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Up Close and Personal: A View of the Oakland A’s from Behind The Plate, by Chuck Strom

Last Thursday evening, courtesy of a generous friend in the right place, I had the privilege of seeing the Oakland A’s three rows up from home plate. I’ve had some good seats in the past, but nothing nearly as up close and personal with major league ball players as this. The seats, in what is called the Diamond Level, are accessed through the same tunnels as used by the teams, and it is not unusual to bump into uniformed players on your way to the rest room. Another perk, which I foolishly failed to prepare for, is the presence of former A’s stars, in this case Hall-of-Famer Rickey Henderson, who might sit nearby and generously sign autographs. If I get another opportunity like this, I will definitely take a baseball with me.

The game, unfortunately, did not go well for the A’s fans in attendance that night. The main highlights were the home runs on consecutive pitches given up by A’s pitcher Chris Smith not once but twice during the game—that’s four dingers. Other than that, two observations came to mind. First, the Oakland Coliseum has an ungodly amount of foul territory – about as wide on each side as the full infield. If I were pitching there, I would do everything I could to develop my ability to induce pop-ups. A lot of outs could be had on balls that in any other park would drift into the stands.

The other observation is painfully obvious, however much one might want to pretend otherwise: the A’s don’t draw anywhere close to the Giants. Attendance at the game was just over eleven thousand, and in a stadium that holds about forty-seven thousand for baseball, that meant large expanses of empty seats and an atmosphere that seemed eerily quiet compared to my usual experiences across the bay. Granted, the current version of the A’s is a far cry from Moneyball, but the franchise’s problems go far beyond the current lineup and are common knowledge among anyone who follows baseball: a stadium that tries to be both an NFL and MLB venue and succeeds at neither, and an ownership that clearly prefers to operate on the cheap and pocket revenue-sharing checks from the Yankees, Red Sox and other big boys of the major leagues. This is a situation that all but guarantees long periods of competitive famine for a fan base that deserves better.

Baseball in the East Bay doesn’t have to be this way. As we’ve seen with Joe Lacob and the Golden State Warriors, a world of difference can be made with a moribund franchise by an owner with vision and sufficient pockets to make the right investments. Somewhere just down Interstate 880 in Silicon Valley, there’s got to be a tech billionaire or two who grew up watching Reggie Jackson or the Bash Brothers and might like the opportunity to own and restore a part of his childhood. The prescription would be simple: an initial investment in the organization and its farm system to acquire sustainable talent and rejuvenate fan interest, and a subsequent investment in a waterfront baseball-only stadium that could be a mirror image of the wildly successful AT&T Park across the bay. If there are any remaining buy low/sell high opportunities in the business of sports, this is almost certainly one of them.

It could be done. Memo to the commissioner: quit procrastinating, and let’s get working on this.

Chuck Strom

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