Thursday, April 21, 2011

Eyes on the Prize


















This week, baseball fans were shocked to learn that Major League Baseball had assumed operations of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Fearing damage to the legendary franchise—mired in scandal over the messy divorce of owner Frank McCourt—MLB is even said to be considering forcing him to sell the team. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but it wasn't long before a rumor surfaced that A's owner Lew Wolff was a potential suitor for the Dodgers.

Wolff was quick to respond:

"I'm not interested in the Dodgers ... My focus is deep into getting us a new venue for the A's. That's where my long term is."

So, let's put this one to rest. Wolff remains committed. His eyes are still on the prize. And that prize, of course, remains San Jose. 

You're up to bat, San Jose!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What If...

Last Thursday, the San Jose Sharks began their 2011 run for the Stanley Cup with a first round playoff game against the Los Angeles Kings (Beat LA!!!). Across Downtown San Jose in restaurants and bars, boisterous fans could be found sporting their teal and white jerseys cheering at each Sharks goal and poke check in hopes this would be the year the coveted Stanley Cup would finally be brought to San Jose. At San Pedro Square, in what has become a yearly ritual, hung above the entrance at Santa Clara Street fans are welcomed with a display of Sharks jersey numbers. Could it be in San Jose's future that we might see fans dressed in green and gold pass a stream of Athletics jerseys as they make the trek to Cisco Field? Time will only tell.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Raspberry Beret’s, Purple Rain and Chuck Reed’s Little Red Corvette

Last weekend the Athletics completed a series against the Minnesota Twins at the recently opened Target Field, ranked in 2010 by ESPN The Magazine as the best stadium experience of all major sports in America (in 2009 the last year the Twins played in the Metrodome they ranked 114th). An open-air ballpark that’s very popular with fans, even though sometimes it snows in April, it has a seating capacity of 39,504 and is located in the Warehouse District just west of Downtown Minneapolis (birthplace of singer, songwriter, musician and actor Prince). So why do I care about the Minnesota Twins new ballpark? Because the Athletics and Twins share some similarities that make competing in the American League difficult and their baseball stadiums have played a big role in the two team's fortunes.

To begin with, both teams play in small markets, the Athletics in Oakland with a population of 390,724 and the Twins in Minneapolis with a population of 382,587. Subsequently they have experienced small payrolls. In 2009, the Twins last year in the Metrodome, their team payroll, according to USA Today, was $ 65,299,266 (24th in MLB), the Athletics had a payroll of $62,310,000 (26th in MLB). These small payrolls make it very difficult for the team's to compete for high level free agents and/or retain homegrown talent (ex. Twins: Johan Santana, Athletics: Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada).

The two teams also have/had two of the most ignominious stadiums in baseball. The Athletics play in the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, an antiquated multi-purpose stadium built in the 1960’s featuring a seating section in centerfield akin to large mountains that blocks views of the Oakland Hills and the rest of the surrounding world. What should be a festive day at the ballpark under the glistening sun surrounded by breathtaking surroundings watching professional athletes play America’s pastime, is rather more akin to mandated recreation time in the prison yard.

In Minnesota, the Twins played 28 seasons at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, famous for its fiberglass fabric roof self-supported by air pressure that recently collapsed under the weight of heavy snow. One of baseballs best catches was made at the Metrodome during the 1991World Series when Hall of Fame outfielder Kirby Puckett, like a batdance’n in the sky, leapt into the air for a mesmerizing catch witnessed by fans deliriously wishing they could reach out to their star player. If only they weren't separated by a plexiglass partition like an inmate yearning for the touch of his darling Nikki mouthing, my love is forever. And who could forget the 16-foot high right field wall that was covered with plastic and known as the “Hefty Bag”, ironically the same brand trash bag I used on my 1980 Datsun 210 that was missing its sunroof (I wonder if the Metrodome used duct tape to keep their trash bag in place).

Things for the Twins have shifted beginning with play at Target Field. Over the past two years the Twins have substantially increased their team payroll to $ 97,559,166 (10th in MLB) in 2010 and $112,737,000 (9th in MLB) in 2011. Whereas the Athletics have only managed to edge up the team rankings only as a result of other teams spending less. In 2010 they had a payroll of $51,654,900 (28th in MLB) and in 2011 a payroll of $66,536,500 (21st in MLB). So where did the Twins get all this money, as reported by Minnesota Public Radio, “Luxury boxes, concessions, naming rights, advertising sales; those are all new ways to make money the Twins got when they moved to Target Field”. The Athletics, however, still play in the Coliseum and as a result, no new revenue to speak of.

In part to the increase in revenue, the Twins were able to extend a contract offer to hometown hero Joe Mauer (eight-year, $184 million or $23 million/year) considered one of the best catchers in baseball, it will likely keep him a Twin until the end of his career. Wouldn’t it have been nice for the Athletics to have been able to afford to keep [fill in favorite player here who left for big money offered elsewhere]. Instead the Athletics continue to struggle to field a competitive team year after year having to instead push the full potential of young players before they opt out or trade them for other prospects and repeat the cycle (ex. Dan Haren and Carlos Gonzalez).

