Hi Athletics Nation.
Typically when I do these kinds of posts on other teams' sites, I show up a few months/weeks in advance, and pick the brains of the locals, and get an idea of what to do in the area, what to look forward to at the park, where I could get some good food, drink, etc, etc. I didn't do that with you guys. Instead, I showed up a few weeks ago, just asking if anyone knew where I could get an outdated David DeJesus shirt or jersey.
Honestly, through hearsay and the words of others, I didn't get the impression there was much to do around Oakland for someone reliant on BART. Furthermore, there were a few cliched touristy things I had wanted to do in San Francisco that overlapped into my Athletics game day that pretty much limited my time in Oakland to just the game itself.
I have a confession to make. Normally when I do these multi-ballpark trips I try to schedule the visits in the order of what I perceive will be the better parks last. Planning a trip to the Bay Area, I had an idea that AT&T Park would be the better venue, since it's all new and modern and has McCovey Cove, and has sold out every game like two seasons in a row. But combing through the schedules of both teams, there were literally only a handful of dates that seemed feasible, and combined with my work schedule, it reduced it to the dates of May 20-21 as the only opportunity where I could see both SF and Oakland in consecutive days, but my visit would end with Oakland.
In other words, I didn't have very high hopes for Oakland Coliseum, but for the sake of pursuing the goal of visiting all the MLB ballparks, it still had to be done.
As it turns out, in spite of my perceived expectations, ultimately, my goal of visiting the better park last, actually happened. Allow me to share some words and pictures of how this all came to happen.
Officially, I started the goal of wanting to visit every MLB park back in 2007, and with the great SBNation explosion in 2008, I started joining many of other MLB teams' blogs, in order to pick the brains and try and make nice with baseball fans of other teams. Most of the time, I've been fairly well received, but once or twice, not so much.
Through other people, be them exiled A's fans speaking in other forums, or distant Braves fans that live in NorCal, or other ballpark-travel-enthusiasts, I've heard all sorts of things about the Oakland Coliseum (I refuse to call it "O.co"), and typically they've never been positive things. "The Mausoleum," among other tacky nicknames were referenced, and I'd heard things about the park's policies, like extremely stringent ticket policies, no wandering allowed, etc. And the Moneyball movie didn't exactly paint the Coliseum to be the greatest looking venue either.
All that being said, you'll have to forgive me for having low expectations going into Oakland. The game I went to was on May 21, the first game between the A's and Albert Pujols' first visit to the Coliseum as an Angel.
This is the first thing I saw after I got off the BART and got onto the bridge to the Coliseum. Chain link fence, with the anti-suicide curve, on a bridge going over a gravel truck parking lot and train tracks. WELCOME TO OAKLAND
The fact that I literally had to cross over train tracks to get to the Coliseum was this ironic metaphor. WELCOME TO OAKLAND
The presence of razor wire and barbed wire all over the Coliseum was actually kind of laughable to me at this point. WELCOME TO OAKLAND
I got to the Coliseum very early, because typically when I travel to ballparks, I like to walk all around the entire parks before going in, but I was informed that the gates didn't actually open until an hour before first pitch. It's something I'm not used to from MLB parks, because this was the first time I'd been to a place that wasn't open two hours earlier. So I ended up having to wait outside, sitting in that area between the Coliseum and wherever the Warriors play.
Eventually the gates did open, and a big mural headlined by Dennis Eckersley is the first thing I see. I really like Dennis Eckersley.
One thing I noticed immediately was the sheer volume of available beer options at the Coliseum. And it's not all putrid stuff. The fact that I would have to actively seek out a Miller Lite instead of simply run into one is okay in my book. Maybe it's Raiders related, or maybe A's fans really do love to drink, but the fact that there were massive options, and that they weren't $9.75 like they were at AT&T Park, is a glowing plus in my book.
After finding out where my actual seats were, I started wandering around the park, like I typically do when I visit new ballparks. I was immediately pleased to find out that there was no such no-wandering outside your section policy in Oakland like there is in south Chicago, and that every employee I spoke with was polite and accommodating to my requests to stand in their sections briefly to take pictures. Pictured is the barbecue section in left field that was emanating the succulent scent of grilling that drew me there in the first place.
I can't say that I'm exposed to a whole lot of Oakland games, seeing as how my actual favorite team is on the east coast and in the National League, but I was never aware of the seat covers having the "Home of the Athletics" on the home plate side of the Coliseum. I always saw the championship years on the outfield side, but never the other way around. Regardless, it was a cool sight to see from my tourist perspective.
I'm sure this man has a name that all the locals know him by, but he came by my section not long before the game was underway, and began playing his banjo and singing odd songs about the A's. Looking at this guy made me think of the differences between A's fans and Giants fans, and what it boiled down to, there was something charming about this guy's representation of his allegiance to his team that I just don't see from Giants fans. Not that there's anything wrong with allegiances to individual players, but Giants fans seem more content to wear Lincecum wigs, Wilson beards, and Panda hats, but Banjo guy strikes me more as the kind of guy who doesn't give a crap who's on the A's as long as he's playing hard for the team.
I find it ironically humorous that the team most associated for the advent of sabermetrics and especially the popularization of on-base percentage doesn't even have on-base percentage on their scoreboard. There's a joke about how Oakland now qualifies as a place where Jeff Francoeur could play, but I know the fans out in right field really like him, so I'll leave it at that; besides with the relationship Frenchy's already got with Oakland, he just may end up here someday anyway.
