Time again for AAA Musical Chairs

It’s September in an even-numbered year, so you (should) know what that means: The biennial ritual of matching AAA franchises to new cities has begun. According to the Chronicle’s Susan Slusser, that includes the A’s affiliate, the Nashville Sounds, who are discontinuing their player development contract (PDC) with the parent club.

In this new era of improved regional consolidation, the pairing of a Central time zone-based AAA club with a Pacific time-zone based parent was never going to be the most convenient of situations. While the Sounds were reasonably competitive under the A’s stewardship, the transient nature of player movement makes it more likely for fans to root for the front of the jerseys than the names on the back.

Las Vegas Ballpark planned for Summerlin, NV

The Sounds could hook up with the Washington Nationals. The Nats will no longer be the parent of the Syracuse Chiefs as the Chiefs were bought by the New York Mets. In turn, the Mets are ditching the Las Vegas 51s, a team undergoing its own transformation. Additionally, the Round Rock Express are expected to switch back from an affiliation with the Texas Rangers to the Houston Astros. As a result the Fresno Grizzlies’ affiliation would be up for grabs. So it would appear that the A’s have Las Vegas and Fresno as potential affiliate candidates. The Rangers could also switch to Nashville or San Antonio.

For potential west coast affiliates, air travel is easier coming in and out of Las Vegas than Fresno, so Sin City has a distinct advantage based on logistics. Fresno’s airport is small compared to other major cities and doesn’t have the kind of demand that teams can use to their advantage for pricing. Fresno is closer to Oakland than Vegas, only a four-hour drive (six on Amtrak) from Fresno to the Coliseum. If Reno extends with the Dbacks, another candidate in the Pacific time zone goes away.

Las Vegas and Nashville have one thing in common. HOK was the architect for First Tennessee Park in Nashville, which opened in 2015 in time for the A’s. HOK is also working on the new ballpark in Summerlin, which will replace Cashman Field starting in 2019. HOK also has previous experience working the A’s, as the firm designed Avaya Stadium for the Quakes. And don’t forget, the A’s retained HOK’s Brad Schrock as a consultant on their new ballpark project in Oakland. Synergies abound!

P.S. – If you’re wondering if the new ballpark in Summerlin could host the A’s or another MLB club, take a look at the rendering in this post. Then get back to me on how you’d add 20,000 seats and a roof.

Dolich thinks A’s have secret plan

Now that the A’s have the not-heavy-lifting passage of AB 734 completed, we can focus on next steps.

That means the financial part of the deal. Besides picking the site (Howard Terminal or the Coliseum), the A’s have to arrange a deal to either lease or purchase the land. Andy Dolich thinks that the A’s will make a play for both, using one to offset the cost of the other.

When the green and gold can’t access enough infrastructure gold from the city, county and Port of Oakland, they might introduce their Hidden Ball Trick.

It goes something like this: You (public entities) pay for Howard’s infrastructure with this ball over here, and we (the A’s) and a DTBNL (Developer to Be Named Later) will pick up your debt load of $137 million on the Coliseum. Of course, you’ll have to make us the exclusive owner of that site.

Any guesses as to whether or not that’s an even trade? When the community activists start to speak out, we’ll soon find out the answer.

Oakland to proceed with lawsuit against Raiders

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Matier and Ross have the details.

 

A’s look to the future, keep HOK ballpark architect Schrock as consultant

This is what I’ve wanting to hear.

The quote of the week comes from A’s President Dave Kaval, courtesy of Don Muret, the former venue reporter for Sports Business Journal who last year went to VenuesNow. To wit:

“It’s a good pairing,” Kaval said. “We’re intent on developing a truly game-changing ballpark. There have been so many derivations of Camden Yards, we feel it’s time for a new direction.” 

Kaval was referring to the partnership of BIG and Gensler, as we discussed last week when the big announcement was made. Yet as I pointed out last week, BIG hasn’t architected a baseball stadium. Ever. There appeared to be a missing piece in the ballpark equation. Muret revealed the answer:

The hiring of BIG and Gensler does not sever the relationship between the A’s and HOK, specifically Brad Schrock, a principal with the firm and a veteran sports architect. Schrock has been working on a ballpark project for the A’s over the past 15 years, first with 360 Architecture and later HOK. He remains involved as a design consultant for the privately-financed facility, team officials said.

Schrock previously worked on Safeco Field when he was a principal in Heinlein Schrock, the firm that eventually became 360 and then HOK’s sports practice after Populous split off on their own. For more on Schrock, check out the post I wrote in 2014, which featured former SVBJ writer Nate Donato-Weinstein’s interview with Schrock.

The partnership of BIG, Gensler, and HOK (Schrock) should bring in a diverse range of concepts, though I imagine that each will be responsible for specific pieces. For instance, BIG might plan the entire development, while Gensler does the interiors, and Schrock provides the baseball expertise.

Ideas are swimming in my head. Before I get to those, let’s see what happens tomorrow in Sacramento, where the scramble is on to pass AB 734, the ballpark village bill for the A’s. Tomorrow is the deadline for the bill, which was amended to focus mostly on Howard Terminal. This was, as I mentioned earlier, because Howard Terminal needs the attention and focus. The Coliseum, as unsavory as it is to some, is already entitled for a stadium and has CEQA certification for the very kind of mixed use development the A’s are seeking.

It’s shaping up to be a very laborious Labor Day weekend.

