Saturday, July 31, 2010

Wolff: 'Business as Usual' After New Stadium

Lew Wolff likes to say that he needs to move the A's out of the Oakland Coliseum so that Billy Beane can have more revenue to sign more free agents.

But Wolff has publicly contradicted himself on this. A June 3, 2007 blurb by sportswriter Mike Berardino of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reveals that Wolff plans to keep up his cheap, penny-pinching ways even AFTER they build a new A's stadium. Here's Berardino's blurb:

Like the Marlins, the A's don’t plan to jack up their $65 million payroll upon approval of a new stadium. Even once they make the move, perhaps by 2011, the A's will keep their player outlay in the range of 50 percent of total revenues.

"It will be business as usual," A's owner Lew Wolff said. "We have a staff, led by [GM] Billy Beane, that is very, very bottom-line oriented. Billy loves doing it that way. Frankly, it’s more fun."

In other words, Wolff is talking out of both sides of his mouth, even when it comes to one of the biggest reasons (supposedly) why he "needs" a new ballpark. Wolff says he needs a new ballpark to be a contender, but there's Wolff in the quote above, also saying that "it will be business as usual," even after a new A's ballpark is built. So, which version of Wolff is being honest? Well, Wolff's ownership history shows that fans should bet on the cheapskate path. The A’s under Wolff and John Fisher (a billionaire who is one of MLB’s richest men) have always spent the least amount of money and done the least amount of work, which has alienated their once-great Oakland fan base.

Why do they do this? Because if Wolff and Fisher keep their investment low, and their revenue low, too, then they're all too happy to collect $30 million each year in welfare checks from other MLB owners. That’s what Wolff seems to be saying to Berardino in the quote above: Nothing’s going to change, new ballpark or not.

“Frankly, it’s more fun,” Wolff said. For whom, Lew? Certainly not for the fans, who have been waiting 15 years for an A’s owner to be honest with them, not to speak out of both sides of his mouth.

Friday, July 30, 2010

"Moneyball" Filming at the Coliseum

What a great experience. Reliving the magical 2002 season, while Hollywood stars roam the Coliseum.

But first, a few negatives: they don't really serve much food. A few of the stands inside the ballpark were open but they mostly served small snack-type foods. You can, however, bring your own food if you choose. Second, because there are rehearsals and several takes being filmed with different camera angles and such, there is a lot of "hurry up and wait," which I'm quite used to from my days in the Army.

I tried to go as vintage as possible with my clothing. I wore a jersey from 2000, which I donned fairly requently from 2000 until 2003. I wore a basic A's hat covered in pins. My ticket holder, which I harnessed with a lanyard around my neck, contained a ticket stub from 2002 (I've literally kept nearly every A's ticket stub since my first game in 1990), plus a 2002 pocket schedule. It's also worth noting that I weigh 35 pounds more than I did eight years ago. Yet, the jersey still fit perfectly. Win!

The scene that was being filmed on this day was a recreation of Game 20 of "The Streak", on September 4, 2002. After running a few takes, it was decided that more people were needed for the Diamond Level seats right behind home plate. Three other friends and I immediately jumped at the opportunity. We walked from our seats in the front of Section 115 (behind home plate, but slightly to the first base side and high above Diamond Level), down to the gate, across the field in front of the backstop (slapping high-fives, exchanging fist-bumps, and shaking hands with some of the actors in uniform), and to our new location within the padded-chair heaven of Diamond Level. We spent the rest of the night there, while those sitting in the main grandstand area had to move several times, depending on what angles the director wanted to shoot the scenes from.

For a good part of the time, the cameras were pointed in our direction; partly filming the action in the batter's box, with crowd (read: our) reactions in the background. Several takes were filmed like that. I won't be surprised of we are in a couple of them when the movie is completed. I will be sorely disappointed if we're not. I may have to ask for my money back. Wait ... what? It was free? Oh, yeah - that's right. Damn, there goes that idea...

