Updated July 16, 2021 - 6:16 am
OAKLAND, California—The Oakland Athletics’ slogan “Rooted in Oakland” is one taken to heart by the hometown fan base. The saying is being tested as the team could possibly be uprooted from the Bay Area and replanted in Las Vegas.
With an important Oakland City Council vote on the team’s waterfront ballpark project set for Tuesday, fans are hoping for the best as they don’t want to lose the city’s only remaining professional sports franchise.
“Honestly it would be heartbreaking,” said A’s fan Lucas McDaniel while tailgating earlier this month outside RingCentral Coliseum, the A’s aging home. “I think the city of Oakland really needs a team. We’ve already had the Raiders leave and the Warriors go across the bay, so it would be great if the A’s could stay here and keep this culture alive that we built.”
In recent years, the NBA’s Golden State Warriors went across the Bay Bridge to play at the new Chase Center arena in San Francisco. And of course the Raiders left the area to play their first season in Las Vegas last year at the $2 billion Allegiant Stadium.
A lifelong A’s fan who lives in nearby Walnut Creek, McDaniel said “Rooted in Oakland” is for those who’ve stuck with the team through thick and thin and are still cheering them on.
“This is where this organization really took off,” McDaniel said. “This is where we won a lot of championships and had a lot of success and where the people really love what it brought to the community. So, I think it would be really good for them to stay in the area.”
Chris Crisolo, a lifelong Oakland resident, said losing the team would result in a bigger loss than just what’s on the field.
“I would say it would be great for Oakland to work with the organization to keep the A’s here because as somebody that was born and raised here, we don’t want to see this resource leave the community,” said Crisolo, a dean of students at an Oakland-area high school. “That means it’s a bunch of jobs leaving our community, it’s not investing in the people of Oakland. We just want to be able to keep them here.”
The need for a new home
Despite the fans love of the A’s, the team is not enthralled with its ballpark, RingCentral. The stadium, built in 1966 and renovated in 1996, has been plagued by noted sewage issues over recent years, lighting problems and low attendance.
This season, the team is averaging just over 6,000 fans per game at the over 46,000-fan capacity coliseum, though the season started with reduced capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic.
That places the A’s 2nd to last in the MLB, just behind the Toronto Blue Jays who’ve played in a pair of minor league ballparks this season since Canadian COVID-19 restrictions have kept them out of their home park.
The A’s have been pushing unsuccessfully for a new stadium in the Bay Area for several years and finally got the go-ahead from Major League Baseball in May to explore relocation. In the weeks since, team officials have been operating on “parallel paths” — exploring possible ballpark sites in Las Vegas while also pursuing a waterfront stadium in Oakland.
Which path the A’s take in the months ahead could be decided Tuesday when the Oakland City Council holds a non-binding vote on the A’s planned $12 billion mixed-use, waterfront project that includes a $1 billion, 30,000-seat ballpark at the Port of Oakland’s Howard Terminal.
If there is a “no” vote on a proposed term sheet for the development, then talks about building a new ballpark in Oakland would end and the team’s full attention would turn to Southern Nevada, according to A’s President Dave Kaval.
“We have the parallel paths so if one of the paths gets cut off,” said Kaval, who insists Oakland and Las Vegas are the only two cities the team is considering for a new ballpark. “And here in Oakland it’s really Howard Terminal or bust. So this is our last option in Oakland to make it work.”
If Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf gets her way, the city council would give non-binding approval to the project on Tuesday, keeping the process alive in Oakland. A second binding vote on the project likely would follow in September.
“Sorry Vegas, but what has been happening in Oakland for decades is going to stay in Oakland and that’s our Oakland A’s,” Schaaf said. “This team has been rooted in this community for my whole life. I was born and raised in this city. I’m a die-hard A’s fan and we have a transformative project that is not just going to be good for A’s fans, but it’s going to be good for this entire community.”
Where the talks stand
The A’s and Oakland elected officials met earlier this month to go over a counter term sheet the city provided to the team. After that meeting, it appeared the two sides were even further apart on what each thought was a fair deal for all involved.
The main issues revolve around setting up special tax districts in the area of the planned stadium to recoup money the A’s would put into upgrading the infrastructure around the development.
There are also issues with how much affordable housing should be involved in the project and on a non-relocation agreement between the A’s and the city. Oakland officials want the A’s sign a non-relocation agreement lasting 45 years, but the A’s thus far have been willing to commit to only 20 years.
Despite the apparent issues, Schaaf believes the project in Oakland has plenty to offer both sides.
