Category Archives: Athletics
The idea makes zero sense.
At 4,200 seats, Muni is far too small to work as a temp park. There’s not enough space behind the old grandstand to build the extra seats and a new press box that MLB would require. Even the area beyond the outfield is limited, so little seating could be built there. Muni is set up so that the clubhouses are on the same level as the single concourse, requiring the park to be quickly emptied of fans after every game. The lack of parking and public transit at the site would make it a logistical nightmare for daily 20,000-person crowds.
About the only thing Muni has going for it is that it’s a baseball field with some seats around it. That’s not the expensive part. It’s everything else (additional seats, suites, infrastructure) that’s expensive.
Using Muni makes even less sense when you consider that the City of San Jose inked its own five-year extension with the San Jose Giants only two months ago. While the lease is quite cheap at $25,000 per year, naming rights to Muni are involved and the fact is that the City would have to break the lease to accommodate the A’s.
I understand that Lew Wolff will look at a number of sites and facilities to get a feel for what’s possible. A temporary ballpark at San Jose Muni is more than a little far-fetched.
P.S. – Candlestick Park was also reported to be in the discussion, but demolition is expected later this year.
Lew Wolff brought up the the idea of a temporary stadium to the SV/SJ Business Journal’s Greg Baumann this week. Wolff looks at the concept as potentially necessary if another extension at the Coliseum can’t work out. He had already expressed concern when MLB pushed the Coliseum Authority (JPA) into a two-year extension through 2015. The thinking in November was that no new permanent home could be built in that two-year span, and if Coliseum City’s phasing and the Raider owner Mark Davis’s preference of building on top of the current Coliseum footprint take hold, the A’s would no longer have a place to play. Combine that with Larry Baer’s comments about allowing the A’s to play at AT&T Park while an Oakland solution was being hammered out, and you can see all of the moving pieces and the complexity therein. Because of that complexity, let’s break the situation down into its basic components.
To start off, there’s the Raiders. The Raiders are the first domino here, because they are the team in some sort of negotiation with Oakland and the JPA. Even though Davis has labeled the talks as discouraging recently, reports coming out of the Coliseum City partnership should bring everyone back to the table in the next month or so. Then Davis can decide how to move forward: either partner in Coliseum City, or decide that CC doesn’t pencil out and look elsewhere. So far Davis has stuck with the idea that the Coliseum is the #1 site. That could change quickly as the numbers are released and parties have to make fiduciary commitments.
The A’s can’t do anything without the Raiders’ move. As much as Oakland waterfront ballpark proponents would love for Howard Terminal to become the apple of Wolff’s eye, the many questions and doubts that hang over the site continue to make HT a nonstarter for Wolff. Coliseum City had the A’s in a new ballpark no earlier than 2022, unacceptable terms for Wolff and MLB. However, if CC falls apart for the Raiders and Colony Capital, the Raiders could leave for Santa Clara, LA, or elsewhere. Wolff could easily call for CC to dissolve and put together a development plan of his own at the Coliseum, one that he would control. It could make room for the Raiders as well, but the football team would end up on the back burner, not the A’s. If Davis were to stay for several years at Levi’s Stadium while gathering up the resources to build anew in Oakland, such phasing could work out. Then again, the Jets spent nearly two decades “temporarily” at the Meadowlands while not working out any new stadium deal in the five boroughs of New York City.
Next, this idea isn’t new. Wolff floated the temporary venue concept in 2012, when he initially tried to get a lease extension. Wolff has reason not to go down such a path due to the expense and amount of upheaval. Should lease talks once again turn difficult, a temporary move becomes more a value proposition than a logistical problem.
