Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The A's Want Ten More Years In The Coliseum

Home Sweet Home
Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane and Owner Lew Wolff get the Jonah Keri interview treatment over at Grantland today, and while the piece is worth a read for any A's fan, the biggest surprise to me was the idea that Wolff wants to sign a 10-year extension to stay in the club's current digs, the 47-year-old multi-sport Coliseum. And while this seems like all kinds of insanity to outsiders, given that the place is only known for plumbing failures and overly large foul ground, I can't help but say that I'm happy with the news for a lot of reasons.

First off, that it acknowledges reality. California is an enlightened state for many reasons, not the least of which is that stadium construction is downright difficult. The Giants got their yard from dot-com money (anyone remember Webvan? The Giants sure do) as much as the Barry Bonds attendance bonanza. The Dodgers are still in the same place they've been in for half a century. The Angels have refurbed their yard a ton, and San Diego took a very long time to get Petco, which was also more than a little aided by the online revolution. They aren't building any more land in Cally,  the Giants aren't giving up the San Jose territory, and there isn't a better place to go or be, after nearly a decade of Bud Selig saying the A's should have their own yard, but doing jack squat about that. So be it.

The much bigger issue for the A's than the yard is the local media. The Giants own a ridiculous advantage there, with better coverage and more media dollars, and with two World Series championships in the past five years to wash away the Bonds stink, nothing is going to change that. But the way of the world is that live sports is DVR-proof, and the rising tide lifts all boats. It also doesn't hurt that Oakland's new-found love for platooning means that a malleable roster of Swiss Army knives makes for the club's eternal advantage, i.e. that their 20th to 30th players are almost always better than the other team's, more meaningful...

But the plain and simple of it is that Oakland, more so than any other franchise due to the limited nature of star level pitching, needs to stay healthy to win. Texas or Anaheim can always eat another contract and reload from a tanking team. Oakland can only promote from within and hope to outdraw their opponents, and hope that youth and coaching and player selection beats experience and natural ability.

Which brings us, finally, back to the yard. The idea that the Coliseum could be seen as an advantage sounds crazy, but actually, it's not. The A's are able to get cheap pitching wins by bringing in flyball pitchers, especially ones that provoke foul balls that would be harmless in any other yard. They can win by always making sure their third baseman is a de facto fourth outfielder on balls in the air especially, and that the catching is always young and spry enough to get to a few more of those as well. They win from the unseasonably cool air and marine layer that takes many teams out of their element, especially when the rest of MLB is cooking. And they win when the yard is filled with the kind of people that you can only really find, at least on the West Coast, in Oakland; people who don't make enough money to know better than to mark out for the club.

People at A's games bang drums, bring instruments, chant, and generally sound like, well, a crowd from several decades ago, before smartphones and luxury boxes, before niche cuisine and shorter attention spans. It helps. The roster of a typical A's team is basically a baseball frat, filled with guys who are either too young to keep to themselves, or too old and eager to not have this stop be like the others, which is to say, some kind of odd business. There is a connection, a goofy, irony-free, hipster-resistant connection, that is only aided and abetted by the dive-like surroundings.

Real A's fans do not now, and really have not ever, complained about the Coliseum. They've complained about how their team is outbid, or that the ownership doesn't commit enough, or that the team just didn't win. If they are old enough, they complain about Mount Davis ruining what was a more more pleasant sight line, back in the day. They also might wonder why there isn't better security at the BART station, or more to do in the area after the game.

But the actual yard? It's just where the game is. The game is enough, provided the team is good. And they've been good for a while now, and with luck and health, will be so again this year.

So stay. Shine the turd by bringing the plumbing up to code. Put a fresh coat of paint and upgrade the BART lot. Spring for some new carpet or whatever in the locker rooms and press boxes so that we don't have to hear outsiders pule quite so much. And make it work for you, especially as your yard becomes more and more of an outlier with each passing year, and more and more of an advantage.

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