Thursday, May 27, 2010

Play Ball in Oakland

Baseball Oakland talks a lot don't we? We cover stadium issues, A's issues and Oakland issues. But sometimes we like to stop talking about baseball and just get out and play. Fortunately, Oakland is the right town for that! The passion for baseball here in Oakland is tremendous and many people have regular pick-up games at various Oakland parks for not only baseball, but its cousins softball and kick ball, too.

If good old-fashioned hardball is your thing, then check out the website They offer pick up games at various East Bay Parks every Sunday. The location of the park and the starting time are usually updated on Wednesdays. The organizers also keep stats and have a very in-depth forum.

If you prefer softball, Mosswood Park (also home of our favorite vintage baseball team The Oakland Colonels) is where a regular group meets on Sundays around 2pm—or after the Colonels game is finished. While there is no website, I can attest that the atmosphere is relaxed and fun and everybody gets to play.

While kickball is usually considered a kids' game, and a distant cousin of baseball, it is increasing in popularity across Alameda County, and Oakland is no exception. Also located on Mosswood Park on Sundays with games following the previously mentioned softball game, the participants are a colorful group of characters and have put up a Facebook group here.

While this is by no means a comprehensive list of everything that goes ib at our parks here in Oakland, it's good to get out and enjoy the summer weather. What better way to do it then playing baseball (or baseball-related sports) here in the City of Oakland? If Sundays are no good for you than try and get some friends together and take advantage of our historic ball fields (named after Oakland legends such as Curt Flood, Rickey Henderson and Billy Martin) and the amazing East Bay weather and PLAY BALL!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fisher & Wolff Could Learn from Magowan

Being Oakland A's fans, we don't like comparisons with the rival San Francisco Giants. We choose the awesome ways of Oakland and the quirky East Bay lifestyle for a reason. Oh, and having four World Series titles vs. SF's zero rings doesn't hurt, either. However, Oakland Tribune columnist Monte Poole this week compared things perfectly between the A's current situation with the Giants, circa 1992. If you look at the Giants these days as the "toast of the bay" -- with the glorious stadium and over 3 million fans -- it's easy to overlook the fact that the Giants were worse off in 1992 than when John Fisher and Lew Wolff took over the A's in 2005.

In 1992, the Giants, much like the recent A’s squads, played in a less-than-desirable situation. The Giants had a small fan base, a bad stadium and they were overshadowed by the 49ers, who were in the middle of their dynasty years. However, the Giants didn't point fingers, blame others, cut back on expenses or compromise the fan experience. Indeed, Giants owner Peter Magowan invested in the product and, as Poole emphasizes, he didn't complain about the situation and worked to make it more desirable. He improved food (think garlic fries), marketed heavily (especially in the use of their flagship station KNBR) and invested in stadium improvements and made the game experience better for fans. Did it cost the Giants' owners money? You bet. However, this eventually put them in a better long-term situation. Not only did it get them the momentum needed to get a stadium approved, it also allowed them to become one of the most stable franchises in baseball.

Can the same thing happen in Oakland? Yes. In fact, when John Fisher and Lew Wolff took over in 2005 the A’s had just come off their 4th consecutive year of drawing two million-plus fans. The Coliseum, despite Mt. Davis and its flaws, is by far a superior baseball venue than Candlestick ever was. Also, unlike Candlestick, the Coliseum is centrally located with freeway access to all points in the Bay Area. It has solid pubic transportation and solid baseball weather. Obviously, things could have been better, but the framework was there to grow the franchise and generate momentum to build toward a new stadium. Instead, Fisher and Wolff tarped off the upper deck, badmouthed the venue and the city at every turn they got, cut back marketing, and limited the food options, while simultaneously raising prices for everything. And they wonder why there are last in attendance now? Their decisions have not only shortchanged their fans, but it also might explain the hold-up in getting a new stadium now. Had the A’s decided to GROW their product as opposed to contracting their efforts, then perhaps the momentum would be there for the community to grant their wishes.

