Manfred addresses ballpark topic

Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan held a wide ranging interview with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, published earlier today. Included in the questions were a couple about the stadium situations for the A’s and Rays:

Two NFL teams are about to move. Baseball is the sport that has gone the longest since a franchise relocated. Are you nearing that situation with Tampa Bay or Oakland?

It remains my strong preference, because I think it’s a policy that has served baseball really well over time, to stay in the markets where we’re located. We’re going to exhaust every possibility to get stadiums done in Tampa Bay and Oakland. But clearly you would think I was sort of la-la if I didn’t recognize at some point in time it may be necessary to consider alternatives.

No one should be terribly encouraged or discouraged by this. Manfred will clearly let this process play out and see where it leads, even if that means a dead end in either market. When that runs its course, we’ll see what (if anything) opens up. San Jose partisans may look at this as good sign for them, but that’s waaaaaaaayyyyyyy down the road.

I’m more encouraged that Manfred is clear about his position. He’s not mincing words like his predecessor, or saying “it’s complicated” or uttering expletives when asked. Manfred’s too early in his tenure to be worn down about the issue as Bud Selig. Check in again in five years. Manfred is happy that the Rays will get to explore all of the Tampa Bay area, even if the financing picture there remains bleak. As for Oakland, there’s this:

News for the week: Tommy Boy Edition (1/16/16)

While Mark Davis drowns his sorrows with some beer and wings, pondering his next move, we should consider what else has been happening this week. After all, unless either the Chargers decide to stay in San Diego, Davis is more-or-less stuck in Oakland. He could conceivably apply to move to a vacated San Diego or San Antonio, but that require going through this rigmarole again with a much smaller payoff. So we’ll let whole football thing settle down for a few weeks. If you want to understand what Oakland is getting ready to offer the Raiders, read my post from November.

Matier and Ross reported earlier this week that Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf is pushing Howard Terminal hard for a new ballpark, which is no secret. Included was this nugget:

The city would probably also have to come up with at least $90 million in infrastructure improvements, including funding for a car and foot bridge connecting Howard Terminal to Market Street east of the railroad tracks.

That $90 million figure is no accident. Schaaf is offering the Raiders the same amount for infrastructure at the Coliseum. She’s trying not to play favorites with either team. Of course, there is the danger of spiraling costs, and Oakland is putting itself in the position to carry the debt burden all by itself, since it’s nearing a deal to buy out Alameda County. As costs rise, the question will linger over how much Schaaf is willing to support before the projects become untenable. At least her staff has acknowledged the need for an overpass at Market Street, which was a major issue for me. Frankly, I think they need two overpasses because of Market Street’s location well away from Jack London Square. If you want to get reacquainted with Howard Terminal, read my various posts about the site.

Other news:

  • The City of St. Petersburg’s City Council approved by a 5-3 vote to allow the Rays to explore other stadium sites outside the city limits. That includes all of Pinellas County (St. Pete is the county seat), and neighboring Tampa and Hillsborough County. It’s too early to tell whether this will ultimately lead to the end of the Rays’ tenure in St. Pete, but proponents are at the outset painting this as the team’s best chance to stay in the 4.3 million-strong Tampa Bay Area, which has proved poor for attendance and excellent for TV ratings. As always, the biggest issue is figuring out how to pay for it. Head over to Noah Pransky’s Shadow of the Stadium for complete coverage.
  • The Warriors are pushing back the opening of their arena to 2019 to accommodate the legal challenge by the anti-arena Mission Bay Alliance. MBA also sued UCSF’s Chancellor and now has two lawsuits against the arena project in different jurisdictions. It’s a legal Hail Mary that will largely depend on whether the arena will be afforded an expedited legal review. (SFGate, LA Daily News)
  • The new arena near the The Strip in Las Vegas has a $6 million per year naming rights deal with wireless carrier T-Mobile. (Las Vegas Review Journal)
  • Hartford’s downtown ballpark is delayed and has $10 million, for which no one has figured out how to pay. Thanks to the delays, the AA (Eastern League) Yard Goats will be forced to play on the road for the first six weeks of the season. (Hartford Courant)
  • Walmart announced a slew of store closures, including a store in south San Jose and the Oakland store on Hegenberger near the Coliseum. The store will close Sunday, which led @fanpledge to wonder if it could work as an A’s ballpark site.

