A's for effort: McAfee Coliseum and 40 years of baseball
When Oakland natives Nate Houghteling and Ben Rosenberg heard rumors a couple of autumns back that the A's were leaving their hometown, the team's nerve center since
1968, to head almost 30 miles south to Fremont, Calif., they were angry, confused and
ready to protest.
"Oakland is the cultural epicenter of the Bay Area and has a history rich enough to merit a baseball team," Houghteling said.
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"Fremont just happens to be a place where a lot of rich, young families are now because of its proximity to Silicon Valley. But it wasn't anything 50 years ago, and who knows where it'll be 50 years from now."
So the two shot a video of themselves "ghost riding" Houghteling's family Volvo. Ghost riding, for you novices, is a California phenomenon whereby one puts a car into drive, hopefully on an empty street, without a driver behind the wheel; then they roll. They wore A's gear and danced to Mistah Fab's song "Ghost Ride It," a remix of the "Ghostbusters" theme, to object to a move. To date the "Keep the A's in Oakland" video has received nearly 2 million hits on YouTube (watch it here).
Which begs the question: What's so important about keeping the A's in Oakland? Is it McAfee Coliseum? Or the, ah, charm of Oakland itself?
We decided to find out.
As I approached McAfee in my rental car (a Prius this is California), the red, block-letter sign atop the facility in 1980s-esque Legolike font greeted me. As I circled the complex in search of the 66th Avenue parking lot, Oracle Stadium home to the Golden State Warriors since 1966 stood directly to the coliseum's right.
|If you're going|
Planning a trip to McAfee Coliseum? Here are some suggestions for eateries and alehouses:
Paragon Bar & Café
Luka's Taproom & Lounge
Crogan's Sports Bar & Grill
Spectacular views of the mountains surrounded me on three sides. On the fourth, just outside the parking-lot entrance, was an RV rental location. Go figure; someone already wants to get out of town before they've even arrived.
The stadium lies off of I-880, a quick jaunt from either San Francisco (assuming Bay Bridge traffic is light, which is almost never, despite the $4 toll) or San Jose. But since San Francisco Bay Area's namesake city of hills, hippies and sourdough already has the Giants and 49ers, this home to the A's and the NFL's Raiders tends to attract suburban fans from a smattering of outlining towns.
So much so, that at this 6:05 p.m. game between the A's and the Rangers, I couldn't find an Oakland native. I searched diligently, talking to at least 30 fans inside the stadium before finally stumbling upon a city resident sitting in the center field section eating chicken tenders and French fries 10 minutes before the national anthem.
I had arrived much earlier, around 2:40, hoping to see a sea of tailgaters among the facility's 8,000 parking spaces. Instead, I counted six tailgates (and one aggressive tent) set up three hours before the first pitch. Since these were the die-hards (as evidenced by their head-to-toe yellow and green), I decided to talk to them about the Fremont move.
(Note: If you're unclear about the details of the team's move, you've got time to read up. It's not slated to happen until 2012; the future Cisco Field, named for the networking leader, has a reported initial cost $400 million to $500 million, excluding purchase of the land.)
I quickly learned that opinions about abandoning McAfee vary based on location the fan's location, that is.
The first tailgate was a two-person, lawn-chair operation consisting of Loretta Hoffman, a retired, self-professed A's fan since the 1980s, and her husband.
"I will love the move to Fremont because it's closer to us," Hoffman said . "We're an hour and a half south of Oakland, and it isn't always an easy trip. I think a lot of Oakland fans aren't too overjoyed, but I don't think the local people support the team enough."
Calling out the locals! That's bold, Loretta. (As Sonics fans know all too well.)
So maybe she likes the switch. But will she miss sharing a venue with some of football's most fanatical fans?
"The Raiders wrecked our ballpark and we haven't forgiven them," Hoffman said.
On to the second tailgate, where a group of 20-somethings were led by 26-year-old Rick, who's been an A's fan since he was 6 (but requested only his first name be used for this article).
"I'm disappointed in the move," Rick said. "I think the A's should be in Oakland. But I'd rather them be in Fremont than somewhere further away, so we should be happy with that."
Is Rick a local politician?
