Category Archives: Baseball

Coliseum gets upgrades for fans, media, players alike

The Coliseum will look a little different from last year or even FanFest. A number of improvements have been made, from fresh paint and changes to the dugouts and clubhouses to the redone West Side Club. Here’s the press release announcing the changes, courtesy of the Coliseum Authority:

For Immediate Release                                Contact: Dan Cohen/Edit Ruano                                              March 30, 2014

 

 

New Improvements to the O.co Coliseum Will Greet Oakland A’s Fans, Players, and Media for the Start of the 2014 Baseball Season

Oakland-Alameda Coliseum Authority and the Oakland A’s have invested in improved security, upgrades to press and player amenities, and new food options

 

OAKLAND, CA – A’s fans visiting the O.co Coliseum to watch a game this year have a number of new improvements to look forward to – and so do the A’s players, opponents, umpires, and media.  The Coliseum Authority and the Oakland A’s made significant investments in the off-season to improve the experience for all guests.  This includes improved security at the entrance, new food and beverage selections at the stadium, and improved amenities for players, fans, and media.

 

“A’s fans have been looking forward to the start of the 2014 baseball season all winter, and we want their return to the O.co Coliseum to be a positive one,” said Authority Chair and Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley. “That’s why we are so excited about all the work that has been happening at the stadium during the off-season this year. It’s more than a fresh coat of paint – it’s about us addressing the needs of our loyal fans.”

 

For A’s fans, here are some new improvements to expect:

  • New look: The O.co Coliseum has been fully re-painted and new Kentucky blue grass sod has been laid on the field as it is each year before the season.  New investments in groundskeeping machinery, including industrial lawnmowers and a “laser-leveling system,” will allow the Authority to maintain the field more easily and effectively.
  • New concessionaire & food items: The Oakland A’s, which are in charge of the concessionaire contract, have brought in an exciting array of new items and are upgrading the concession experience/facilities. Fans will now have access to even more premium beers and new food items like wood-fired pizzas, and more!
  • Improved “Ring” Road:  The Coliseum Authority will repave the road that circumnavigates the stadium after the initial homestand.
  • Improved security: The Authority will provide state-of-the-art magnetic screening equipment that fans can quickly pass through as they enter. The Oakland’s A’s will provide personnel to manage the screening.

 

 

For the players, umpires and media, improvements include:

  • Remodeled dugouts: Both the home team and visitor dugouts have been upgraded with new padded benches, upgraded flooring, new dugout phones, water fountains, and new bathroom fixtures and paint.
  • Upgraded lockers: The home team, visitor, and umpire locker rooms all have new rubberized floors and showers.
  • Updated press box: Members of the press will now have access to flatscreen televisions, and new tables, carpets, restrooms and ceilings.

 

“We are excited about this season and confident that fans who come to the stadium and the players will have a winning experience,” said Chris Wright, VP of AEG Facilities and GM of O.co Coliseum & Oracle Arena. “Now, it’s time to play ball!”

 

To download pictures of the improvements, please visit:
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/kuljv0oejnuxp4n/gg26JgTftW?lst

 

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About the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum Authority:

The Authority is a public partnership between the City of Oakland and the County of Alameda (owners of the Coliseum Complex) that manages the Complex on behalf of City and County.  The Authority subcontracts the day-to-day operations of the Complex to AEG.  An eight-member Board of Commissioners governs the Authority.  Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley currently serves as the Chair of the Board, and Oakland City Councilmember Larry Reid serves as the Vice-Chair.

Let’s hope that the weather cooperates tonight so that everyone can enjoy the changes. The one I care about most? You can guess:

20 craft beers now available in the West Side Club

20 craft and import beers now available in the West Side Club

Last 2014 Cactus League Ballpark Reviews

I’ve been playing catch up in terms of news, so for the sake of consolidation I’m putting the remainder of my Cactus League ballpark write-ups in a single post. Enjoy.

Peoria

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No Cactus League ballpark typifies the 90’s more than Peoria Stadium. From the color choice to materials and signage and circulation, it all feels 20 years old. Sure it feels dated the way anything a generation ago feels dated. Then again, personally, I enjoyed the 90’s. There’s nothing cool about Peoria. It isn’t old enough to be regarded in a retro-cool or ironically cool way. There is, however, plenty of good.

For decades the Padres played way out in Yuma, a 2-hour bus ride from Phoenix. The team’s move to the West Valley suburb of Peoria marked the start of consolidation within the Cactus League. They also share the Peoria Sports Complex with the Mariners, the first such arrangement when the complex opened in 1994.

