MLB in Oakland – Fans Come for the Action, Not the Ambiance

Sunday, May 17th, I took in a game at my 28th major league ballpark – as the Oakland Athletics took on the Chicago White Sox at Oakland’s O.co (Overlook.com) Coliseum – and while (at many levels) it wasn’t very pretty, for a baseball fan, it was a pretty good time.

My son-in-law Amir and I had great seats for the Oakland-Chicago contest- (Thanks to my daughter Elan.) Note the tarp covering the third deck seats and "Mount Davis" in the outfield - part of what you get when you're housed in the last facility serving MLB and the NFL.  The A's fans were loud, loyal and knew the game. One fan noted that "Fans come

We had great seats for the Oakland-Chicago contes.  (Thanks go out to my daughter Elan.) Note the tarp covering the third-deck seats and the warehouse-like  “Mount Davis” in the outfield – part of what you get when you’re housed in the last multi-purpose facility serving MLB and the NFL teams. The A’s fans were loud, loyal and knew the game. One fan cautioned  “Don’t expect anything fancy here. Fans come here to see the game – not to be seen at the game.

The A’s came into the game with the major league’s worst record and an MLB-leading 38 errors. In dropping the contest to the ChiSox by a 7-3 margin, the home team added four more errors, and made it 14 consecutive games with at least one fielding miscue. In short, it wasn’t a very pretty game – and it wasn’t played in a very pretty setting.

Like all baseball games, however, there was still plenty to see – and remember.  I’m a fan of the artful 6-4-3 and 4-6-3 double plays – and we got to see one of each. Notably, one of those was started by A’s shortstop Marcus Semien – on a tough short-hop grounder that could easily have handcuffed him. Earlier that same inning (top of the fifth), Semien had made his MLB-leading 13th error.

washington2BBRT Note: Three days after this game, the A’s hired former Twins’ infielder (and former A’s coach and  Rangers’ Manager) Ron Washington to work with the A’s players on their defense. Washington played six seasons with the Twins and also played in the majors with the Dodgers, Orioles, Indians and Astros. In addition, he was an A’s coach for eleven seasons (1996-2007) and managed the Rangers for eight seasons – taking the team to its first World Series in 2010.

Max Muncy, promoted to the A's (from AAA Nashville)  April 25 hit his first MLB home run May 17.

Max Muncy, promoted to the A’s (from AAA Nashville) April 25 hit his first MLB home run May 17.

We also saw an impressive performance by former Athletic Jeff Samardzija, who came to the White Sox from the A’s in an off-season trade that included Semien. Samardzija (pronounce that one) earned the win with a solid eight innings, consistently reaching the mid-90s with his fastball.  In addition, we witnessed a sliver of history, as A’s first baseman Max Muncy rapped his first major league home run – a two-run shot to right center in the bottom of the fourth, just out of the reach of a leaping Adam Eaton. Oakland’s leadoff hitter Billy Burns (great baseball name) stung three singles and “burned”  (couldn’t resist that one) Samardzija and the Sox for his third stolen base. Oakland reliever Dan Otero got a well-deserved mini-standing ovation from A’s fans who appropriately appreciated his 3 1/3 one-hit innings of relief.

But, this post is really more about the Coliseum than the game – which, as you will see as your read on, is a bit ironic.

If you want to step back in time – to an era in which all ballplayers weren’t millionaires, when fans spent the time between innings talking baseball (as opposed to texting or taking selfies), when attending the game was all about the action and not the amenities, when a complete and accurate scorecard was a source of pride, and when a double play was more important than a double martini – the O.co Coliseum may be just the ticket for you. 

