Editor's Note: The above video is from Nov. 17, 2016.
OAKLAND — Who knows what kind of team the A’s will field come April, but they’ve notched a victory in firing up the masses regarding an anticipated new ballpark.
Not one shovel of dirt has been turned, nor have A’s officials even picked a site to build on. But Saturday’s FanFest at Jack London Square showcased the sense of excitement shared by fans and players over the idea of the A’s building a new venue that’s seemed a pipe dream for more than a decade.
Even the weather cooperated.
Saturday’s event — which shifted off-site from the Coliseum for the first time in many years — unfolded under a blue sky and mild temperatures, with the A’s estimating a crowd of more than 15,000 that showed up.
“It’s completely energizing,” new A’s president Dave Kaval said. “I think it shows the depth of the support of the A’s in this community, and especially with our re-commitment to Oakland and how people are really responding to that.”
With fans everywhere decked in green and gold and the water from the inner harbor sparkling in the sunshine, it was easy to imagine this site possibly becoming the epicenter for A’s baseball.
Howard Terminal, located next to Jack London Square, is one of four sites the A’s are contemplating building. Kaval confirmed that the other three are the current Coliseum complex, Laney College and another site near Howard Terminal.
He also confirmed he expects the A’s to announce a site during this calendar year. Could the news hit during the upcoming baseball season?
“We’re hoping to do it as soon as possible,” Kaval said. “The thing is, we don’t want to rush it. We know if we announce it this year we can hit the milestones for building it in a reasonable amount of time. So we just want to make sure at the front end. Once you pick a site, you can’t really go back, so you have to make sure you’re very deliberate, very thoughtful.”
Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf long has talked up the potential for a waterfront ballpark at Howard Terminal that could energize the city’s entire downtown. As fans wandered around Jack London Square, standing in line for autographs and enjoying free food-truck service, the A’s had drones flying overhead. It was their effort to capture the whole scene, including traffic flow and parking, to get a feel for how well the area can handle large crowds.
“Having 15,000 people here, it allows you to actually test this location,” Kaval said. “We’re seeing where people come in and out, where they park, how many people take BART. We’re working hand-in-hand with (BART) on a transportation plan. This is actually a pretty good test run, a dry run for this location, to understand what some of the limitations are, and maybe some of the benefits.”
The overall tone of the ballpark discussion — and how it seems more a matter of “when” than “if” — sounded great to longtime A’s fan Robert Bishop, who lives in Oakland.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” he said. “My whole life I haven’t really heard any of this talk, and I think Dave’s brought a great positivity to the club. I think there’s kind of a palpability among all fans, I’m reading on Twitter, seeing comments fans are making. People are re-upping on season tickets and buying tickets. Hopefully (it will) fill up the crowd and it’ll be a better year for us.”
Players also are encouraged over the sense that the wheels are in motion regarding a new stadium.
“I think it sends a strong message to the fans that we are committed to Oakland, and we’re gonna be in Oakland and that everyone is excited about it,” right-hander Sonny Gray said. “We’re not going anywhere. No one wants to leave.”
Kaval, who doubles as president of the San Jose Earthquakes and orchestrated the building of a soccer stadium in the South Bay, is taking ballpark input he’s received from fans during open “office hours” he held earlier this offseason.
“Dave has done a great job since he’s taken over of involving the fans,” catcher Stephen Vogt said, “because at the end of the day, the Oakland A’s, we are defined by our fan base.”
Kaval pictures Oakland as one of the country’s emerging big cities, and he wants a new A’s ballpark “to be the crowning achievement, the first big project that goes, that kind of solidifies that new era. And I think you’ve seen that in other cities, Cleveland and Baltimore, where they’ve built ballparks, or even at AT&T in San Francisco. And we want to replicate that same success.”