Like most of the West Valley ballparks, access is a little painful. Instead of dealing with the awful I-10/I-17 weeknight traffic headache, I took the Loop 101 around North Scottsdale and Phoenix to get there. The main exit to get to the park was severely backed up, so I drove one further and found a back way to get to Peoria Sports Complex. A shopping center is adjacent to the complex. Parking costs $5, though you could probably get away with parking for free at the shopping center.

I was extremely fortunate when I got to the gate. I walked up to a table selling $8 lawn tickets. The sellers asked me if I was alone. When I replied that I was, they handed me a ticket given to them by some Giants fans (game was Giants-Padres) who had an extra. The ticket was for the upper grandstand behind the plate. I happily took the ticket for free and walked in. Later I spoke to the wonderful ladies who furnished the ticket and found out that they were from the South Bay. One of them was an A’s fan.

There’s a pronounced carnival atmosphere inside the concourse, with a kids’ field not far away and numerous food tents. The concourse is incredibly spacious, though the game can’t be seen from behind the grandstand. A full upper level includes the press box, suites, and club seats. One major demerit is the almost complete lack of a roof for shade. Day games here can be brutal when it’s very warm.

Banks of bleachers are set up down the lines, leading to the outfield berm. Food and beverage tents and trailers are set up behind the berm. Four Peaks has a beer tent with the most reasonably priced craft brews in the region at $7.50. A frybread stand is not far away. More diverse food offerings are available at Peoria than at any other Cactus League park, probably because Peoria and the M’s/Pads aren’t afraid to let independent vendors work the concourses. If you’re sick of the standard ballpark food available at many other parks, Peoria has you covered.

Prior to the start of the Cactus League season, the City of Peoria finished numerous improvements to the complex. The vast majority of those improvements focused on the team facilities. The Padres and Mariners both got upgraded administration buildings, replete with new weight rooms and other modern touches. Little was done to Peoria Stadium. The old scoreboard remains. No seating changes were made. No new buildings within the ballpark were constructed. The upper half of the grandstand, whose first row is elevated several feet above the concourse, allows for fans to stand directly in front of it without impacting the views of other fans seated behind the standees. This was preserved. That alone may make Peoria the best ballpark in the Cactus League. All of the newest parks have standing areas 25 rows back along the concourse. In Peoria it’s half that distance.

The quirkiest playing element within the Cactus League also resides at Peoria. The batter’s eye is integrated into the outfield fence, which means that a home run to center has to clear a 40-foot wall. That seems sadistic.

Peoria doesn’t attempt to mimic a Major League experience. The City and teams know what works best there, and they haven’t tried to change it much. Eventually cosmetic changes will need to be made, but those shouldn’t affect the overall feel of the ballpark. Keep it fan-friendly, keep it casual, and the winning recipe at Peoria can continue indefinitely.

Maryvale

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The Brewers have spent spring training at Maryvale for seemingly forever. The neighborhood in West Phoenix is no garden spot, yet Maryvale provides a nice oasis. As a single facility with a stadium and training facility, Maryvale does the job for the Brewers reasonably well. The team has made murmurs about getting upgrades, but the City of Phoenix isn’t having any of it for now. Might as well make the best of it.

The complex is within Phoenix city limits, so it’s not way out in the sticks. Access can be a chore thanks to a single main road leading to the stadium from I-10. A good alternate route is to check the streets west of the complex, most of which allow for parking. A regular bus travels along Indian School road to within a 10 minute walk of the complex.

Maryvale received a wholesale revamp in 1998. Far more stylized than Peoria or HoHoKam, many of the design elements work well. There’s a good mix of sun and shade along the concourse. The concourse itself is fairly narrow, creating jams at all of the concession stands. The press/suite building stands on stilts above the concourse, which was necessary because space is at a premium here. A benefit of this is a 360-degree concourse with views from everywhere. From afar the press box looks like it’s floating above the rest of the ballpark. Expansion anywhere within the ballpark seems unlikely unless the Brewers or Phoenix plow a lot of money into the project.

One oddity of the ballpark is that there are only two gates, each well down the lines. It’s common to see fans looking for a gate at home plate and having to walk around much of the stadium to find a gate. The lack of an entrance or anything else besides a fence behind the plate makes the park look facadeless.

