs like it's a daily special. The idea was we were going to offset all that with our offense, and our offense doesn't ever seem to get started till the fifth or sixth inning of the ballgame. You add it all up and it's been pretty ugly."

Old school

There is no doubt that television plays a critical role in the financing and presentation of the national pastime, but Oakland Athletics manager Ken Macha isn't quite ready to let TV cameras get into the game.

He watched San Francisco Giants manager Felipe Alou do an in-game interview during an ESPN Sunday night telecast and drew a line in the sand.

"They won't get me," he said. "I think TV is great. It pays a lot of bills and all that stuff. But I'm trying to make my living and don't need any distractions."

Macha said he will allow his pitchers to do clubhouse interviews after they leave the game, but will not wear a microphone during the game and does not want his players to be miked either.

Dye's back

Athletics outfielder Jermaine Dye has been on a tear during the early weeks of the regular season, thanks largely to finally being 100 percent healthy.

Quick comparison: Dye had 221 at-bats last year and managed just four home runs and 20 RBIs. In his first 30 at-bats of 2004, he had five homers and 12 RBIs.

"I'm just back to normal," Dye said. "I don't have to worry about anything, any injuries or anything. That takes a lot off your mind and you can just do what you are capable of doing. You get in your mind that you're as good as you are and that gives you the confidence to just go out and play."

Family circle

Giants superstar Barry Bonds can be quite eloquent when he wants to, as evidenced by his summation of the home run that tied him with Willie Mays for third on baseball's all-time list.

"I just feel right now I completed our family circle," he said. "Willie took my dad under his wing when he first came up, taught my dad a lot about baseball, and became [a] very close friend of my father. It's like my dad is in right field, Willie is in center and I get to be in left."

Omar the bogey-maker

Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel got a big laugh at the team's season-opening luncheon describing his attempt to take up golf this spring.

"Each day I'd address my clubs like I was the general and they were my troops," he said. "I'd say, 'Today we're going on a special mission and some of you won't be coming back.' "

Star power

The Kansas City Royals allowed country music star Garth Brooks to work out with the team this spring to promote his charity. Don't be surprised if Bull Durham star Kevin Costner shows up in camp next spring.

Hall of Famer George Brett suggested Costner spend a week training with the Royals, and club officials apparently don't object to the idea. Costner, however, has some reservations.

"He was really excited about the possibility," Brett told The Kansas City Star. "Then he said, 'Yeah, but I don't want to be a burden. I don't want to be one of those celebrities who just hangs out with the players and gets in everyone's way.'

"But I told him it's not like that. Garth was a welcome addition, and Kevin would be the same. He doesn't understand that players really like that addition to the clubhouse. It loosens things up."

Rivalry resumed

There was plenty of hype to go with this weekend's series between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, but Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said Thursday that it will be hard for any future showdown to match last October's thrilling seven-game American League Championship Series.

"Nothing is ever going to be as intense as those games." Jeter said. "The only way it could go beyond that is if one of the teams goes to the National League and we meet in the World Series."

Quote of the week

Struggling White Sox reliever Billy Koch, after Royals reliever Curtis Leskanic blew a ninth-inning lead to allow the Sox to score a 10-9 victory: "I appreciate that he pulled a Billy Koch and we were able to win."

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

THEATER OF THE ABSURD

Bashing Bowa

Former Phillie Tyler Houston, who blasted Philadelphia manager Larry Bowa after he was released by the team last summer, is taking his swings in a new arena.

Houston, now writing a Sunday baseball column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, predicted last week that the Phillies would be baseball's most disappointing team this year and continued his verbal assault on his old manager.

"One thing the Phillies lack is a man for a manager," Houston wrote. "Larry Bowa does not know how to treat his players with respect. These are grown men playing this game and it's about time he realizes that. He has a little man's complex that constantly has players hating him and talking behind his back."

Maybe Bowa should have taken the high road and ignored Houston's latest critique, but what fun would that be?

"The only thing I'll say is, you see he's not playing baseball," Bowa said. "Everybody can't be wrong."

TEAM RANKINGS

1. Marlins (12)

Stripped-down team still dressed for success. Maybe less really is more.

2. Astros (5)

Despite Andy Pettitte injury, hard-hitting Astros are taking off.

3. Athletics (7)

Arthur Rhodes is leading the league in saves. Billy Beane really is a genius.

4. Red Sox (3)

Halfway to possible uplifting four-game sweep of hated Yankees.

5. Angels (2)

Scoring runs in bunches, but so is everybody they play.

6. Cubs (6)

Long-term future depends heavily on Mark Prior. Paging the real Greg Maddux.

7. Yankees (1)

Need to send out search party to find the real Mike Mussina.

8. White Sox (18)

Pounding the ball and pitching well. Enjoy that while it lasts.

9. Reds (21)

That guy in center field looks a lot like the old Ken Griffey. Knock on wood.

10. Dodgers (13)

Reawakened Shawn Green has supposedly light-hitting L.A. on the offensive.

11. Tigers (9)

Aerosmith's greatest hit says it all: Dream On!

12. Braves (8)

Tepid start may signal end of NL East dynasty.

13. Giants (14)

Can Barry Bonds catch the Babe in 2004? The short answer is, yes.

14. Orioles (20)

Best bullpen in the American League, at least for the moment.

15. Twins (11)

Starting to assert themselves after opening-week wakeup call.

16. Royals (10)

True royalty in American League Central. Just wait and see.

17. Phillies (4)

Larry Bowa had enough to worry about without inexplicable early-season swoon.

18. Padres (17)

New ballpark is the talk of Southern California. Now, new-look team needs to do its part.

19. Cardinals (19)

Rolen, Rockies have rousted Redbirds out of Busch Stadium funk.

20. Rockies (24)

Typical home-road split doesn't bode well for NL West surprise.

21. Brewers (23)

Impressive start, considering no one thought they could win six games the whole month of April.

22. Devil Rays (27)

Have to do more than play .500 ball for a week and a half to get any real respect.

23. Blue Jays (16)

It's early, but retooled pitching staff isn't living up to offseason hype.

24. Rangers (26)

Putting the bat on the ball as well as anybody, but it'll take more than that to compete with balanced Angels and A's.

25. Diamondbacks (22)

Early-season tailspin might not be aberration. Pitching staff is a mess.

26. Mariners (15)

Better than early-season results might indicate, but fans have a right to get that sinking feeling.

27. Expos (25)

Buoyed by new Washington stadium proposal, vagabond team loses seven of next eight.

28. Mets (28)

Organization might be on the right track, but it still figures to be a long year.

29. Pirates (30)

Getting good pitching, lousy defense. Talk about a statistical anomaly.

30. Indians (29)

Somebody named Travis Hafner had four home runs entering the weekend. What's that about?

(Last week's ranking in parentheses)

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