Next, I made my way to the tent operation. This was the largest tailgate, with several men and women ranging in age from teen to 60-something. I'd later learn that this was the so-called "Left Field Bleacher Crew," Oakland's own version of "Major League's" famous foursome. Locals say the bleacher bunch peaked about five years ago but is still going strong.
I spoke with Austin Coulter, 17, of San Leandro, Calif., an A's fan since the impressionable age of 5.
"McAfee is kind of a big, cement block, not as high-tech as a lot of stadiums, but I like it because it's been the A's home for so many years," Coulter said. "I'm cool with the move to Fremont, but most fans want them to stay in Oakland."
When I asked about the sparse tailgate attendance, Coulter assured me it was atypical. "You should've been here for opening day; the tailgate was huge," he said.
En route to the will call window, I happened upon Keith Kelpsas, 58, a San Francisco transplant living in Antioch, Calif. He was one of the few season ticket holders I came across.
"McAfee is too small," Kelpsas said. "I don't like the new Giants stadium, though. It's too expensive."
Speaking of expenses, "the Fremont move is terrible," Kelpsas said. "Terrible. It's further away and the prices of tickets are going to go up. I can barely afford it as is, and now they're going to charge me more."
Still, Kelpsas promises he'll stick by his team even if he goes broke.
"The A's have a great fan base," he said. "When they lose, we're with them, and when they win, we're still with them." (Shouldn't it be the other way around, Keith?)
Though not many were "with them" by 4:05 p.m., when I walked up the ramp through the wrought-iron gates. After a good wait to secure my press pass, I entered a dimly lit, jaundiced-yellow walkway. Not so impressive for a first impression, but I later learned I'd walked through a private entryway. Whoops. (An obvious first-timer.)
At maximum baseball capacity McAfee holds 35,067 fans, and the majority of the green seats in this circular stadium are in the sun. For NFL games, it can seat up to 63,000 fans. Though the A's are celebrating their 40th anniversary season at the coliseum, a $200 million addition completed in 1996 made the structure what it is today.
A little perspective
McAfee was built, in part, to fix Oakland's identity crisis. Wanting to distinguish themselves from San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area, Oakland residents thought a sports venue was the answer. So in 1960, a nonprofit group was formed to begin planning would-be McAfee, then called simply the Coliseum. It would later be known as Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Network Associates Coliseum.
At that time, the AFL's Oakland Raiders played on Frank Youell Field in downtown Oakland. But the coliseum was already being talked about as the Raiders' soon-to-be home, and by 1962 the city and Alameda County approved $25 million to go toward stadium construction. Actual building was delayed two years because of squabbles over legal and financial issues.
The delay proved timely, for in 1965 Kansas City A's owner Charlie Finley wanted out of Kansas and thought Oakland would be a good spot for his team. The Raiders played their first game at the Coliseum on Sept. 18, 1966. The Oakland A's followed suit on April 17, 1968.
It wasn't long afterward that the A's earned dynasty status, winning the World Series in 1972, 1973 and 1974. The Athletics had won five World Series from 1910 to 1930 while the franchise was based in Philadelphia.
In 1982, the Raiders left Oakland for Los Angeles. Fortunately, local fans were distracted by the A's success; in 1989 they won their fourth World Series in Oakland. The eyes of the baseball world were on Oakland two years earlier, too, when the coliseum hosted the MLB All-Star Game.
By 1995, the Raiders agreed to return to Oakland on the condition that the coliseum undergo major football-friendly renovations. Since the Raiders' return to McAfee Coliseum in 1996, it has become unique in being the last "multipurpose" venue in the country to host MLB and NFL teams. The Metrodome and Dolphin Stadium were designed for football and adjust for baseball, rather than being considered multipurpose.
Fans weren't entirely happy with the addition, though, as the upper deck spanning the outfield blocks the expansive view of the Oakland hills. The A's have covered this section of seats entirely, claiming they'll open them again if and when the World Series returns to the coliseum. (Those seats are still used by the Raiders.)
Baseball fans should also note that McAfee Coliseum has:
• The largest foul territory of any MLB park.
• The smallest seating capacity in the majors.
• A playing surface situated 21 feet below sea level.
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