The outfield berm is split by a walkway. Many fans sit along the back berm despite being obstructed by other walking fans because trees provide shade. The lower berm extends behind the batter’s eye and around the left and right field foul poles past the bullpens. Unfortunately there are no concession stands along the berm, forcing berm attendees to travel to the main concourse to get anything besides beer. That makes the concourses even more cramped. A basic scoreboard is in left, sans video or graphics.

When I visited, the Brewers AA/AAA camp was hosting the A’s equivalent side, so I headed to the auxiliary fields to check the games out. If you’ve never watched minor league camp games, you should at least once. Few fans attend, and you can sit or stand right along the backstop. Have your minor league rosters handy, as there are no PA announcers. Sometimes you’ll see rehabbing major leaguers in short stints. It’s easy to move between the fields, and you’ll frequently share the common area with players. There are no concessions sold here, and it’s free. You can bring whatever snacks you like.

Back at the ballpark, food offerings are spartan. The expected list of Miller and Leinenkugel beers are available. The Brewers brought their trademark brats and stadium sauce. Beyond that there isn’t much. A shopping district with fast food and other restaurants sit north of the complex along Indian School.

Maryvale could use a little more space on the concourses, and more food variety. The scoreboard needs an upgrade. Other than those quibbles, the ballpark and complex perform their duties competently. Unless the Astros come to the Cactus League and partner up on yet another dual-team facility, this will be the Brewers’ home for some time to come.

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Tempe Diablo Stadium

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There’s little to say about this place other than the word “Diablo” is appropriate. It’s a devil of a time parking near the stadium or walking along the 15-foot-wide main concourse. About the only thing good about Tempe Diablo is its relatively central location, but even that is problematic because the park is nudged up against a freeway. Visit it once and never again, unless you’re an Angels fan and you have no choice.

Port of Oakland approves ENA

10 months. In the short term, that’s what we’re looking at with the approved exclusive negotiating agreement (ENA) for a potential ballpark at Howard Terminal. 10 months to figure some things out. Not the really important things, such as the real hard/soft costs of building there. No, the $50,000 (half of Oakland Waterfront Ballpark’s deposit) available for any kind of environmental impact study won’t go much further than figuring out if the soil at HT is still contaminated. (Hint: It probably is.) Instead, 10 months will buy Oakland some time to figure out, well, what exactly are they figuring out? According to the East Bay Express:

The agreement may also shed details on the feasibility of the site for a ballpark and its costs to investors and the public.

That’s a good start, though again, $50k won’t go far. It won’t even cover the full cost of a feasibility study, which usually ranges in the $100-200k range. Now, you may think that’s pocket change to all the rich people who want this to happen, but consider that $100k is still hanging up the process with Coliseum City, almost 6 months after the timeline was put in place. Some time in the near future, the Port of Oakland and OWB will have to come to another agreement to fund a feasibility study, which will take at least 6 months to complete. Historical notes: the City Council approved $750k for Victory Court studies at the end of 2010, while a 2010 Raiders stadium study at the Coliseum cost at least $125k.

Timing is a curious thing, since 6 months from April at the very earliest puts the publishing of such a feasibility study past the date of the 2014 general election. That works out well for all of the various mayoral, city council, and port commissioner candidates, since they don’t have to be linked to anything written that details costs, and thus they can support Howard Terminal in a nicely vague, non-committal way. If Mayor Jean Quan loses, her successor can pick up the ball and modify the proposal or push it through.

The way the ENA is constructed, 10 months is the time for the Port, City, and OWB to work out the basic tenets of a ballpark deal. Presumably this would include the following:

  • A very rough estimate of site prep costs
  • Who ends up paying for site prep and infrastructure, or the identification of a funding gap (similar to Coliseum City)
  • Options that include various forms of on-site ancillary development, including a separate arena or other public facility
  • How does the Port make money from this?
  • What happens if MLB and A’s ownership go along with the plan
  • How the agreement changes if new team ownership takes over
  • A plan B if Howard Terminal is rejected by MLB

That last bullet point has led to speculation that the site could work for the Warriors, who are running into legal and regulatory difficulties with the Piers 30/32 arena project in San Francisco.

Naturally, any broad study won’t be able to get to the bottom of determining the full cost of site prep and infrastructure the way an EIR is designed to. Victory Court’s demise was forced by a number of factors, including rising land acquisition costs (not applicable with Howard Terminal), regulatory hurdles, and the death of redevelopment (very applicable). The W’s are running into the same problems now. Pursuing the W’s in this manner still looks awkward, as Let’s Go Oakland leader Doug Boxer is being paid by the W’s to work on the Piers 30/32 deal – in effect moving the W’s out of Oakland – while leading the effort to keep the A’s in town. And if W’s co-owner Joe Lacob is interested in buying the A’s, well, it’s not hard to connect the dots to figure out who’s giving Lacob advice.

