The Oakland Athletics clinched first place in the AL West over the weekend for the second straight year, an achievement you would think would earn nothing but smiles and bear hugs for the perennially overachieving and underfunded organization. A dark cloud, however, continued to creep over the franchise on Saturday as, for the second time this year, sewage at the Oakland Coliseum (officially Overstock.com’s “O.co”) stole the spotlight from one of this year’s best teams in baseball.
Yes, raw sewage flowed into the A’s coaches bathroom “like lava” according to A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki and there was even speculation that it was doing a number (two?) on the visiting dugout as well. This literal mess comes on the heels of a similar sewage problem back in June that forced the visiting Seattle Mariners to share shower facilities with the home team.
Sewage isn’t the only thing that stinks about the A’s stadium situation – attendance is considerably low for a first place team. Although the A’s average 23rd out of 30 in overall attendance, of the seven teams below them only one has even a chance of making the postseason (the dead-last in attendance Tampa Bay Rays). Even 23 out of 30 doesn’t tell the whole story though. Last Thursday night, with the A’s literally just days away from clinching, a paying crowd of just over 11,000 made it to the game and by the time Coco Crisp was putting another victory away with an 8th inning home run, the crowd appeared to be around 5,000 or less.
The A’s need a new stadium. This is nothing new. Fans know it, media knows it, the league knows it and the team knows it. Long before sewage flowed through the lockers and offices of the stadium the Oakland Coliseum was a pitiful, ugly place to watch baseball. For those who have never been there in person it’s somewhat difficult to describe. Imagine a park with all the charm and decorum of a inner city parking structure, complete with insufficient lighting, stains and of course, smells. The “Mount Davis’ upper seating section, named for the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis who commissioned the seating addition when the Raiders moved back to Oakland in the 90s, is tarped-off, as are all the other seats in the park’s third deck. It almost gives the impression that the whole place is in the process of wilting from the top down.
So why don’t they move already? Well, it’s a complicated issue, one that no one stepped up to solve before things literally became a shit storm. Current owner Lew Wolff has long expressed his desire to move the team to nearby San Jose with the bounty of potential Silicon Valley corporate sponsorship it has to offer. This move has been blocked by the San Francisco Giants across the bay who have territorial rights to the San Jose area (quite ironically given to them by the A’s in the early 90s back when the Giants were on the verge of leaving town) and who so far have been unwilling to relinquish them. The San Jose debate is currently tied up in court. Meanwhile, multiple attempts to secure lands and funding for a new Oakland stadium are continuously in development but cannot seem to get enough traction to take off. Through it all, the MLB and commissioner Bud Selig have stood idly by and done nothing to help facilitate the process, letting the whole thing become the stinking stalemate it is today.
So now here we are. The A’s are once again a marvelous testament to youth, coaching, and outside-the-box money management that have made their GM Billy Beane a famous name even outside the world of baseball. But even as they stand now, firing on all cylinders heading into the postseason, they cannot escape this cloud of stadium problems that has plagued the team for well over a decade. Whether the team needs ends up with a new Oakland ballpark, a new San Jose ballpark, or skipping town for another area altogether, something needs to be done immediately. Don’t get me wrong, I want the A’s to stay here, preferably in Oakland, and continue the friendly inter-league rivalry with the Giants I’ve enjoyed over the years – but when you can’t even guarantee that a baseball game will be sanitary it’s time to explore all your options.
I feel for the Oakland fans I have grown up with my entire life. They are passionate, emotional baseball supporters and truly love their team. Why there doesn’t seem to be enough of them to get consistent crowds together I don’t think I’ll ever understand, but I do know that the fans I’m friends with deserve much better. If the A’s win the World Series this year these issues will take a backseat for a couple months in the lieu of well deserved celebration, but if they fall out of the postseason, the literal and metaphorical stink of O.co will be the headline in Oakland no matter how many division titles this team puts together. It’s time for someone to finally, finally resolve this mess.