Sports Angels

Angels-Athletics is becoming a real rivalry

Because of proximity and success of both teams, Angels-A's can join the great state debate

It's probably wrong to say everyone in Southern California dislikes everything about the Bay Area. Or vice versa.

But I'm not saying they don't either. Because the sibling rivalry between California's two most populous areas has long divided the state along obvious fault lines.

There's fog vs. sun. The San Francisco Opera vs. "American Idol." Fisherman's Wharf or the Santa Monica pier. And the Giants and Dodgers.

So while Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, others would prefer to join Randy Newman in singing "I Love L.A."

Which raises the question: Is it too early to add the Oakland Athletics and Angels to that list?

Like everything else about Northern and Southern California, that depends on whom you ask.

"I kind of feel like it's pretty close to that," says Angels closer Huston Street, who has played for both teams. "On the A's it felt like that. It just takes two winning teams."

Teammate Jered Weaver, a Southern California native, disagrees.

"It's too early," he says. "Obviously there's a rivalry going on just because we're battling against them in the AL West. But the Dodgers-Giants rivalry been going on for a while. So I don't think we can put that much on it."

But it's building. Just look at the evidence.

Oakland outfielder Jonny Gomes, who played in Tampa Bay when the Rays and Boston Red Sox became bitter enemies, says the first rule of rivalries is both teams have to be good.

"You can't have a good team and a bad team and have it be a rivalry," says Gomes, who grew an A's fan in Petaluma. "And they have to be good for a steady amount of time."

Go ahead and check that box, since the A's or Angels have combined to make the playoffs 13 times since 2000, winning 11 AL West titles.

The next requirement is location, says Angels Manager Mike Scioscia, who played for 13 seasons in the heated Dodgers-Giants rivalry.

"Sure there's a rivalry just from the divisional aspect," Scioscia says. "If you did geographical realignment and you put the A's and the Dodgers and us in the same division, I think you'd see some really strong rivalries develop in a very short time."

So you can check that box, too. Not only are Anaheim and Oakland less than 400 miles apart, but the teams have been paired in the AL West since baseball went to a divisional format in 1969.

Finally, there's the emotional element. No matter how good or how close two teams may be, if no one cares when they play one another then there's no rivalry.

"The fans that are there in Oakland, they're loyal, they're passionate and they're loud. That's good for the game of baseball," Street says. "Passion is what this thing is all about.

"When I was there, I loved the fans. On the other side [now], I respect the fans. I don't love them as much."

Competitive? Geographically close? Emotional fan bases?

Check. Check. And check.

Plus this year you can add the fact that, after the Angels' 4-3 win over the A's in 10 innings Thursday night, the teams are separated by just two games atop the division and for the best record in baseball as well. Both races will likely go down to the season's final days — which is the kind of drama rivalries are built on.

"It takes two winning sides," Street says. "As soon as one side falls by the wayside then the rivalry is immediately diminished. Look at the Red Sox-Yankees now. It's just not even close to the same.

"The magnitude of [a rivalry] totally depends on the teams and their records.

"As an individual player, your goal is to make the playoffs. And the team that is standing in your way most often, they become your rival. Rivalries are created out of excellence. It's a pretty evenly matched battle. Which makes for great competition."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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