Good team, bad crowds: A’s really need that ballpark

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — For the Oakland Athletics, every home game breaks down to two stories: how they do on the field, which on Thursday was excellent, a 4-3 win over the Seattle Mariners; and how they do at the gate, where, well, on this afternoon it was better — and, yes, you are allowed to ask, “Better than what?”

For a start, better than Wednesday evening, when the A’s drew an announced attendance of 6,991. On Thursday, the total was 12,663, which admittedly isn’t all that much, but the weather has been lousy, the kids still are in school and the Bay Area seems obsessed with the Warriors, understandably.

The A’s aren’t the only team with great blocks of empty seats. Click the TV remote and you see that various stadiums, including Cincinnati, have plenty of unfilled seats.

But every other team has its own ballpark, and as we are too aware on this 50th anniversary of the Athletics moving here from Kansas City, the A’s do not.

Technically, they have a place to play, the Coliseum, which for a long while, until the Raiders returned from their first departure, was satisfactory, if not charming.

Then, the city and county, on Al Davis' behalf, had that huge stand erected in center field, or the east sideline if you prefer, and the Coliseum, unwanted by anyone, became — taking into account the A’s color, their mascot and the adage — a huge green elephant.

Management has tried to make the best of a bad thing, creating a tavern in upper left field known as the Tree House and devising other ideas to attract people. So far, no luck.

The A’s just don’t resonate, even though they are above .500 and have players who are both competent and interesting.

One of those is Blake Treinen, who Thursday as the fifth of five A’s pitchers — manager Bob Melvin again doing his sleight of hand to overcome injuries — recorded his sixth multi-inning save, highest in the majors.

“This was a great team win,” said Treinen. More specifically, it was a great bullpen win, with Josh Lucas, Chris Hatcher, winner Yusmeiro Petit, Lou Trevino and Treinen coming and going out of necessity. Starters such as Andrew Triggs and Brett Anderson, meanwhile, are on the disabled list.

“We had to do this a few times,” said Melvin of his rotating pitchers. “We’ve had some practice at it.”

And too many times, when at the Coliseum they’ve had to play in front of crowds too small for a major league team, leading a journalist to ask Treinen his opinion of the team’s struggle for spectators. I mean, 6,991? In a stadium configured for some 35,000, that can’t be any fun for a guy in the bigs.

“I don’t know if it’s anything that relates to us,” Treinen said diplomatically about the athletes. “We’re just trying to play baseball and win games. That (drawing fans) takes care of itself. We have marketing for that.”

What they don’t have, however, is a fan base, a mass of season-ticket holders. There was a sellout early in the season of seats that weren’t sold, freebies for one and all. The hope was that people would come back. For some games, they have. For many others, they have not.

We keep hearing that the new ballpark is the answer. But it’s been like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, a promise that's never fulfilled.

The A’s had a plan for a place near Lake Merritt, at Laney College, but of course it was rejected because anything logical and beneficial gets trashed in Oakland and Berkeley. Yet Berkeley is a nuclear-free zone, as if people drive around with plutonium in their back seat.

Now the thought is to erect a ballpark on a dock of the bay, the Howard Street Terminal. A lot of negatives: no BART line close by, cold weather — it was 57 degrees at first pitch Friday, real balmy. But build it, presumably, and they will come.

Year after year the A’s, on the figurative poverty line, keep winning games and keep losing stars, Oakland unable to give young players the salaries that match their skills. “As soon as we get that ballpark,” we’re told repetitively.

Well, get it. Or at the least show us for sure that you’re going to get it.

Look, in 1979, before the Haas family saviors bought the team from Charlie Finley, the A’s once had a crowd of 695. So it’s been worse. But 6,991 is bad enough. It’s time to get something done.

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