As my son-in-law Amir, who joined me at the game, commented, “This (O.co Coliseum) seems like the home of blue collar baseball.”  And, as I learned from talking to Oakland A’s fans, despite their complaints about the condition of the Coliseum, they take pride in the fact that it is their ballpark, home to their team and “makes the game the thing.”  As I was chatting with fans in the line at the Herradura Bar concession stand (more on that later), a gentleman in a A’s jersey, jeans and an A’s cap cautioned me, “Don’t look for anything fancy here. Fans come here to see the game – not to be seen at the game.”  (The  “like at some other ballparks” seemed implied at the end of his comment.) That turned out to be a wise observation.  From BBRT’s perspective, the A’s deserve (need) a new or at least improved home, but there is an atmosphere at the Coliseum that makes a ball game at a not-so-pretty stadium a pretty good experience. In this post, I’d like to share a few thoughts on my first visit to Oakland’s Coliseum.

The O.co Coliseum (originally known as the Oakland-Alameda County Stadium) opened as the home of the American Football League’s Oakland Raiders in 1966 and began its tenure as a home to Major League Baseball when the Kansas City Athletics moved west in 1968.   While baseball facilities around the major leagues have changed over the years, the Coliseum seems to have remained firmly rooted in the 1960s (or maybe as far forward as the 1970s).  As a long-time Twins’ fan who remembers the days of Metropolitan Stadium (original home to both the Twins and Vikings), my visit to the Coliseum was a somewhat nostalgic journey back in time.

Getting There

First, there’s an old saying that “Getting there is half the fun.”  Clearly not the case for many of today’s urban ballparks. Driving downtown and finding a parking spot (particularly for a midweek day game) can be a frustrating and expensive experience. The good news in Oakland is that getting to the Coliseum is not likely to test your nerves. The ballpark is close to major freeway exits (off Interstate 880) and (like the old Metropolitan Stadium) has its own parking lot ($20).  The ballpark is also accessible via BART, transit buses and even Amtrak has a Coliseum stop. Take public transport and you’ll be traveling to and from the game with a host of other baseball fans.  In short, the Coliseum is one of the most accessible ballparks around.

The Parking Lot

The Oakland experience starts in the parking lot.

The Oakland experience starts in the parking lot.

BBRT suggests that, to get the full Oakland A’s experience, you drive to the game – and pack some food, beverages, music and, if possible, a barbeque grill. This, by the way, is a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that, for many A’s fans, the game-day  experience starts in the parking lot, where tailgating is energetic and popular. The bad news is that, while many MLB facilities have moved into downtown areas, or seen the nearby neighborhoods develop as pre- and post-game food, beverage and entertainment destinations, the Coliseum is firmly entrenched in an industrial park. The parking lot is, out of necessity, the pre-game destination of choice. Translation – Pretty much the only choice.  But, it can be a good one.

Our stroll from the “D” section of the lot again took me back to the early days of the Twins, when the Metropolitan Stadium parking lot would begin to fill up (and the celebration of baseball and Minnesota’s short summer would move into full swing) well before game time.  As you cross the Coliseum’s ample lot, you are pleasantly assailed by the smell of grilling sausages of all ethnicities and the sound of music of nearly all genres. Baseballs, softballs, bean bags and even an occasional football (the Oakland Raiders do share the stadium, after all) fill the air; green and gold Athletics gear provides the color; and an often booming base line is complemented by plenty of laughter and animated baseball conversation. All of this works to get fans truly “ready” for the game ahead.

Inside the Park

Once inside the ballpark, there is again good news and bad news.

Good News: Ticket prices are reasonable (the A’s are in the bottom-third of MLB in terms of average ticket prices and MLB Team Marketing Reports found the A’s to have the sixth-lowest total cost for attending a game. We had great seats – between home plate and third base, just 26 rows from the field – for just $46 each.

More Good News:  The grass is brilliant green, the ball stark white, the sky deep blue and the field in major league shape. Very simply, you are at a baseball game – what could be better (Okay, maybe a doubleheader)?

Bad News:  The fact that the Coliseum is the only remaining stadium to serve an NFL and MLB team does baseball fans no favors.  To reduce seating for baseball (the Coliseum holds approximately 63,000 for football and 35,000 for baseball), the A’s have covered pretty much all of the upper deck seats with a green tarp that appears to have seen better days. (See the photo at the top of the post.)

Even the bullpens are "old school" at the Coliseum - located on the field in the ball parks wide foul territory.