2019 Travel Grid now available

Okay, so here it is. The 2019 MLB Travel Grid is available via the following links if you’re interested:

Ah, but there’s a change! If you look at any of the above three files you’ll notice I used each team’s nickname in the grid itself. The column headers remain the team abbreviations. This time I didn’t do an alphabetically sorted grid as I didn’t see people downloading and using it. In its place are “short” versions with the abbreviations carried throughout the entirety of the grid. The short versions are below:

If you miss the alphabetical grid or have other notes, drop a line in the comments or via Twitter or email. Or you could remix the Excel version.

As part of my stroke recovery, I keep having to remind myself not to take on too many projects and to take time with them. I usually allot a couple of days to work on the Travel Grid, including one late work night. After a flurry of posts in the spring, I’ve been content to post sparingly and simply enjoy the A’s season. I’m extremely pleased to have completed this process in a day, even though there were a few quirks in the process.

Tomorrow I’ll have more notes on the A’s schedule, which is unexpectedly magnificent for road trips. I’ll have observations on other non-A’s road trips as well.

A’s bring in architectural rockstar Bjarke Ingels to helm ballpark village project

There’s a scene in the Netflix documentary series Abstract: The Art of Design, where the subject of the episode, Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, describes one of this first projects. The site is in the Copenhagen docklands and was previously used for painting ship hulls. The original plan was to remediate the site by removing polluted topsoil. Sound familiar, Howard Terminal fans? The problem was that it would’ve cost a third of the allocated budget to clean and remove the soil. Ingels submitted a solution: build over the top of the site with a wooden skin, so that the soil doesn’t endanger anyone.

Maritime Youth House in Copenhagen

The result was a facility that serves dual purposes: a storage area/workshop for boats, and a playground/boardwalk area for children and families. I imagine that example, and some of Ingels’ more provocative work as part of BIG, Ingels’ architectural firm, helped attract A’s owner John Fisher and his staff.

Now, I do have some doubts about how scalable the methods used at the Maritime Youth House are. Both Howard Terminal and the Coliseum are on dangerous liquefaction zones, so some measures would have to be taken to anchor and strengthen whatever is built on top of them. I mean, no one in their right mind is going to build a massive stadium on wooden stilts.

The profiles of BIG and Ingels have grown exponentially over the past decade, with BIG winning numerous design competitions and the firm’s work featured all over the globe. However, there is a notable missing piece from the BIG’s portfolio. A young firm with designs on the world, it hasn’t yet completed any sports architecture work. That’s right, Fisher went with a rockstar architect with no stadium or arena experience. Maybe that will come with the to-be-located replacement stadium for FedEx Field in the DC area. Austin may finally being getting the Columbus Crew MLS franchise (tough week, C-bus), but apparently BIG’s design for a stadium at East Austin’s rodeo grounds isn’t in the cards. Mind you, I don’t mind hearing new voices in the sports architecture world. Given how Populous has dominated American sports for decades, Americans could use some fresh thinking.

It’s less clear when the new Washington football stadium will be built. The exterior of the stadium is funky, with a mesh skin and a moat that could serve as an ice rink in the winter. Inside it looks, well, like an updated version of Arrowhead Stadium. Which brings me to a greater point: I suggest not judging whatever BIG delivers until they present it in terms of renderings or sketches. Right now there’s a huge debate in social media over retro-vs.-modern design that BIG is “definitely” going to provide even though we haven’t seen slide 1 of their presentation. While it’s true that BIG’s work leans futuristic, that doesn’t mean that a futuristic ballpark is in the works. Since BIG is the master planner for the whole site, their idea may be to make the ballpark less of a centerpiece and more in service to the rest of the development. Open air ballparks aren’t all that tall or garish, anyway. And since I suspect Fisher will have a tight rein over the budget, a grand architectural gesture may be too rich for even Fisher. One thing I think is for certain: another retro design with manual scoreboards and bric-a-brac like lighting cues or a frieze probably aren’t happening.

You’ve probably heard of the other firm in the announcement: Gensler. They’ve done a lot of work for the GAP over the years, so you have to figure Fisher (known in the media as “Baby GAP”) knows them well. They were also tapped to provide design services for the A’s ballpark village in Fremont. You remember Fremont, right? Right near where there was a fire at the Tesla factory earlier today. Gensler also oversaw the refresh of the A’s spring training facilities in Mesa, so they know something about baseball.

I look forward to seeing what kind of innovation BIG puts forward. Because if we know anything about Howard Terminal, it needs a lot of innovation to make it work.

 

MLB releases 2019 schedule

A short note before I get into the big news today: it’s late August, which means it’s time for MLB to release next year’s schedule. And so they did today. As usual, I’ll start compiling all of the home schedules to make my annual schedule matrix for 2019. There will be two different sorted lists, one by alphabetical order and another regional chart. There will also be a plain .CSV or Excel download for those who want to play with it on their own.

Obviously, the big news is that like 2008, the A’s will open the season in the Tokyo Dome. And like that opening series, the two-game set will be considered home games, meaning that there will be 79 scheduled home games at the Coliseum. The A’s will get a little extra revenue from moving the first two home games (March 20-21) to Tokyo. The price, besides the loss of two actual home games, will be a shortened Cactus League session. Though as most spring training followers are aware, roster spots and rotation should be determined by then.

It’ll take the rest of the week to put together the matrix, so keep an eye out for that here and on the Twitter feed.