This is why we keep harping on the ownership, it's not just their lack of commitment to the city or its fans, but their destruction of what was a great baseball thing going here in Oakland. Wolff and Fisher could have a great thing in Oakland, if only they gave half the effort that Magowan and the Giants did in the '90s.

Wolff/Fisher to Blame for A's Attendance

We've said it before and we'll say it again. The A's owners are to blame for game attendance woes. Also, the city of Oakland for the past 15 years has tried time and again to reach out to A's owners to work with them on building a new Oakland ballpark. And time and again, A's owners like Steve Schott and now Lew Wolff have stiff-armed city officials and all but refused to work with Oakland's leaders.

In the past months, Wolff and co-owner John Fisher have been trying to craft a phony narrative in the press to shift blame on Oakland and A's fans for the team's game attendance. Again, this is false. If you want the facts, please check out this list of Oakland’s repeated efforts of trying to please A’s owners since 1995.

1995 - Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann buy the A’s from Walter Haas Sr. and, almost immediately, they renegotiate their lease of Oakland, Alameda County and the Oakland Coliseum due to changes made to the stadium for the returning Oakland Raiders. Oakland and county officials try to please the new owners by agreeing to pay $11 million to Schott and Hofmann, and up to $20 million in baseball-related stadium improvements over the life of the lease. (Chronicle 7/22/95)

1996 – San Francisco voters approve a measure for the Giants to build a new ballpark along the waterfront. It was San Francisco’s third time on the ballot to build a Giants ballpark. In 2010, A’s owners still have not given Oakland a real chance.

1998 - Schott and Hoffman put the team up for sale. The Oakland city council and Alameda County officials start working with Schott and Hoffman and MLB to choose a suitable buyer.

1999 - Oakland/Alameda County officials spend much of 1999 working with A’s owners and the office of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig on finding a new local owner for the A’s. Oakland officials select a group led by ex-A’s marketing guru Andy Dolich and produce store magnate Robert Piccinini. In September 1999, Mayor Jerry Brown and other city officials fly to Cooperstown, N.Y., to support the local ownership group that would keep the team in Oakland. Instead of finalizing the deal, the MLB owners tabled the vote and made no decision. Needless to say, Oakland officials were surprised and disappointed and A’s fans were furious. After getting nowhere for a few months after that, Dolich and Piccinini finally gave up and the ownership group dissolved. And:

2001 - After Steve Schott attends a Santa Clara City Council meeting saying he wants to move the A’s there, Oakland and Alameda County officials respond again that they want to work with the A’s on building a new ballpark in Oakland. Schott does not publicly respond. (S.F. Chronicle, 3/22/01)

2001 – A report that Schott and Hofmann are on the verge of selling the A’s to a Hollywood producers with Las Vegas ties shocks Oakland city officials like City Manager Robert Bobb, who had met with A’s owners just a week before about extending their Oakland lease. (S.F. Chronicle, 8/1/01)

2001 – City Manager Robert Bobb hires HOK Architects to study ballpark sites in Oakland and other parts of the East Bay with the goal of keeping the A’s in Oakland.

2002 - Robert Bobb tries to interest the A’s in the Uptown site, located in downtown Oakland. A’s owners Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann never publicly support the site and never show up at an Oakland City Council meeting. Since then, A’s owners and officials have appeared at city council meetings in Santa Clara, Fremont and San Jose in support of ballpark plans in those cities.

2002 - A’s fans held a rally outside Oakland City Hall before a City Council meeting where HOK Architects gave a presentation on ballpark sites. No one from the A’s front office attends either the rally or the meeting.

2005 - Ex-Oakland Councilman Dick Spees approaches Lew Wolff and offers to lead a booster group comprised of Oakland business leaders to help get a ballpark built in Oakland. Wolff rejects Spees’ efforts, telling him that he wants to do it alone. (Oakland Tribune 2/7/05)

2005 - Oakland Councilmen Larry Reid and Ignacio De La Fuente react favorably and enthusiastically to Lew Wolff’s presentation to redevelop hundreds of acres near the Oakland Coliseum. Yet, according to later news reports, Wolff almost immediately started negotiating with the city of Fremont for a ballpark in Fremont.