If the JPA couldn’t come to an agreement on a new ballpark with Wolff – say, for instance, the JPA chose not to eat the $100 million left in Mt. Davis debt – Wolff would likely go back to MLB and again ask for a decision on San Jose. San Jose brings about one of two temporary ballpark scenarios. The first comes if the A’s are left homeless after 2015 and MLB somehow allows the move south. That’s a long shot at best, but can’t be completed discounted. In this case a temporary ballpark would have to be built somewhere in San Jose for 2-3 years minimum while Cisco Field was being built at Diridon. Besides the process of getting league approval, a temporary site would have to be found. In the Bizjournals article, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed claimed that multiple temporary sites were available. In all practicality, there are probably only two sites. Many of the previously studied permeant ballpark site candidates are either in the process of being redeveloped (Berryessa, North San Pedro) or face logistical hurdles that make it difficult to ensure that 20-30,000 people could make it in and out easily (SJ Fairgrounds, Reed & Graham cement plant).
Instead, there will probably two or three sites in play: the old San Jose Water Company site near SAP Center (site owned by Adobe), the spare parking lot south of SJ Police headquarters between Mission and Taylor Streets (a.k.a. the Cirque du Soleil lot), or the land adjacent to the under construction Earthquakes Stadium (under control by another developer). The SJWC/Adobe site would be the easiest to convert for a ballpark, is the right size, and has an existing building that could be leveraged for ballpark use. It’s also directly underneath a San Jose Airport landing approach, which could cause red flags by the FAA. The Cirque lot is smallish, though large enough for a small ballpark. There’s lots of parking nearby, and potential makeshift parking on the other side of the Guadalupe River. Light rail is only 2 blocks away. As for the Earthquakes Stadium-adjacent site, there were enough problems getting it prepped for that project that it should give pause to anyone considering even a temporary ballpark there.
That’s not to say that San Jose is the only place for a temporary ballpark. Wolff was quoted as looking at the entire Bay Area:
“I am hopeful of expanding our lease at the Oakland Coliseum for an extended term. If we cannot accomplish a lease extension, I hope to have an interim place to play in the Bay Area or in the area that reaches our television and radio fans — either in an existing venue or in the erection of a temporary venue that we have asked our soccer stadium architect (360 Architecture) to explore. Looking outside the Bay Area and our media market is an undesirable option to our ownership at this time.”
The East Bay is in play for both temporary (if needed) and permanent venues. MLB won’t hand over the South Bay to Wolff, yet MLB has also allowed Wolff to enter agreements with San Jose, so it’s clear that MLB is hedging big time. A temporary ballpark could be built on the old Malibu/HomeBase lots near the Coliseum, in Fremont, or even Dublin or Concord. Fremont’s Warm Springs location could enter the discussion again because the Warm Springs extension is scheduled to open in 2015.
It’s also possible to read into Wolff’s statement the possibility of the A’s playing at Raley Field on a temporary basis, since his description of “area that reaches our television and radio fans” covers CSN California and the A’s Radio Network.
Warm Springs could be in play because CEQA laws that govern environmental review largely don’t affect temporary facilities. Generally, seasonal installations such as carnivals or circuses that don’t create any permanent environmental impact are exempt from CEQA. The challenge, then, is to create a temporary ballpark that can also fit this model. That would be tough because of the large-scale consumption of water, food, and energy during a single game. Still, the A’s are already familiar with major recycling efforts, and if trash can be properly contained there should be little permanent impact. Just as important, Warm Springs remains within the established territory, so MLB wouldn’t have to negotiate anything with the Giants. Finally, if the experience is positive it could provide enough political goodwill to convince Fremont to again consider being a permanent home.
Strategically, the Baer vs. Wolff war of words (what happened to the gag order?) has only gotten more interesting. Baer’s statement is cajoling Oakland, not Wolff, to get its act together. Wolff’s response is to say that the A’s don’t need the Giants’ help, especially if he can get San Jose. Keep in mind that if Oakland fails, the East Bay as a territory loses value, hurting Baer’s argument and supporting Wolff’s. What’s left is for both rich guys to let the processes in Oakland and in the courts play out, and prepare for next steps. At some point, the leagues are going to ask Oakland to either step up or step out ($$$). While some local media types continue to believe that the teams can carry on indefinitely at the Coliseum, at some point the conflicts become too great to bear. For those of us who have been following this saga for so long, it’s good to know that actions are being taken to make new homes for the teams. Even if one of those homes is temporary.