It was quite a surreal experience. There they were, on the field: Tim Hudson, Ramon Hernandez, Jermaine Dye, David Justice, Ray Durham, Jeff Tam, Ricardo Rincon, Mark Ellis, John Mabry, Eric Chavez, Randy Velarde, Billy Koch and Terrance Long for the A's; Darrell May, Brent Mayne, Mike Sweeney, Carlos Febles, Carlos Beltran, Joe Randa, Michael Tucker, Neifi Perez, Raul Ibanez, manager Tony Pena, and coach Bob Schaeffer for the Royals. Only they were actors playing those people, wearing absolutely perfect replicas of the uniforms that were worn in 2002. Amazing.

As far as actor resemblances to the players, they're not really all that close. The guy playing Tejada was taller and leaner. Same for the guy playing Ramon Hernandez. John Mabry, in real life, looks a bit like Tom Green. The guy playing Mabry in "Moneyball" looked like neither John Mabry nor Tom Green. As it turns out, Tejada and Mabry are being depicted by a couple of ex-big leaguers. Royce Clayton, who made his debut with the Giants in the 1990s and was a part of the 2004 Red Sox, is playing Tejada, while Mabry is portrayed by former A's pitcher Jason Windsor.

The actor playing Terrence Long looked a lot like Long from a distance, same mannerisms and everything, but once he got closer and you could get a good look at his face, there was no resemblance at all. Marco Scutaro? Why is there someone dressed up as Marco Scutaro? He wasn't on the A's in 2002!

The actor playing Joe Randa is a bit of a jokester. During the rehearsals, he would go to the plate with a different batting stance each time. First he was Kevin Youkilis. Then he was Chuck Knoblauch. The third time around, he assumed a stance that looked similar to Gil McDougald (bat parallel to ground, held waist high). During a break in the action, much later on, the guy playing Michael Tucker stepped into the left-hand batter's box and did a perfect Ken Griffey, Jr. impression — stance, swing, follow-through, the works.

Stadium-wise, the eyesore tarps were off the third deck, a reminder of a Coliseum before Lew Wolff. The out-of-town scoreboard displayed the scores of the games held on September 4, 2002 — replete with "MON" for the since-departed Montreal Expos and "ANA" for since-rebranded Anaheim Angels. The old Fox Sports Net/Cable Channel 40 logo was back on the outfield wall.

At about 8:40, I had to use the restroom. A couple of others had the same idea at the exact same time. We were told to use the A's dugout restroom. Sure enough, there is a door near the water faucet that opens into a small, one-toilet restroom, which I had never noticed before. I'd been going to the Oakland Coliseum for 20 years and had never stepped foot into either dugout. Despite being 32 years old, I felt like an awestruck kid.

At one point two of the "umpires" strolled casually in front of the backstop. We booed them — in jest of course — and one of them reciprocated by firing off a comically-exaggerated ejection gesture. Good times.

Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt both made apperances on the field in between takes. On two occasions, Hill took the microphone and spoke to the crowd, thanking us for coming out and being supportive of their work. I'm sure he'll be a pretty good Paul DePodesta, but I can't help but wonder how Demetri Martin, who was originally slated to play the role, would have done it. Martin, who was once a regular on "The Daily Show" and currently has his own program, "Important Things with Demetri Martin", is one of my favorite comedians.

If you're planning on being a "Moneyball" extra, keep in mind, you are absolutely forbidden to bring cameras. I was able to smuggle one in by placing it in my jacket pocket and carrying the jacket. But there were too many security/crowd control types roaming around and I wasn't about to get it confiscated. I did take several cell-phone camera shots (which is actually forbidden, too - but you can disguise that pretty easily).

Also, make sure to bring your own pen. You will have to sign a couple of release forms while standing in the registration line. I suppose you can wait until you get to the table at the front of the line and use a pen there, but is it really worth tying up the entire line?

