Downtown Baseball

I haven’t stayed on top of the whole kerfluffle about the A’s leaving Oakland. Apparently there were plans for the team to move out of Oakland into Fremont. Those fell through, but the threat of departure continues. San Jose wants the team. I’ve heard that there is interest in attracting the team to Sacramento. Whatever. The Raiders left. They came back. Leaving Oakland may not solve the A’s problems, but building them a new downtown stadium may not be a bad idea, and would give them a reason to stay.

The A’s moved to Oakland in 1968, the same year that my mom and dad moved here with us (their four kids). It was great. My mom used to drop my brother and me at the coliseum on Saturdays and we’d buy a bleacher ticket and have a hotdog and peanuts and get a suntan watching the game. Cost: about 5 or 6 bucks. Years later I worked at KFRC radio for a while and had a press pass for the A’s and attended games on a regular basis.

I always enjoyed watching the A’s, especially during the early years (the Sal Bando/Campy Campineris/Blue Moon Odom years). I liked the rabbits that popped up near home plate to deliver baseballs to the plate umpire. I liked their colorful uniforms, their white shoes, and Charlie O the Mule. Justin and I were at the Coliseum in June 1990 to watch the no hitter Nolan Ryan pitched against the A’s during his sunset years. (His sixth — he would go on to pitch another the following year.) Anna loved to go to the Coliseum when they had big fireworks shows after a fourth of July game. If you hustled, after the game you could run down and roll out a blanket and watch the fireworks from the outfield — hallowed ground where Joe Rudi, Ricky Henderson, Reggie Jackson, and Dave Henderson had worked.

While I have fond memories of going to games at the Coliseum, after seeing a game in the Ball Park in Arlington in the mid 1990s, and then seeing the Giant’s play in their new park in China Basin, I realized that baseball is a sport that benefits from a well designed stadium and that the Oakland Coliseum was a multi-use facility that didn’t feature the game as well as some of the modern parks. (New stadiums that featured the intimacy of the older, historic baseball parks.) No surprise that the A’s feel the need for a better venue for their game.

While a new ball park will not automatically solve attendance problems for a team that doesn’t consistently win games, location of the park can be a major factor in a city’s livability. Locating a new stadium within walking distance of downtown seems like an incredibly good idea. I note that one of the locations proposed for a new Oakland ball park is on Oak and Third (referred to in the media as Victory Court). That’s a shade over a mile and a half from our new apartment. Nothing would draw me to a baseball game more quickly than locating the park within a half hour walk of my home. Count me as a focus group of one — the Victory Court location would be a perfect spot for a new ball park.

The Quad Cities has a really sweet baseball stadium. It’s home to the River Bandits, a Single A minor league team associated with the St. Louis Cardinals, so the game is a little spotty, but the venue is incredible. It used to be called John O’Donnell Stadium (now called Modern Woodman Park — corporate sponsorship and naming rights extend even to the Minor Leagues) and it sits on the Mississippi River, next to the Centennial Bridge. If you have plenty of bug spray, it’s a great place to watch baseball. Quite Scenic and very intimate. (It’s the location for the movie Sugar which was in theaters in 2009.) I’ll miss taking in a game in this ball park, but if Oakland builds a stadium at 3rd and Oak, I’ll survive. Of course there’s the gnarly problem of who pays for the stadium. I’ll leave debate on that issue for a separate conversation.

Saturday December 12, 2009 — Mark —