Thanks to the super-new FM radio station 95.7 Sports Radio, my daily commute just got a lot more opinionated. On today’s morning show: where do you stand on the Oakland Athletics moving to San Jose? My immediate reaction: there’s somewhere else to stand, besides above the right-field bleacher sign that screams “Keep our A’s in Oakland”? You don’t say.
The show hosts and several callers made some valid points for the move to the South Bay, though. I generally think that if you’re willing to wait on the phone for an unknown amount of time to make your point heard, you’re either extremely ignorant or quite well-educated about the issue, and I was pleased to find that it was the latter for the callers of 95.7. However, I grossly disagree with their consensus that Lew Wolff should just “get it done already” and make a deal for a new stadium in a city that actually wants them. And since I couldn’t locate my phone from the driver’s seat to dial in this morning, I’m putting my rally cry into “print” instead.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who’s been to McAfee Coliseum say that the A’s aren’t in serious need of a new ballpark. And not just for the sake of aesthetics – think about what new ballparks have done for low-budget teams such as Minnesota and Milwaukee. It doesn’t take a nod in Freakonomics to understand that new venues bring the big “M”s to a franchise: morale and money. Will the Athletics feel more confident about their game if their owner has entrusted them to win in a beautiful new stadium? Will people pay to see a team they barely follow just for the experience, and possibly become recurring customers, or even true fans? If you find yourself answering “doubtful” I’ve got to question your love for the game and all the magic that surrounds it. The ballpark is just as much a part of the franchise as the ace pitcher, 30+ home run hitter, and roar of the crowd as the wave swings by their section. Positively quintessential.
Oakland gets a lot of shit, especially from self-proclaimed rivals across the Bay, but there’s no dispute among actual baseball commentators and experts that we are and always have been a decent-to-good team. We’re not the Yankees, but we’re certainly not the Royals either. We may end the season with the fewest runs scored in the majors, but our pitchers will also finish with the lowest collective ERA. We’ve got the bullpen, the savvy management, the (generally) sharp defense, the hitting…potential – we need, and deserve, a new ballpark. But why uproot the A’s (again) and send them down to San Jose? Here’s what they’re saying.
It needs to get done, send them to the city where it’s going to get done fast.
Hold on there, tiger. This whole debate is moot if the Giants don’t relinquish the rights to the South Bay, which they’ve made clear they have no intention of doing. Is it really most efficient and in the best interest of the team to force a special election on the matter of the rights to San Jose? While I think San Francisco is being a little childish about the whole issue (there’s something to win and something to lose for everyone involved, but SF is willing to do neither), I don’t think that pressuring the city into a decision largely in favor of the A’s from a business point of view is a smart move. San Jose may seem like a quick fix, but there are years and layers of business politics beneath this city, and those won’t just go away because fans come forth and say they’re cool with moving to San Jose. Obviously a new ballpark anywhere will take massive amounts of time and involve head-spinning politics, but I think pushing to take San Jose away from the Giants will only add to the time suck this whole debate has already been.
San Jose wants the A’s – Oakland doesn’t.
The city of Oakland has been kind of an asshole about a new ballpark, that’s no secret. For whatever reason, the landowners and politicians aren’t interested in generating the multi-millions of dollars a new stadium could bring in. Perhaps they’re not lifelong baseball fans and don’t understand the aforementioned magic a ballpark holds. More likely, they know something the general public doesn’t and they’re not telling. Do I trust their reasoning? Absolutely not, they’re the government and I’m a borderline socialist. Whatever the reasons may be though, they’re sticking to them regarding the proposals for an Oakland site that have fallen onto their desks thus far.
But Oakland’s a decent-sized city, the 8th largest in the state. If Lew and co. really wanted a site in Oakland, couldn’t they find a way to make it happen? So maybe it’s not that Oakland doesn’t want the A’s, but the A’s don’t necessarily want Oakland. Consider the push for the rights to San Jose – why not redirect that time and effort into a push for Oakland? There would be far fewer hoops to jump through and people to piss off along the way. Although it breaks my heart a little, I’m inclined to believe that it’s the Athletics’ upper-management pushing us out of Oakland, not the city itself. Personally, I can’t get on board with a mutiny against the city that hosts the house that Rickey built. I’m not drinking that Kool-Aid, people. There’s always a laundry list of factors the public don’t know about and “Oakland doesn’t want us” is just too simple to accept.
Look at what the San Jose fan base has done for the Sharks – it can happen for the A’s, too.
Just like the ballpark itself, the fans of a sports team can be instrumental in the team’s success. We’ve seen it firsthand in the Bay Area year after year – the 2007 Warriors, the past 4 years for the Sharks, last year for the Giants, the A’s 20-game streak of 2002. The more support you have from the fans, the more likely you are to win games. Don’t let me take anything away from the Sharks and their fans – no doubt their growing popularity in San Jose helped hoist them into the playoffs for 4 years straight, but no way was that the driving factor. They first had to be a good team. It’s naive to think that you could take this year’s Athletics roster, throw them in San Jose, and expect them to contend for the pennant. Let’s think about what brings new fans to sporting events – a winning team, high-ticket players, and a beautiful stadium. It will be years before any new stadium can generate enough revenue and prestige for the A’s to purchase the kind of high-ticket players that will draw in new fans. Matsui’s doing a-ok bringing in the ticket-buyers this year, but I’ll bet my next paycheck he’s not on the roster next year. For the fan base to grow, we need staple players to act as the face of baseball for Oakland. It’s not enough to be a great ballplayer in Oakland (think Mark Ellis, Kurt Suzuki) – you won’t get your due recognition unless you’ve made a name for yourself in the MLB overall (think Nick Swisher, Rajai Davis). We can’t expect fans to jump on our bandwagon if we don’t dangle a power hitter in front of their noses.