During the latter part of the filming, the guy portraying Tim Hudson had to leave. Not sure why. Injury? Anyway, he stripped off his jersey and gave it to the actor who was playing Jeff Tam. Twenty minutes earlier, a scene was shot involving Jeff Tam (he had entered the game for Ricardo Rincon — the script called for the cameras to follow Rincon to the dugout as Tam mysteriously appeared out of thin air on the mound). Then, after the Tam footage was shot, the director decided to jump back to an earlier point in the game and film another scene involving Tim Hudson — only by this time, the jersey had changed hands and now Jeff Tam was Tim Hudson. Not sure how that'll come out in the final product. Weird.

We left not long after that — it was getting close to 11:00 pm, the temperature was dropping, and a nice warm house did seem inviting.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Weird Week Ending, Uncertainty Is Not

So, it's official. Yet, just as uncertain as ever.

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed has pulled the A's stadium measure off the November ballot. After conferring with Lew Wolff and Bud Selig's buddy, MLB President Bob DuPuy, Reed instead is hoping to get the word from MLB to put the measure on a special March ballot. Selig also pledged to help pay for the $1 million special election. In Oakland, Mayor Ron Dellums & Co. sent a letter to Selig detailing all of the great work the city has done to prepare a waterfront ballpark site near Jack London Square. Unfortunately, Wolff pretends like those sites don't exist.

So, what does it all mean?

That depends on whom you talk to. Media speculation has the A's going to San Jose, or remaining in Oakland, or — much less likely — being contracted by MLB.

Selig has said he won't consider contraction. At the same time, no one ever thought the three-person MLB committee would be "studying" this issue for nearly 17 months with no decision in sight.

Will Selig pay for the special election in March? Or will he finally work with the city of Oakland and reward them for their excellent stadium prep work?

No one knows. In this confusing situation, it's fitting to give the final word to the actor playing Art Howe at the Moneyball filming this week. Click here to get his take.

Stay tuned, Oakland A's fans.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dellums' Letter & Selig's Message

Most of the attention on the A's ballpark situation has focused on the San Jose election controversy, where Chuck Reed's and Lew Wolff's insistence on placing a measure on the November ballot drew MLB's ire. (Looks like Reed and Wolff are backing off for now, and are accepting Bud Selig's offer to help pay for a special March 2011 election instead of this November.)

Lost in all the shuffle was a letter that Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and Council President Jane Brunner sent to Selig and MLB on July 23. The letter lists Oakland's many efforts in recent months to secure the A's future in Oakland. Even more, the letter goes into much detail about what Oakland officials have done to make important progress for a waterfront ballpark site near Jack London Square. That progress includes getting very strong support from local businesses and the private sector, along with a clear reminder that they can easily acquire more land around the site, and that Oakland officials have studied with due diligence to address any environmental, traffic and parking concerns. Some key points in the letter stick out. In short, Oakland:

* Has secured over $500,000 in deposits from 35 corporate entities expressing interest in luxury suites, sponsorship opportunities and, perhaps most significantly, naming rights for a new waterfront ballpark.
* Owns a large single parcel that makes up almost 25% of one of the sites that is appropriate for baseball. The Mayor is ready to authorize the Oakland Redevelopment Agency to start the the public environmental review process of entitling land along our waterfront.
* Has demonstrated that the City/Redevelopment Agency has the financial capacity to uphold its end of any negotiated transaction.

This flies in the face of what Oakland's detractors have always said about the A's new ballpark hunt. Moreover, the City did all these efforts without any cooperation from A's management, who have become more and more narrowly focused on points south.

Dellums' letter comes just a few days after Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) wrote a guest column that echo a lot of Dellums' points. This city is definitely ready to play ball and work with Major League Baseball and the Athletics on securing the team's future where it belongs, Oakland.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Artie Wilson: Oakland Baseball Legend

We were recently at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, which is a wonderful and moving exhibit of some of baseball's best and bravest ballplayers. It's also a great slice of American history. By now, most fans know about Buck O'Neil, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and hundreds of other great players from the Negro Leagues. But one player that caught our eye in the exhibit was Artie Wilson.

