California & USA

O.C. Angels fans hope selling the team will allow them to win again.

Like many die-hard Los Angeles Angels fans, Robert Torres has mixed feelings about the news that owner Arte Moreno is exploring a sale of the team.

A new owner could help the Angels, who have gone two decades without a World Series title, by investing money in a deep bench rather than big-name players past their prime.

But a new owner could also change the kid-friendly vibe of the stadium or move the team out of Orange County, which would devastate fans.

Torres has weighed the pros and cons and decided to lean into cautious optimism.

“From 2003 to 2014, we always had this hope that this was the year we’re going to win another series, and sometimes we’d make the playoffs and just bomb,” said Torres, 53, of Orange. “I miss that, and if a new owner comes and brings that element back, well, that’s what leads to more exciting seasons and makes the game fun to watch.”

For Angels loyalists, the team is a source of Orange County pride, even when they’re losing. The family-friendly stadium, Rally Monkey mascot and mostly well-mannered fans are a stark contrast to the rival Dodgers, fans say — and they like that.

Angels fan Edgar Rodriguez watches the team play the Tampa Bay Rays at Lopez & Lefty’s sports bar in Anaheim. “Fans have stayed with the Angels through thick and thin, and mostly thin,” according to a USC sports communication professor.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The one thing they aren’t worried about is Moreno’s exit. Aside from a few popular moves early in his tenure — like lowering beer prices at the stadium — most fans don’t have an allegiance to Moreno, said Daniel Durbin, the director of the USC Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media and Society.

But they are notoriously loyal to the franchise itself. The fan base was built over a 60-year period, and the really hardcore fans still look at the team to some degree as the “cowboy’s team” led by Gene Autry. Being overshadowed by the Dodgers only adds to their distinct sense of identity, as do marquee stars such as Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani who dazzle amid losing seasons.

“They’ve only had one championship,” Durbin said. “So fans have stayed with the Angels through thick and thin, and mostly thin. The truly faithful Angels fans have been faithful through a lot.”

Torres has been one of those fans since his family moved to Orange County from Norwalk in 1979. He spent his childhood watching games and riding his bicycle with his brothers and parents from their home in Garden Grove to the stadium. He still goes to about 27 games a year, and when he’s not there in person, he’s watching them on TV.

When Torres’ late father retired as an offshore oil inspector, he took a job as an usher at the stadium, helping fans find their seats and making sure everyone in his section was comfortable and safe.

“We fell in love with the Angels because it’s our local team. Over the years going to games has been something fun we can all do together and something we can all talk about without killing each other,” Torres said, laughing. “It’s been a big part of our family and our upbringing.”

Bartenders and waitresses pose by an Angels mural outside Lopez & Lefty's sports bar.

Vera Ledesma, from left, Alex Prado and Teresa Quach are bartenders and waitresses at Lopez & Lefty’s. Angels employees often hang out and grab food at the Anaheim sports bar during home stands, the owner says.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Some fans hope a change in ownership might mean a return to the Anaheim Angels name. The change to Los Angeles Angels, which Moreno made after he purchased the team in 2003, angered many O.C. fans.

“We’re not L.A.,” said Beth Mackenzie, 61, of Costa Mesa. “We’re behind the orange curtain. We’re separate, and now people think when they go to Disneyland, they’re going to L.A.”

On Tuesday, Angels fans cozied up to the bar at Lopez & Lefty’s, less than two miles from the stadium in Anaheim, to watch the Halos as they battled the Tampa Bay Rays.

Patrons walking into the bar passed by a pair of white feathered wings with the phrase “Where Angels Play” painted on the wall adjacent to the patio.

Angels pride was evident throughout the space, from the beer mirrors on the wall to the black plastic coaster stand adorned with a large red haloed “A.”

Lopez & Lefty’s owner AJ Parmar said a possible sale raises a lot of questions and uncertainty for fans. Most troubling, he said, is whether a new owner would uproot the team from Orange County. Parmar, like many others, hopes not.

Angels employees often hang out and grab food at the bar during home stands. It would be difficult to lose that business, he said, and it would also be devastating for locals who make a living working at the stadium.

“If they move, it would bum out a lot of people. The Angels have been here for a long time, and there’s a lot of pride around here for the team,” said Parmar, 30, who lives in Anaheim. “It’s part of the identity here.”

A baseball statue with the Angels logo outside Angel Stadium.

For Angels loyalists, the team is a source of Orange County pride, even when they’re losing.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

At the bar, David Solomon, 34, sipped a beer while keeping his eyes trained on the big-screen TV behind the bar. He groaned as the Rays scored a run, pushing their total closer to double digits while the Angels had only one run from a homer by Trout.

After a promising start to the season, the Angels (52-71) endured a 14-game losing streak in June. They’ve gone from 11 games over .500 in mid-May to 19 games under .500 after Tuesday’s loss.

It’s been two decades since Solomon watched the stadium erupt in cheers as outfielder Darin Erstad caught a fly ball hit by the San Francisco Giants to give the Angels their first — and only — World Series championship. Solomon, who was in high school at the time, was so elated that he skipped class with his siblings to attend the victory parade.

“It was a great moment for Angels fans,” Solomon said. “We’ll get back there. It’s frustrating to lose, but at some point, it’s going to turn around. I’m not going to say we’re at the bottom, but if you get pretty low, sometimes the only direction is up.”

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