A's break fans' hearts again with Vegas relocation news

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Friday, April 21, 2023

Heading into the new MLB season, many Oakland fans already were heartbroken about the state of their struggling team -- small crowds, bad baseball and dismal winters watching top players being traded away or lost in free agency.

Now, the greatest disappointment yet: Yes, the A's are leaving for Las Vegas.

The news came Wednesday night from team president Dave Kaval, who said Oakland signed a binding agreement to buy land on a 49-acre site near the Las Vegas Strip to build the intimate ballpark the A's always coveted but couldn't pull off in the Bay Area.

"This really is one of the saddest days," said lifelong fan Jason Bressler, 40, who grew up in suburban Alamo and now lives in Los Angeles. "Some of my best childhood memories were in Section 216 of the Coliseum with my friends and family, and when they were on the road, Bill King was the soundtrack of my youth.

"Attending Game 4 of the 1989 World Series with my dad is an experience I'll cherish forever."

Even after moving out of the Bay Area and starting his own family, Bressler kept his allegiance, making it a "point to take in multiple games a year whether in Oakland or on the road.

"Now that they are leaving I can't help but feel like a big piece of my childhood is going with them," he said. "It pains me that I won't be able to share those same experiences with my kids moving forward."

Las Vegas would be the fourth home for a franchise that started as the Philadelphia Athletics from 1901 to 1954.

"We're turning our full attention to Las Vegas," Kaval said. "We were on parallel paths before. But we're focused really on Las Vegas as our path to find a future home for the A's."

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao called the A's franchise's decision "extremely disappointing" and cited team officials' "disingenuous" stance in negotiations with the city, while speaking at a news conference Thursday.

"At every opportunity, the A's have made increasing demands on Oakland," she said. "And at every opportunity, we have risen to the challenge and overcome the hurdles placed before us.

"Instead of working with us, they have announced a land deal in another city. And I want to be very clear, this announcement happened mid-negotiations and it shows they had no interest in making a deal with Oakland at all."

Oakland's last professional team lost its luster long ago for many supporters who were increasingly frustrated and furious about a rise in season-ticket prices and $30 parking fees -- not to mention the carousel of players.

The A's drew an announced crowd of just 3,035 fans on April 3 for the first game of a series with the Cleveland Guardians. It rose to 3,407 the next night -- but 11 of 13 Triple-A games that day attracted larger crowds and four of them more than doubled the A's total.

Naomi Arnst fondly remembers A's games with her father rooting for the old greats.

"I'm still crying inside about the Oakland A's. I have been a fan for 51 years," she wrote in a text message Thursday.

"I used to go to games with my dad and watch Vida Blue pitch. I still have my Dagoberto Campaneris bat from bat day in 1974. Oh and many years later we lived each day for the 20-game win streak. And what about Catfish Hunter Day before he died of ALS."

This week, a billboard along a busy East Bay freeway advertises tickets starting at $10.

One Twitter account, with the handle @OaklandPast, tried to organize fans to make a statement. An April 11 post mused about a sellout at the Coliseum to show their love for the A's, and said team owner John Fisher is "bad for the game of baseball, Oakland and bad for a storied franchise like the A's."

"Bring signs, let the world know the problem is NOT THE FANS!" the post said.

The team declined to comment on its attendance situation.

Manager Mark Kotsay, his coaches and the players are trying to survive, too. They lost 102 games in 2022 and are 3-16 heading into a weekend series starting Friday at theTexas Rangers.

After being swept by theChicago Cubsthis week at home, the team had already lost five games by 10 or more runs. The only seasons since moving to Oakland in 1968 when the A's had more than five double-digit losses for an entire season were 1996 (8), 2008 (8), 1984 (7) and 1979 (6).

Former Mariners outfielder Jay Buhner used to say he could hear toilets flush in the third deck of the old Kingdome in Seattle. It's like that now in the dilapidated Oakland Coliseum. Kotsay hears everything from the dugout, even things outside of the park.

"You can hear every sound here, every voice, every word, yeah, you can hear it. It's not discouraging. It's not discouraging because you get the opportunity to go play. From a player's view you've got to have some thick skin and understand that it's not necessarily directed at you," he said.

Past A's players say they're sad about the state of the franchise, too, like theNew York Mets' Mark Canha, who always tried to focus on the positives of playing in Oakland.

"I always loved playing here, I didn't need a big crowd to enjoy playing," Canha said. "It was the guys in right field, there's little things, the people that sit behind this dugout always made it good enough for me. It was those little groups of people that are always there that made it special.

"I always said what the Coliseum lacks in quantity of fans it has quality. It's home, it's home to me. I love this place. ... I was coming here when I was a kid. It's comfortable, it's nostalgic, it's all that stuff."

In May 2021, MLB told the A's to explore relocation options, saying the Oakland Coliseum was no longer a viable option. The A's had previously proposed and withdrawn plans for ballparks in Fremont and San Jose, and Kaval had worked on a plan for a new state-of-the-art ballpark in the city's Howard Terminal area.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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