He's not prominently featured, but Wilson is photographed in 1946 with about a dozen other ballplayers who joined Satchel Paige's barnstorming teams — traveling squads who played informal games against local nines whenever they rolled into town.

We remembered Wilson because he's a part of West Coast baseball history and, of course, he's a big part of Oakland baseball history. When he joined the Oakland Oaks in 1949, Wilson broke the Pacific Coast League color line, becoming the league's first full-time African-American player. (If you don’t count Jimmy Claxton’s very brief stint when he posed as a Native American with the Oakland Oaks 30 years earlier.)

Wilson, whose Oaks roommate was Billy Martin, tore up the PCL in his first season. He won the league batting title, batting .348 and also led the league with 47 stolen bases. The next season, he batted .312 while knocking 264 hits and scoring 168 runs in 196 games. Wilson split 1951 between Oakland and the New York Giants and he moved onto Seattle for the '52 season.

Wilson paved the way for other African-American ballplayers to find playing jobs in the PCL in the league's waning days. Other Negro League stars followed Wilson's path, such as Piper Davis and Ray Dandridge, two African-American stars who played for the Oakland Oaks in 1953.

Artie Wilson was a great baseball man and a legendary Oakland ballplayer. It was great to see him get some overdue recognition at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Amidst all the talk of ballpark elections and territorial rights last week, one important milestone got overlooked.

Let's Go Oakland went over the 40,000 mark. In just a matter of months, Let's Go Oakland has gathered 40,000 Facebook fans who fervently support the group's efforts to keep the A's in Oakland. Led by Oakland Planning Commissioner Doug Boxer, Let's Go Oakland and Oakland city officials identified two new waterfront ballpark sites near Jack London Square.

40,000 fans in less than a year. It’s an impressive figure that shows the vast majority of A's fans really want the A's to stay in Oakland, their home of 43 seasons (counting this year). After all, Oakland is the place where the franchise has won the most championships, pennants and division titles in all of MLB, except for the Yankees. And Oakland often out-performed San Francisco at the box office during that time. With a new Oakland waterfront ballpark, the A's again would out-perform its crossbay rivals. The vast majority of A's fans want the team to stay in Oakland, Let’s Go Oakland has proved that. Only a tiny majority of A's fans are willing to do what Al Davis did in 1982 with the Raiders: that is, risk the team's mystique and winning tradition by making a short-sighted move south that’s fraught with far more risk than benefits. Say, how did that move work out for Davis and the Raiders? Terribly, you might remember, and the Raiders franchise has never quite recovered.

Strangely, A's co-owner Lew Wolff keeps telling the media that he's not aware of any new ballpark sites in Oakland. It’s just one of Wolff's many false statements. Well, Lew, Oakland publicly announced these new sites nearly eight months ago, and you have yet to comment on those sites, or to show any basic interest in them.

Wolff always complains about being "held hostage" by the territorial rights issue. As usual, Wolff has it backwards. For 15 years, Oakland A's fans are the ones who’ve been held hostage — first by Steve Schott when he bought the team in 1995 and then by Wolff and his anti-Oakland co-owners such as John Fisher and Guy Saperstein, who have done little but run the A's into the ground since taking over in 2005.

In spite of all of this, Oakland baseball fans remain passionate and loyal, giving Wolff and Fisher a fan loyalty that they frankly have not earned. Want proof? It’s all in the numbers at Let's Go Oakland: despite Wolff's constant whining and inaccurate statements, more than 40,000 Oakland baseball fans are sticking with the team and are praying MLB directs Wolff to finally come to the table with the team's home city.

Amazingly, that list of 40,000 fans at Let's Go Oakland keeps growing, showing that Oakland A's fans are as passionate and knowledgeable as any city's fan base in the country.

In other words ... Let's Go, Oakland!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wolff's Letter: Good Fiction

On Wednesday, Lew Wolff posted a letter he wrote to A's fans in an attempt to explain why he's trying to move the A's. Why did he post this letter on the A's website? It could be a response to mounting criticism (which we have covered extensively on this blog) and frustration from all sides with MLB's slow pace in making a decision.

