Angel Stadium's a sellout; some fans may be too

After 3 million of them streamed through the turnstiles for five consecutive years, Angels fans have proved to be some of the most devoted in Major League baseball.

But their loyalty will be severely tested when the Boston Red Sox and their legions of fans invade Angel Stadium on Sunday for game three of the first round of the American League playoffs.

If the regular season is any indication, Angels fans might end up being more loyal to their wallet than their beloved Halos. During a three-game series in August, Angels supporters say, Boston fans nearly outnumbered them. Although most first-round series tickets range from $15 to $125, they are selling for as much as $1,500 each on EBay and StubHub. Season-ticket holders will be even more tempted to cash in.

Longtime fan Dave Rosenberg acknowledges that he has more faith in the Angels than in their fans.

"Southern California is a very materialistic area," he said. "Everybody wants the nice car. My guess is there's a lot of people who'll sell their tickets. In Boston, they don't have to worry about this. I'm sure you've got guys there who would rather starve to death than sell a Red Sox playoff ticket."

Tom Daly, the former mayor of Anaheim and an avid Angels fan, is also worried that Angel Stadium could be overrun by the West Coast branch of Red Sox Nation.

"About half the citizens of Boston will be flying out to Anaheim," he said. "I also think every person with New England heritage living within 100 miles of Anaheim will be showing up."

When the best-of-five divisional series opens today in Boston's Fenway Park, red-clad Angels fans are expected to be scarce.

"Most people that have tickets don't sell them," said Billy Lyons, general manager of Boston Beer Works, across the street from Fenway. "If you're a true fan, you go to the games."

But even during the regular season, the most ardent Sox fans often can't squeeze into cramped Fenway Park, which holds only 33,000 and is the smallest stadium in the major leagues.

"Red Sox Nation is pretty much out of control," Lyons said. "The premium for tickets at Fenway is so high. That's why Red Sox fans are traveling to places like Tampa and Baltimore to get access to tickets."

The Angels don't quite have their own nation yet. But after decades of mediocrity, they have become one of baseball's elite franchises, with four playoff appearances in six seasons, including a World Series title in 2002. Since that championship season, Angels fans at the games have become more numerous and more vocal, easily drowning out chants of opposing fans.

In the 2005 playoffs against New York, Yankees fans were a small percentage of the crowd and generally kept a low profile. But over the last two seasons, affluent and passionate Yankees and Red Sox fans have begun evening out the numbers at Angel Stadium.

Daly attended all three Angels-Red Sox games in Anaheim this summer, but he often felt as though he were in Fenway Park.

"The Red Sox fans were noisy, aggressive and visible," he said. "What's worse, some of the best seats in the house were occupied by Red Sox fans. They're crafty and they're relentless in their desire to pack our stadium."

They also talk a pretty good game in their New England accents, Daly said.

"On every pitch, it seems they are commenting and taking photos with their favorite player on the field behind them."

Angels officials, mindful that their fans have been prone to unload their tickets for profit, instituted a policy in 2006 that prohibits season-ticket holders from selling their tickets through the team's exchange program for more than five times face value, and limits the transactions per season to 30. The team got stricter this year, limited resales to three times face value.

"We're trying to weed out people who are truly just speculating," said Robert Alvarado, the Angels' director of marketing and sales. "Before we put in the policy this year, some people were selling up to 80% to 90% of their games."

The Angels' ticket exchange program also prohibits season-ticket holders from selling tickets on "competitive" websites. But that hasn't stopped hundreds of Angel fans from posting their tickets on StubHub and EBay for 10 to 15 times the value of their tickets.

Alvarado said the team had revoked some season tickets because sellers had broken the rules. But even though the Angels are one of the few teams that monitor the resale market, Alvarado admits he won't know until Sunday how many of those dressed in red will root for Boston.

"There's always the lure of the money for anybody, and we know there's demands for Red Sox tickets in Southern California," Alvarado said.

"We can't force people to use their tickets. But we'd like to think there's enough loyalty to support the team and not go down that road."

Jim Irvin, a longtime Angels' season-ticket holder, said he didn't understand the mentality of a fan who gives up a playoff ticket. Irvin, an aircraft engineer who recently moved to Indiana, is still planning to attend every Angels' home playoff game.

"The reason you have season tickets is to have an opportunity to go to playoff games," said Irvin, whose tickets are in the second deck, behind home plate. "Why else would you have them? I guess to make money."

Rosenberg, whose neighbors were selling their third-base seats $850 each on StubHub, said fans who pocket the money and end up watching the game on TV are only hurting their team.

"I can't help but think the team doesn't play as well if they hear fans from the opposing team cheering as loudly as their own fans," he said. "These intangibles can make the difference in whether you win or lose the game."