People ask me all the time if the Oakland Coliseum could ever be converted to a ballpark the same way Angel Stadium was in the mid-90’s. My reply is always the same: No. The secret to why the Angel Stadium conversion worked is simple. It was a ballpark from the beginning. The Coliseum started out as a football stadium that was converted to serve as a ballpark, whereas Angel Stadium (nee Anaheim Stadium) went through the opposite transformation. Anaheim’s case was that of an appendage that could be discarded. Oakland’s was the case of a round peg fitting into a square hole.
1964 1966 at Gene Autry‘s behest, Anaheim Stadium was arguably a more Californian vision of a modern ballpark than Dodger Stadium to the north. Parking was and still is smoother and more efficient than in Chavez Ravine, and the site is close to three freeways (5, 57, 55, 22). It had somewhat remote views of the San Gabriel Mountains. Other tourist attractions like Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm a stone’s throw away. Like Dodger Stadium it had low wall and wraparound lower deck in the corners. The biggest difference in Anaheim was the wider-angled bowl, which made the neck-craning effect more severe down the lines but significantly reduced foul territory in the process. When the Rams vacated the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for Anaheim in 1980, Angels fans got their own version of Mt. Davis – a complete enclosure of the stadium and Candlestick-like foldout seats in right field.That made the capacity of the stadium a cavernous 65,000, with little hope of filling that on a regular basis during the 80’s. The Rams only stayed at the football-expanded Big A for 15 seasons, after which native Missourian Georgia Frontiere took the team to St. Louis. That gave Disney, which assumed control of the franchise in the mid-90’s, the opportunity to remake the stadium the theme park-like manner one would expect of the company. A man-made rockpile was placed in center field as the focal point of the renovation. The iconic “Big A” structure which once dominated the outfield stayed in the parking lot, to many fans’ chagrin. Walls inside the stadium were given a sand color with red accents while the plazas outside the regular concourse were freshened up to hide the numerous ramps and exterior concrete. A Metrolink (commuter train) station was added at the outskirts of the parking lot, providing an alternative to driving and parking.
Walk into the Big A and you can see why the conversion worked. If you squint a little, you can see the same main seating deck layout as the one found at Camden Yards. In both places, the field level deck is split into two, with the concourse set around row 23 and a back seating section (in Anaheim known as the Field Terrace) providing 10 more rows of seats. A club level with eight rows rises above the Field Terrace, and suites are tucked behind the club seats. Above the premium facilities is the upper deck, which is also split into lower and upper tiers. The arrangement proved so successful that it was used in Baltimore and at the new Busch Stadium. Not bad for a stadium that will turn 50 next year.
Yet there is a sense that, despite how good the bones are at the Big A, it’s falling behind the rest of baseball. Most of the work completed by Disney in 1997 focused on getting rid of the football seats in the outfield and the creation of multiple club facilities in the regular bowl. Arte Moreno even moved the writers’ press box from its prime location behind the plate to down the right field line. Even with the various incremental improvements, it’s hard to get past the main deficiency within: the concourses are narrow and are disconnected from the action. That’s a problem at both Busch and Camden Yards as well. At Busch, the Cardinals chose to punch large holes in the upper half of the field level to provide some views from the concourse. Don’t get me wrong – I’d switch the Coliseum for the Big A in a heartbeat – but in the face of the continuing evolution at Dodger Stadium, Moreno’s going to push hard to create an optimal environment for the Angels and fans.
A few weeks ago I took in a game in the club level, which has wait service. Cheap bastard that I usually am, I usually bypass such options at a ballpark. Since this was on the company dime, how could I resist? The loaded chicken nachos I had weighed 5 pounds and felt like it half-finished in my subsequently unsettled gut. The concessionaire is Aramark, and if you’re wondering if things improved by going to a bigger, richer market, they didn’t. Aramark provides tiers of service and options, so I know they’re better than this. Still, it sure seems like competitors like Centerplate are eating Aramark’s lunch, so to speak. Beer selection is also wanting, easily the worst among the West Coast major league parks.
When Moreno took over the team after the 2002 World Series victory, he grew the fan base by lowering ticket, concessions, and beer prices. Already the family-friendly alternative to the Dodgers, the Angels quickly jumped beyond the 3 million attendance mark annually and stayed there for years to come. Moreno’s hunger for a World Series of his own and to compete head on with the Dodgers fueled huge free agent purchases, including Vlad Guerrero, Torii Hunter, and Vernon Wells. Moreno never quite got the brass ring, which led to the bat-oriented spending spree of the last two seasons, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. The Angels’ payroll this year is $137 million, not including whatever pitching acquisitions they have to make at midseason if they decide that they want to chase the pennant despite their awful April. Even though the franchise is bolstered by a $150 million per year TV contract with Fox Sports (that’s as much as the A’s make from ALL local revenue sources), they continue to raise ticket prices well beyond what would be considered affordable.
Like the A’s, the Angels are hurtling towards the end of their lease, this one in 2016. There is an extension that could keep the team in Anaheim until 2031, but no one expects Moreno to pick up that option unless some additional, major changes are made at Angel Stadium. Moreno has been quiet on the prospects for Angel Stadium or a new ballpark somewhere in the area. Tensions between him and the City of Anaheim over the team name have calmed. Chances are that if Moreno wanted a new ballpark, he’d have to make it happen at the current 100+ acre site. With redevelopment’s dissolution, there’s little available in the way of public financing. Even in 1997, the $117 million renovation (a huge success compared to the Mt. Davis debacle) was 82% financed by Disney, with the public portion already paid for. There’s enough goodwill to do another major renovation along the lines of what the Dodgers did during the offseason, but Moreno will have to pay for it himself. If he wants to talk about a new ballpark, the only site outside Anaheim that could remotely support it is the City of Industry site being pitched for a NFL stadium. Talk about that came and went quickly last year. AEG’s downtown site has also been pitched as a relocation spot, but a retractable baseball dome is so highly incompatible with AEG’s plans that it’s hard to take such an idea seriously. If Moreno has designs on a park elsewhere in the market, he’s being very coy about it.
The Angels’ future is secure thanks to their whopping TV deal and their solid fanbase. The franchise is worth well over a billion dollars at this point (thanks Dodgers) and there’s little reason to leave Anaheim. The stadium could benefit from revamped clubhouses and improvements to the rather barren club/suite level. In right field is the oft-forgotten Exhibition Center, a 29,000 square foot space that would probably be better used partly as a baseball museum that could attract fans 365 days a year. Moreno could spend $100 million on such changes, with some development rights to the land as the City’s contribution, and the ballpark would be roughly on par with Dodger Stadium, if not the newest parks. That fairly modest investment from both sides should keep everyone happy for decades to come, pennants and World Series trophies notwithstanding. Is that enough for Arte Moreno? Only he knows.