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Down to Their Last At-Bats : Angel Faithful See Team, Big A Through to a Bittersweet End

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The home team was in dead last. The afternoon crowd was certain to be small. And then there was work to consider.

But no matter, reasoned Craig Denery, a 45-year-old maintenance worker with the Fountain Valley School District. This was the Angels’ final home game in the Big A before the stadium undergoes a $100-million face-lift over the next 18 months.

“I made it a special point to come here today,” said Denery, one of 17,160 to watch the Angels play the Seattle Mariners. “This stadium won’t be the same next year. It will be a different place. It’s really the end of an era of sorts.”

Construction crews soon will begin converting the aging 65,000-seat stadium into a 45,000-seat, baseball-only facility. Disney officials say remodeling plans are “evolving,” but fans can expect to see major changes, including a new location for the scoreboard and new viewing suites and press boxes.

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During construction, which will continue through next baseball season, stadium seating will be reduced to just 30,000.

“I think it will look a lot better,” said Beth Hutson, 32, a season ticket-holder, who brought her two children to the Angels’ final home game. “We’ll be able to see better from what I understand, and this place was due for a change.”

Though Wednesday’s attendance was as disappointing as the Angels’ season, the fans who showed up said they wouldn’t have missed it for the World Series. Even the Angels’ dismal 11-2 loss to the Mariners only temporarily diminished their enthusiasm.

“That game summed up their season,” said a half-disgusted Mark Reynolds, 35, of Anaheim, after the Mariners reached the Angels for six runs in the top of the ninth inning. “I just can’t stand to see them bombed like that.”

A few moments later, after discussing the reasons for baseball’s strong perennial appeal, Reynolds seemed to forgive the lopsided score.

“I’m a die-hard baseball fan,” said Reynolds, a landscape designer. “I’d come no matter what.”

Added Denery, wearing an Angel T-shirt and cap and listening to the game on the radio inside the stadium: “I know [the Angels] haven’t had a good season like we hoped, but I’m still here to support them. What can I say? I’m a big baseball fan.”

Since it was an afternoon game, many fans had to ditch work or school to attend. Denery arranged to leave the job early. Brian Licata, 13, of Covina left school after a math test, with grandparental approval and transportation.

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“My friends were all jealous,” Brian said. “I was trying to get the answers right and hurry up to the game.”

The youngster, whose mother lives in Seattle, wore a Mariner jersey and held up a sign that read “Refuse to Lose 2" on one side and “Hi, Mom” on the other.

“I don’t know if [the Mariners] will go to the World Series, but they will definitely go to the playoffs,” Brian said. “Definitely.”

Though it was largely a day of endings, for William DeLeon it was a day of beginnings. Wednesday’s game marked the first time the 65-year-old Downey resident had attended an Angel home game, and perhaps for the best reason of all.

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“My ticket was free,” said DeLeon, who sat with his son-in-law Dana Burroughs between home plate and third base.

But the retiree was less than thrilled with the stadium’s speakers intermittently blasting rock music.

“You can hardly hear yourself think,” he said. “Maybe they’ll change that next year.”


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