Even the bullpens are “old school” at the Coliseum – located on the field in the ball parks wide foul territory.

Then there is the infamous (among A’s fans) “Mount Davis.” In 1996, additional seating (including luxury boxes) was added in centerfield (part of the efforts to lure the Raiders, who had fled Oakland for Los Angeles in 1982, back to Oakland). These added seats gave baseball fans a center field view worthy (or unworthy) of the stadium’s industrial area location. Oakland fans I talked to reminisced about the previous outfield vista – the hills above the Coliseum – and referred to this outfield section as “Mount Davis” (a negative reference to the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis).

More Bad News:  The stadium’s concrete walls could use a good power washing (both outside and in the concourses) – and it wouldn’t hurt to paint over the graffiti in the restrooms.

Food and Drink

Good News: The A’s have what is likely MLB’s most fan- and family-friendly policy regarding outside food and beverage. You can actually bring in your own food and non-alcoholic beverages. The family of four sitting down the row from us had brought in two shopping bags full of goodies – from sandwiches to chips to soda (plastic bottles – no metal or glass containers).They were munching the whole game – and never reached for their wallets. (I was jealous – and it was a lesson learned for when I get back to Oakland.)

Bad News: If you don’t bring in your own food, the choices (and ambiance) fall short of the unique fare and facilities at many ballparks. (I might be a bit spoiled by the food and facilities at Minnesota’s Target Field – which you can read about by clicking here.)

What could be more "old school" than a Malt Cup (with wooden spoon) balanced on an accurately kept scorecard.

What could be more “old school” than a Malt Cup (with wooden spoon) balanced on an accurately kept scorecard.

Good News:  In January 2014, the Coliseum signed up with a new food service provider and food choices are said to be on the upswing. A few recommendations BBRT received from fans and A’s staff: Visit the “Bar and Grille” in section 215 (sit-down service there); Try the Brick Oven Pizza or Calzones; While at the ballpark, don’t miss the Garlic Fries; If you like ribs, try Ribs & Things (section 104); You can fill up on the Super Chicken Nachos; The double corn dog is a winner.  For BBRT, a visit to the Coliseum cries out for traditional (old school) ballpark fare – hot dogs, polish sausages or brats; Cracker Jack; peanuts; malt cups (with wooden spoons); beer; and maybe a “stretch” to those Super Chicken Nachos – all eaten at your seat, while balancing an accurately maintained scorecard.

Good News:  There are plenty of vendors working the aisles – and, unlike some ballparks, they didn’t seem to disappear in the late innings.  You don’t really have to leave your seat (and scorecard) if you don’t want to.

OakBloodyBad News:  BBRT, as regular readers know, likes to try (and then rate) the Bloody Mary offerings at each ball park.  The Herradura Bar (Section 126) was recommended as a good spot to order up the prerequisite beverage.  How was it?  Look at the photo to the left. Enough said, back to beer and peanuts. For a look at some other ballpark Bloody Marys, click here, here and here.

The Fans

Good News:  It’s all good news here. A’s fans are knowledgeable, loud and love their baseball and their team. They appreciate and applaud good plays by the home team and visiting team, heckle with gusto when appropriate and seem to spend less time on their smart phones than fans I’ve seen at other ball parks. While they are more than willing to express their frustration with the early portion of the 2015 season, they are also quick to acknowledge (and point out) that the A’s have a pretty consistent record of success – and a reputation for getting the most out of their budget and players. (And, they’re right about that. The A’s can look back to first-place finishes in 1971-72-73-74-75-81-88-89-90-92-2000-02-03-06-12-13 and, in 2014, made the post season as an AL Wild Card team).OakRace

In short, the A’s have a reputation for putting a consistently good team on the field. For more on that, rent the movie “Moneyball.”

Ultimately, while attending an Oakland A’s home game may not be that “pretty” – it’s likely to be a pretty good time. I’m looking forward to my next California trip – and hoping the A’s are in town. If you get out that way, I suggest taking in the Oakland A’s experience.

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