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Life Will Go On, but Maybe Not at Big A : Baseball: Fans, players and stadium workers are all making strike plans.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fishing reels were oiled, hunting rifles cleaned, jet skis tuned and airline tickets for home nestled in the pockets of shirts hung next to neat, white uniforms in the clubhouse.

Major league baseball players are set to go on strike Friday, so Wednesday night’s meeting between the Angels and the Kansas City Royals might end up being the last big league baseball game of the summer at Anaheim Stadium. If it’s spitting, scratching and cussing you crave, you’ll probably have to settle for “NYPD Blue” for a while.

There were few outward signs that this game--won by the Angels, 2-1--was different from any other. The announced crowd of 19,605 was typical for midweek. A few disgruntled fans displayed signs--"Mom, Send Money to the Pension Fund . . . DON’T STRIKE!” read one--but most in attendance were anything but morose.

“It’s a bummer,” said Lanette Larson of Brea, her Angel cap worn backward, either as a fashion statement or a form of protest. “But we’ll get by. There are lots of other things to do. Dude, this is Southern California, and it’s summertime.”

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But there are still baseball purists, those who hang onto nostalgic notions of the game, who are revived by the smell of hot dogs, peanuts, even stale beer, who have only hostile feelings for the millionaires’ club deciding the future of their beloved national pastime.

“I have only one word to say about both sides of this strike,” a professorial looking man interjected into a discussion in front of the stadium. “Selfish . . . “

Actually, there were two words. One unprintable.

The 1994 season, born so full of potential and promise, might indeed be going up in the smoke of an unlucky strike. Clearly, it would be an unfortunate work stoppage for a number of big swingers such as San Francisco’s Matt Williams, who is in hot pursuit of New York Yankee Roger Maris’ most-coveted record for home runs in a season, 61 in 1961.

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Williams is on a pace to hit 61, and the only strike he wants to see is belt high and over the middle of the plate.

While it might go down in baseball lore as the Season That Might Have Been, 1994 has already lost much of its luster for the Angels. Owners of the worst record in the American League, they have lost 14 of their last 19 games. In the past week alone, they have lost three times in extra innings. Futility seems to stalk them at every turn.

So maybe it’s no surprise that talk in the Angel clubhouse has turned to which personal watercraft have the most power and which lures are sure to attract the biggest largemouth bass.

Not everyone is consumed only by visions of unexpected vacations, though.

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“When I think about the fans, I feel the kind of heartache you feel when your first girlfriend dumps you,” said utility player Rex Hudler, who played professional baseball in Japan last year, signed with the Angels during spring training and has been a source of bubbling optimism ever since. “They’re the innocent victims in this.

“I certainly don’t feel sorry for me. I feel sorry for the vendor who’s working a second job to earn the money for his little summer vacation. But it’s something I can’t control. Now, if I could get the owners to name me the commissioner of baseball, I’d have this thing settled in a heartbeat.”

A players union strike in 1981 lasted 50 days, although it ended in time for the season to resume in August. In 1985, a strike lasted just one day. Most feel this one won’t be settled quickly.

Union head Donald Fehr said after Wednesday’s negotiating session broke up early that “there’s no sense in having a meeting just to have a meeting.”

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“If there’s nothing substantive,” he said, “we all have better things to do.”

That sentiment was clearly the most popular theme Wednesday night around the Big A. While some worried about the financial hardships that loomed, many were busy making plans for the time off.

Keith Tarter, a 21-year-old clubhouse attendant from Anaheim who attends Fullerton College in the off-season, isn’t fretting about the loss of his sole source of income.

“I’ve got a little money saved, and as long as I don’t get in any car wrecks and my insurance premiums don’t go up, I’ll be all right,” he said, smiling. “If it lasts too much longer than that, I’ll get another job. No big deal.

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“But I think it might last awhile. There’s a weird feeling around here. It’s like the last day of school. I keep waiting for the cupcakes and the class party to start.”

Debbie Engel, lobby director at Anaheim Stadium, says she is actually looking forward to a short strike.

“I’ve got a whole list of things to do,” she said. “Two or three weeks would be perfect. I also have a full-time job, so the only thing it really affects with me is how many concerts I go to. And I need a break. I need the rest.”

There will be little rest for those so weary of losing, however. Said Tim Mead, Angel assistant general manager: “Don’t laugh, but we need to look at what didn’t go right and why. There’s a reason for everything that’s happened on the field this year.”

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Manager Marcel Lachemann will also be using his time in the strike zone to search for clues. Answers might be too much to ask for.

“For the first couple of days, I’m going to try and get more organized,” said Lachemann, who took over after Buck Rodgers was fired in May. “I want to break down the roster, see where everyone is and what we can do to help them improve. Then I’ll have the coaches do the same sort of evaluation on each player in their area.

“It’s easy to say we need this and we need that, but it isn’t that easy to get those players. So you’d better figure out the best you can do with what you have. There are a lot of things that can be done, but as much as the time can be used effectively, I think playing games would be much more valuable.”

So does Hudler, who loves to play so much he’s starting to envy those he left behind in Japan. “I’ve got to call my buddy (former Angel) Jack Howell and tip my hat to him. He decided to stay another year over there because of the possibility of the strike. Looks like a good call now.”

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Shortstop Gary DiSarcina, who is convinced that a strike is the only way to get the owners to negotiate in good faith, acknowledged that he was suffering from a bout of melancholy before taking the field for what could be the final time of the year.

“When you know the issues, when you know what’s really going on, it makes it easier to make peace with yourself,” he said. “But it is too early for the season to end. This isn’t October, it’s August, when kids like to come to the park.

“This strike will cost me money. It will cost the fans games. It’s going to make a lot of people angry, and (the players) aren’t going to get a lot of sympathy. But it’s something we have to stand up for, even if a lot of people lose.”

Not taking into consideration the money they’d save from unpaid player salaries, club officials figure the Angels will lose about $160,000 for each of the 21 home games that could be wiped out, beginning Aug. 23 when the Angels are scheduled to play host to Milwaukee. The city of Anaheim will lose an estimated $61,000 in stadium revenue per game. Workers in the concession stands said they will lose about $1,500 if the strike wipes out the rest of the season.

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Elaine Hayes, who has worked in a souvenir stand near Gate 3 for 15 years, says she will be out between $67 and $100 in salary and commission every game, although "$100 is a high, and we haven’t had too many highs around here lately.”

“I use the money to buy books,” she said. “I’m studying respiratory therapy at Orange Coast College. Pretty soon I’ll be working at a hospital and won’t have to put up with this stuff. But, you know, I’ll probably keep working here because there’s no stress, and I like meeting the people.”

Someone asked Hayes the price of a custom-size Angel cap.

“Only the players can afford this kind, they’re $25,” she said. “Well, they’re $25 now. Who knows what they’ll be after the strike. The fans always pay in the end.”

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