Any college basketball fan who watches the annual NCAA Men’s Tournament usually wants (and expects) at least one no-name, small school to climb the ranks and upset much bigger schools with blue chip recruits. If the team is lucky and good enough, they’ll get to at least the Sweet Sixteen (fourth round), or even the Final Four (semifinals). Such teams are not expected to win it all. They’re called Cinderellas for a reason. Over the last week we had our own Cinderella in baseball, and his name is Eric Sogard.
The bespectacled Sogard was the A’s entry into the Face of MLB contest, a series of Twitter popularity polls pitting a player from one team against another player on another team. He was also by far the least known quantity of any of the entrants, which included the likes of Derek Jeter, Felix Hernandez, and David Ortiz, who received a “bye” round. Somehow Sogard worked his way through the first two rounds, besting the likes of young Cubs star Anthony Rizzo and Rockies shortstop (and Fremont High of Sunnyvale product) Troy Tulowitzki.
Well, it wasn’t so much Sogard that did it. It was the ever resourceful and creative A’s fan base that did the bulk of the work. The polls worked by tallying up tweets labeled with the hashtags #FaceofMLB and the name of the player, in this case #EricSogard. MLB put some rules in place to govern the poll: a definite window to vote from 9 AM ET to 8 AM ET the following day and a limit of 25 tweets (or retweets) per Twitter handle. The rules were fair and provided advantages to both East Coast and West Coast voters, as I’ll discuss later.
After clearing the first two rounds, Sogard was matched up against Giants All Star catcher Buster Posey, an apparent mismatch of epic proportions. Yet those scrappy A’s fans came through again, lining up plenty of votes to beat Posey. Next up was Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista, yet another seeming mismatch. Oakland fans against all of Canada? Come on, now. Yet A’s fans understood the dynamics and kept plugging away at odd hours, steadily building a big lead as Eastern Canada slept and riding that into the finals.
That cleared the way for the final vote in which Sogard faced off against Mets third baseman David Wright. Wright, nicknamed “Captain America,” also had the look and general popularity to be the presumptive winner going away. The poll started out dead even for the entire morning, with Sogard garnering a 51-49 lead around noon. Wright caught up and again the two were deadlocked until 8 PM ET/5 PM PT, when A’s fans hit Twitter hard with #EricSogard tweets. By this round, the fans had made use of their Photoshop skills, creating some excellent meme-worthy material such as this tweet from @RallyPlantain:
— Rally Plantain (@RallyPlantain) February 28, 2014
While other candidates enticed fans to participate by promising tickets (the Mets) or a follow back in Joey Bautista’s case, all of the momentum for Sogard was fan-generated. It was helped by the team, the radio station, and Sogard’s wife, Kaycee. Even local media jumped on the bandwagon to an extent. Around 9 PM, I saw links to two pages (h/t: @kenarneson) run by a third party company hired by MLB to run the polls, Mass Relevance. The pages are in JSON, a simple text format used to pass data from servers to web apps. They provided the raw vote data I needed to provide real time updates twice an hour throughout the evening. (Wright results/Sogard results)
At 1 AM, I posted my last update for the night, showing that Sogard had an impressive 55-45 lead with nearly 44,000 votes in hand. Based on previous voting days, such a lead seemed almost insurmountable and many fans went to sleep feeling pretty secure about the results. I, too, went to bed.
I woke at 4 with no alarm. I took a peak at the numbers again and was startled. The 44,000-vote gap had been cut by a whopping 40% in only an hour. This was the start of a tidal wave of voting for Wright. During the final 4 AM hour, #DavidWright tweets dominated Twitter. More than 110,000 #DavidWright tweets registered in the final hour. By 4:30 it became clear that Wright votes were going to catch up with Sogard votes. But with the West Coast still asleep, could the early risers there keep up enough of a pace to keep the surge from overtaking them?
