OAKLAND – We all know glass half-full and glass half-empty people. Jemile Weeks is a stadium half-full ballplayer. The Athletics second baseman doesn't see the thousands of empty green seats every game at the Coliseum.
"I see the diehard fans," he said. "When we get something going, they make the place sound and feel like a full house."
That doesn't mean Weeks, and everyone else on the A's, wouldn't welcome a new stadium. They've been pining for, planning for and pursuing one for years. But the obstacles are daunting.
"This might be the most difficult decision in baseball history because of the circumstances," said one MLB executive.
The need is obvious. The Coliseum is serviceable – for the NFL's Oakland Raiders. It's not a baseball stadium; it's a cold and cavernous mass of concrete, the dugouts seem acres away from the foul lines, and fans even at field level could use binoculars. The outfield bleachers are so far from the action they might as well be in Berkeley.
And, of course, the decrepit structure is in a town where the money isn't.
They want to move 40 miles south of San Francisco to San Jose, where digital dollars abound, luxury boxes would sell and a new venue would be built solely for baseball.
Yet it's like somebody looking into his neighbor's well-appointed back yard and saying he'd like to pitch a tent and move his family there. The neighbor would take issue with that.
In this case the neighbor is the San Francisco Giants. They point out San Jose is in their backyard, that a significant portion of their attendance and revenues comes directly from San Jose and the well-heeled towns nearby.
And furthermore, the current Giants ownership focused on creating a fan base in the San Jose area when the team was purchased in the early 1990s and considered moving 40 miles south from old Candlestick Park. The A's, thinking they might have the Bay Area to themselves, told them to go ahead. The Giants succeeded in spreading their brand and found a way to get a new ballpark built in San Francisco. Now they are going to allow the A's to pitch their tent in San Jose? They think not.
A baseball source said the Giants aren't even negotiating the issue, although talks could restart any time.
So on one hand, the A's need to move to survive – they already have the second-lowest payroll in baseball. On the other, the only place that makes sense for them to move is off limits.
"We're talking about two immovable objects," the MLB executive said.
That's why it's taking so long. Commissioner Bud Selig appointed a committee in 2009 to come up with a plan for the A's to move, but 41 months later the committee isn't close to a decision. It would take a vote of 75 percent of the owners to overturn the Giants' claim to San Jose. And Selig is uneasy about what the Giants would do if a vote was taken and it went the A's way.
The Giants have attorneys close to their ownership group who made millions trying eminent domain cases. Owners agree not to sue MLB under any circumstances, but in that regard this could be ground-breaking if the A's are allowed to break ground in San Jose.
"Some people believe the Giants would sue, other don't think so," the MLB executive said.
Oddly, the A's outstanding season might work against owner Lew Wolff's negotiating leverage for the new stadium. When it comes to bringing this to a vote of owners, he wants to cry poor. A pennant race that triggers increased attendance and potential playoff revenues would weaken his case.
Wolff's status as Selig's old Wisconsin fraternity brother doesn't appear to be getting him favoritism. But Wolff is careful not to say anything disparaging about his longtime friend. Getting this team to San Jose would be his crowning achievement, and at age 76, he can't wait forever.
No other location will do in Wolff's estimation. He rebuffed stadium proposals by Oakland and Sacramento. If another city in the 50 states could definitely support an MLB team, the Tampa Bay Rays would already have moved there.
So Wolff dreams of the A's becoming the darlings of Silicon Valley, the team of Google and Facebook and Yahoo! and whoever makes the next big idea a lucrative reality. Securing venture capital for a start-up to sell popsicles online to Eskimos would be easier to accomplish.
The A's have surprised everyone with their outstanding play, improving to 60-51 after Wednesday's 9-8 victory over the Angels, who trail the A's by 1½ games despite having nearly three times the payroll. A's general manager Billy Beane continues to build and maintain his roster in innovative ways. But attendance remains modest: Only 21,150 showed up Wednesday, slightly more than average. Only the Cleveland Indians draw fewer fans than the A's.
Players can't help but wonder what a new stadium might do. Certainly increased revenue would have enabled them to add a player or two at the trading deadline instead of standing pat. But this bunch is going about its business, winning more than anyone anticipated and remaining oblivious to the empty seats.
"Some folks struggle just to come up with the money to come to a ballgame," Weeks said. "I'm playing for them right now. We'll see what the future brings."
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