The happiest place on earth is supposed to be a few streets over, but for Angels owner Arte Moreno, it was in an embrace with Albert Pujols in the clubhouse as players poured bottles of champagne over his head.
His happy place was on the field at Angel Stadium, watching the Angels run around celebrating their AL West title and first postseason berth in five years. It was watching them high-five fans — who stayed for about an hour after the game in case the Angels were to clinch — and watch Mike Trout spray them with champagne.
That happy place was standing next to his wife, Carole, on the field sharing hug after enjoyable hug in his wet AL West champions T-shirt. It was hearing that there were hundreds of fans outside the gates who wanted back in the stadium after they’d left and allowing that to happen so they could party with the Angels.
Moreno is in his happy owner’s place, and so are the Angels, who have the best record in baseball. There’s so much he enjoys about this team and so much more he’ll love if the Angels can win the World Series. Moreno bought the team in 2003, about seven months after the Angels won their first World Series.
Now, this team has the chance to win the first World Series with Moreno as owner.
"They all love each other. They all like each other," Moreno said. "They have fun together. Really, it’s a great mix of veterans and a lot of young people. How many young people we have in the organization and just a lot of young guys stepped up. A lot of role players. The veterans are the leaders, Weave and Albert," referring to Jered Weaver and Albert Pujols.
"You look at Howie (Kendrick) and (Erick) Aybar, just go through it, there’s a lot of homegrown players on this team. We can continue to generate. Garrett (Richards) did a great job. Look at Shoe (Matt Shoemaker). It’s really hard without me just naming everyone."
It’s a good problem to have.
Angels can breathe (small) sigh of relief with AL West crown in pocket
Over the last few seasons, there were the big-splash signings of Josh Hamilton, Pujols and C.J. Wilson. There was the $144.5 million contract extension for Trout, who with Derek Jeter retiring at the end of the month, is already being crowned the new face of baseball.
An October to remember would go a long way in cementing that distinction and earning Moreno’s Angels even more acclaim.
All that money didn’t result in a pennant last year.
"They really don’t print too much about the teams that take second or third," Moreno said.
The Angels are back making news for their winning ways, becoming the first team to 90 wins and the first to earn a postseason berth.
Shoemaker, sidelined now with a mild oblique strain, won 16 games as a 27-year-old rookie. This will be his first postseason. If the Angels win the World Series, it will be a first for him and Moreno.
"It’s a blast," Shoemaker said as he looked over at Moreno. "He put this team together, and we want to keep it together and keep it going. It’s special for everybody."
Moreno is satisfied to watch players like Shoemaker, Kole Calhoun and C.J. Cron do so well. Cron had the three-run home run off the rock-pile in the Angels 5-0 victory Wednesday that set the stage for the later celebration.
That home run had Moreno wide-eyed as he discussed it.
"Look at Cron’s home run, that bomb," Moreno said. "That lit up this place. Every night there’s a new role player."
The Angels didn’t make many headlines one season ago with just 78 wins. Moreno kept general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Mike Scioscia, while things weren’t always harmonious between the GM and skipper. They’ve made the relationship work this season. Dipoto’s 2015 contract option was announced recently but exercised earlier this summer. And Scioscia is still doing his thing.
Moreno bought the team in 2003 from Disney, following the Angels’ 2002 World Series championship. The Angels are still searching for that next championship. They already have their big star to try to help them achieve that. Trout was MVP of this summer’s All-Star Game and is in the running for the AL MVP award this year as well.
Bullpens don’t normally get much attention, unless blowing leads, but the Angels bullpen — with Joe Smith, Kevin Jepsen and Co. — is so good it’s earning much love.
The combination of veterans like Pujols, Hamilton and Weaver has worked well and guys like Shoemaker and Trout have benefited from picking their brains. Pujols has embraced the role of mentoring Trout, and that kind of chemistry has made the Angels work so well together.
Bullpen turnaround just one reason Angels won AL West
Fans notice notice that harmony. Every year, Moreno said he reminds players who they’re in business with, the same people who waited for them on Wednesday and pay to watch them hit home runs and pitch scoreless innings.
"I tell the players every year in spring training, we play the game for the fans," Moreno said.
Angels fans are happy, and that has Moreno even more comfortable in his happy place.