2006 - Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums meets with Lew Wolff to discuss keeping the A’s in Oakland. Wolff also rebuffs Dellums, telling him that he is focusing on Fremont and that Dellums shouldn’t “break his pick on this one.”

March 2009 - After the Fremont ballpark plan falls apart, Dellums again reaches out to Wolff. But Wolff again rejects Dellums and makes it clear that the A’s now want to move to San Jose. Dellums and Oakland City Council President Jane Brunner respond by sending a letter to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, as does U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, who is an Oakland resident.

December 2009 - Oakland announces two new proposed ballpark sites (and an additional site that was previously examined) near the Jack London Square waterfront.

April 2010 - Oakland City Council President Jane Brunner and Let’s Go Oakland leader Doug Boxer release an economic report touting the benefits that a new Jack London Square ballpark would have on Oakland. Brunner and Boxer also hold a public meeting at an Oakland school to discuss and promote the proposed Jack London Square ballpark sites.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Congratulations, Dallas!

27 up. 27 down. Just 109 pitches. History made once again at the Oakland Coliseum by an inspirational Oakland A's player. Incredible.

Congratulations, Dallas Braden, for an amazing feat -- a perfect game. Just the second in Oakland A's history, and only the 19th ever in baseball history. After teaching A-Rod a lesson on how to play the game right, Braden went out and put on a pitching clinic.

Let's go, Dallas! And let's go, Oakland!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Victory Court - Part 1

Proponents of moving the A's out of town like to say that Oakland has had no plan and is unprepared to work with the A's and MLB on a stadium. This is untrue. For nearly a year, Oakland officials have worked very diligently with Major League Baseball on addressing the needs of a new A's ballpark in Oakland, and they came up with three excellent waterfront sites. The three parcels, which include two new sites near Jack London Square, stack up very well with other new stadiums around Major League Baseball.

It's been 14 months since Commissioner Bud Selig appointed a three-person committee to study A's ballpark options. In the coming weeks, we're going to study the Oakland sites, too.

I'll start with my personal favorite, Victory Court. I believe that Victory Court has the least amount of potential headache, partly because one of its strengths is its proximity to several transit options. Also, it is within a redevelopment zone and Oakland's Lake Merritt Station Area which is located on the other side of 880 freeway and is being prepared by city officials for a big redevelopment push. Also the site is close to existing development, such as Jack London Square and the soon to be started Oak-to-9th project.

The first issue to study: How the heck are we going to get there?

For a detailed map of the area, click here.

As you can see, the map attempts to highlight the many access points to the Victory Court site. It is accessible by not just I-880, but also by the 980/24 and 580 freeways. Also, I circled (in teal) the public transit options in the area. The Lake Merritt BART station is threee blocks away. Amtrak is one block a way. Oakland's Ferry stop at Jack London Square is just four blocks away, and numerous bus lines cross the area. It is hard to estimate how many people will be taking transit as opposed to driving. The Giants estimate that 60% of their fans arrive via transit. That number may be attainable in the future for the A's at Victory Court, but even if just 30% of A's fans took public transit at first, it would .

Lets start with driving. In the map above, I color-coded the routes based on where people were coming from. Red represents Bay Bridge traffic. Orange Represents the I-80 corridor. Yellow represents Contra Costa County residents taking the 24 freeway. Blue is fans from Dublin/Pleasanton/Castro Valley traveling on I-580, and green represents fans taking the I-880. One of the great benefits of downtown Oakland and the Victory Court site is that they're not dependent on just one freeway or off-ramp. Fans coming from eastern Alameda County (Dublin, Pleasanton, Livermore, Castro Valley, etc) would take I-580 west. They could travel to I-980 and then get off at Jackson. Or, they could get exit I-980 at 11th, or 14th, to access downtown lots or restaurants in Old Oakland. They could get off on I-580 west at Lakeshore or Grand avenues and trvel around Lake Merritt on either side of the lake to access downtown to have dinner, park or walk. Fans coming from the east (I-80 corridor -- Berkeley, El Cerrito, Solano County and further northeast to Sacramento) could travel to I-980 and get off at Jackson, but they could also stay on I-880 and get off at Broadway. San Francisco fans can either take I-980 and get of at 11th or 14th street or also get off on Broadway. Fans from south of Oakland taking I-880 north into town, may use the 5th Street and Oak Street off-ramps.