Most importantly, the In-N-Out in the northeast corner can stay intact. I’ll cover this site in greater depth later.

End of 2015 Poll: When will the A’s move into a new ballpark?

A’s get an early Christmas present from Oakland

As rumors and nostalgia swirled around the Raiders and what might have been their last game at the Coliseum, the City of Oakland provided some news on the ballpark front as well. According to BANG’s Matt Artz, a 21-page report detailing several potential ballpark sites was sent to A’s ownership for their review. (PDF download)

City staff apparently scoured the city limits looking for sites. Some of them had already been studied in the past. Others haven’t been studied, though we have covered them here sometime in the past. The study is in an early enough stage that many property owners haven’t been contacted about land availability. It’s quite likely that many sites in the current study will drop off quickly, while others have yet to be discovered. Regardless, this is an exciting development that should hopefully lead to some productive talks.

From the quotes and the tone of the article, I expected little more than a rehash of previously dismissed sites. While that’s all there (Victory Court, Howard Terminal), the City included a total of 10 sites, including a couple of alternatives that have been mostly discussed on this blog and not much elsewhere. To me that’s a huge positive, because it shows that the City is willing to consider sites outside the normal developer/booster group focus. It’s a necessary step.

oakland

Four of the ten ballpark sites highlighted within Oakland

We’ll go over all of these in detail. But first I want to spend a moment discussing the USPS site in West Oakland. The 22-acre sorting facility, which you might see as one of the first things in Oakland as your BART train exits the Transbay Tube, is not going to happen. As noted in the document, the USPS site is not for sale. It might only be under consideration because of a twice-delayed initiative by the Postal Service to reduce the number of retail locations and sorting facilities like this one.

In the Bay Area there are a handful of these facilities in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Richmond, and Petaluma. A list of closure candidates indicated that if any facility were to be eliminated or consolidated, it would be Petaluma. Oakland or Richmond could then benefit as it took on Petaluma’s capacity. In any case it’s highly unlikely that the Oakland facility would close down, making the site unavailable for future development.

Over the next few weeks you can expect a few hundred words on every site, including sites I’ve already written about several times. At the same time, keep in mind that unlike the Raiders’ situation, there is no deadline to providing anything to the A’s or MLB. The process is expected to work out much more slowly, which, quite frankly, is the only way to do this right.

P.S. – Bonus points for anyone who can identify a site in the list that I proposed a while back.

Baseball makes net expansion official

MLB continues to try to strike the balance between views and safety. Baseball announced recommendations for netting behind the plate, essentially extending the backstop to the inside edges of each dugout. Implementation of the new standard will be up to each club, since ballparks aren’t exactly uniform in terms of dimensions, even behind the plate. The press release:

MLB issues fan safety recommendations

Fan safety initiative leads to new netting recommendations for next year

Press Release December 9th, 2015

The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball has issued recommendations to all 30 Major League Clubs aimed at enhancing the safety of fans attending Major League Baseball games, while also preserving the interactive elements that are integral to the baseball fan experience.

The recommendations — which resulted from a review that began earlier this summer — include the following:

• Clubs are encouraged to implement or maintain netting (or another effective protective screen or barrier of their choosing) that shields from line-drive foul balls all field-level seats that are located between the near ends of both dugouts (i.e., the ends of the dugouts located closest to home plate, inclusive of any adjacent camera wells) and within 70 feet of home plate. The Commissioner’s Office has retained a consultant specializing in stadium architecture and protective netting to assist interested Clubs in implementing this recommendation.

• Although Clubs already provide warnings to fans about the dangers posed by batted balls and bats entering the stands and the need to pay attention to the action on the field during each at-bat, the Commissioner’s Office recommends that Clubs continue to explore ways to educate their fans on these issues and is providing Clubs with resources to assist them in this area.

• The Commissioner’s Office will be working with the Clubs and online ticketing sellers to identify ways to provide customers with additional information at the point of sale about which seats are (and are not) behind netting.

Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. said: “Major League Baseball prides itself on providing fans in our ballparks with unparalleled proximity and access to our players and the game taking place on the field. At the same time, it is important that fans have the option to sit behind protective netting or in other areas of the ballpark where foul balls and bats are less likely to enter. This recommendation attempts to balance the need for an adequate number of seating options with our desire to preserve the interactive pre-game and in-game fan experience that often centers around the dugouts, where fans can catch foul balls, see their favorite players up close and, if they are lucky, catch a tossed ball or other souvenir.

“I am confident that this recommendation will result not only in additional netting at Major League ballparks but also draw additional attention to the need for fans who make the choice not to sit behind netting to be prepared for the possibility of foul balls and bats entering the stands.”

The consultant not named in the release is expected to be Populous. The A’s and Giants are committed to making the change, though it may take some weeks before we hear specific plans. The Phillies are looking at a thinner material to use for the netting. I’m interested to see what it looks like.

Part of the view from Section 119 is "obstructed" by the backstop net

Part of the view from Section 119 is “obstructed” by the backstop net

Extension to the inside ends of the dugouts is unlikely to tamp down interest in complete netting from foul pole to foul pole, or at least in line with the edge of the infield down both lines.

The eternal struggle between sightlines and safety, Part 2: Expanded netting

After various incidents and increased concern for fans in the expensive seats around the plate, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is getting ready to recommend that teams expand netting past the current backstop area.

The expectation here is that despite the lack of uniformity among backstops (the Coliseum’s notch is perhaps the most unique), nets will extend to the far ends of the dugouts. There’s some inconsistency there as well, since new ballparks sometimes have dugouts of unequal size in favor of home clubs. Unless legislation or legal action forces specific standards beyond the dugouts, it seems as if MLB will provide a minimum standard and give individual teams the discretion to go further if they wish.

Part of the view from Section 119 is "obstructed" by the backstop net

Part of the view from Section 119 is “obstructed” by the backstop net

At the Coliseum, the net is situated in front of the Diamond Level seats, extending to the start of the dugouts on either side. Designing extensions becomes complicated thanks to the walkways between the Diamond Level seats and the dugouts. Unlike a modern ballpark whose dugouts are directly connected clubhouses, at the Coliseum teams have to use these walkways to go into the stadium. Often these walkways are used as extra standing space for players, or as spots for photographers (see above photo).

Transition from the Diamond Level seats to regular seats creates a net design challenge

Transition from the Diamond Level seats to regular seats creates a net design challenge

Since these walkways have to be functional, they can’t have a net hanging down and obstructing them. I suspect that when the time comes to put in a new net, it will run from the far end of the A’s (third base) dugout atop the roof, then follow the shape of the original notch, going behind the Diamond Level seats, and around to the visitors dugout. The Diamond Level seats will get their own protection, in the form of another net that extends eight or nine feet high, just tall enough that anyone standing in that area will be safe. The Mets went a particularly heinous route by installing plexiglas-fronted boxes on the field for the World Series. I had thought that the plexiglas era was behind us, yet there those boxes stood at Citi Field, like penalty boxes for the rich.

net1b

Red line represents a net that angles down to the dugout, blue line extends the same height all the way to the end

Once you solve the problem of how to redo the backstop, there’s the question of how much protection is needed down the lines. Besides the issue of determining the length of the net, there’s also the height and shape. Given that many of the most dangerous bats and foul balls whiz right over the top of the dugout, it makes sense to have protection there. But does it need to be the same height as the backstop? Can it taper down to the far end of the dugout?

MLB and its clubs probably have some decent statistical data that can create a framework for recommendations on the height and length of nets in every ballpark. I hope the teams take this to heart, as there have been too many avoidable injuries in the last year, let alone decades. Then again, sometimes when you try to protect yourself you just set yourself up for another kind of danger.

Swingin’ A’s Podcast Interview

Sometimes it’s easier to ramble on a podcast than to write and edit a couple thousand words on a topic. Actually it’s a lot easier. If you’re wondering how all the stadium business with the A’s and Raiders is going to work out, head over to today’s Swingin’ A’s Podcast at Hardly Serious. I talked for nearly an hour with host Tony Frye about the fallout from the SCOTUS decision, how the Raiders are holding everything up, and what I think is going to happen over the next few months. I even explain how a ballpark deal could get done. Take a listen, and try not to focus on how many times I pause while delivering an answer. It’s a podcast, I’m allowed.