Back in the stands
Hitting a home run to most outfield sections of McAfee means sending the ball at least 389 feet, which two Rangers (and no Athletics) did during this game. An entire row of box seats lines the stadium's upper levels, as well as the third-deck seats, which in 2006 were wrapped in green tarp by the A's (reducing the baseball seating capacity from 44,073) and adorned with the numbers of various retired jerseys (43 for Dennis Eckersley, 27 for Catfish Hunter, 34 for Rollie Fingers).
Aside from the action on the field, there aren't many attractions at McAfee no museums, no swanky boxes, no Dance Dance Revolution for the kids. Instead, an old-fashioned scoreboard displays the tallies from around the league, though two digital screens are employed for A's games, and the cement concourse offers the usual vendors and customary stadium fare. There's no question it feels dated.
One recent addition, however, is the "All You Can Eat" seats in sections 316-319. They're found in the uppermost-level behind home plate (ironically, or perhaps appropriately, accessible only via stairs, save for elevators reserved for those with physical disabilities). For $35 apiece, fans can stuff themselves with as many hot dogs, pizza slices, nachos, peanuts, burgers and scoops of ice cream as they can manage within seven innings' time. Sodas and water are included in the tab; alcohol is not.
In speaking with fans in this aggressive eaters' section, they informed me that one can only take four items per concession visit. You also must stay in the designated area (a wristband indicates you're an AYCE-er), unless you want to leave to purchase other ballpark fare. If you have unlimited food, that seems like a strange move.
Just below the big eaters is the nicest section of the coliseum the West Side Club. Essentially it's a large, dressed-up restaurant and bar. Patrons at view tables enjoy better-than-normal park fare with waiter service (the nachos and Bay Shore burger are the top sellers) without missing an out. When I walked up 30 minutes before the first pitch it was crowded. The restaurant is open to any and all fans and is a pleasant alternative to the concourse offerings.
The stadium's other major highlight is the barbecue. You may not think of California as a place to get great BBQ, but even a North Carolina native like me was soon-to-be impressed. It comes in two major forms:
• First, if you work for a company that wants to rent out an entire party area, you're lucky. McAfee may not have an outfield pool like the Diamondbacks, but they do have the BBQ Terrace, which is popular not only because of the eats but due to the preponderance of home runs that land here. It seats a minimum of 50 and a max of 70 and has a menu that includes hamburgers, hot dogs, gourmet sausage, salad and cookies, though just about anything can be cooked to order steaks, short ribs, a fajita bar, even lobster.
• Otherwise, Ribs 'n' Things is the way to go. Sure, it's a small venue within the large concourse, but don't let the simple stature fool you. This stand offers the best ballpark fare in McAfee, hands down. Even the BBQ Terrace's head chef brags Ribs 'n' Things, a coliseum staple for 10 seasons, has the best sauce he's ever tasted. Order pork, beef ribs, hot wings, BBQ chicken, fried pork, potato salad, sweet potato pies and peach cobbler.
As fans trickled in, most were wearing the retro green A's hat that was the evening's giveaway. The following night promised replica jerseys, though one fan told me, "It's the most packed on bobblehead nights. Everyone loves a bobblehead."
Oakland has upped the stadium freebies for their 40th anniversary season. Next up is a Dave Stewart 1980s retro jersey on July 13 and a Dave Henderson 1990s retro jersey on Aug. 17.
Meanwhile, the team is celebrating with a season-long promotional campaign to determine the 40 greatest moments in Oakland A's history, which will be revealed Sept. 11-21 at McAfee. Fans can vote here, where tallies also will used to yield the A's 40th anniversary team, which will be introduced in a pregame function Sept. 20.
As for historical nods, fans can visit the statues located at the east entrance and the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame's plaques dedicated to players such as Fingers and Joe Morgan found just outside the 200s sections.
If you want to buy a piece of current history, paraphernalia kiosk operators informed me the Kurt Suzuki jersey is the most popular item.
Seemingly every home fan here was wearing A's attire, and many were dressed head-to-toe in it. I saw exactly two Rangers fans while walking the concourse multiple times; I'm guessing it would be quite a different makeup during an interleague series or a Yankees game.
Unlike followers of other teams that may have clear-cut superstars, A's fans have a wide range of "favorite" players (Suzuki, Jack Cust, Eric Chavez and Frank Thomas among them), so cheers were spread fairly evenly throughout the night.
While some in the crowd left early, most stuck it out until the end of the A's 6-3 defeat.
As fans finally filed out, I was reminded of another comment offered by teen A's-er Austin Coulter:
"The coliseum is pretty boring, but I personally come just to watch the baseball," he said. "If I wanted to go for the stadium, I'd go watch the Giants play. It's all about the baseball and having fun watching a game."
Let's hope A's fans take that attitude with them to Fremont, where there will be more bells and whistles at Cisco Field. And in case you were wondering, I didn't see any ghost riding in the McAfee parking lot. Not even in the open spaces during tailgating hours. Maybe next time.