Thursday, March 31, 2011

Opening Night Tailgate Party -- Keep the A's in Oakland

Don't miss what's shaping up to be the best and biggest tailgate party in Oakland A's history. Co-presented by Let's Go Oakland, Oaklandish and some fan group called Baseball Oakland, the tailgate will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, April 1, at the Oakland Coliseum parking lot.

The tailgate will be held in Parking Lot A, in the north lot, right by the Coliseum. There will be free hot dogs and beer, and Oaklandish will have a limited supply of "StAy" T-shirts, temporary "StAy" tattoos and other cool items.

For a location map and more details on how to RSVP, click on this link here:!/event.php?eid=199477856743429
See you there. Let's go, Oak-land!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Questions Around A's Radio Fiasco

Ever since we started this blog, we have been extremely critical of the A's management group. Not only is that due to Lew Wolff's and John Fisher's desire to move the team elsewhere, it's also due to their pure incompetence in running a baseball team. They are not without their defenders, though, and we've started to wonder why.

To Wolff's apologists, we ask with all due respect: Why are you defending these clowns? Is it because you hope that Lew will fix all that's wrong with your city or your sports hopes and dreams? Or is that you unrealistically believe that if the ownership makes more money then the team will improve and satisfy A's fans, in some baseball version of trickle-down economics? Or maybe "Grandpa Lew" once made a comment on your blog and you think he actually cares?

Regardless of why ... let us ask you this: Do you like the tarps? Do you like the higher ticket prices? Do you like having FanFest canceled? Does waiting in long lines to buy tickets just to get in the stadium get you excited? Do you enjoy receiving very poor customer service at A's games? Do you like walking halfway around the Coliseum just to get something as basic as a hot dog because Wolff won't open enough conession stands? Do you like missing two innings due to long concession stand lines that are understaffed just to save the billionaire owners some pocket change?

We here at BaseballOakland recognize that running a team is a business first. We get that. We're not going to disagree. However, what other business would ask its customers to sacrifice and put up with so many incompetent-fueled negatives in the name of ensuring its investors get a great return of investment. Would Coca-Cola? Target? Starbucks? Apple? The answer is NONE of them would -- not if they want to stay in business.

According to Forbes and CSN Bay Area, the A's have appreciated $125 million in value in the six years since Wolff took over, and the A's owners also have turned $123 million in profit in that same time period -- all while running this once-great franchise into the ground.

In any business relationship, we the customers don't expect anything less than fair pricing, a good product and good customer service. If Coca-Cola started offering lousy colas at higher prices, then you would switch to Pepsi in the blink of an eye -- as you should. Similarly, we here at BaseballOakland expect a basic minimum standard for the A's management to give to their loyal customers. We simply don't accept the argument that "owners need to make more money" as a justification for why we should pay more and more and expect less and less and less every single year. That is silly and defeatist.

Which is why today's news about the A's possibly being disconnected from the airwaves baffles us. Ever since the 1920s, radio has been connected to baseball and is recognized as a main part of its culture. So, why let the A's radio situation get this bad? If the A's owners were halfway competent at running this show, things would be different and their agreement with KTRB would be would have been wrapped up when we were putting up our Christmas lights, as opposed to a week before Opening Night.

This is simply embarrassing for the A's front office. We don't see how you can defend this.

We worshipped Bill King and Lon Simmons during the Haas years and we're lucky today to still have someone great like Ken Korach to listen to. Only question is, will we be allowed to listen to Korach on the radio? Only the A's owners can answer that.

A lot of people think it's just a matter of time before Wolff tries to scapegoat Oakland and the Coliseum for this radio fiasco. But Wolff isn't THAT shameless, is he? Is he?!

Bottom line: This radio station deal needs to happen, fellas. You can't let this one go.

A's Might Not Have Radio Broadcasts This Year

Recently, we interviewed legendary broadcaster Amaury Pi-Gonzalez, who gave us the sad scoop that the A's in 2011 would become the only Major League Baseball team in California NOT to have Spanish-language game broadcasts.

Today, we were shocked even more to learn the A's in 2011 might not even have English-language broadcasts. (Yes, seriously.)

That's right -- with Opening Night less than a week away, the A's have announced they might not have game radio broadcasts.