While it’s inevitable that moving to San Jose would substantially grow the fan base of the Athletics, I’m concerned about the kind of team the A’s will become when the fan dynamic shifts. They’re a young, gritty team that will give up 12 runs in the 1st and 2nd then score 13 in the 3rd (saw that one firsthand last year). Constantly surprising, they adopted the motto “Green Collar Baseball” quite rightfully – no win goes without every ounce of effort and athleticism the team possesses. And we lifelong fans appreciate that style in a way no San Jose convert ever will. If you never saw Rajai steal multiple bases during one at-bat, or Street save his 23rd game of the season, or even saw the top of the lineup hit into a triple play, you just can’t understand what A’s baseball is all about. Without the history, you’re a different kind of fan, and that shift in the fan dynamic will produce a different team of ball players, in my opinion. New baseball fans are going to want home run hitters over of lights-out pitchers, and I fear for what the Oakland franchise will become if we appease the bandwagon.
Considering the commute fans currently make to the A’s games, San Jose really isn’t much farther.
I call bullshit on this one, for pure geographic reasons. The Oakland stadium is 10 minutes from the Heart of the Bay, centrally located so that no matter what Bay Area city you’re coming from, it’ll take you a maximum of 45 minutes to get to the game. It takes 45 minutes from Hayward to San Jose on a Wednesday at 2. Imagine what the Richmond-based A’s fans will have to endure to get to the new ballpark by 7. I can hear the devil’s advocates already: “True A’s fans will find a way to make it to the games.” No matter how diehard of an A’s fan I am, I can’t create time that doesn’t exist. We work 40 hours a week just like the rest of the world, and if our commute to the baseball game is doubled, or even tripled as it would be for me, there’s just no logistic way to make that work. The diehard fans want to see every pitch, and if I can’t get that at the live show I’d rather watch at home and play the Oakland A’s drinking game. (Copyright Main Street Mansion, 2010)
And dare we even touch on the fact that BART doesn’t run to San Jose? Sure, there are “plans” to extend it to San Jose., but all I’ve read lately is that those plans are being foiled by severe budget cuts and overlooked in favor of the bullet train to L.A. And if there’s no public transportation for us current fans, where the hell is everyone going to park? And how much money is a) the stadium going to lose when 1/4 of us have to drive and don’t buy beer, or b) the individual going to lose when they get a DUI leaving the ballpark? It’s not like San Jose’s known for over-eager cops or anything…
If they don’t go to San Jose, they might head even farther away.
Now this one actually spooks me. If the city of Oakland won’t cooperate, and the Giants won’t give back the rights to San Jose, what does the future hold for the A’s? There are plenty of Oakland-sized cities itching for a professional baseball team (Portland, San Antonio) – if a new stadium is pertinent to the future success of the A’s, which I wholeheartedly believe to be true, is there a possibility that it might be built out of California? I cringe at the idea. But, there’s some very real talk circulating about a change on the horizon, and not just in the team’s location.
The Dodgers have taken money mis-management to whole new level this year, and now that the MLB commissioner has stepped in, what are the chances that Bud Selig will ask his longtime friend and L.A. native Lew Wolff to take over the team? Slim, I’m sure. But sports gossip doesn’t appear out of thin air, and A’s fans need to consider the possibility that the team will undergoing new ownership – again. And what will those new owners want? Will they care about the history of the A’s in Oakland? Or are they more likely to see the business end of it and act as classic American consumers: where can I get the most bang for my buck? I assure you, the answer to that will never be Oakland. Unless by bang you mean the gunfire that helped rank Oakland the most murderous city in the country at one point. Yeah…not everyone’s stoked on the Town, and not every A’s fan can expect them to be.
It’s a scary year for A’s fans all-around. We’ve loyally stood by their side for decades while our team faltered and began the slow climb back to the top. We desperately want this to be “the year,” and not in the way every baseball fans wants to see their team go to the Series – we’ve been patient with our young team and supportive of BillyBall, and we yearn for some reciprocity for our good deeds. I understand the business behind moving to San Jose, and I get that it might be what’s best for the franchise overall and in the long run. But I can’t imagine my life without the feeling I get when I step off the BART train at 66th Ave/Coliseum. When you’re surrounded by fellow fans in green and gold, the crowd radiates with an insanely strong sense of community, because we know that it takes a special kind of baseball fan to love the A’s. We’re homegrown and just don’t know any better – they’re the Bay Area’s team that’s for locals only, and through winning streaks and serious slumps we’re by their side, supporting the constant roster changes and defining what it means to have faith in your team.
If they take the A’s to San Jose, we’ll get over it, but I promise you a part of that amazing spirit that whispers through the crowd in the bottom of the 9th will die right there on the bridge from BART to the Coliseum, the gateway from our reality to the dreams our childhood built.