Us Versus Them

Francisco Rodriguez pitches for Lake Elsinore at Rancho Cucamonga, June 2, 2000.

“They were once us. We were once them.”

That’s the opening line for an article I just turned in to the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. As I mentioned earlier in the week, I’m busy writing a series of articles for the Play Ball magazine handed out at Quakes games.

The first article, about the 2007 Cedar Rapids Kernels, will be distributed during the Lancaster series July 1-3.

The next article was going to be about the Arkansas Travelers, but when I realized the magazine would be distributed during the July 7-9 series against Lake Elsinore, I suggested we push back the Travs article one issue and instead do a story about the rivalry between the Quakes and Storm.

The focus of the article is on September 15, 2000, the day the two teams switched parent club affiliations.

The Quakes had been with the San Diego Padres since 1993, yet filed to terminate their agreement because they were dissatisfied with the recent performance of the players sent to The Epicenter. The Angels, meanwhile, had heard that Lake Elsinore was going to file to terminate on them, so they filed themselves — only to learn that the Storm did not file to terminate.

Filing a termination doesn’t mean the two partners can’t renew vows. It just opens a window of a few weeks where the teams seeking partners can see who’s out there.

Rumor had it that the Quakes, who annually led the California League in attendance, were being courted by the Texas Rangers, the Cincinnati Reds, the Colorado Rockies, and others. The Angels, meanwhile, were rumored to be headed for San Bernardino (now Inland Empire). That franchise’s owner also owned San Antonio in the Double-A Texas League, and was looking for a parent club that would sign with both affiliates. The Angels seemed to fit the bill, because they’d just been booted from Erie, Pennsylvania, who wanted to sign with the nearby Detroit Tigers.

So it was a bit of a shock when the Angels and Quakes announced a two-year agreement that mid-September afternoon.

The Storm management drove down the I-15 to hold their press conference at the Padres’ ballpark, but Angels farm director Darrell Miller drove to The Epicenter to attend a simultaneous press conference in the Quakes’ locker room.

For those of us intimately involved at the time with the Lake Elsinore Storm, this was the rough equivalent of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush swapping wives.

In retrospect, the switch made all the sense in the world.

For Lake Elsinore, they were able to reorient their marketing towards north San Diego County, where the Padres were also expanding their marketing. Of course, the Padres were more than happy to have an affiliate 40 miles closer to San Diego.

For Rancho Cucamonga, they got a partner that competed with the Dodgers for the growing Inland Empire fan base, and located only 45 miles away. The Angels probably would have been happy staying at the Lake Elsinore Diamond, which is about 50 miles from Anaheim, but in the long run their increasing popularity in the Inland Empire helped encourage mutual promotional plans with the Quakes.

Seven years later, no doubt most of the fans who attend games at The Epicenter and The Diamond have no clue about the early history of the rivalry between these two successful operations. But the few of us who were around at the time still marvel at how we became them, and they became us.

The article will also look at Angels prospects who played for both teams. The most famous is Francisco Rodriguez, who pitched for Lake Elsinore in 2000 and Rancho Cucamonga in 2001. I sent Rancho photos of Frankie pitching for the Storm on the road at The Epicenter on June 2, 2000 and pitching for the Quakes on the road at The Diamond on June 11, 2001.

I mentioned a few weeks back that I’d invested in a digital photo scanner. The photos for this article were mostly scanned from negatives I’d shot from 2000 through 2002. The scanner really paid off for this project, because it was able to resurrect the quality of the images. A little cleanup was required in Adobe PhotoShop, but still it’s nice to know that these negatives can be digitized and saved from slow degradation.

The above image is one example.

Click Here to listen to the September 15, 2000 press conference announcing the Angels’ affiliation with Rancho Cucamonga. Windows Media Player required.

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