That unbelievable news was first reported by Joe Stiglich, the Bay Area News Group's A's beat writer. Stiglich wrote that:

... negotiations for the A's to buy KTRB (860-AM) -- which is in receivership with Comerica Bank -- have hit a major snag. In the fallout ... the agreement between the A's and the receiver to broadcast during the regular season also is in jeopardy.


The A's sent out a press release Friday saying that "due to technical issues beyond their control," spring training games Saturday and Sunday against the Colorado Rockies would not be broadcast on KTRB as originally planned.

Stiglich reports that the A's owners, Lew Wolff and John Fisher, have been trying to buy KTRB since it went into receivership last September. But, Stiglich's source gives a reason for the snag that will be all too familiar to A's fans in the Wolff era:

According to the source, the receiver is looking for a higher bid than the A's are willing to offer and might be threatening to pull games off the air as leverage.

To review, in the final week of Spring Training, right when baseball fans are jonesing for some baseball -- and a reason to buy some game tickets at the Coliseum -- A's radio broadcasts for this weekend (March 27-29) have been canceled. Even more, we might not have radio broadcasts at all for 2011, potentially leaving as the only listening option for A's fans.

Well, Wolff and Fisher still have Comcast California for TV broadcasts -- are they televising any games this weekend to make up for the radio loss? Nope, unfortunately. They're not doing that either. Meanwhile, the Giants on Saturday were broadcasting their Spring Training game on KNBR radio and on Channel 3-NBC BayArea.

And they wonder why they're not selling more tickets to A's games. In the past 16 years -- first under Steve Schott and then under Wolff -- the A's media strategy has been a disaster. The team has bounced around from radio dial to radio dial, never giving their fans stability or a consistent media home. Also, these A's owners have let great announcers go to other squads by nickel-and-diming their announcing talent, which is such a key part of a sports team's marketing. First, they let Lon Simmons go in 1995. Then Greg Papa in 2003. Last year, it was Marty Lurie, and this year, they let Pi-Gonzalez and Spanish broadcasts go, squandering another chance to reach out to the region's fastest growing demographic.

The evidence is well beyond piling up. The verdict on Wolff and Fisher is undeniable. The incompetence is just staggering.

A reader comment posted after Stiglich's article sarcastically wonders how long it will take Wolff to blame the Oakland Coliseum for this latest front-office blunder. It's a fair question. Given their track record, the A's owners won't take responsibility for yet another PR debacle that depresses attendance, rather than builds it.

It's almost unbelievable. Yet, for anyone following the Wolff-Fisher ownership in the last six years, it's all too familiar.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Oakland = Great Baseball Town

I'd never seen anything like it at a baseball game before.

It was a Friday night game vs. the Angels on Oct. 1, 2004 -- the first of the final three-game series of the season. The A's and Angels had identical 90-69 records in the AL West race. The next three games would decide the season.

This was before tarps covered the third deck, so the Oakland Coliseum was packed with a sellout crowd numbering 47,081. The left-field bleachers were jammed with fired-up A's fans who were not only standing and cheering, they were jumping up and down in unison and chanting "Let's go, Oak-land!"

Here's the best part: The game wouldn't even begin for another 30 minutes.

The electricity at the historic old ballyard was palpable. I had never before witnessed that kind of fan intensity at any game, in any city.

'And they question Oakland as a baseball town,' I said to myself.

What happened next could be taken as a metaphor for the current state of the A's franchise. Mark Mulder, pitching on a bad leg that had torpedoed his stats in the season's second-half, got roughed up by the Angels, and the A's lost the game 10-0. The next day, the bullpen wasted a strong Barry Zito performance and blew an 8th-inning lead. Season over.

Some questioned the decision by then-manager Ken Macha (or was it Billy Beane?) to start the clearly injured Mulder when they had a kid named Joe Blanton ready to go. (Blanton also pitched poorly in relief, but he might have fared better as a starter rather than the unfamiliar role of a reliever.)

Either way, did a franchise known for overachieving on its front-office smarts blow its season on a bad choice made by the front office? Maybe so. We'll never know for sure.

