Lifelong friends and Oakland Athletics fans Barbara Angellar of Hayward and Julie Wiget and Mary Harper of Oakland aren’t holding back when they speak of the upcoming baseball season. “We just want to go to the playoffs,” said Angellar, laughing, as Wiget and Harper nodded in agreement. They were rushing off to their seats at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Tuesday night to watch the team’s only spring training game in Oakland, the second of three games in a “Bay Bridge” series against the defending World Series champions the San Francisco Giants.
The women, who are season ticket holders and attend at least twenty games a year, take baseball seriously. They spent a week on vacation earlier this spring in Phoenix, Arizona watching the Athletics play spring training games. They will be on hand Friday to watch the Athletics open the 2011 season at the Coliseum with a three-game series against the Seattle Mariners.
And even though the Athletics lost Tuesday’s game 4-1, Angellar, Wiget, and Harper aren’t the only ones with high hopes for the season. The Athletics have assembled a talented lineup during the offseason, and are expected to make a comeback after four mediocre seasons. The team finished the 2010 season with an 81-81 record, its first .500 season since the 2006 season. The last time the Athletics appeared in the postseason was 2006.
With the addition of new designated hitter Hideki Matsui, the veteran baseball player from Japan, the team will use opening weekend to show support for Japan following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The Athletics are hosting “Japanese Heritage Day” during Sunday afternoon’s game against the Mariners—one dollar from every ticket sold, the proceeds from a silent auction to be held at the Coliseum on Sunday, and money from the sale of specialized merchandise, including jerseys worn on opening night by Matsui and fellow Japanese player Ichiro Susuki of the Mariners, will go directly to the Red Cross for relief efforts. Fans can also make tax-deductible donations online, and Matsui announced last week he has donated 50 million yen, or $620,000, to the Japanese Red Cross.
“Through my performance here on the field, I hope the message I can portray to the people is to hang in there and give it your best. That is what I can do,” said Matsui through an interpreter during a news conference before the game Tuesday night.
Matsui had a strong performance at the plate Tuesday in his first appearance at the Coliseum, going 3 for 4 with three singles, in a game A’s pitcher Gio Gonzalez called “exciting.”
It could be, by many predictions, the best season the A’s have had in a long time. Their pitching rotation is young and strong, and if the players stay healthy—a big if when you throw 70 to 100 pitches per game at a velocity of 85 to 100 miles per hour—the A’s have a good chance of winning a competitive AL-West division that includes last year’s American League Champion Texas Rangers. In addition to Gonzalez, the A’s starting pitching rotation includes Dallas Braden, who threw a rare perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays at the Coliseum last May.
The A’s will also depend heavily on its bullpen, and especially on closer Andrew Bailey, who will start the season on the disabled list.
To fans like Angellar, Harper, and Wiget, decked from head to toe in gold and green, keeping players off the disabled list is the key to a successful season. “We want them to do well,” Wiget said. “We’d just like them to do their best and keep the injuries limited.”
“You know, if they don’t have any injuries, I think they’ll make it,” Angellar offered.
But a cloud remains over the team and over the city of Oakland as owner Lew Wolff continues to try to move the team to San Jose. The Coliseum serves as the joint home of the Athletics and the Oakland Raiders. The Coliseum opened in 1966; the Athletics have played there since they moved to California in 1968.
With the exception of a renovation in 1995 to add more seating, the stadium is largely the same as it was 45 years ago. The Coliseum–Oracle Arena complex sits alone next to Interstate 880 on a parking lot in East Oakland. The stadium offers little, if any, in-stadium entertainment, compared to newer stadiums that are offering clubs, restaurants, and children’s activities for fans who want to make a night at the ballpark about more than just the game.
Wolff had plans to move the team to a tech-savvy stadium in Fremont in the mid-2000s, but those plans fell through in 2009. The team’s ownership has said in interviews that it hopes a new stadium will bring in a greater fan base for the team, as well as increased revenues that will help the team compete for prospective talent with other teams in larger markets, such as the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox.
Wolff turned to San Jose with the hopes of moving the Athletics there shortly after abandoning the Fremont stadium plans. But there’s a territory problem: The Giants already have a minor league team based in San Jose, and Major League Baseball extended the Giants’ geographical market to include Santa Clara County in 2001 after the team moved from Candlestick Park in South San Francisco to its current location. The league is considering whether to waive the Giants’ rights to the South Bay in order to allow the Athletics to move; in the meantime, neither the Athletics management nor officials from the city of Oakland would answer questions about moving to San Jose.
After years of trying to find a location suitable for a new stadium—from Uptown to the current Coliseum site—the Oakland city council approved a $750,000 environmental impact report last December to study the Victory Court area, which is near Jack London Square. A stadium there would offer views of downtown Oakland and the Bay, and would be close to the Jack London Square entertainment district, within driving distance to Interstates 880, 980, and 580, and accessible by bus and by the Lake Merritt BART station.
The city has completed a transportation study to determine the traffic modifications that will need to be made in the Jack London Square neighborhood, but the study cannot continue without the A’s and Major League Baseball providing a stadium design so a detailed plan can be assessed by the city.
As for the environmental impact report, “We’re in a state of waiting,” said former Oakland City Administrator Dan Lindheim.
Lindheim has hope that the A’s will stay in Oakland, but said the road has been tough. “There are no negotiations” with Major League Baseball right now, he said, but noted that the situation has improved since he and former Mayor Ronald Dellums first tried to persuade the team to stay. “Finally, when the Fremont deal fell apart, we went over their heads to Major League Baseball. I think we were able to get the situation from zero probability to certainly a 50-50 probability of being able to keep the A’s. But we can’t really tell how to get from 50 to 100 percent,” he said.
Lindheim encourages Oakland residents and Athletics fans to stand behind the team. “We’ve been very successful at rescuing what was a zero possibility. The fans need to keep supporting the Athletics and supporting the idea of keeping the A’s in Oakland,” he said.
Fans like Angellar, Harper, and Wiget, are doing just that. Prior to Tuesday night’s game, they had just picked up their season ticket packets with their tickets for Friday night’s game. “Our opening tickets have our pictures on them,” Angellar exclaimed. “It’s great.”
To purchase tickets for Friday, Saturday, or Sunday’s games at the Coliseum, visit the Athletics’ website.