Assuming that the ENA leads to a working agreement and a ballpark project, the parties can proceed to the environmental review phase, which the Port concedes could take 2-3 years. To keep this in perspective, that’s an EIR starting no earlier than 2015, and probably finishing sometime in 2017 if no legal challenges come along. We’ve already heard about neighbors looking for answers about infrastructure. That’s nothing compared to CEQA challenges, which in California are simply part of the process. Though, if the project skimps on providing infrastructure, those neighbors could easily be an early source of a CEQA challenge.

Signature Properties President and Brooklyn Basin (O29) developer Michael Ghielmetti noted the similarities between Howard Terminal and his project from a process standpoint.

Lot of the same issues, certainly not the same, but very similar regulatory frameworks and outreach process we would expect to occur. This is more complicated in many ways and less in others.

For those who care to remember, Brooklyn Basin was no slam dunk. It took 13 years to get to the recent point of groundbreaking. During that time it had an EIR certified, then thrown out, then recertified. Then-State Senate President Don Perata wrote a bill authorizing a land swap that exchanged waterfront Trust land for industrial land at the Oakland Army Base. A petition to force the project to be subject to a referendum appeared to have garnered enough signatures, then was declared invalid because of improper ballot language (like Sacramento but without the carpetbagging element). Multiple lawsuits were filed. By the time the dust settled, the recession was in full swing and the project laid dormant. The Bay Area’s economic upturn allowed Brooklyn Basin to rise like phoenix. As long as the tech sector continues to grow, it’s reasonable to expect a full buildout.

A land swap shouldn’t not be required, since a ballpark could simply be a privately-funded facility built on public, Port-owned land like AT&T Park. However there are already murmurs of legislation waiting in the wings. Bills could be limited to CEQA streamlining (so far good for the Kings, not so good for the Warriors) or extensive enough to authorize financing for the infrastructure piece.

This all promises to get good. Not immediately, but soon enough. This time the flood of information shouldn’t begin and end with an economic impact report. Fans want real info, as does the press. Don’t settle for less.

P.S. – While I was writing this I got some feedback on Twitter from Port Commissioner (and Mayor Quan’s campaign manager) Michael Colbruno. BTW, love his Twitter handle.

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu

Presented without comment.

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HoHoKam: The Once and Future Spring

Just one day before I arrived here in the Valley of the Sun, the A’s had a media reveal at HoHoKam Stadium, the new spring training home for the team starting in 2015. Reporters gathered in the parking lot of the teamless stadium and were shown images of what HoHoKam will look like next year. Saturday morning I took some time to check out the renovation’s progress.

A previous venue called HoHoKam Park (née Rendezvous Park) hosted the A’s during the 70′s. As you might imagine, the park was far more modest than many of the palatial digs of today’s Cactus League.

Rendezvous Park

The Cubs moved to HoHoKam in the 1978 and haven’t left the city since. HoHoKam was relocated to the west in 1997, yielding at the time a large, superior stadium compared to its peers. HoHoKam had a berm wrapping around the outfield, 13,000 seats, plenty of concourse space, even suites. This year the Cubs opened Cubs Park, still in Mesa but closer to the Tempe border. The A’s, who had unsuccessfully tried to work with the City of Phoenix to get improvements for Phoenix Municipal Stadium, turned their attention to Mesa and worked out a deal to be the new tenants at HoHoKam and Fitch Park, the training complex.

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Piles of dirt stood in front of the entrances, evidence of trenching. The grass field has been removed, as have most of the stadium seats. Eventually the bleachers down the lines will be removed and replaced with roofed bars. The scoreboard will be replaced as well. A big change at HoHoKam will be green and gold paint and materials along the exterior. The very beige, very-90′s façade will get a major pop of color and a real sense of identity in the process. The small tower at the home plate gate will feature a big “A’s” logo.

hohokam-12-new_gate27

New look for HoHoKam comes with strong A’s colors

The existing beige clashes in a big way with green and gold, so there’s hope that the whole place will get a proper paint job that matches. If you look closely, the pic on the right shows a #27 above the entrance, a nod to the late, great Catfish Hunter. That isn’t the only tribute in store.

hohokam-11-new_gate24

Third base “24″ gate as part of renovated façade

It makes sense that Rickey’s gate is outside third base, right? I’m sure that at first naming/numbering gates in this manner will sound weird from a wayfaring standpoint, but I’d love to see all of the gates treated like this. If you know HoHoKam, you know that there are two more fan gates in the left field corner and outside first base that could also be numbered. Who should get the honor?