Here's what we do know: Oakland is a great baseball town. See, all throughout the 2004 season, A's owner Steve Schott -- as he did each year since becoming owner in 1995 -- constantly told the press he wanted to move the A's out of Oakland. A lot of fan bases would have revolted and stopped showing up at the ballpark altogether after taking a decade of Schott's verbal abuse. Not Oakland. Instead, the A's drew 2.2 million fans in 2004 and they outdrew some big markets with new stadiums -- impressive considering the deeply flawed A's ownership since '95.

Anyone who had been there on that warm night would not have been surprised. The Oakland fans showed pure-and-concentrated baseball passion, like they do just about every night. It's amazing what kind of electric scene Oakland fans create when they're given just the slightest reason to get excited and the smallest nod of respect.

A's fans are excited about the prospects of a Victory Court ballpark on the Oakland waterfront. They're just waiting for an owner who will show them a hint of the loyalty they've been giving the A's for more than four decades.

Opening night this year is coming soon, on April 1 -- exactly six years and six months since that Mulder game. The kind of fun fan intensity I'm talking about here will be on full display. See you there.

Let's go, Oakland.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A's Fans' FanFest: Join Us at the Oakland Running Festival, March 27

At last year's inaugural Oakland Running Festival, we set up camp at 4th and Market streets, north of Jack London Square, to cheer on runners in the festival's marathon portion. We and about 20 other friends turned it into an A's tailgate party of sorts. We had food and drinks and music while decked out in our A's gear. We celebrated the city of Oakland and supported the runners. We also promoted keeping the A's in Oakland. It was a wonderful event and we had an amazingly fun time -- as did the countless runners who gave us big smiles, a thumbs-up, and a returning "Let's go, Oak-land" chant as they sped by.

Well, we're doing it again this year and you and anyone else are invited. We're holding our very own "FanFest" because if the A's owner aren't going to hold a fan fest, then we the fans will.

Just about every MLB team this winter hosted a FanFest, a day where baseball-hungry fans gathered to get fired up about upcoming season right before spring training begins. The A's started doing FanFests during the great Haas ownership, who smartly turned it into a day where fans can meet the players, get signed autographs, ask their heroes questions during the always popular Q&A sessions. Whetting the fans' baseball appetite also was a perfect way for the franchise to sell tens of thousands of game tickets on the eve of the season. The FanFest tradition continued for years until a couple of years ago when the Lew Wolff-John Fisher ownership inexplicably stopped doing them. It's just one of the never-ending negative things that this ownership has foisted on A's fans since taking over six years ago.

A's fans are tired of not having a FanFest, so we're going to throw our own. Organizers of the running festival said we were a big hit with runners last year, so they've assigned us our own special cheering section. Join us this year at the same intersection -- at 4th Street and Market Street, just north of Jack London Square and the proposed new A's ballpark site.

Let's show once again that the Oakland community and its many A's fans can come together for a great event. We'll be cheering on the runners, as well as enjoying food and drink and prizes. You're all invited -- come one and come all. Let's show that Oakland A's fans are not only the best in the bay, but also the best in the world.

Let's have some fun and cheer on the Oakland runners!

WHAT: A's Fans' FanFest at the Oakland Running Festival
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday, March 27
WHERE: 4th St. & Market St. (north of Jack London Square)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lew Has Stadium Financing Lined Up, Except When He Doesn't

Perhaps it's the ever encroaching deadline to put a stadium referendum on the ballot in San Jose, or the fact he's been at this game for eight years now, but there seems to be an extra amount of rhetoric coming from Lew's mouth these last few days. Lew's latest take comes courtesy of AP Writer Janie McCauley, in which Lew claims that he "already has the financing in place" if only territorial rights would magically go away.

How true is this? Well, considering the many delays the Earthquakes Stadium has suffered before being built (still no naming rights sponsor), we find this hard to believe. Keep in mind that, starting in 2005, when the 66th Ave.-to-High Street plan was announced to all the way up to the present day in San Jose, Wolff has revealed ZERO details of how this thing would be paid for. have been revealed. Yes, in Fremont there were supposed to be land entitlements, and a housing-financing scenario where condos would sell for one million dollars each or something. But, even then, the details were fuzzy and controversial. Ever since Fremont fell through, ballpark-plan details have gone from blurry to downright dark. We have never known the true full estimated cost of the proposed ballpark, either, a key detail that should be mentioned if this thing were to go to San Jose voters.