Whatever the reason, one look at Wolff's wildly inaccurate letter and it's clear that it's just Wolff's latest attempt to mislead A's fans and the media.

Look at this excerpt from Wolff's letter:

We believe we have exhausted the venue options suggested in Oakland and several other Oakland options we explored on our own. It was only at that juncture that we decided to focus our efforts in the city of Fremont. At that time we did not encounter any resistance from those in Oakland who understood the efforts we had already made in the city. After deciding that the Fremont location would not work, and having no further options in Oakland, we requested an adjustment of our territorial rights from Major League Baseball.

It’s funny that Wolff compares Oakland and Fremont like this. What were his efforts in Oakland? He claims he has a 227 page novel describing it, however, he refuses to let the public view it. Did Wolff's efforts include inquiring about the Uptown a full TWO YEARS AFTER the Oakland City Council had voted to approve the construction of condos in 2002? Do Wolff's "efforts" include discussing building a new stadium in the Coliseum parking lot, but being unable to do so due to utilities there, along with conflicts with other sports teams (both of which exist at the site Wolff currently covets in the South Bay). Perhaps Wolff is referring to the 66th Avenue-to-High-Street plan that he proposed but which never panned out. Forget the fact that that plan was dead-on-arrival, as Wolff's request for BART to build an infill station was never realistic. Nor did Wolff bother to contact any of the 66th Avenue-to-High-Street site's dozens of property owners.

In contrast to his inactivity in Oakland, Wolff actually made an effort in Fremont. In Fremont, Wolff met with city council members and business leaders, and made outreaches to the community and several other Tri-City organizations to promote his Fremont stadium idea. Again, this is in contrast to what he didn't do in Oakland, where he did the bare minimum. Meanwhile, Oakland officials have done a lot to try to keep the A's in town — from the time Robert Bobb hired HOK to study East Bay ballpark locations in 2001, to the present, when Doug Boxer & his Lets Go Oakland group continue to work to keep the A's in Oakland. Unfortunately, no member of A's management has shown his face at any Oakland City Council meeting, including 2002 when Bobb put his Oakland career on the line to build support for the Uptown site. Instead, that site eventually wen to the Forest City apartment building project, especially after the A's showed no interest in the site.

Wolff had other dubious quotes in his letter:

In Oakland and Fremont, the only way we would have been able to invest in a private ballpark is through the use and value of residential entitlements. Our plan would have called for the use of residential entitlement proceeds to be directed to the public body in order for the new venue to be owned by the local jurisdiction. ...

At the time that we wanted to progress in Oakland, and next in Fremont, the residential market for approved entitlements was extremely strong. However under current economic conditions, the residential entitlement concept has been rendered unavailable due to the prolonged recession and sharp decline in demand for residential housing.

Dear Lew Wolff, how come "residential entitlements" are necessary to keep the A's in Oakland, but not in the South Bay? In ANY big city, not just Oakland, finding a large amount of available land for the development that you are after is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Yet, while you make that a requirement in Oakland, you do not make it a requirement in San Jose Care to clarify this, Lew? This is why A's fans everywhere are upset with you. You set the bar much higher for the city where A's fans have learned to love the team and want the team to stay: Oakland.

Moving right along to more Wolff quotes ...

During the new ballpark renaissance in baseball, teams have clearly demonstrated that the best and only viable location for a successful Major League Baseball venue is in the urban center of a major U.S. city. You need not look any further than across the Bay at the Giants wonderful AT&T Park for a prime example. The Giants downtown San Francisco location is within walking distance to millions of square feet of commercial office space, extensive residential accommodations and huge amounts of hotel and convention facilities. The aforementioned land use proximity is a key attribute that makes the privately financed Giants ballpark successful.

Unfortunately, an Oakland location similar to AT&T simply does not exist.

