Commentary

Indians, not plumbing, stop the A's

Stadium issues aside, Oakland began the season in good spirits despite a loss

Updated: April 1, 2014, 1:19 PM ET
By Paul Gutierrez | ESPN.com

OAKLAND -- There was a time, only a generation or so ago in fan years, when the Coliseum was the most pleasing stadium in the Bay Area.

Aesthetically and otherwise.

Now? The aging concrete mausoleum still takes center stage for the Athletics, but for all the wrong reasons. The lone stadium still being shared by a big league baseball club (the A's) and an NFL team (the Raiders) has become the butt of jokes for two proud franchises, one which is winning and chasing its third straight American League West title while the other is in Year 1 of a self-described reconstruction phase.

But in their typical loose fashion, the A's are having fun with their predicament, even after water came up through the drains in the coaches' showers while the toilets backed up and unleashed an unholy gurgle on Saturday during an exhibition game against the Giants. This, after a few plumbing stoppages flooded the clubhouses and the A's dugout with raw sewage last season.

At least the water in Saturday's backups was more or less clear.

[+] EnlargeRain at Oakland
AP Photo/Ben MargotFortunately, Monday's water came from the heavens rather than the sewage system.

"We've been through the drill enough times that we know how to handle it and we kind of just take it in stride because, at the end of the day, this is our home," said A's left-handed reliever Sean Doolittle. "It's part of being an A and calling the Coliseum your home. But I think we've used it in a positive way and kind of helped shape our identity, that we know we don't have all the nicest things in the world, but we see your $500 million payroll and we're going to beat you anyway. It helps us, in a way, keep that chip on our shoulder."

On Monday night, in Oakland's 2014 season opener, that chip might have felt more like a donut. The A's were shut out by the Indians 2-0 in a game that wasted wunderkind right-hander Sonny Gray's six scoreless innings on five hits, seven strikeouts and three walks.

The game was in serious doubt throughout the afternoon because of a downpour in the Bay Area. It rained so hard and so steadily during the day that, yes, there were questions about the pipes at the Coliseum, which opened in 1966 for the Raiders and took in the A's two years later.

After losing a major league-record 10th straight season-opening game, the A's probably wished the wet stuff -- whether it came from above or below -- had postponed things.

"So far, so good today," Doolittle said with a grin. "I was going to say, 'Things have gone smoothly today,' but I think that's gross." Many would use that word to describe the stadium situation for both teams. It's gross.

The A's have been exploring options for a new stadium in Oakland for years, but haven't put together the right mix of location, finances and permissions. One other option might be San Jose, but the cross-bay San Francisco Giants' territorial rights are blocking it ... for now.

The Raiders, meanwhile, want to build a new silver-and-black showcase on the current site, but have little to show for their machinations besides endless talks with the city and grandiose Coliseum City plans that include a football stadium in what is now the Coliseum's south parking lot and a new A's stadium in what is the facility's north parking lot.

Indeed, the Coliseum site is the best place for new stadiums in the Bay Area, what with parking, easy access off the 880 freeway to the west, and public transit connected on the east courtesy of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system.

Raiders owner Mark Davis spoke last week at the NFL owners meetings about his frustration with the lack of movement on the plan. He also acknowledged that he is keeping an eye on Los Angeles as a potential home for his team. Again.

While Davis said Oakland mayor Jean Quan has pushed back a deadline for the deal from the end of last season to the end of this coming summer, the Raiders signed a one-year extension to their lease at the Coliseum.

So this coming August and September, the A's will be playing baseball on a football field and the Raiders will be playing football on a dirt baseball infield. Again.

[+] EnlargeOakland
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesThe A's defense of their 2013 AL West title began with a loss to Cleveland.

It's far from optimum, but it's both teams' lot. And the A's, at least on opening night, with the banners and bunting placed sporadically around the old girl, are embracing it. Again.

Seeing a trend here?

"There's nothing we can do," said first baseman Daric Barton, the team's elder statesman in his eighth season with the A's. "I mean, let's be honest here. It is what it is. We're not moving to a new stadium anytime soon, so we have to accept it.

"We don't have a bad life, so we're not going to complain about little things that other people may think is gross or dirty."

So with toilet humor and images of Bill Murray's "Caddyshack" character cleaning out the Bushwood Country Club's swimming pool and taking a hearty bite out of a Baby Ruth as the backdrop, the A's are trying to focus on baseball.

Meaning they're dealing with blockages of home plate (as catcher John Jaso did to tag out Carlos Santana in the fourth inning) rather than blockages in the Coliseum's antiquated plumbing system and infrastructure.

Consider: Only twice since divisional play was introduced in 1969 has Oakland won its division at least three straight years -- from 1971 through 1975, and again from 1988 through 1990.

Doing it from 2012 through 2014 should be the focus, no? Well ...

"I'm proud of the fact our guys have fun with it," A's manager Bob Melvin said of the stadium's plumbing problems. "It's not like they complain about it. We do have some issues here, and they deal with it, and they look at this place as our place. So we just deal with those things; and whether it was last year in the dugout -- and we had to stand outside it -- it didn't affect us. They handled it the right way.

"It would be one thing if everybody was complaining about it and it was a disadvantage for us. But I think in some ways it can be an advantage for us, and we'll continue to look at it that way."

At least, until they have a new stadium.

Ditto for the Raiders.

Paul Gutierrez

ESPN San Francisco 49ers reporter

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.