At 4:45, what was in question became inevitable. Nearly 2,000 tweets per minute were coming through. Yet MLB’s rules about 25 tweets to a single user remained in place, which meant that people who kept tweeting and tweeting were getting rejected. During that last hour, Wright garnered 54,420 “approved” votes, but also had 50,918 rejected votes. Those 54,420 votes accounted for 20% of Wright’s total for the whole day. Even with the rejections, the sheer volume was enough to surpass Sogard and finish with an 11,000-vote lead. Final percentage posted by MLB and revealed during MLB Network’s Hot Stove morning show: 51% Wright, 49% Sogard.
MLB doesn’t certify results and post hard numbers like a real election board or registrar would do, so the numbers above are technically unofficial. Yet it’s clear how the trends worked out. In the aftermath, many A’s fans screamed conspiracy or that the contest was rigged. MLB can’t rig Twitter, so it’s not a Twitter problem. Everything else is strategic. Teams can entice fans to vote using a number of giveaways or contests, which the Mets did. Fans or teams could create additional accounts to eat up 25 votes. Bots can be set up to do the same. Bots out of South Korea tweeted for Wright, while the sports-unrelated account @LoveQuotes tweeted some Sogard love before deleting those same tweets. Many voters were unclear as to how and when the limit on 25 tweets per user was reset. As I understood it, the reset occurred at the start of voting each day. Others thought it was at midnight, an assertion which wasn’t backed by data. Consider that the final margin of ~11,000 votes represents roughly 440 individual voters or users. It’s such a tiny margin that it looks negligible.
As I looked at samples of tweets during the 4 AM hour, I saw what could be considered bots. However, the vast majority of Wright voters were living, breathing Mets fans. I can’t say how much they were helped by technology, but that pales in comparison to the network effects these types of polls can build. The Mets’ fan base is much larger than the A’s, and the NY Metro is much larger than the Bay Area. When it came time to show in numbers, they did so tremendously.
If MLB decides to run the Face of MLB contest next year, they’ll need to make revisions to try to prevent users from gaming the system. There’s only so much they can do. They can’t really weed out the content in each tweet, nor is it easy to ban obvious bots. Besides, what’s the difference between a bot and a person who makes multiple Twitter accounts? I used my own two long-established accounts to vote for Sogard, so am I a cheater? In any case, expect fans from every team who are interested to have a better understanding of the dynamics of a poll like this, and respond accordingly. That means a Cinderella like Sogard is less likely to take hold next year. As we saw just a few hours ago, brute force can overcome any deficit. But don’t be discouraged, A’s fans. There are ways to strategize this. I hope that this effort spills over into future All Star voting efforts, where a small fan base team like the A’s rarely gets position players in. There is hope. And for what it’s worth, the last 48 hours have been one helluva ride.
P.S. – The best tweet of the week came courtesy of former A’s reliever Pat Neshek, who is currently in Spring Training with the Cardinals.
— Pat Neshek (@PatNeshek) February 27, 2014
Maybe Eric Sogard is magical, after all.
Giants President/CEO Larry Baer slipped a rather shocking note into the festivities surrounding the spring training opener, when he said that he’d be willing to allow the A’s to play temporarily at AT&T Park.
Of course, there are conditions. From Merc scribe Alex Pavlovic’s article:
“They’ve got to come up with a long-term plan. Once that’s arrived at, then maybe you’ll take a step back and say, ‘Is there something we can do to be helpful?’ As a neighborly thing.
“Obviously, they’ve got to come up with what their plan is and we’ll go from there.”
The A’s have a long-term plan, but that’s in San Jose, the city that Baer is loathe to give up. That means that Baer is perfectly willing to be neighborly, as long as the A’s stay in Oakland.