Ray Ratto On Dale Tafoya's Athletics After Dark is convinced that the money is not there and that the whole thing is in serious jeopardy. Quote:

This is about one thing and one thing only, and it’s always been about this: Do the A’s have the money to put a shovel in the ground? If they had the money to put a shovel in the ground, we would’ve gone to Bud Selig and said, “We’re ready to go now.” And then Bud Selig can either tell the committee to produce a report or he could just go without it and start harvesting votes if they really want this to happen. I think it is incumbent upon the A’s to show that they’re ready to go right now and the fact that they keep saying, “well we haven’t seen the blue ribbon report…” You know what? That’s due diligence and you’re supposed to do that. If you’ve got that stuff down you’re already working at that.

…In the current economic climate, where you really need help from cities and states to get buildings done if you don’t want to go into your own personal debt. I think that the idea of a San Jose stadium is really fading. It may be dead at this point. It’s taken too long for the A’s to get what ducks they have in a row, in a row. So I think the problem here is the A’s needed more help than they let on and now they’re stuck.

Interesting. What we have here is two conflicting views on what is really going on. Who do we believe now? For a more objective analysis, take a gander of what Neil DeMause at Field of Schemes says is needed to make this happen:

To make a San Jose A's move work, then, you'd need to generate enough new revenue to:
* Pay off the Giants' indemnification demands for giving up Silicon Valley;
* Generate around $30 million a year extra to pay off the estimated $461 million construction cost of the San Jose stadium that Wolff says he will build himself (California being probably the hardest state in the nation to get taxpayer stadium funds approved in, given its stringent public referendum requirements); and
* Leave some money left over to pay all those free agents that Rosenthal insists would come a-running as soon as the A's were out from the shadow of Mount Davis. Figure $50-60 million total at minimum--and it would all need to come from new San Jose fans, less the number of lost Oakland fans.
It's a tough mathematical nut to crack, even when you don't have two sides playing North-going Zax and South-going Zax.
Like Neil suggests, the numbers don't add up for Lew. Despite his pleading for "fairness," the Giants WILL be compensated. That's how MLB works, Lew. Its not fair that we here in Oakland have had to deal with you for the last five years, either, but that's business, too. Does Lew have all that money lined up? We shall see, but we have difficulty believing him.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Why We Love Victory Court

The Victory Court ballpark site, located just south of Jack London Square -- between 4th and 1st streets and Fallon Street and the Oakland Fire Department training facilty -- has the potential to be great for the A's, and also for the city of Oakland, too.

Here's why:

1. Excellent Public Transit Options: A ballpark at Victory Court would be served by all kinds of public transit. They include:

* Lake Merritt BART Station is just a handful of blocks away, and a five-minute walk, from the ballpark site.
* The Amtrak train station, where commuter trains also stop, would be just four blocks away.
* The Jack London Square ferry stop is nearby on the northern side of Jack London Square. And a new ferry stop could be added near the Jack London Acquatic Center, about one block from a Victory Court ballpark.
* The Broadway Shuttle, called the "B," is a free bus that runs every 10 minutes from 24th and Webster all the way down Broadway to Jack London Square. With a new ballpark, you can bet that the "B" will add a few more blocks down to serve all those fans headed to Fallon Street.
* There also is preliminary talk of a downtown Oakland street car that would stop at Victory Court.

2. Three Revenue-Generating Projects in One: Building a new A's ballpark at Victory Court will be part of a larger plan that includes office space, housing, and new retail space, such as restaurants, bars and a 4-star hotel. Even more, as Oakland Councilwoman Jane Brunner said last December, the Victory Court development will help kickstart two other projects -- the Oak-to-Ninth development just south of the stadium site, and Jack London Market, located just north of Victory Court.

So, the tax revenue generated from Victory Court wouldn't come from just one project, but rather, three projects in one if it's responsible for getting all three developments off the ground.

3. The Views: Fans in certain parts of the ballpark would have views alternately of the water of the Lake Merritt Channel, the white cranes of the Port of Oakland, the Oakland Hills (like the old Coliseum days), and of the downtown Oakland skyline (picture that iconic neon "Tribune" building at night). Right up there with Pittsburgh's PNC Park, it's going to have some of the best views in baseball, right here in Oakland.

