The first-place New York Yankees, a hit at any box office, invaded Oakland last weekend to face the last-place Athletics. The turnstiles at RingCentral Coliseum were given a rare spin, with 93,719 fans attending the four-game series, or 23,430 per game.
The A’s are still dead last in the major leagues in attendance, though, having drawn a little over 10,000 fans per game this season. That should tell you not just something about the Yankees’ drawing power, but about Oakland as a baseball wasteland.
The A’s are all but a minor-league team, with 56 different players on their roster this season. RingCentral Coliseum, the latest of many names for the stadium that opened in 1966 as the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, is a dump – forlorn, obsolete and riddled with critters. A website sells T-shirts calling the place “Baseball’s Last Dive Bar.”
Just days before the Yankees came to town, the Coliseum attracted the wrong kind of attention when a couple who appeared to be engaged in a sex act were photographed while sitting in the last row of an all-but-empty section during an A’s game. Authorities promised an investigation.
That game drew 9,314, and the three-game series against the Miami Marlins that followed lured a total of 10,559. The A’s, with a $47m payroll that is one-fifth the size of the Yankees’, could use better players, but Oakland really could use a better ballpark.
The A’s want a better ballpark, and so do their loyal fans, but building a replacement has not been that simple. A proposed waterfront site at Howard Terminal is preferred, but progress has been slow, with a $200m hurdle remaining over infrastructure funding.
“I think the fans are worn out,” Joan Riebli, the president of the Oakland Athletics Booster Club, tells the Guardian. “It’s been five years of talking about a new park.”
So the A’s are taking what they are calling a “parallel path,” looking long and hard at moving to a new ballpark in Las Vegas – the same city where the Oakland Raiders of the NFL moved in 2020. The Raiders played at the Coliseum from 1966 to 1981 and from 1995 to 2019.
Dave Kaval, the A’s energetic president, said in a recent interview on A’s Cast Live that the Coliseum is “really 10 years past its useful life.” An opossum was sighted in the press box, later infested with ants. Feral cats invaded – but at least they took care of the rat problem.
“I don’t think there’s been a more serious effort to get a ballpark built really anywhere,” Kaval says in the video.
A baseball fan who calls himself Jordan the Lion visited the Coliseum for an A’s game in July and provided a video tour on YouTube. “Some people look at an old park as being a bad thing,” he said, “but I look at it as if you’re going back in time a little bit.”
That sort of works both ways. There were displays of photos from the four A’s teams in Oakland that won the World Series and the Moneyball era team, built on a small budget, that reeled off a 20-game winning streak in 2002. But the structure itself seemed to be crumbling. “Uh oh! I feel the floor buckling as I walk!” Jordan said as he toured the stadium.
Kaval did not respond to a request for comment from the Guardian, but he said in the A’s Cast Live interview, “We need options. We need somewhere to play as a franchise. While we’re working as hard as we can in Oakland, and we’re doing the same in Las Vegas to see if we can make a plan there that works for all parties as well.”
Just 16 miles away from the Coliseum sits a classic example of how a scenic ballpark can help to revitalize a neighborhood: Oracle Park, which opened as Pacific Bell Park in 2000, the home of the San Francisco Giants. The Giants draw three times as many fans as the A’s.
“The downtown ballpark would be a huge boon to Oakland the city and its reputation,” says CW Nevius, a veteran Bay-area journalist who is a columnist for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. “It could revitalize the area. The Giants’ ballpark was a huge factor in turning Mission Bay into the hottest neighborhood in San Francisco.
“However, Oakland has a long, sad history of not being able to get it together. I am concerned that this will continue to be characterized by bickering and glacial progress. At some point there has to be a fish-or-cut-bait moment.”
The A’s are owned by a billionaire named John Fisher, son of the founders of The Gap clothing and accessories retailer, who lets Kaval do the interviews, and, according to Riebli, “has always looked at the team as a stock investment.”
In July, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred found himself publicly defending how Fisher ran his franchise, telling the Baseball Writers Association of America, “I think that negativity always accompanies the situation where players are traded and a club for whatever set of reasons decides to start over. But I think bigger picture, John is committed and has invested really significant dollars in trying to get baseball in Oakland on an even footing, a sustainable footing over the long haul.”
But then Manfred added that an agreement for a new stadium in Oakland would need to be reached soon – or the team could move to Las Vegas. Riebli said fans would even love a new ballpark at the current location, but Kaval makes it sound like that is the third option.
“Is there a chance that John Fisher will sell? Perhaps,” Nevius says. “But the new owner is going to want results, and I don’t think a Las Vegas move would be a bluff in that case.”
Riebli has had A’s season tickets since 1986; she now splits a Sunday ticket plan with another fan. She says the A’s play hard and fan loyalty remains extremely strong, even though the A’s often shuttle players between Oakland and their top minor-league team.
That minor-league team just happens to be located in Las Vegas. The Aviators play at a 10,000-seat, three-year-old ballpark 16 miles west of the Strip – not a big enough place for the A’s to move, even though they draw only that many fans a game now.
“I saw a meme someplace that said, ‘If the A’s go to Las Vegas, do they have to contact Major League Baseball for permission to have two minor-league teams?’” she says, chuckling.
Source: Yahoo Sports