If you want to read between the lines, you can consider this a memo to Oakland ballpark backers to get off their asses and get something done. He’s willing to be neighborly, up to a point. He’s willing to appear magnanimous in his willingness to share the jewel at China Basin, up to a point. As long as there’s some motion towards a ballpark in Oakland, it helps Baer’s cause.
Strategically, it’s easy to see why Baer is going this route. Now that the Giants have practically paid off their ballpark, they need another rationale for preserving the split territorial rights regime currently in place. They can talk about protecting their fan base in the South Bay, but frankly, the issue is Oakland. Simply put, can a ballpark be built in Oakland? If it can – and it pencils out for the A’s financially – then the current T-rights scheme can remain in place, whether Lew Wolff and John Fisher are the owners or someone else takes their place. If Oakland can’t be done, which Wolff has been arguing, the East Bay itself is done, and MLB will be forced to consider an alternative method of drawing up territories. Immediately that means the South Bay is the only other place in the Bay Area, with Wolff preferring that as opposed to leaving altogether, which Baer has hinted in the past he’d be okay with.
Baer’s little nudge should provide motivation for Oakland boosters, though Baer can’t make it easier to build in Oakland. Nor is it likely that the Giants will help Oakland out monetarily. News coming out of Raiders camp can’t be encouraging, as Raiders owner Mark Davis indicates that nothing is happening with Coliseum City, at least as he sees it. Davis characterized Coliseum City as perhaps Oakland’s last chance to keep the Raiders. By NFL rules, Davis has to make a good faith effort to keep the team in its current market, and Davis has certainly done that so far. If Coliseum City breaks down, the Raiders could leave for LA as early as a year from now, and Roger Goodell can’t say much about it. Sure, the NFL holds the purse strings, but by that point they’ll know full well the challenges of building a stadium in Oakland as much as LA. Like the A’s situation, if it doesn’t pencil out in Oakland, there may not be an East Bay alternative. Already he’s backing away from the Concord Naval Weapons Station and Dublin’s Camp Parks, which makes me wonder if he’s only feigning interest in those sites in order to appear thorough.
Davis also referred to the impact of the Oakland mayoral race, indicating that developers wouldn’t get off the fence until after the election. That runs counter to the idea that the various mayoral candidates could make Coliseum City progress by stumping for it along the way. The project has its own schedule and milestones, with the next big one, the Market Data Analysis, due in March. By spring we’re supposed to find out how feasible Coliseum City is, and by summer teams are supposed to be signed on to be partners – at least according to Mayor Jean Quan. Movement will come from making the numbers work, not magic. Davis is not the only person to wonder what exactly is happening with Coliseum City. We’re going through these phases with CC, where some small amount of progress happens, followed by a huge informational vacuum, then a sobering dose of reality, and then another small step forward. Eventually that cycle will be replaced by real discussions, actual reports, and true political and financial support (or a lack of it).
Going back to the Giants and Baer, I suppose that since he’s offering his place as a 1-2 year airbnb stint for the A’s, we can start talking about what that would look like. That’s for another day. For now, it makes the most sense to focus on Oakland. In the near term, that’s where the only future for the Raiders and A’s lies.
The A’s choose the first game date on the spring training schedule to make a small announcement: Going forward, the new domain of the team is Athletics.com. That comes after 17 years with the domain oaklandathletics.com. The shorter name is more direct and easier to type. The old domain will continue to work, in that it and the new one will resolve to the true corporate MLB team site, oakland.athletics.mlb.com. Other alternate sobriquets like oaklandas.com should also continue to work.
It’s been a long time since 1996-97, when the A’s were one of the first teams to have an official website. This was well before newer web technologies like Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) became popular, and it shows. MLB (and MLB Advanced Media) have made sure that all team websites look and function with similar design and navigation, while letting logos and team colors create each team’s individual style.
