I came away from Fanfest with renewed excitement both for the 2017 season and for the A’s long-term success, and I learned a ton. And as great it was to see most of the players and all the broadcasters, the guy who delivered all of the above was Dave Kaval, the A’s new team president.
If nothing else, I learned that his name is pronounced "KAV-ill" as in "rhymes with ‘gavel.’" I had my B.S. sensors at full blast and it did not register so much as a single turd. Partly, that’s because Kaval was prepared to make statements that he knew would easily be called out within a year if they were not true, yet he was happy to make them clearly and definitively. And what he had to say is not only great news, but reflects that he truly gets what the A’s need to do in order to attract fans.
It starts with a revamped Fanfest that was free to the public, took place at Jack London Square, and had several food trucks all of which provided meals and desserts free to the public. Of course giving food away instead of collecting admissions fees costs the A’s money. Actions speak louder than words, and the A’s actions this Fanfest say "We’re prepared to spend money in order to make money," which is a healthy sign that contrasts with the previous regime’s philosophy of "we’re poor so let’s spend less, so that we can get poorer and spend even less so that..."
Both publicly and in his "Blogfest" group interview, Kaval was unequivocal in stating that in the year 2017, the A’s will announce a location, a ground-breaking date, and a timeline to completion, for a new stadium in Oakland. That’s not "happy talk," that’s incredibly specific. The finalists for consideration appear to be the Coliseum site, Howard Terminal, and one of two locations identified near Lake Merritt. You can’t B.S. that: either you announce a new stadium site, plan, and completion date in the next 337 days or 15,000+ fans are personal witnesses to a lie. In other words: It’s happening, people!
Don’t believe that the A’s are going to get savvier about how to build a positive ballpark experience? Kaval isn’t waiting for a new stadium in order to present a more appealing brand of A’s baseball. Several food trucks are already planned for the 2017 season, to be located between the Coliseum and Oracle (Kaval says fans will have in-and-out privileges), featuring quality not seen in the "Aramark era," and the Westside Club is being reimagined and rebuilt for the coming season as well.
When Kaval talks about his concept of a new stadium, most everything he says resonates. Obviously not every fan will share the same wants and needs, but much of what he envisions is hard not to like.
He talked to the bloggers about maybe having a museum next door and the importance of celebrating the A’s history all the way back to their days in Philadelphia. He emphasized the need for surrounding businesses and activities to create less of a stadium and more the center of a mini-neighborhood or village. He mused whimsically about nostalgic throwbacks like wooden bleachers, but his non-negotiables were bigger picture commitments like intimacy of a Wrigley Field or Fenway Park.
Perhaps just as importantly Kaval is talking to and listening to fans, not to allow the inmates to run the asylum but rather to align choices — be they around food, activities, or transportation — with the consensus from the very people who will be choosing, or not choosing, what the A’s have to offer. Why run a bus from here to there if it is going to be empty because fans are not interested? This is far from a "top down" project; many decisions are going to reflect the feedback of a focus group that includes you and me.
I found Kaval sharp, funny, likeable, and down to earth, and while some of it could be an act I don’t really feel that it is. I think it’s pretty clear that sometime in 2017 we are finally going to learn that the A’s are building a new stadium in Oakland, and that the final product will be a small village whose central hub is an intimate ballpark celebrating the A’s storied history and built with the wants and needs of its fans in mind.
I don’t know if all this can get the 2017 roster to overachieve, produce 3 breakout seasons and 5 career years, and have a winning season, but in some ways it feels like 2017 is already a winning year for Oakland. Kaval has brought a jolt of energy to the front office (I have heard that "it’s palpable"), to the team, to the fans, and to the city. The on-field plan Kaval stated was to try to follow the mid-90s Indians’ blueprint of developing key players whose prime years would coincide with the opening of a new stadium. And suddenly, for the A’s, for the first time...that doesn’t seem so far away.