That last line is simply false. Oakland indeed DOES have a ballpark site very similar to San Francisco's AT&T Park. Unless you have been living under a rock for the past year, Oakland officials have presented Major League Baseball's three-person committee with not one but three waterfront ballpark sites that fit the bill for an urban baseball-only stadium: 1) Victory Court, just south of Jack London Square; 2) Jack London North, a land parcel just northeast of Jack London Square; and 3) Howard Terminal, which sits along Port of Oakland land, north of Jack London Square. Also, each of these Oakland sites is well within walking distance of the urban location that Wolff says the A's need. Also, various public transit options that reach the entire Bay Area are available at these sites.

Like we have mentioned in the past, finding these sites were relatively easy. All they took was a little cooperation between some very enthusiastic Oakland officials. Unfortunately, Wolff never tried in Oakland. We can go on and on about how these locations are close to restaurants, bars, and a very active nightlife but we have already covered that extensively. Apparently, it seems that Lew has either played us for fools or he just hasn’t paid attention to any of these developments.

I completely understand the frustration that people on all sides feel regarding Commissioner Selg's slow pace in making a decision. But Wolff's puff piece of a letter, which was filled with many inaccuracies, is not going to work. Don't try to play A's fans as idiots, Lew. Too many A's fans know the real facts. Repeating the same false statements over and over again won't make them true.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dolich & Peterson: A's Will Stay in Oakland & A's Owners Controlling Message

It was quite a busy Sunday newspaper today in both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Bay Area News Group. Former A's marketing guru Andy Dolich cited plenty of reasons in the Chron why the A's should stay and will stay in Oakland, while Bay Area News group columnist Gary Peterson criticized A's ownership on how they are trying to control their anti-Oakand message and the conflicting lengths they're going to in order to do this. And Peterson gives BaseballOakland a shout-out, as well.

First of all, the Dolich column. If there is anyone who understands sports business in the Bay Area it's Andy Dolich. Not only did he lead the A's to their most successful period at the gate, he also built successful business models in the NBA and most recently with the San Francisco 49ers.

Given Dolich's successful track record and his strong sports business background, and it's safe to say he knows a thing or two of which he speaks. Dolich lists the various reasons why the A’s should stay in Oakland, along with the several reasons why other markets outside the Bay Area will not work for the A's. He also notes the historical difficulty of getting new stadiums built in California, including the added complexity of the struggling economy. Dolich reminds readers that these A's owners have threatened to move for years, and yet the A's still remain in Oakland.

We agree 100 percent. A’s management has taken the position that a move will solve all their problems and that solution will come as easy as a simple MLB decision to allow it. Even if territorial rights barriers are taken down, it's still a long and difficult process to get the rest of the deal done. Dolich states — and we fully agree with him — that the best solution for the present and the long term is for the A's to remain in the same place where they've been playing for over 40 years, right here in Oakland.

In Gary Peterson's column, he talks about the controversy over the A's creating a Dallas Braden "Get of My Mound" T-shirt, even though the Players' Association refused to grant the team permission, and how that conflicts with A's owners' position on an earlier controversy surrounding fan Jorge Leon and his signs at the Coliseum.

There is a big hypocrisy here. When the players protested against the T-shirt the response from A’s management was "were selling them anyways." When fans have non-offensive signs protesting against management, they get ejected? How is that fair? It's not.

Perhaps most importantly, Peterson broke a story in his column that none of us had heard before: A's management has issued a "gag order" of sorts, telling the media that they are not allowed to interview A's fans at the Coliseum at A's games.

What’s with these A's owners and their (over) controlled message? Obviously the fans have a voice and need to be heard from. When the sign controversy blew up in the A's owners' faces, they shut down the fans' voice, and instead offered puff pieces about poor billionaires and their problems. That is one of the reasons we run BaseballOakland is to provide an Oakland fan's voice. We are the fans, we pay the bills, and without our money, MLB ceases to exist. So, by issuing media gag orders on the fans and to the local press, A's owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher reveal their paranoia. It also shows just how far they're willing to go to control the message as they try to craft a phony narrative that they are trying to sell to the media and to MLB.