Not long after the announcement, a handful of the usual grousers complained that this was yet another directive to ditch Oakland, or that it foreshadowed a move announcement. I’ve confirmed with the A’s marketing department that they, not ownership, pushed for the change to make it shorter and easier for customers to work with. They’ve been holding onto the domain for the better part of two years, and have only chosen the start of spring training to use it. No announcement about a move is forthcoming anytime soon, anyone who has been following the stadium situation recently should know that.
Athletics.com works, most importantly because it aligns with the team’s Twitter handle, @Athletics. If a team is going to unify its branding, that’s a good place to start. It also helps the brand in a sort of meta way because the word athletics is a fairly generic term, whether you’re talking about the thousands of college athletics departments throughout the country or the word being synonymous with what call Americans call track and field Now the A’s automatically rise to the top of any search for athletics.
So there you have it. Athletics. Oakland. Athletics. 26 out of 30 teams have proper team domains. The remaining four are the Rays, Rangers, Twins, and… the San Francisco Baseball Giants. Giants.com points to some football team. Maybe that’s why the SF Giants are so constantly litigious about their domain – they can’t do anything about a domain name.
P.S. – The A’s also announced that living, playing internet meme Eric Sogard will have his own night on Friday, April 4, during the A’s first homestand. The theme is, naturally, #NerdPower Night. Sogard, the scrappy utility man with the bespectacled visage, is in the semifinals right now of MLB.com’s #FaceOfMLB contest against Blue Jay slugger Joey Bautista. Fans can vote by tweeting the terms #FaceOfMLB and #EricSogard. MLB.com will pick them up and tally them, up to 25 per handle. Voting is tight, as a large contingent of Blue Jays fans have shrunk the once-huge Sogard lead significantly.
When I had originally posted the 2014 Cactus League schedule, I was under the assumption that I’d be able to spend at most a long weekend in the desert, watching the A’s and a few more games. Time has a way of changing things, this time for the good. My younger brother, who has been attending ASU, is in the process of buying a house in the Phoenix area, which will make it easy for me stay there for this and future spring trainings.
As a result, what was going to be at most four days will now be two weeks at the end of March. I won’t be taking much time off from work, instead going to a bunch of weeknight games while going to day games on the weekends. Here’s the schedule (night games in italics):
- 3/15 – Rangers @ A’s, 1:05, Phoenix Muni
- 3/15 – Dodgers @ White Sox, 7:05, Camelback Ranch
- 3/16 – Indians @ Cubs, 1:05, Cubs Park
- 3/17 – Rangers @ Royals, 6:05, Surprise
- 3/18 – Giants @ Indians, 6:05, Goodyear
- 3/19 – Cubs @ Rockies, 6:40, Salt River Fields
- 3/20 – Giants @ Padres, 7:05, Peoria
- 3/21 – Royals @ Angels, 1:05, Tempe Diablo
- 3/21 – A’s @ Giants, 6:35, Scottsdale
- 3/22 – Angels @ Brewers, 1:05, Maryvale
- 3/23 – A’s @ Mariners, 1:05, Peoria
- 3/24 – Padres @ Cubs, 7:05, Cubs Park
- 3/26 – Angels @ A’s, 1:05, Phoenix Muni
That’s 13 games in 12 days, covering all 10 Cactus League parks and all 15 teams. Included is the final A’s game – and probably the last Cactus League game – ever at venerable Phoenix Municipal Stadium. There won’t be any tearing down of foul poles or ripping out of seats, because Muni will live on as the next home of the ASU Sun Devils baseball program. I’ll take the afternoon off for that game on the 26th, and it will be bittersweet. I may add games on the 25th or 27th, plus there will be plenty of other sports going on (Coyotes, Suns in town, NCAA tournament on TV with both Arizona teams playing well), so I expect my plate to be very full. If you’re in town, let me know and we can commiserate over a beer during a game. As for the expansive schedule, consider it a bucket list item to be checked off.