“We have some of the most beautiful property right on the waterfront looking over the San Francisco Bay; the skyline of the city is spectacular,” Schaaf said. “That is what our A’s fans deserve and that’s what our community deserves to have access to that beauty, to new public parks, affordable housing. This project is going to do a lot more than just keep our A’s rooted in Oakland. I am absolutely confident that it will happen here.”
Kaval noted that Las Vegas would still be in the mix even if there is a “yes” vote Tuesday as final approval likely won’t occur until September.
“I’ve been very clear that even if we get a ‘yes’ vote on the 20th, we will still keep the parallel paths going because we don’t have a binding vote,” Kaval said. “We can’t foreclose any options until we have a binding ability to move forward. We’re running out of time, we only have a lease through 2024 and it’s getting to be on its last legs.”
Team officials, in fact, already plan to take their fourth trip to Southern Nevada Wednesday and Thursday to continue their due diligence toward identifying where a possible 30,000-seat, $1 billion stadium would work in the Las Vegas Valley and how that would be financed.
Schaaf believes the city council will vote in favor of the non-binding term sheet and keep the ball rolling toward the Howard Terminal site.
“We will meet that pressure,” she said. “We are ready, we have been working on this moment for years. So, I do feel confident that we’ll get to a ‘yes’ vote on July 20th with our city council approving a proposed term sheet.”
Would fans follow team to Vegas?
If the A’s end up relocating to Las Vegas, Crisolo said he would remain a fan just as he did when the Raiders left town, but the sting would still be there.
“I definitely still watch the Raiders, they’re still the team that I grew up on,” Crisolo said. “I’m not going to abandon them just because they left the town that I’m invested in and bought a home in. Vegas is cool to visit, but I’m biased. I was born and raised here and have watched the A’s since 1987, so for me it’s personal. So, to see them up and move somewhere else would hurt, but if Vegas is that next destination, we would still go to see them.”
Former Las Vegas Aviator and current A’s player Skye Bolt said he is confident the A’s fandom would carry over to Southern Nevada if the team ends up leaving the Bay Area.
“I think kind of similar to the Raiders, you’re going to get your overflow,” Bolt said. “You’re going to get your fans that are die-hards and that are going to continue to stay loyal. I’d be remiss to say that there wouldn’t be some disappointment, but that’s out of our hands. But the community here is like no other. You’ve only got a couple of other baseball bases that kind of grow together and fit together and they rally behind their team like this one does.
“With such a solid fan base I can’t see that there’d be any drop off in this Oakland community as far as following us over to Vegas.”
McDaniel echoed that sentiment. His allegiance is with the A’s and not even a relocation would change that.
“It would not end my fandom,” McDaniel said. “I don’t know if I’d be able to go out there on account of family, money and all of those things, but it’s not going to stop how much I love the team because I grew up as an A’s fan and that’s never going to change. I’m not going to be broken and go across the bay to the (San Francisco) Giants. That’s not happening.
“I’m A’s for life, but I hope they stay close to home so me and my children can go to games every year like we do.”
A’s, Aviators could be neighbors
If the Oakland A’s do end up landing in Southern Nevada, they would share the same area as their Triple-A team, the Las Vegas Aviators.
Having the organization’s top minor league team within a car ride from the major league team would be an advantage, according to former Aviator and current Athletics player, Skye Bolt.
“That only plays into their (A’s organization) hands,” Bolt said. “The front office is able to see their top-end talent coming up and knocking on the door of the big leagues and they don’t have to fly ’em (in). Vegas is very close to here (Oakland), but the closer the better.”
Bolt said the proximity to the parent club could provide Triple A prospects a better opportunity to break into the majors.
“It puts more eyes on you. It gets eyes on you longer for more of a period of time and as a developing player that’s all you want is your front office there to show you ‘Hey, we’re watching,’ and to give you that OK, that ‘Hey, go ahead and show us what you’re capable of and we’re here following you,” Bolt said.
Bolt said the Las Vegas Valley is full of knowledgeable baseball fans that pack Las Vegas Ballpark and he thinks adding a Major League Baseball team to the professional sports mix in Southern Nevada would be a home run.
“It’s a great crowd,” Bolt said. “Piggy-backing right there with the Golden Knights it’s been an incredible start to a fan base. I think that it piggybacks off the momentum that hockey team had brought, because that team is really supportive… Every night we go out there they bring a great crowd and it’s huge and they’re into the game.”
— Mick Akers