Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Monte Poole: A's lack quality ownership

Much of the A's blogosphere has been abuzz this week either about a report that Commissioner Selig soon will rule in favor of San Jose or new polling results regarding the A's moving to the South Bay.

Lost in all the back-and-forth, however, was Oakland Tribune columnist Monte Poole's take on the lack of quality ownership in the Bay Area, especially when it comes to the A's. We here at BaseballOakland understand that sports is a business and that these franchises are in the business to make money. But, sorry, there still needs to be more of a focus on the fans than what Lew Wolff has provided. Like Poole emphasizes, Walter Haas treated his employees like family when he owned Oakland's A's. In 1989, A's employees returned the favor by presenting Mr. Haas with a plaque, and each employee dedicated each hours of community service in honor of him. Can you see the same thing happening with Wolff?

In an article last month, A's manager Bob Geren mentioned having a leaky roof in his office at the A's facilities in Arizona. This shows what the Wolff/Fisher ownership is all about. How do you expect players to compete when you don't provide them with the best facilities available? Having a leaky roof in Arizona isn't Oakland's fault. Only a cheap ownership running the team on the cheap would provide such a second-rate atmosphere -- and it goes beyond where the A's final location may be. It shows how much the team is willing to invest -- or not -- in its product.

Wolff's mentality also is reflected in customer service, and other operations that affect us as fans. The Coliseum may have its flaws, but any ownership, regardless of where they want the team to play in the next five years, should be running the franchise at the highest level. It's been the opposite, unfortunately, under Wolff. In the past five years, Wolff consistently has run a bare-bones operation, making cutbacks to staff and concessions. For a team that complains about lack of fans as much as the A's do, it would seem that they would want to provide fans with a pleasant experience in order to attract new ones. Instead, the A's front office is constantly outclassed by other franchises, while the fans are left to suffer.

We are not asking for $100 million dollar payrolls and we understand the complexities of the economics of baseball. Still, one would think that ownership would really put forth a top-notch major league operation to provide both fans and players with the best experience possible. Unfortunately Wolff’s operations have been strictly bush league.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Oakland Marathon a Huge Success

Heaven on a Sunday was how the Oakland Running Festival felt yesterday. As a participant in the half-marathon portion of the race, it was a blast to see the support of Oaklanders from all walks of life cheering on runners like myself, whether it was Chinatown or up-and-coming West Oakland. Oakland's finest sports fans were there to cheer on the runners, including the Oakland bleacher creatures and the inhabitants of the Black Hole. While other races in the Bay Area get more press, such as the Bay to Breakers, the Oakland Running Festival had its own unique flavor and color.

It was fun to run through the "Ring of Fire" from the West Oakland-based Crucible artisans, and to run past the delectable treats from Brown Sugar Kitchen off of Mandela Parkway. Weather-wise, it was a perfect day. The highlight of the race for me was running around Oakland's crown jewel, Lake Merritt, before heading back to City Hall for the finish on Telegraph Avenue, the parade route that the Swingin' A's of early the '70s went through.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Oakland Running Festival

On a glorious Saturday afternoon, it was great to see people getting ready for the Oakland Marathon by picking up their race packets. You could tell that there was an excitement in the air for the inaugural Running festival in Oakland. In fact, local businesses were packed with people visiting from all over the Bay Area on this warm Saturday. It also was great to see downtown filled with people and the trees blossoming just in time for the first week of spring. To get a sense of how busy some of the businesses were, Caffe 817 in Old Oakland ran out their house coffee by 2 p.m. The Oakland Marathon has been a long time in the making -- this will be the first one held in Oakland in 25 years. The timing of the marathon coincides with the transformation of Oakland into a more vibrant city. The greatest thing about this race is that it will allow folks not familiar with Oakland to see on foot the diversity and beauty of this city. As a participant in the half-marathon, I am looking forward to this Running Festival to highlight and showcase this underrated city that we call Oakland!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Waiting Game and Wolff's Letter a Year Later

The big news last week was no news. According to multiple reports, Bud Selig has met separately with the Giants and the A's front offices. But Selig has yet to make a decision on the A's stadium situation.

