Marriage between Oakland, A's strained from start
If Lew Wolff is to be believed (and he's a major pro sports owner, so no bets will be accepted), then the A's really are finished at the Coliseum in Oakland. Come Fremont, come Sacramento, come Las Vegas or Portland or Central Gilroy, the one place where the franchise will not be located a few years hence is Ye Olde Baseball & Raider Refuse Area, just off Interstate 880. Plenty of good seats and parking still available, by the way.And thus will conclude one of the great ambivalent relationships in West Coast sports history. The A's and the Coliseum have gone together for 40 years, and yet the breakup, when it finally happens, is going to feel like something that has been coming almost from the start.
It's interesting how stadiums (ballparks, arenas et al) and teams either make a great match or don't. History isn't always the determining factor. You don't need a Wrigley Field lifespan to get a connection to a place, as the San Francisco Giants have demonstrated with AT&T Park. You usually need money, some enduring memories and a little mutual chemistry.The A's and the Coliseum, for all their twists and turns together, never developed that last part. The team has gone to the playoffs 15 times in Oakland; the stadium, depending upon the day of the week and the era in question, has often been a really wonderful place to sit. But the two never fully clicked: not through the Charlie Finley, World-Series-on-the-cheap days; not through the Bash Brothers (though it may have come closest then); not through the Hudson-Mulder-Zito run of fortune. Maybe it was the vast expanse of foul territory, a design flaw of what was always meant as a multiuse facility, that set the fans so far back from the action and could make the games feel so remote. Maybe it was seeing the outfield occasionally (or often) reduced to sludge by an NFL game the weekend before. Shoot, maybe it was the Finley era of ownership in general, a wild, controversial reign that served as an innovative but off-putting introduction of the A's to the Bay Area. Whatever it was, it's past the point of missing it much now. As ludicrous as it sounds to say to an area that has never known the A's to be anywhere but the Coliseum, a transition to a place elsewhere -- in the East Bay or South Bay, that is -- just doesn't stack up as an end-of-nature chain of events. It may be received as bad news for Oakland itself; beyond that, perhaps not so much. It's easy now to pulverize the people who brought back the Raiders in 1995, forever corrupting the Coliseum as a baseball venue in the process. Before then, one of the stadium's truly enjoyable features was its open back, the area beyond the outfield bleachers that afforded a great look at the East Bay hills. Like the erstwhile vista of Big A in Anaheim, that view eventually got choked out by football considerations -- in this case, in the service of a real monstrosity, the added upper deck of NFL seats now openly mocked as Mount Davis. But in this era, the truth is that the A's and the Coliseum probably weren't long for each other no matter what the configuration. Owners, almost by definition, look to maximize revenue, and they weren't going to do it in a multi-purpose facility -- especially not if, in a place like Fremont, they could consider building a smaller, baseball-only park that might connect to an expanded "village" of their own development, with offices, shopping, housing and the like. That's the kind of money stream that the old Coliseum can't deliver no matter what the team's record. And that's life. Wolff gets to play the bad guy in this deal, a role that suits him alarmingly well. When the Los Angeles-based developer appeared before the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Monday night, he sounded very much like a man already bone-weary of the ballpark battles, when in fact he is only just beginning the fight. The one thing he was most insistent upon was that, even if the current Fremont ballpark/village plan falls through, Oakland is not an option on any level. "We don't want to start pitting cities against each other," he said after his speech, "but it's out of the question we'll stay in Oakland." It is a long road from such a statement to an actual dwelling in Fremont, barely 25 miles south of where the A's play now. I was going to use the phrase "the place the A's call home," but it hasn't felt that way for a while. And that, really, may be the situation in a nutshell. Mark Kreidler's book "Four Days to Glory: Wrestling With the Soul of the American Heartland", has been optioned for film/TV development by ESPN Original Entertainment. His book "Kids of Summer," about one town's ability to consistently produce Little League champions, will be released in July 2008. A regular contributor to ESPN.com, he can be reached at email@example.com.
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