Angels owner Arte Moreno is one of those nice guys

From Tempe, Ariz.

I’m used to people running away, not returning phone calls or, like Manny Ramirez, vowing to never speak again.

But when I ask team officials if I might see Arizona part-time resident and Angels owner Arte Moreno, he gets into his car and drives across town in rush hour to come to my hotel.

I’m thinking he misunderstood, gets a message someone wants to buy Angels tickets, and by now everyone knows this guy will do almost anything to take care of a customer.

When he arrives, he’s smiling. I never get that either from an owner, especially one with a team stuck below .500 — wondering why he isn’t stressed out given the Angels’ problems this season.

“I’m a Vietnam vet; stress is when someone is shooting at you,” he says. “As for problems, a friend of mine’s wife was diagnosed with cancer. One of my best buddies has been fighting cancer for two years. Those are problems. This is not a problem.”

For almost three hours it goes like that, just your everyday common-man owner, family before baseball, talking about the pride he has in his son who has just graduated from college, his daughter’s turn next year, and then passing on regards from his wife, Carol.

He’s ultra-competitive, but winning isn’t everything without proper perspective. He says the Angels charge $9 for anyone who wants a 24-ounce beer, but why would anyone buy a 24-ounce beer? “I like my beer cold,” he says.

He knows the first baseball game of the day begins at 11, and he will follow eight to 10 games by day’s end. He has tremendous admiration for Vin Scully, but amazingly enough he’s never met him. He went to dinner with Sandy Koufax and he was in awe.

He sounds too good to be true, but he thinks the media too often dwells on the negative, so sometimes he’s really off base.

He won a World Series ring as minority owner of the Diamondbacks in 2001, and although he was also a minority owner of the Phoenix Suns before cashing out, he spends a good deal of time talking now about his admiration for Lakers owner Jerry Buss and the way the Lakers do business.

“It takes generations and generations of consistency to do what the Lakers have done,” he says, “and I appreciate their commitment to their fans.”

Moreno, who makes a practice of reading and studying others who have won and treated their fans well, recently marked his seventh anniversary as owner of the Angels.

It’s been a family-friendly seven years, all the more incredible when you consider the emphasis also placed on being competitive, his teams winning 154 more regular-season games than they have lost under his ownership.

The Angels have claimed five division titles with Moreno as owner, and haven’t raised parking prices once.

“When we looked into the name change, we did a lot of research,” Moreno says. “Of the top five or six things fans want, winning didn’t come into play. The first thing that came into play was that almost 80% of all decisions made in regard to spending discretionary money were made by the mom.

“Mothers are making decisions where the family is going for entertainment and they are looking for an affordable, safe, clean experience.”

That’s why Moreno looks over the cleanliness of stadium parking lots like someone else might examine an expensive painting. He added attendants to the women’s restrooms at the stadium.

“I’m looking at the long journey and taking people with me,” he says. “We want the best fan experience and we want to hang flags. I didn’t say, ‘flag.’ Flags.”

As for that controversial Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim name change, he says, before the change the team had $100 million in revenue. Now it’s almost $230 million.

The Angels still reside in Anaheim, but they have a big-city payroll because of their reach in Southern California, and yet they have lowered prices on beer, popcorn, hot dogs and souvenirs, and kept them so.

“A couple of years ago we won 100 games, which is very difficult to do,” he says. “That means we also lost 62 games, so that means somewhere around 36 to 38% of the time people came to the ballpark and were not seeing a winner. It’s all about the experience a family takes with them.”

The Angels attracted 2,305,557 fans in 2002 while winning a World Series — the year before he bought the team. They have never drawn fewer than 3 million under Moreno, almost averaging a million more a year.

In last year’s seventh annual ESPN the Magazine ranking of all sports teams and what they give back in exchange for time, money and emotion invested by fans, the Angels finished No. 1 ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Steelers.

“You know what — I love this game and what it means to people,” Moreno says. “ John Wooden says it best: ‘Passion is short-term and love is long-term.’ We’re just getting started here. It’s like what I told my wife when we first met: ‘If you want to go for a ride, hold on, because I’m not going to stand around and kill the grass.’

“If I’m not thinking forward three or four years, I’m going to be gone.”

That’s why he started selling inexpensive baseball caps to kids, who seven years later are well on their way now to one day buying mini-ticket plans. That’s why he signed Manager Mike Scioscia to a 10-year extension.

“If he goes,” he says, “where am I going to get someone like that — someone from the area, a great communicator, a great person?”

It’s that simple for Moreno, a good dose of common sense as much his guide as anything, and so when I mentioned the McCourts, he said nothing. His mom taught him well.

I’m sure Frank would appreciate that, and I’d call him to say so, but he never returns a call.

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