Hey big spenders? A's unveil new Fremont park plans
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The Oakland Athletics unveiled grand plans Tuesday to move south and build a long-awaited, state-of-the-art stadium they hope will soon transform the small-market club into a big spender.
Not to mention elevate the A's to a new status level comparable to the rival Giants across San Francisco Bay -- and perhaps even tap into a Silicon Valley fan base that has largely belonged to San Francisco.
"This is, I say a dream because those who have followed sports for a long time know this has always been an issue," said A's general manager Billy Beane, whose team was swept in the AL Championship Series last month by Detroit. "It never seemed like a reality."
The A's, in partnership with Cisco Systems, Inc., agreed to purchase 143 acres of land from Cisco in suburban Fremont, about 30 miles south of the current stadium. The team intends to break ground in the coming years on a new ballpark -- to be called Cisco Field -- that could open in time for the 2011 season.
"We're not moving to Timbuktu, we're going down the road in our mind," A's owner Lew Wolff said. "We're doing the best we can."
And all Wolff will say now regarding his team's new name is that there will be something in front of the phrase "Athletics of Fremont." There was quite a dispute when the Angels recently shifted their name from the Anaheim Angels to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
"We know it's on everybody's mind," Wolff said. "It's a decision we will make in two or three years."
The stadium -- with a price tag of around $500 million that will primarily come from private funds -- will seat between 30,000 and 34,000 fans, an intimate venue with an impressive range of technological capabilities and surrounding features outside the fences.
"This will be a showcase in the world of sports," said Cisco president and CEO John Chambers.
Commissioner Bud Selig was in attendance for the announcement after stressing for years that the A's couldn't survive for the long haul playing in the run-down Oakland Coliseum they currently share with the NFL's Oakland Raiders.
"Nobody loves old stadiums like I do ... but if you're playing in a stadium that can't produce the revenue streams you need, you're rendering the franchise uncompetitive," Selig said. "This is a classic situation of a team that needs to take control of its own destiny, and they've done it and done it very, very well. ... They did what they had to do. It isn't like they had an alternative. They had no alternative."
The A's had been trying unsuccessfully for years to find a suitable site in Oakland for a new stadium. This, Wolff said, was the only option to keep the A's in the Bay Area and not force the franchise to move out of California.
"There's no blame to place here unless it's on me," Wolff said. "I need to have a ballpark for my organization that works for everybody. Our only option other than this is to move outside the state of California. We made a great try [with the city of Oakland]."
Sharing stadiums is just no longer a feasible option, Wolff said. It used to be a common thing as professional teams tried to cut down on costs by being co-tenants.
"It's a new generation of parks. It's not the Raiders' fault," Wolff said.
The A's have watched several star free agents leave town for big-spending teams elsewhere in recent years -- and this move is expected to change that. A new ballpark would bring higher-priced tickets -- the A's hope a greater demand with fewer seats available -- and increased revenue. Yet Wolff is committed to keeping A's games affordable for families and the blue-collar folks who make up a large percentage of the team's fan base.
"I can't wait to start cashing those checks to start signing some of those players," Beane said.
For example, if the A's were already in their new stadium, Beane thinks the team would have re-signed star left-hander Barry Zito during the season. The 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner, a curveball specialist and Oakland's lone All-Star in 2006, is one of the top pitchers on the free-agent market this winter after playing his first seven seasons for the A's.
Some devoted A's fans hate to see the team leaving town. Wolff received an e-mail earlier Tuesday from someone in Oakland that read, "Just tell us what you need."
It's too late, though. Wolff promised to have a strategic plan in place for the franchise's future by the end of the 2006 season, and that's just what he did.
"I think we've been very transparent about it," Wolff said. "We have very loyal fans. We don't have a lot of them, but we have loyal fans."
There are many details still to be worked out, such as transportation issues along the already clogged Interstate 880 and city permits that must be approved.
"We're going to make this work," Wolff said. "It's a right, positive thing to do."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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