The Oakland A’s had another sewage problem at the Oakland Coliseum last night, when a toilet overflowed during the 6th inning and spilled several inches of water into the A’s dugout, forcing players to climb to the top dugout step for the rest of the game. This follows the incident in June when somebody in the A’s clubhouse flushed something that shouldn’t go in a toilet, and everybody had to go shower upstairs in the football locker rooms.
A’s owner Lew Wolff, to his credit, brushed off the latest sewage issue after the game as something that “could happen in your house.” Before the game, though, he was out stumping for a new “downtown” stadium:
“Look at a beautiful day like today,” he said. “Downtowns are where the transportation hubs are. People can walk over.
“If we were in a downtown, like most stadiums are now, there’s a chance that people would be around and come out. I doubt very much that a lawyer in downtown Oakland is going to go down the elevator (from his office), get his car and drive to the park.”…
Someone brought up the fact that the Tigers, once they got to the ALCS in Yankee Stadium last year, said they were prepared for the energy of the crowds in the Bronx because they’d played in Oakland.
“I didn’t know that,” Wolff said, smiling, “but that’s a real compliment. The energy level here is always impressive.”
This is a good time for me to finally report on my own visit to an A’s game earlier this summer, my first since the new football seats were added in 1996. My first impression was that while Mount Davis certainly isn’t a plus for baseball, it didn’t completely ruin the experience or anything:
The best way I can describe the Coliseum is as no-frills, in the extreme: It’s a plain concrete bowl with not much in the way of concessions or anything else. (At one point I went in search of one of those soft-ice-cream-in-a-helmet-cup items that I thought were endemic to all major-league stadiums, but quickly discovered that there were none to be had — which didn’t take long, since I was able to visit every concession stand in the place in about a five-minute walk.) If anything, amenities seemed to have gone backwards since my last visit in the early ’90s. It reminded me a bit of my visit to Montreal’s Olympic Stadium during the Expos‘ terminal doldrums — or even more so, to a minor-league facility somehow grown to major-league size. Take the teeny tiny video board perched high up in right field, so small and low-resolution that it’s only good for bizarre gimmicks like ranking whether A’s players prefer puppies or kittens:
That said, I had a terrific time, and not just because the A’s won on one of those late comebacks sparked by no-name players that they seem to specialize in. As Wolff acknowledged yesterday, the energy level at the Coliseum is fantastic, with fans cheering, hoisting homemade banners, and greeting closer Grant Balfour with an improvised “Balfour rage” dance that I wasn’t able to adequately capture on camera, but you can see it for yourself here:
It was all totally awesome, and it was not unrelated, I don’t think, to the functional-at-best surroundings. If there were a giant video screen at the Coliseum telling fans when and how to clap, it’s unlikely anyone would have come up with Balfour rage. (It’s worth noting that the other most-creative fan group I can think of, in the old Yankee Stadium bleachers, had their backs to the video board and couldn’t see it at all.) If there had been anything decent to eat, fans would be off getting food between innings, not staying in their seats and riling each other up for the next inning. Food courts and Ferris wheels may add to the ballpark experience, but that isn’t necessarily the same thing as making for a better baseball experience.
None of which is to say that the A’s and their fans wouldn’t be better off with a new stadium, or at least one that’s gotten any upgrades at all for baseball in the last 20 years. But however Wolff ends up resolving his new-stadium push — in San Jose or in Oakland, “downtown” or in his current middle-of-a-parking-lot-by-the-airport location — one hopes that he’ll keep in mind what he’s got at the Coliseum, and why. Because it’s not something that can just be transplanted to a new “state-of-the-art” building without a lot of careful forethought that most other owners haven’t managed.