While there may need to be infrastructural adjustments around the area, especially for the 5th Street and Oak Street off-ramps, there is plenty of freeway access to lessen traffic in the area on gamedays and nights. In other words, there won't be just one access point.

Parking is another strength for the Victory Court site. There are over 15,000 available parking spaces within a 3/4 mile radius of the park. I got this information from the following 2 sources:

CEDA Downtown Oakland Parking Data
JLS Parking Information

Also, Laney College has over 1,500 spaces located directly across the I-880 freeway from the ballpark site, creating a total of about 16,000 spaces in the area. Spread out parking, like this site provides, allows greater pedestrian traffic to pass by the many businesses in the area. This pedestrian vibe also will increase the potential of underutilized Oakland streets to attract new businesses.

In conclusion, I feel that the ease of access to this site will best serve Oakland, the A's and fans alike. It's easy to get there and the buzz it will bring to the Jack London and downtown areas will be a significant boost to the local economy. In further posts, I will attempt to examine how this will be an economic boon, and how Oakland is in a great position to attract corporate sponsorships with a new venue. Oakland has the economic strength, political will and the desire of its citizens to make this happen. A year ago conventional wisdom had the city of Oakland left for dead in the battle to keep the A's. As usual, conventional wisdom was wrong.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Busy Weekend for Baseball, Fun in Oakland

Quite a few people, I'd estimate more than 75, managed to get up bright and early on a Saturday to make the A's ballpark meeting Saturday that was hosted by Jane Brunner and Doug Boxer. The fan presence was awesome. Later that day, the Oakland Museum of California celebrated its grand re-opening, which once again showed the potential a new Oakland ballpark holds and why the A's should stay in Oakland.

At the A's meeting earlier in the day at Peralta Elementary School in north Oakland, there was standing room only as Boxer, Brunner and Deputy Director of CEDA Eric Angstadt discussed Oakland's recently released economic report in detail. They communicated effectively with the people. With out trying to re-hash too many details that have already been covered, some of the key points included the fact that the Victory Court site is a "donut hole" surrounded by a sea of new development that is ongoing or will occur, regardless of the stadium. However, if a stadium is builit, it would be key in tying all the various developments together. For instance, we all know about Jack London Square, but to the east of Victory Court is the Oak-to-9th development, not to mention Lake Merritt channel parkland improvements; as well as the Lake Merritt BART station general plan. In addition, infrastructure developments are planned to make these various redevelopment ideas work. This only makes the argument for a new ballpark stronger.

Boxer, Brunner and Angstadt also noted that Oakland's and the East Bay's corporate base is much stronger than people think. Boxer brought up the fact that Oracle is not an East Bay company, yet its name graces the Oakland arena. Oakland's central location makes it easy for corporate dollars to come to the park and spend their money here. According to Boxer, Let's Go Oakland has contacted many corporations, which have responded favorably to the idea by putting money into an escrow account with a promise to buy seats, luxury boxes and sponsorships for a new A's stadium near Jack London Square. Oakland is no corporate dead zone and companies will come to a ballpark in Oakland if it were to happen.

As for the Oakland Museum of California re-opening celebration after months of renovation, it was a spectacular part. Admission was free and open to the public for 31 straight hours, including being open all Saturday night. BaseballOakland and friends attended it at different times, and good times were had by all. What does it mean for us as A's fans? Well, look at the huge crowds that flocked to the museum. They were ethnically diverse, had a mix of families, college kids hipsters, "yuppies," hippies -- it was basically an all-around-Oakland style crowd. This can happen 81 times a year here in Oakland at a new A's ballpark. The Oakland Museum of California is just a 10-minute walk from the Victory Court site. The crowd this weekend had money and was looking for good times. If A's owners only tried tapping into this market, then we could build something spectacular here and it will be great for all parties involved.