4. Connecting Lake Merritt & Downtown to Jack London Square: Restaurants, bars, cafes and other new businesses are popping up all over the place around Lake Merritt, Jack London Square, and downtown and Uptown Oakland. But the area between those neighborhoods -- which includes Laney College and Victory Court -- is a donut hole where that burgeoning Oaktown vibrancy kind of hits a wall. Building a new ballpark and all the new subsequent businesses will generate foot traffic and energy that's currently missing in that specific area.

5. It Will Keep the A's in Oakland and the Bay Area: All the plans that A's owners have proposed for other cities have either died on the vine or have major roadblocks. So, the best chance for A's fans to keep their beloved A's in Oakland and the Bay Area is right there at Victory Court.

These are just some of the reasons why we love Victory Court. We can't wait until this Oakland baseball dream becomes a reality.

Lake Merrit Station Area Plan Meeting

Last Saturday (Feb. 26), a few of us stopped by Laney College to attend the Lake Merritt Station Area Plan for a variety of reasons. Some of us live very near that area and are always interested in the city's urban planning. Also, the Victory Court ballpark site is located within this area.

We thought it would be a presentation where we would sit and learn about the city's plans. Instead, citizens were asked to sit down and share their thoughts at different tables. And -- reflecting the area's diversity -- the tables were divided into the neighborhood's most prominent languages: Vietnamese, Chinese, English.
There were about 10 tables with around six to eight residents at each one. Our table was a classically diverse Oakland group, representing just about every race, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation under the sun. At each table sat one or two city employees to guide the discussion. The city of Oakland was basically asking for feedback on what residents want built in the neighborhood over the next 20 years. They asked questions like:

How can we make the Lake Merritt area more pedestrian and bike friendly? What streets need more high density housing? Retail? Restaurants/bars? Parking? What streets need improved aesthetic touches, such as trees and lamps? Which streets need to be widened or shortened? How can we better connect the Jack London district to the Lake Merritt BART area? What areas could use more green space and parks?

And so on. And so on. They basically were looking for an urban planning wish list for the area. One of the things residents had told the city, for example, was a desire to expand the Chinatown neighborhood in the planning district, and to honor the area's history and its rich Asian American history.

At our table, the city employees informally referred to the Victory Court parcel as "the ballpark area." The vast majority of everyone at our table didn't bat an eye at that.

A BART employee came over at one point and suggested pretty strongly that he liked the idea of building high-density housing and commercial retail right next to the Lake Merritt BART station, which is a five-minute stroll away from 4th & Oak streets, where the entrance to the Victory Court ballpark might be. One resident said, "I hope you're not talking eight stories high or something." And he replied, "Oh, I'm talking about well above eight stories." That one resident was the lone person who balked at that vision. One other person strongly agreed with the high-density vision, and the rest of the table sat and listened.

We also discussed improving bike access in the area, as well as some of the pedestrian crossings. Also mentioned was changing around some of the one way streets to two-way.

We all agreed that the area -- which contains Laney College, the Oakland Museum, Lake Merritt BART, Chinatown, the Estuary, the Oakland-Alameda County Courthouse, County office buildings, Lake Merritt, the Oakland Main Library, the unused Kaiser Pavilion (not to mention a future ballpark) -- should and could have more restaurants, bars, caf's, and retail to serve all the people that currently use all of those facilities but don't have many options to go to afterwards.

The city employees mentioned in passing that there are plans to expand the estuary, which was exciting to hear. Everyone at our table said they wanted to have a multi-story parking complex on the Laney College parking lot by 880, which would fit right into the ballpark plans. We also talked about ways to improve the current parks in the area to make them more welcoming and to attract residents, and we talked of the idea of putting in a rooftop restaurant/bar on any of the new multi-story housing buildings that are built near the lake in the future to take advantage of the dramatic views near the lake and the estuary, with the Oakland Hills and downtown skyscape in the background.

Well, that was the summary of my table's experience. Once the meeting ended shortly after 12 noon, each table's representative took turns announcing to the entire gathering what their table's consensus was.

All in all, it was way more interactive and opinionated than the last meeting we attended. Another meeting was held this past weekend (March 5). If anyone attended that one, please feel free to share your experience. Either way, it looks like there are many exciting plans for redevelopment that are moving forward in the Lake Merritt area.