Steward: One aspect of A’s ballpark plan is right — bolt Coliseum.
Distancing themselves from the Coliseum is the right call, but issues at the Peralta site abound
Congratulations are in order to the A’s for upholding their grand tradition of making the most challenging site choice possible to build a new ballpark. We knew they could do it, and somewhere in the Fremont bayside marshlands, the frogs and crickets are applauding.
In announcing the Peralta site near Laney College as their No. 1 preference, the A’s picked the location with the greatest obstacles, the loudest opposition, the least amount of parking and the longest period of development to completion. Excellent!
Good lord, it sounds like a movie — 2023: A Ballpark Odyssey. Yes, buckle up, kids. It’s going to take us yet another fiveplus years to get there, so if you have to go to the bathroom, Mr. Kaval says go now. Heck, it could take a year or two before we can even run down to the hardware store and buy shovels.
That said, we sincerely wish the A’s all the luck in executing their latest vision, because they really do have the right idea. That would be a complete change in ballpark thinking, right down to the address, for Oakland and the East Bay.
It’s not hard to discern what about 98.6 percent of you dear readers are thinking about this decision: Why are the A’s abandoning the Oakland Coliseum grounds for this postage stamp of a site when they finally have acres and acres for the taking at their current location?
Fair question. The Warriors are leaving. The Raiders are leaving. All that land. All that available parking. The easy freeway access and the BART stop. Far fewer environmental impact hassles. No angry neighborhood groups. A quicker finish to what we all want to see — a glorious new ballyard for the Athleticals.
While all of those things hold true, the logic is flawed that the Coliseum plot is made in the shade for the A’s because, in truth, it’s a funeral plot. A cozy little familyfriendly ballpark is simply not going to work on that vast expanse of land in that particular area.
A lot of people just don’t get it about the Oakland Coliseum complex. It’s an old, decaying brontosaurus of a place, and while it has lived a good long life, its time has passed. It’s a place no one wants to go to except that they have no choice if they want to see their favorite sports team, and, at least with the A’s, a lot of folks would just prefer to stay home and watch on the tube. There is no aura, no sense of history there unless you’re into nostalgia about concrete. When Gertrude Stein said there is no there there in Oakland, she must have been changing a tire on 66th Avenue.
That’s the rub. Even more than the structure itself, the surrounding Coliseum area might as well be the surface of Uranus to a sports fan. It’s an armpit of nothingness. Commerce is so grim in that part of Oakland that even Walmart, which was located right across the 880 freeway, shuttered its doors in early 2016 and got out.
Try finding a good restaurant in the immediate vicinity. Francesco’s, once an institution of oldschool Italian fare on Hegenberger Road and a postgame hangout of Raiders owner Al Davis among other sports personalities, closed in 2016 after 47 years of really good food and strong busi- ness.
Hotels? The Edgewater Hyatt, which used to be located right across the freeway, housed many of the visiting teams for years and it had a lively bar scene … particularly when Billy Martin or Kenny Stabler would stop by. But it’s long gone, replaced by a car dealership. There’s a Hilton down the way on Hegenberger which even has an attractive sports bar, but it serves mostly out- of-towners who want to be close to the Oakland airport.
Fun for the kids? There used to be that LeMans track adjacent to the Coliseum’s south parking lot, and if memory serves, there was a miniature golf course there, too, at one time. No more. History stepped hard on the gas pedal and went elsewhere.
Forget finding a bar anywhere nearby, at least one where you don’t need to pack a Bowie knife. Grocery store? Nada, unless it’s gas station minimart. It’s an industrial zone and an entry/exit point for the airport now. A great place to get a die cast for your rototiller motor, but that’s pretty much it.
The Coliseum has been called the Mausoleum for years, and the sad fact is, if you incorporate the surrounding area there is a lot more action happening around most mortuaries. Little wonder then, like the Animals song, that the A’s came to the following conclusion: “We’ve got to get out of this place!”
Despite the seeming advantages, it’s exceedingly difficult to envision a quaint, attractive baseball- only facility at the Coliseum location. But it’s even more difficult to envision anything growing up around it, and therein rests the key problem of staying there. There has to be more to the experience than Billy Beane’s latest on-field creation.
The Peralta site has many issues to solve, but at least the A’s will feel — for the first time ever, maybe — like they’re actually part of the city. And maybe the city will actually feel like the A’s belong to them for the first time, too.
Take it from someone who covered the Giants for years at Candlestick. You never felt like you were in San Francisco. You felt like you were in Brisbane (or worse yet, Colma) and not only was there was absolutely nothing in the surrounding area to keep you there before or after a game, you couldn’t wait to get the hell out. But it all changed instantly with the move to China Basin.
It’s the same deal now with the Coliseum location. It might have worked for the Raiders had they chosen to stay because they only would have played 10 times a year there, and the vast parking lots actually would have been an asset for game- day tailgating.
But for 81 dates of baseball, people want and deserve more in this day and age, even beyond a better-looking ballpark. The fact that the A’s draw their biggest crowds for fireworks shows tells you all you need to know. At most ballparks around the country now, you can go out before or after the game for a meal or drinks. There’s generally a shopping district nearby, or some other element of culture such as a museum or music venue.
Face it, that scenario is never going to be a reality at the Coliseum, at least in our lifetimes. Coliseum City was more farfetched than Oz. So again, to the A’s: Good luck at Laney, and failing that, sharp minds must get together to solve the access issues to Howard Terminal/Jack London Square, which in truth is the most attractive and all- encompassing site.
The Coliseum site? Quoting the late, great A’s broadcaster Lon Simmons, we should all just tell it goodbye. With that in mind, we’re setting the alarm on our Apple Watch for April 5, 2023, wherever that new ballpark ultimately takes root.
The site with Oracle Arena and the O.co Coliseum will be vacant once the Warriors, Raiders and A’s move to a new arena, city and stadium.
A’s president David Kaval is pitching the Peralta site near Laney College as the preferred location for a new stadium.
The A’s are proposing a new stadium at the Peralta Community College District headquarters near Laney College in central Oakland. Team officials, who have several hurdles to clear at the potential site, are targeting a 2023 opening date.