Munsey on Ballparks

The Coliseum will be missed

by Paul Munsey (archive)

January 15, 2005

I lived in San Francisco during the 1980s and 1990s, and still visit occasionally. I watched the agonizingly slow construction of Pacific Bell Park, now known as SBC Park, only to move away the year it was completed. When I go back, I can't help but remark on how a place which seemed doomed to a fate of permanent wasteland has been transformed so dramatically.

The ballpark sits between the Rincon Hill and Mission Bay neighborhoods, but most people include it in the broader area known as South of Market, or SoMa. The area has undergone such a transformation in the last few years as to make it unrecognizable, and there is more to come.

For many years, a motorcycle shop called "Cycle Gear" was located a block away from where the ballpark now sits. I mention it because it was about the only reason I was ever in that part of town. They recently moved to a different part of town, no doubt because of skyrocketing rent.

Cycle Gear was literally on the edge of town. The two blocks between it and China Basin were full of ruins from another, industrial, era. You could see a mile away because there wasn't anything there except old rail yards and parking lots. It was a real contradiction for there to be so much vacant land in the second most densely populated city in America.

Commuters who didn't want to pay the exorbitant prices for parking downtown, would park there cars out there for free and walk the mile into town. They were taking a risk, however, because it seemed like the only folks you saw walking on the streets around there were transients.

Things have certainly changed. The ballpark isn't the only reason for the transformation, as the city has invested an enormous amount of resources to build light-rail lines, apartment buildings and civic buildings. Private development is substantial, too. However, SBC Park has been a very big part of it.

I have attended more games at SBC Park as an out-of-towner in the past five years than I did at Candlestick Park during the fourteen years I lived in the city. Judging by the attendance figures for the Giants, mine is a common experience. This hasn't gone unnoticed from across the bay in Oakland.

The Oakland A's have been in the news more than usual recently because there is speculation on what will happen if Lewis Wolff exercises his option to buy the team. Mr. Wolff claims he would pursue a downtown ballpark for the A's in Oakland. However, he has extensive business ties to San Jose, and many believe that is were the future of the A's lies. I tend to agree.

The Coliseum is in an industrial part of Oakland. Of course, most of Oakland is industrial. Combine that with the comparative lack of disposable income among the residents of the area, and you have a difficult ballpark from which to earn money.

There is space to build a ballpark in downtown Oakland. But, Oakland is no San Francisco. Public financing is almost certainly not an option, and there are only a few cities in this country where it makes sense for a MLB team to build a privately funded ballpark. San Francisco is one of them. Oakland is not.

If the A's are to stay in the Bay Area, they will need to build a new ballpark near the riches of Silicon Valley. They will have to move to San Jose.

From the perspective of an A's fan, that's too bad. The Coliseum has been much maligned over the years. It has been referred to as the Mausoleum, because of the abundance of concrete in its architecture, as well as some of the poor performances by the A's over the years. However, it is has been a great place to watch a game.

Sure, the sightlines are those of a 1960s-style multipurpose design. And, yes, the view of the Oakland Hills was ruined when they built Mt. Davis1 back in 1996. But, over the years, it has been one of the few ballparks left where you can get to a game, watch a game, and enjoy a hot dog and a beer for about ten bucks.

One of the best bargains in sports has been the 12:35 PM weekday game played in Oakland once or twice a month. Not that long ago you could walk up to the ticket booth and buy a bleacher ticket for $1.00. That didn't mean you would sit in the bleachers, though, as there was almost always field level seating available between the dugouts. Regular hot dogs were a buck or two, and beer wasn't too expensive, either. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) provided the relatively inexpensive and hassle-free transportation.

That's changing, but it's still not a bad deal. Plus, it's nice to get out of the office early and enjoy a ballgame once in a while.

For years, the Coliseum is where I would go to see baseball games. At the time, the alternative was Candlestick Park. So, it was an easy choice. We would walk to the nearest BART station and take the escalator down to the train. When we came out at the other end, the Coliseum was right there.

I am writing this as if the wrecking ball is standing ready. The stadium will be there for many years to come, as the Raiders have a long term lease. However, I don't get to Oakland very often, and don't know how many opportunities there will be to see another ballgame there. The next time I'm at the Coliseum, I'll appreciate it more.

Paul Munsey is the editor of

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1 Mt. Davis is a reference to the enormous structure, full of luxury suites and club level seats, which replaced the old outfield bleachers to accommodate the Oakland Raiders NFL team. Its rectangular shape contrasts with the rest of the Coliseum's round shape. It is also much taller than its more graceful counterpart. I guess I'm trying to say that it is offensive to the senses.

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