It’s Time To Free The A’s And Their Fans From The Shackles Of Sewage Stadium

This is one team whose fans have truly earned the right to call themselves “long-suffering.”

Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

If you have lived in the Bay Area for any measure of time, you most likely have your own Oakland Coliseum Story (or Stories). It could be baseball-related or involve some big concert you attended there, but the erstwhile Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum itself is so decrepit, so uninviting that everyone’s got a tale. I’ve got several, but this is my favorite:

September 2011: I meet up with some out-of-town friends at Guadalajara, a greasy spoon Mexican joint just off the Fruitvale BART station, for enchiladas and Negro Modelo(s). We lose track of time and finally make our way to the A’s-Tigers game at the Coliseum. We get inside and start toward our seats. As we’re ducking beer and nachos, hopping through the crowd, we all suddenly slow down and notice that there isn’t a game being played because the lights have gone out. Not all the lights, but enough of the lights that the game had to be delayed and the crowd started making those bored sounds you don’t normally hear during a sporting event, a collective murmur that is oddly sports-free.

Now, if the lights can go out at the Super Bowl, then they can damn well go out anywhere, but it’s just another example of the bad juju that haunts the bowels of the O.co Coliseum, née Overstock.com Coliseum, née McAfee Coliseum, née Network Associates Coliseum, née Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum. When you hear that the city of San Jose (without the direct endorsement of the A’s) has decided to sue Commissioner Bud Selig and the 30 Major League Baseball teams for dragging its heels for years on a possible relocation to San Jose (40 miles away), you completely understand, especially if you have an Oakland Coliseum Story.

Cisco Field in Fremont was the dream, you see: A $500 million ballpark, 20 miles from Oakland, that would be among the most tech-savvy buildings to ever be erected. The A’s were supposed to have moved there by now, and it was going to be amazing. A’s owner Lew Wolff had basically moved the team there already in spirit. “Remaining in Alameda County and having an exciting venue will also impact the A’s ability to attract and retain Major League Baseball talent,” he said — note the certainty with which he used the future tense. Well, that never happened because Major League Baseball never let its owners vote to approve such a move. The (San Francisco) Giants don’t think it would be fair to let the A’s move in on what the league had previously designated as Giants territory in San Jose. The league has done more or less nothing to resolve this dilemma. And the land that had been earmarked for the structure that would save the A’s fans from Coliseum mishaps like the sewage overflow was sold last month.

Now, is this recent lawsuit mostly an act of blatant posturing by the city of San Jose? Almost assuredly so. Is MLB now pissed off? You bet. But the suit itself (.pdf) likely won’t end in any firm resolution. The real losers, in that case, are the A’s fans themselves, who collectively form the most fun and fervent group of boosters I’ve ever encountered. They’re not satisfied like Giants fans, not overtly aggressive like their Raiders cohorts, and not blindly excitable like those who follow the Warriors. If anything, they share more DNA with the more sanguine and celebratory Sharks fans inhabiting their prospective new home city. But the Athletics’ ranking on the National Fan Suffering Awareness Scale is pitifully low, with nary a single terrible moment nor a historically recognized pattern of prolonged sports-induced pain. According to ESPN, Oakland doesn’t rank among the top 25 most miserable sports cities.

This is a travesty. A’s fans have labored through years of Billy Beane-led penny-pinching, and they deserve a swanky new field with all the amenities at a modern sports fan’s disposal. (After years of threatening to move to Santa Clara, the 49ers finally did and ultimately got the stadium everyone will soon be salivating over.) Despite the always subpar, occasionally hellish conditions they endure at the Coliseum, the A’s rank in MLB’s mid-range for home attendance percentage. Imagine how far that ranking would go up if the team had a place worth going.

Randy Pench/Sacramento Bee / MCT

Whatever actual reasons exist for MLB’s molasses-powered investigation into an A’s relocation — four years and counting! — it’s time for the MLB owners to bring about resolution: assuaging the Giants’ concerns over territorial rights by finding some other concession to give them, pressuring Selig with a diplomatic solution brokered by a Gang of Eight-style owner bloc, and/or praying that the forthcoming Big One swallows the Coliseum during an off day. Whatever it takes, it’s a stupid dance that’s gone on a thousands choruses too many. (Of course, none of this takes into account what the Raiders will do for a home stadium, but this godforsaken building, for all its shortcomings, is infinitely more suited for football than any other sport. On this point, no one really disagrees.)

Until this conflict reaches its end, the Athletics will suffer through the blackouts and the sewage overflows and whatever unsightly embarrassments they may endure. The hope that keeps everyone going, for now, is that the lights will go out for good one day and kick on about 40 miles down the road. Until that day, A’s fans should keep their portable generators close and their hand sanitizer closer.

CORRECTION: The proposed Cisco Field was to be built in Fremont. An earlier version of this item misstated the city. (6/26/13)

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