Which is just fine with me. Many fans are frustrated with how long this process has taken. Not me. I'd rather the decision take longer than having the decision be rushed. The A's have played in Oakland for 42 years. That entire time has been spent at the Coliseum, which is still a functional baseball park with decent sightlines, very good weather and great transportation access. So let the big boys work on this and we'll relax, enjoy spring baseball and work on what we can do to show MLB and ownership that Oakland is a strong, viable market.

Last week also marked the anniversary of Lew Wolff’s reactionary letter about being done with Oakland. But one year later the A’s are still in Oakland. What else has happened? Fans are increasingly upset about how Wolff and co-owner John Fisher run the team and the owners are still hunting fruitlessly for a new stadium.

Meanwhile, Oakland released a list of very attractive ballpark sites, along with promises to work with MLB and the A’s -- provided they get the chance to do so. I don’t see what Wolff was trying to accomplish by writing that letter, because it got nothing done and only made things worse for him.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

More Press on Thriving Oakland Biz

After publishing yesterday's blog about how thriving Oakland businesses are receiving national and local kudos, it came to our attention that there are even more than we realized.

For example, Blue Bottle Coffee -- an Oakland company with many Bay Area locations -- just opened a new java spot in Brooklyn. So, last week the New York Times wrote an article about the popular coffee company, mentioning that the Oakland-based biz has "had a fanatical following" since it opened in 2003.

Closer to home, the Oakland Tribune covered the opening of Era, a new nightclub in Oakland's thriving Uptown entertainment district. The Trib also wrote about Beer Revolution, a new microbrewery that opened recently near Jack London Square.

Lastly, the San Francisco Chronicle raved about a new Oakland restaurant on Grand Avenue, a few blocks from the Grand Lake Theater. It's called Boot and Shoe Service, and it was started by Charlie Hallowell, owner of Oakland's much praised Pizzaiolo.

These new businesses are from several different parts of the city: the Jack London waterfront, Uptown and the Grand Lake district. If these entrepreneurs are doing well during this downturn, then it's fair to speculate that Oakland is well-positioned for when the economy turns the corner.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Oakland Businesses in the News

Nearly 30 new restaurants have opened up in Oakland in the past three years, in spite of the biggest national economic downturn since the Great Depression. One Oakland eatery that keeps getting national praise is Pizzaiolo, located in the Temescal District on the north side of town. It has great Neapolitan-style pizza -- but don't take our word for it. Read this Los Angeles Times food critic, who raves about Pizzaiolo, comparing it to the best pizza she's had in New York City, Chicago and Rome. Proving it was no fluke, Playboy Magazine named Pizzaiolo to its top 10 list of favorite pizza places across the nation. (And you thought we didn't read Playboy's articles.)

But the pizzeria isn't the only Oakland institution getting national props. New York Magazine recently did a feature on Fenton's, Oakland's venerable ice cream parlor. The Emeryville-based Pixar employees who created the movie "Up" apparently love to take their kids to Fenton's and they paid tribute to the old-fashioned Oakland dessert spot by making it a setting in the Oscar-winning animated movie. The New York Magazine article mentioned that since its appearance in "Up," tourists now are adding Fenton's in Oakland to their sightseeing list when they come to the Bay Area.

