I loathe stadium politics. It’s a world rife with general buffoonery, shameless grandstanding and my personal specialty, dimwitted punditry.
But sometimes you can’t stay out of the fray. Such was case this week as the A’s crossed the lagoon to take on the Giants in the first installment of this season’s Bay Bridge Series. (S.F. travels to Oakland Aug. 6-7.)
As usual, the two teams play the same game but exist in different galaxies. The Giants have launched into the 22nd season in their charm box of a waterfront stadium, enjoying big crowds and high expectations following a playoff appearance last year. (Reported attendance: 32,989 on Tuesday.) The A’s? They continue to wander in the flatlands of the inner East Bay, searching for a permanent home like a tribe of wayward foragers.
It’s a damn shame because having two Major League teams in the Bay Area has been a baseball fan’s dream. Two regional rivals who’ve historically had a ton of success. When a “Let’s go Oakland!” chant went up Tuesday night at Oracle, Giants fans thundered back with their own “Let’s go Giants!” I couldn’t help but smile. When these two teams play, it’s just pure fun. Pure Bay Area.
But it looks like that luxury may be taken from us. The A’s proposed stadium at Howard Terminal faces a precarious path forward. And the Oakland fan base appears to be in revolt, as witnessed by the seriously sparse crowds seen on their recent home stand.
The situation seems to be reaching a fever pitch on social media, where A’s President David Kaval takes the brunt of the heat. He’s in charge of getting the stadium deal done. And the real target of A’s fan vitriol, owner John Fisher, doesn’t do Twitter. So, it’s Kaval against the world. Trying to get Howard Terminal passed. Pursuing a possible move to Las Vegas at the same time. Taking flak from all sides.
Now, here’s where I step on the stadium politics land mine. I’m on Kaval’s side. I want the A’s to stay in Oakland. They have a good plan for Howard Terminal. Let’s get behind this and get it done.
There, I said it. Luckily, I’m wearing a batting helmet.
Why do I expect incoming ordinance? The A’s sold off their best players in the offseason, as they are wont to do. Ownership refuses to pay large salaries to keep their homegrown stars around. Yet Oakland shares in MLB revenue with all the other teams. It all tastes like a flat beer.
But if you look at the situation logically, this is how the A’s compete. We’ve all seen the movie. In fact, the team came into Oracle Park with a 9-8 record Tuesday night, comfortably ensconced in third place in the AL West, a game-and-a-half back from Seattle. The Giants stood at 12-5, tied for first place with the team down south. We’re in Act I, Scene I of the baseball season, so it’s too early to make much of anything out of this other than both teams are competing.
For the record, the Giants cruised to a 8-2 victory over the A’s Tuesday night, behind 6 innings of three-hit ball with nine strikeouts from San Francisco starter Carlos Rodon. Gabe Kapler’s offense relied on the long ball, punctuated by a three-run shot from Austin Slater in the bottom of the seventh.
So why are the Giants drawing huge crowds, and Oakland not? San Francisco’s stadium is brilliant. Oakland’s has a feral cat problem.
I called up Kaval to get his take on the current situation, and he was fun to talk to, as always. Upbeat. Intelligent. Stanford man. I believe he wants to get this thing done. But he also knows the clock is running out. Two key developments need to happen this summer.
“The development deal between us and the city and county,” said Kaval. “And the affirmative vote of the Bay Area Conservation and Development Commission. Both are non-lose propositions. We can’t lose ’em. We gotta win.”
And if they don’t? “Project’s dead.” So, Las Vegas? “I had two calls on it today,” said Kaval. “We made another offer on a counteroffer. We’re close to announcing a site. We have to keep that parallel path alive.”
Oof. This isn’t shaping up well for A’s fans. Or Oakland. BCDC isn’t known for it’s love of development.
“BCDC is tough. There’s a lot of San Francisco interests,” said Kaval. “They see Oakland as a commercial port, exclusively. Our proposal has 18 acres of open space. These are world-class parks. The same folks who did the High Line, in New York. We can do all that and keep the working waterfront next door. We have all this infrastructure in place to make sure it’s okay.”
I would argue that a major, $12 billion development, including parks and public lands on what has been industrial waterfront for decades, would give a beleaguered city a much-needed economic boost. Jack London Square could thrive, much like San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood sprouted in Oracle Park’s shadow over the years.
I covered the early development of this neighborhood for The Examiner. Catellus was the developer who envisioned a biotech hub. The Giants envisioned much more.
I remember touring the Oracle Park construction site back in the late 1990s, hard hat and all. (Palm Pilot chargers at every seat was the big selling point!) It wasn’t easy to get that deal done, but Giants CEO Larry Baer had rallied a coalition of business leaders to pay for what was then known as Pac Bell Park. They fought and scraped and got it done.
Twenty-plus years later, Mission Bay is booming. Chase Center is the latest major anchor. Kaiser opened a hospital. There are apartments going up everywhere. Remember the mantra: If you build it, they will come.
Kaval and his baseball counterpart, Billy Beane, want to do the same for the Oakland. Why is everyone hating on them? All the other teams are gone. The town is on the verge of sports irrelevance. And that’s no bueno.
Here’s my advice. Hate on Fisher. Love the A’s.
“We’re running the same play,” Kaval told me. “Build a waterfront ballpark. Build more excitement. Invest in the team. We’re doing everything we can to replicate that dynamic, which was tremendously successful for the Giants.”
“Create a baseball hotbed in the Bay Area. Imagine two waterfront stadiums. It would be incredibly exciting.”
I’m with you Dave. Town business.
The Arena, a column from The Examiner’s Al Saracevic, explores San Francisco’s playing field, from politics and technology to sports and culture. Send your tips, quips and quotes to email@example.com. Sign up for his weekly newsletter here. And follow him on Twitter @alsaracevic.