I know this was one of the longer blogs but with two heavy hitting columns this morning there was a lot to cover. Stay strong, Oakland A's fans. We got your back.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Active Oakland nightlife can make the A's successful

If you were curious to find out if an A's ballpark would work at Jack London Square, the past two to three weeks of entertainment activity in downtown Oakland should have made it clear that a stadium would be very successful.

Let's start with June 17, a warm Thursday night that happened to be the same date as Game 7 of the NBA Finals. I had a lukewarm interest in the game and so a friend and I decided to watch it a bar in Old Oakland, a revitalized neighborhood nestled between City Hall and Jack London Square. There are plenty of bars and restaurants in the thriving Oakland neighborhood. Problem was, we couldn't find one that wasn’t packed with Oakland sports fans who wanted to watch the game with their community.

By walking from crowded bar to crowded bar, we almost missed the game. First stop was Arsimona, an upstairs bar near Le Cheval. Too packed. So we went to Pacific Coast Brewing Co. Same thing. How about Liege? Same. Grand Oaks Sports Bar & Grill. You guessed it. So we walked a few more blocks to Kimball’s Sports Bar at Jack London Square. Too busy. Finally, we found a couple of stools at The Fat Lady, nearly 10 blocks away from our first try, and there we watched the Lakers beat the Celtics on TV.

When the game ended, thousands of sports fans spilled into the Oakland streets doing what sports fans do best, peacefully talking, laughing, gently talking trash about the other's team. For a few minutes, it felt like a street party. And maybe that's because there was a street party going on in Old Oakland the same night. It’s a summer music series called Thursday Night Live, and on this night a salsa band called Mazacote played on a stage on 9th St., near Broadway St.

Amidst the hundreds of people there, dancers of all ages enjoyed the salsa band. There were parents with little kids, young hipsters, graybeards — basically it was a true Oakland crowd. All kinds of people of all kinds of ages getting together for a good time. I suppose the usual compliment is to say “it was like San Francisco.” But it was better than that. It felt like Europe — a warm, beautiful night filled with revelers of all kinds of ages set against a backdrop of music, food and camaraderie. That's how Thursday Night Live was the first night on June 17. It’s held every other Thursday at the same 9th St./Broadway St. location all summer. Check it out.

Later that weekend, I stopped by The New Parish nightclub on a Sunday afternoon and watched Ivory Coast play Brazil in a World Cup match. Again, the club was filled with passionate but friendly fans from all walks of life.

A few days later, I dropped by Flora — an excellent restaurant across the street from the historic Fox Theater. Flora was filled with diners, so I had to eat at the bar. The following night I took an old college buddy to B Restaurant in Old Oakland, which was equally packed.

Then, over that weekend, Oaklavia was held in downtown Oakland. Oaklavia is a kind of street party where they close the streets to automobiles and just create a walk-only-bike-only environment. It was great and, you guessed it, packed with a ton of people enjoying Oakland streets and Oakland's unique vibe.

Less than a week later, July 2nd featured the monthly First Friday Art Murmur, which drew its usual thousands of art-loving people to downtown Oakland streets. That same night friend and I headed up to the Uptown bar to watch Oakland's own Judgment Day (a "heavy metal" band that plays with a cello and a violin) and a "Lets Go Oakland" chant erupted at the end of a very rocking show.

You see where I’m going with this. Oakland's downtown is thriving. From Uptown to Lake Merritt to Old Oakland to Chinatown to Jack London Square, restaurants, bars, and coffeehouses are popping up at a record pace. A new Jack London Square A's ballpark would thrive, too. The flourishing entertainment scene and the ballpark would mutually benefit each other. Here's to hoping someone in the A’s front office and/or MLB's home office finally begins to take notice.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Perfect Game, Not So Perfect Meeting

This week we have a guest blogger, super A's fan Jorge Leon, who is sharing how his May 9 face-to-face meeting with A's owner Lew Wolff went:

Everybody I talk to wants to know how my meeting with Lew Wolff went.