The obligatory crowd landscape shot. No, I'm not going to knock Oakland for having low-attendance, because Atlanta really can't speak much itself. To be honest, I actually prefer it when games are all low attended. I know it's ultimately important for that to not be the case, since attendance equals profit and profit can equal team funds, but when parks are all empty, I find the atmosphere so much more relaxing and enjoyable.
I find luchador masks and wrestling-related stuff to be humorous and up my alley.
So with that in mind, these guys are like my favorite people in Oakland ever. I asked them what the deal with the belts was, and it was explained to me that it all had to do with Josh Reddick, and stemming from the Jeff Francoeur bacon friendship. Considering the fact that Reddick is from Savannah, Georgia, it doesn't surprise me that he's into 'rasslin.
I'm actually inspired by these guys. I happen to also be a long-time fake wrestling fan, and I also collect replica belts. I'm making a trip to Baltimore in the same weekend that the A's are going to be out there, and I'm tempted to bring one of my replicas and go hang out in the standing room area of Camden Yards' right field and cheer for Reddick and the A's since I don't really care much for the Orioles in the first place.
So I have to ask, and I wish to hear it directly from the source: Why do so many people like Kurt Suzuki? From the day I touched down at SFO, I'd seen countless people wearing Kurt Suzuki shirts or jerseys. When I went to AT&T Park for the last game between the Giants and A's, at least a good 70% of the A's apparel fans were wearing Suzuki gear. I went out to Modesto to watch a minor league game, and even there I saw 2-3 people wearing Kurt Suzuki shirts.
I'm serious, I really am curious. An A's fan at a bar after the game in SF told me that 1) Suzuki is the longest-tenured Athletic, and 2) it's like picking the least-ugly girl at the dance. Both were valid explanations at the time of my inebriation, but I'm still not convinced. The tenure thing is one thing, but I remember someone telling me that nobody liked David DeJesus as an Athletic, because he wasn't that good, but even in his one year with the A's, his batting slash line was right on par with Suzuki's whole career. I MUST KNOW WHY YOU ALL LOVE KURT SUZUKI SO MUCH.
I have to say that sometimes it's difficult for me to really focus on the games themselves, whenever I'm on travel, because I'm typically in such a tourist mode that I'm more into my surroundings than the game on the field. But in the case of watching Tommy Milone pitch, I enjoyed watching him work. I write a weekly link dump on Talking Chop about the NL East, so I like to think I'm well in tune with the happenings of teams like the Nationals, so when the Gio Gonzalez deal happened, I was pretty aware of the prospects involved. Milone never profiled to be the top-of-a-rotation guy that Brad Peacock does, but it was still enjoyable to watch the kid calmly have a fantastic start against the Angels.
You know, I tend to stay pretty neutral when I travel, with a slight bias towards the home team. But this smug couple that sat in front of me were Angels fans. They kept making these snide remarks that I could hear, and she kept rolling her eyes while overhearing conversations I was having with my friend. He was wearing a peacoat. She was wearing an Erick Aybar shirt. Regardless their pompous holier-than-thou attitude had me applauding every Milone strike and every putout by the night's end. Before, I couldn't care less who won the game. But afterward, I was glad to see these Angels fans do the preemptive vanishing act before Brian Fuentes closed out the game.
Speaking of which, here's Fuentes warming up. Still sometimes can't get over his delivery.
And here's the Athletics' victory image.
After I had done a lap around the park, I sat down next to my friend and said something along the lines of:
"You know, this is going to sound crazy, but I think I really like this ballpark."
He enthusiastically agreed with my statement. And the more I began to think about the Oakland Coliseum, the more I began to like the place. Way easier to access off BART than AT&T is, even if it's a humorously sketchy looking trail of chain link fence and razor wire. WAY cheaper tickets, beer and food; seriously, my nosebleed seats at AT&T Park were $46. I paid $26 for tickets in section 126. Guest services were super friendly and actually seemed to like baseball; the guy in one of the clubhouse stores was watching the Nationals/Phillies game when I walked into the store, because Gio Gonzalez was pitching.
It really makes me wonder where all this negative reputation about the Coliseum comes from. Obviously, had I picked AN's brains earlier I probably could've gotten a better idea of how this community feels about it, but outside of you all, there's a lot of negative vibe. I can't really fathom why, other than the fact that it's an older structure, and is multi-purpose, shared with the Raiders. But clearly, there are reasons why people say it's a bad ballpark, or that it's unfit for baseball.
I ask myself whenever I visit a new ballpark, if I could imagine myself coming back 20+ times a year, as a local. As it pertains to the Oakland Coliseum, the answer is a pretty simple yes. It's far more affordable than AT&T, and to be honest, the very first picture I used was obviously taken from the upper deck value section. That's probably one the of greatest views out of all of the MLB parks I've been to so far (23). I could easily see myself spending 20 or more nights watching baseball up there, if I were a local A's fan. Not that I wouldn't mind sitting anywhere in the lower bowl, either, there were great views from all over the park. And frankly, with no disrespect towards the Giants fans, I think I'd resonate better with the bro-fest out in right field with wrestling belts and bacon, than I would with the folks in SF wearing fake beards and panda hats doing the fist pump.
I think it goes without saying that if I were to come back, I would also wish to come back to watch baseball at the Coliseum without hesitation.
I fully admit that my expectations for the Coliseum were not good, but I was completely wrong, and I have been easily made into a believer. The Oakland Coliseum is a pretty awesome place to watch baseball.
In the end, crossing the train tracks to get to the Oakland Coliseum was a lot like when Daniel LaRusso crossed the train tracks to get to Mr. Miyagi's house in The Karate Kid, and it turned out to be this unexpected oasis of awesome.
Thanks for reading if you've made it this far, and for indulging my presence on AN.