Thursday, September 19, 2013

In Defense of the Oakland Coliseum

Smells Like Red Sox Fans In Here
The story in the papers and elsewhere today is about recurring sewage issues at the Oakland Coliseum. The Coliseum is the only dual football/baseball facility still in operation, and a place that the likely returning AL West champions have been trying to get away from for the better part of this century. And this has led to any number of Man, That Place Is A Hole comments, and if you want to compare it to all of the places that have been opened in the past 20 years, you are probably right.

But here's the thing about the Coliseum, from someone who has been there close to a hundred times: it's as good as a stadium *needs* to be, and my favorite place to see a game.

Why? Well, the first part is that my team plays there. If your team doesn't play at the yard you love, I would wonder why you like architecture more than your team, but yeah, the place setting in baseball does matter. The second part is the access. Taking BART to an A's game is nearly as good as taking the subway to see a game in New York, but actually nicer, since BART is basically a top-tier regional rail system, clean, quiet and reliable. So much nicer than traffic and parking, really, and the older I get, the less I want to drive, especially in traffic, and shell out something close to my ticket price for parking.

Next, there's the money and policies. I haven't been to a game at the Coliseum since leaving in 2006, but you used to be able to pack a clear backpack with your own food, sit between the first and third base bags in the thoroughly acceptable third level, grab something from the vendors, hit the kid's area, take the train home... and spend $40-50. For two people, not one. Try to do that for anything outside of a minor league team now. You're lucky to spend that on just the single ticket, or parking.

The Coliseum's charms go further. For fireworks games, you can get down on the field with a beach blanket, lie down and look up for an utterly fantastic experience. (Did that at least a half dozen times.) The concessions were reasonably priced, fairly varied, and not so chic-chic as to make you feel like you need silverware and linen. The team put up pitch counts and radar gun readings, along with OPS and everything else, years before other teams did. The view lines are steep enough so that obstructed view seating is rare, assuming you stay out of the Mount Davis addition. (By the way, old-time A's fans claim that ruined the place. They probably aren't wrong.) And despite the multi-sport nature of the place, it's quirky, what with the 3X foul ball area.

Finally, there's the actual fans. If you hate to watch baseball surrounded by people who couldn't care less about who wins, so long as they are in the place to be seen... the Coliseum is for you. If you like to see old timers who haven't been priced out, families with kids marking out for some intern in an elephant costume, guys drumming without irony or hipsterism, the occasional laugh out loud chant (my favorite still remains "Mike, We Know You're Not Gay" to Mike Piazza, which is downright post-modern in its trollery)... and a fan base of 10-20K that can sound like 40K when they need to...

Well, run, don't walk, to the Coliseum.

And when they actually get all of their crowd together and sell the place out, it's everything you'd want in a baseball game. California weather, minor league expense, and the most lovable franchise in the bigs, because no one on the roster has enough time and money to become a problem yet.

In an ideal world, we'd never allow local governments to bid against each other to give corporate welfare projects, and state governments would be more like California, who tell teams to build their own yard or shut up already. (Seriously. Mostly because no team ever wants to leave California.) Real fans would go to 10 games a year, rather than 4. Corporate and pretty people wouldn't be there for those other 6. Relegation would kill off cities from building yards for billionaires. Enhanced television rights payments would go to players, who will spend it in a far more entertaining way than the owners anyway.

I'm not blind to the Coliseum's flaws. If you really want to pay for a premium experience, this isn't the yard for you. Getting people to take in a game last minute is a lot harder than, say, if you have extra seats for Pac Bell. If you are bringing a noob to the game, they'll never want to go back to the Coliseum after seeing the shiny newer place. The lower price does bring in more knuckleheads, and I don't doubt that the place has gone downhill in the last six years. There's really nowhere to go after the game, and if the crowds are light, that BART platform can feel unsafe. Most of the yards that were less fun to go to for a neutral observer (in my experience, Montreal, Three Rivers in Pittsburgh, Riverfront in Cincy, old Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Municipal Stadium in Cleveland) are gone now. If I weren't an A's fan, I wouldn't see the need to visit the place, if money was no object.

But money is always an object.

I'll also never be able to put this toothpaste back in the tube, and the fact that I want it there just says I'm old. But baseball would be in a better place, especially when it comes to long-term sustainability and replacing old fans with new ones, if we had more places like the Coliseum. Not less.

Though, hopefully, with fewer sewage issues.

4 comments:

Will said...

Good memories of the Coliseum, and great post. But BART: 'clean, quiet, and reliable'? I'd say you went one for three there.

DMtShooter said...

Thanks. In re BART, I'm remembering from 2006, and comparing to Philly's SEPTA, New Jersey's New Jersey Transit, and NYC subways. If it's gone downhill since, bummer.

Anonymous said...

Time to update your research. http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/Santa_Clara_Stadium_for_the_49ers,_Measure_J_%28June_2010%29

Oh, and I laughed out loud about your comments about BART. That was pretty funny - clean, quiet and reliable. Good one!

DMtShooter said...

Sigh. I thought the Niners were whores for Levi Strauss for their yard.

Not getting the BART hate. Ride the trains in other cities first, or maybe the East Bay part was better than the SF side.

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