You might be wondering: why is this being mentioned in an Oakland A's blog? Well, first of all, this all underscores the economic development and business success that Oakland is enjoying in the face of a terrible recession. Secondly, imagine if the A's owners did with their home city what the Pixar filmmakers did regarding Fenton's. That is, if they just showed a little pride in it, then the people will, too. Oakland residents already support keeping the A's in Oakland, and so do a majority of A's fans. After more than a decade of uncertainty, A's fans are aching for stability and for an owner to finally commit to the city of Oakland. And these thriving Oakland businesses mentioned above show that, more than ever, the East Bay possesses the economic base and demographics needed to support a new A's ballpark in Oakland. Or, as James Earl Jones' legendary film character, Terence Mann, once said: "Oh, people will come, Ray. People most definitely will come."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Field of Dreams by Jorge Leon

One of our good friends Jorge Leon put down on paper why he loves the A's and why he very much wants them to stay in Oakland. We liked it so much, we wanted to post it here at Baseball Oakland. Thanks, Jorge. Here it is:

Field of Dreams

By Jorge Leon

I guess it all started when I was 7 years old. I remember walking through the big BART concrete bridge that had fencing all around it, as if you were in a metal tube. The cool wind blew in off the bay. It was a chilly April night. I was so excited walking through that bridge with my dad, never realizing how much this walk was going to change my whole life. I don't remember everything, but the most important thing I remember is walking up to the Oakland Coliseum, where to me it looked like a church, a magical place, where the sun shined its brightest. I can remember walking up to the green fence and poking my nose and eyes through and watching all the great players warm up. To me, it was like a place where the players were out of this world; they were heroes!

My dad handed me a golden ticket, but instead of the chocolate factory, it was the great game of baseball I was about to indulge. As I walked in, I saw paintings of the 1989 Oakland A's ball club. But at that time, of course, the ballplayers from that championship squad were only amazing colorful pictures to me, they were just a part of this great building I had entered. So as we walked to our seats, I can remember my head was looking all around, taking in all the sights and sounds: the bright green grass and the chocolate-malt-looking infield, the white uniforms worn by what would soon to be my lifetime home team, the concession stands with the most friendly people, the Amtrak sign that whistled every time the bright white jerseys scored a run, the nine World Series titles painted on the walls near the concession stands and another 15 AL pennants painted on the other side. As we reached our seats, I can still remember standing up and and taking a big glance again, saying to myself, 'How can any other place be this beautiful, this amazing, this loud, this happy when some guy steals a base or when some side-arm pitcher is throwing a strike? How, when and where can there be a better place then this one?' I know that, since then, I welcomed another member to my family, or maybe this new family welcomed a new kid to theirs. The Green and Gold, the white elephants, I knew now I was one of them.

I love my Oakland A's, and like anybody else in my family I wish them great success. All these years later, now I'm a grown man and I understand the business side of baseball. But never once will I understand the greedy side of the game. To me baseball is art, a way of living, a place where a true fan can relax. The game is rich with tradition and history, pain and agony, from the dead-ball period to the steroids era, and it creates a true sense of community among fans where we are all family, no matter what, without necessarily knowing or understanding why. We have gone through ups and downs, from feeling joy to shedding tears, always thinking we're one win away, one out away, and one owner away. I love my Oakland A's and I will forever remember that April night. I hope one day when I pass away, I will be in my field of dreams.

Please don't take them away.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Very Cloudy With a Chance for Baseball

Hall of Fame sportswriter Art Spander has a new column today that speaks to the discouraging dichotomy facing Oakland A's fans this spring. As much as they want to talk about baseball and only baseball, the team's threats to move out of Oakland constantly cast a dark cloud over what should be the most optimistic time of the season.

Spander is on record as saying that the A's should stay in Oakland. In today's column he continues his criticism of the Wolff/Fisher regime, calling them the team that "chooses to put faded tarps on a third of the seats of its stadium."

Just like A's fans, Spander tries his best to shift attention to the ballplayers and the actual game. But, general manager Billy Beane is quick to change the subject to what he does NOT have. As usual, Beane is offering way more excuses than victories.

"Our payroll's in the mid-50s," Beane said in Spander's column. "Some of our competitors in the league are four times that."

Of course, nearly all of their competitors in the league work four times as hard as A's owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher, in terms of selling tickets and reaching out to their fans. But you're not going to hear that from Beane, an A's co-owner who recently has joined Wolff and Fisher in their public pining for a move to another city. Why? Well, the reasons are as dirty as a five-year-old tarp.