Despite being one of the largest Cactus League ballparks, HoHokam managed to maintain a level of intimacy due to its traditional concourse design, where fans move from the concourse to the grandstand through tunnels. There’s no 360-degree view from the concourse, and no fancy detached club level. Capacity will be reduced to 10,500, making HoHoKam a middle-of-the-pack ballpark in terms of size. Other plans called for extending the outer boundary fence so that the grounds can be larger in order to accommodate food trucks. That’s a good alternative to the food tents seen at some of the other parks. The fact that the architect in charge of HoHoKam is the same one who did the Muni renovation over a decade ago is a good sign. Muni still looks as good as it can get in spite of its old bones. This gives me hope for some boldness when it comes to the A’s future stadium in the Bay Area – one that isn’t handcuffed by having to share it with a football team.

I didn’t visit Fitch Park, the other half of the A’s-Mesa deal. Most of the work there will be focused on improving the training facilities for the A’s, under-the-hood types of improvements that benefit players, not so much fans.

Sadly, the lovely view of Papago Park that came with games at Muni will not be moving to Mesa with the A’s. That said, it’ll be nice to see a bunch of fans lazing on the berm. My brother’s buying a house in Mesa, and when I stay there during the spring I’ll be able to bike from his house to HoHoKam along a canal trail. I can’t think of a better way of spending time during March.

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick opened three years ago as the latest (perhaps last) two-team spring training facility in the Cactus League. It’s unique in that it sits on the western edge of the lands of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, a group of federally recognized Native American tribes. The Rockies and Diamondbacks came over after spending a stint in Tucson, formally making the Cactus League a Phoenix operation in the process.

Coming from Tempe, I found myself driving through a shopping center to get to the ballpark. In the process I avoided the $5 parking fee by parking at the shopping center. From there I followed a large crowd past a movie theater to the south entrance to the baseball complex. A gently rising path elevated above the Rockies’ practice fields. The path deposits fans at the main concourse level, high above the field. Prior to the opening of Cubs Park, Talking Stick was the most expansive ballpark in Arizona. Wide concourses open to even wider spaces. The press/suite level, with its dark metal and amber lighting, is reminiscent of a resort. Instead of bleachers, bars flank the grandstand down both lines. Team executive offices look the part.

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Proximity to a mall notwithstanding, Talking Stick takes some of the lessons learned from Camelback Ranch and Goodyear Ballpark and applies them well. Camelback is too isolated and sometimes feels more like a landscape architecture exercise than a baseball experience. Goodyear is nearly devoid of character due to its cold, spartan appearance. The lighting along the main concourse at Talking Stick may be too casino resort-like at times, but get out from under the shade and the little pleasures start to take hold. Everything feels very angular and shows differently depending on the sunlight. The split roof structures don’t contour with the grandstand. Stairs and ramps leading down to the lower walkway invite fans to stop and appreciate the views of the field. At sunset a little dust kicked up to lend a little mystery. Camelback Mountain looms in the distance behind the grandstand, majestic and stark. Trees sit on the berm.

The big critique of Talking Stick is that it lacks intimacy. The different eras of spring training ballparks have proved this out. The older parks are simply closer and more geared towards watching the game than the new ones, which are designed for easily getting to the concourse for concessions. Those concessions, however, aren’t bad. The pulled pork nachos were decent.  Beer selection was poor. There’s a fry bread stand in center, and I wonder why fry bread isn’t more available throughout the Cactus League. And there are complimentary SPF 30 sunscreen dispensers along the berm. Those things should be mandatory.

As the Cactus League continues to evolve, we’re in a spot where we haven’t yet hit the net era. Cubs Park marks the end of the current era. A modified and smaller HoHoKam Stadium is a stylish refurb of a 90′s era park. Maryvale is something of a question mark for the Brewers going forward. And the two-team facilities appear to be solid, though the Mariners and Padres could choose to squeeze Peoria for upscale renovations. For now, let Cubs Park and Talking Stick be the standard-bearers for single and dual-team facilities, respectively. Long live the Cactus League.