Regardless of where you think the Athletics should play, San Jose or Oakland, (I wholeheartedly support San Jose) I think that everyone can agree, one way or another the Athletics need a new stadium. If not just for the ability to increase team payroll, but because the team and fans deserve a modern stadium with the amenities and splendors that other teams across the league enjoy. However, delays continue as we await a decision from Bud Selig on the territorial issue.

Don’t fret though, I’m sure long before purple rain falls from the sky and Chuck Reed has a midlife crisis and trades in his Prius for a little red Corvette, the Commissioner will settle the controversy over territorial rights once and for all. When he does, and as expected in San Jose’s favor, I’ll throw my raspberry beret to the sky, and as Lew Wolff hangs from the chandelier gleefully shouting Let’s Go Crazy! we can all party like its 1999.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pop Rocks and Coca-Cola


On Friday I attended the Athletics Opening Night game against the Seattle Mariners and I wasn’t the only one from San Jose who made the trek North. I ran into San Jose Councilmember's Sam Liccardo and Ash Kalra and Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone who posed for a picture with me. Also in attendance were San Jose Silicon Valley
Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Pat Dando and our very own Baseball San Jose Co-Chair Michael Mulcahy. It was a festive night full of excitement for the beginning of the 2011
season and perhaps a glimpse at what could be San
Jose's own Opening Day (keep fingers crossed).

For some though the looming threat of the Athletics leaving Oakland for San Jose brought fear and loathing. A contingent of fans organized by Let’s Go Oakland gathered in Parking Lot A in an effort, as Angela Woodall of the Oakland Tribute wrote, “to convince Athletics co-owner Lew Wolff that a move to San Jose would be a mistake.” No doubt fans got the message to arrive in mass to support keeping the team in Oakland; Parking Lot A was the fullest I’ve ever seen it. The nights attendance of 36,067 (103% of capacity) is a testament to their efforts.

This got me to thinking, perhaps I’ve been misguided in my assertion that Oakland doesn’t have a sustainable fanbase to support the Athletics in their current locale. Surely the throngs of fans who attended Friday’s game have gotten the message that an Athletics move isn’t just baseless banter intended to stir their emotions in an effort to sell more Hideki Matsui

jerseys, as it was the team was planning on giving those away for free during Sunday’s game. Could it be that after a year of finishing second to last in attendance the team might finally be able to approach the promised land and surpass the Pittsburgh Pirates and take their place as the 27th most attended team in Major League Baseball? Perhaps, as according to David Simmons writing for The Biz of Baseball the team could see a 10% increase in attendance.

Ah, but alas, fast-forward to Saturday and it seems the allure of Opening Day had faded. Attendance: 15,088 (43% of capacity). As for Sunday, it seems even a free Hideki Matsui jersey and glorious weather couldn't help to sustain Opening Day’s numbers. Attendance: 22,292 (64% of capacity). Opening Weekend totals: 24,482.

There is no doubt that emotions run high in Oakland for the team staying, the parking lot full of fans is a testament to this. However, being able to sustain an active fanbase fully committed to attending 81 home games a year seems like a stretch. Will a new stadium help increase attendance? Sure, but the City of Oakland let down fans by not taking the initiative seriously when the ball

was in play back in 2005. Only after plans in Fremont fell through and San Jose became a serious player did Oakland take finding a viable stadium location seriously and in doing so have haphazardly stirred the emotions of unwitting fans hopeful that an Opening Day soiree will be the saving grace to keeping the team in town. It seems however, that much like a bag of Pop Rocks doused with Coca-Cola, the initial rousing has fizzled.




Friday, April 1, 2011

Opening Day 2011

Tonight the Athletics open up their 2011 season against the Seattle Mariners (click here for the teams full schedule). This year expectations are high for the Athletics who made some significant additions during the offseason to bolster and complement an already young and talented pitching staff. This year's new faces include: Hideki Matsui, David Dejesus, Josh Willingham, Rich Harden, Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour .

Last year the Athletics finished in second place in the American League West with a respectable 81 - 81 record. With this years additions, a healthy team and a division wide open for any team to take, could this be the year the team makes the playoffs for the first time since 2006? According to Jane Lee from MLB.com, it seems it could be:

Equipped with a revamped lineup and a progressive rotation that is shaping up to be one of the Majors' best, the A's have positioned themselves for what could be their first playoff appearance since 2006.

If you are looking to listen to games on the radio, you will be happy to know that yesterday the team announced a four-year agreement with KBWF 95.7-FM to be their new flagship radio station.

If you aren't planning on attending tonights game and you want to avoid what might be rain on Saturday, consider Sunday's game. In continuing their efforts to support victims of the Japanese earthquake, the Athletics will donate $1 for every ticket purchase. For full details click here. To purchase tickets click here.

In Giants news, yesterday the team played their first game of the season against their arch-nemesis the Los Angeles Dodgers. Despite their best efforts they lost the game by a score of 2 -1. With this ominous start to the season, the defending world series champs are on pace to loose 162 games. We will watch intently to see if the Giants can turn their season around.

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