People ask me: Was he a nice guy? Others ask me, Did you get mad at him? Those are all good questions. Of course, what I remember from the A's-Rays game at the Coliseum on May 9 was Dallas Braden's perfect game. But I especially remember us asking some hard questions that Wolff refused to answer. I knew all along that he was going to act like good ol' grandpa Wolff, charming and polite. Which he was, I mean not just any owner invites a fan to the "owners" suite, right? Then again, this is the same owner who refuses to work with the city of Oakland, constantly blaming us A's fans while he tries to move the team to Fremont or San Jose.

Wolff had invited me and my friend Bobby Tselentis to the suite after A's security guards had ejected me from a ballgame in April just for posting signs that criticized Wolff. The signs knocked Wolff for never trying to make a real effort to stay in Oakland. We had signs that read: "Lew Wolff Hates Oakland" and "Wolff lied. He never tried."

During the meeting in the owners suite, we presented Wolff with some gifts from fans in the right field and left field bleachers, including two signed baseballs from every fan in the bleachers who want to keep the A's in Oakland. We also gave Wolff a T-shirt from the Green Stampede.

"What is the Green Stampede?" asked Wolff.

I explained to him that the Green Stampede is a non-profit organization that has been affiliated with the A's Community fund since 2001. The Green Stampede helps mentor and tutor kids with their homework. During our meeting, we sat down with Wolff and talked some more, and he put the Green Stampede T-shirt on the table. As we sat there talking, Wolff started putting his empty peanut shells all over the shirt.

Right there is when I knew we were just there for the "Lew Wolff Show." The Lew Wolff Show is a show manipulated by Mr. Wolff, who
tried to evade every hard question that we threw at him that day by answering, "I’m too old for this" or "I’m done here." We asked him about working with the community. All he could tell us is how he teamed up with Eric Chavez to hand out food to the needy.

We asked him how come there was no "Oakland Day" at A's games, but there was a "Fremont Day."Again, he said he was too old to answer that. We asked, why there are no A's billboards around Oakland or Alameda County to promote the team? Wolff replied by urging us to email their marketing department about it.
We asked him about marketing and he pointed out that his friend (who was sitting next to us) came out with the idea of the rally "trumpet." I immediately said that I hated that thing. Wolff's friend stopped smiling.

You may wonder if he showed me any ballpark renderings. He did. All of them featured a bunch of condos and real estate that made it hard to notice the actual ballpark that he wants to build. We asked him: Why is the San Jose site so perfect, Mr. Wolff?

never said it was," was his answer.

We asked: What if the San Jose thing falls through? He answered: "Then we will stay here." Then he added: "I’m done. I have to go meet with the Rays president."

The meeting ended there.
I did not come out thinking he was a great guy. I came out knowing that his mind is set on one thing only. I know Wolff and the A's can make it work in Oakland if he really wants to stay in Oakland. Wolff left during the 6th inning, and he told us to enjoy the suite the rest of the game. We did.

Before Wolff left, I told him, "Did you know that Oakland has been the home to pro baseball since 1866?"

Wolff replied, "Really?" and just put on his sweater and left. After that, the meeting was history — and so was Dallas Braden's performance. I celebrated the 19th perfect game in MLB and the 2nd-ever one in Oakland. All I could think of at first was that.

But one other idea kept returning to my head ... fighting to keep the A's in Oakland no matter who I have to meet with. I would meet with Charlie Finley, but he won 3 straight World Series. I would meet with Haas, but he did win a World Series and helped the Oakland community.

Come on, Lew, you can continue doing what you've been doing for at least five years and be known as the greediest owner in sports and be hated by all A's fans; or you can be the hero in a great town where the future is going to shine. After all, you don’t need a public vote from Oakland. No more excuses. Victory Court is waiting for you and so is one of the greatest baseball teams in the world.