Athletics

A's plan Howard Terminal stadium, Oakland Coliseum site redevelopment

A's plan Howard Terminal stadium, Oakland Coliseum site redevelopment

The A's believe they’ve finally found their new home in Oakland.

The organization announced Wednesday its plan to build a 34,000-seat waterfront ballpark at Howard Terminal near Jack London Square. If everything goes to plan, construction would start in late 2020, with the stadium opening in the spring of 2023.

[PHOTOS: Howard Terminal ballpark and Coliseum site redevelopment renderings

"I think the urban downtown location right on the waterfront is really a game-changer for the A's and for Oakland," team president Dave Kaval told NBC Sports California. "It's just a tremendous site. Having the connection to the water, the connection to Jack London Square, it's a tremendous location for a ballpark."

The plan describes the new privately financed ballpark as the centerpiece of a new waterfront district featuring housing, restaurants and small businesses that will create an active scene even on non-game days.

"The No. 1 principle is really that this is bigger than baseball," Kaval emphasized. "This is something that can really help transform Oakland, deal with a lot of the challenges the city has had over the years, and bring economic vitality, job opportunities and housing opportunities as part of this ballpark neighborhood. We're really excited to do that."

The A's also plan to redevelop the current Coliseum site, keeping the original baseball diamond while building a large park, along with new housing, office developments, restaurants and more. Oracle Arena, which the Warriors will vacate after this NBA season, would be repurposed as an events center.

"We've been there 50 years," Kaval said of the Coliseum. "We have a great sense of the importance of that development on the future of East Oakland. ... We wanted to honor East Oakland. We wanted to make sure it was part of the plan, and there wasn't a thinking we were abandoning that part of the city."

Kaval admits a great deal of work still must be done before the A's can move forward with their plan. Over the next 120 days, the organization hopes to reach an agreement with the Port of Oakland and begin an Environmental Impact Review process, among other tasks.

"2019 is going to be a really big year for us in terms of getting the final approvals," Kaval said. "We're going to work on our port option in the first quarter and hopefully get that finalized. We're going to work on a development agreement with the city of Oakland. We're working hand-in-hand with the mayor and the city council on that. ... We also are taking the other step of moving forward with the California Environmental Quality Act, which is a process that takes about a year to get your environmental clearances.

“So these are some big milestones that we're going through right now, and we felt it was important to give a progress update to the community and to our fans on where we are, and also show people our vision for an amazing ballpark on the waterfront."

While the Howard Terminal site presents its share of challenges and the A's already have faced some pushback, Kaval is confident all sides can work together to overcome any obstacles.

"We have a great partner in the city and in Mayor Libby Schaaf, and also in the port commission," he said. "We're working very closely with them to evaluate the challenges and come up with plans and be solution-oriented. Whether it's transportation, whether it's building a new neighborhood around the ballpark -- things like housing, including affordable housing, commercial real estate, bars, restaurants -- really create a district like you have around AT&T Park. That's an important part of the vision because it's going to mean the ballpark is more active and it's a better destination even on non-game days."

[RELATED: Complete A's offseason coverage]

Of course, Kaval is well aware that A's fans have seen these types of announcements before, only for them to fall through. Just last year, the A's believed they had a deal to build a new ballpark in downtown Oakland near Lake Merritt, but the Peralta Community College District landowners suddenly halted talks.

"We think we learned from that previous experience," Kaval said. "We channeled that learning and knowledge this year. We did a lot of community outreach, and we have a plan here that's not only our plan but it's really the community's plan, and it will continue to evolve as we move into 2019. ...

“We're doing everything we can, and we've had great partners on the city side and on the civic side to get this done. I think everyone realizes it's just a really great project for the Bay Area, for the East Bay and obviously for Oakland."

Why A's players don't mind trade-offs with extended protective netting

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USATSI

Why A's players don't mind trade-offs with extended protective netting

OAKLAND -- Back in December, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred declared that all 30 ballparks will extend their existing protective netting in advance of the 2020 season.
 
The movement has its reservations among fans but seems universally supported among players. Even in Oakland, where ample foul ground already buys added insurance.
 
“It will be tougher to interact with the fans, maybe to throw a ball to them,” A's shortstop Marcus Semien said Friday at the team's media day. “I love throwing a baseball to a kid. But, at least they will be safe.”

An NBC News investigation last year found at least 808 reports of fan injuries from baseballs from 2012 through 2019. The total was "based on lawsuits, news reports, social media postings and information from the contractors that provide first aid stations at MLB stadiums."
 
On May 29 in Houston, Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. lined a foul ball that struck a two-year-old girl in the head. Earlier this month, an attorney representing her family told the Houston Chronicle that the girl suffered a permanent brain injury, remains subject to seizures and might need to stay on medication for the rest of her life.
 
“It sucks, and I don’t want to see it anymore,” third baseman Matt Chapman said. “I’ve seen fans looking at their phones, not paying attention. I’ve seen people holding babies and not paying attention.”
 
Chapman understands the inconvenience but predicts eventual workarounds to make sure fans get their access, yet remain protected in critical situations. 

“I don’t understand why fan safety would be a bad thing,” he said.
 
In an era where exit velocities are measured with extreme precision, it’s scary to know that a baseball traveling 100 miles per hour could be headed straight towards someone who might not be able to protect themselves.

Even if they are paying attention to every pitch.
 
“We hit the ball so hard,” Semien said. “And sometimes we’re a little early. Or late. And now that they are up by the dugouts, you just say, 'Thank you the nets are there because that could have been bad.' ”
 
Even pitchers realize the dangers of line drives in foul territory. Starter Mike Fiers spends a lot of time in road dugouts, where he and other players often remark about how close young kids are sitting to the action.
 
“They’re in a bad spot,” Fiers said. “I feel like a lot of people don’t know that. It’s tough when those foul balls go in because everyone always watches and hopes nobody gets hit.”

[RELATED: A's teammates 'respect' Fiers for outing Astros' scandal]
 
As if there weren’t already enough thoughts running through the typical MLB hitter's mind, the concept of additional netting should at least take risk out of the equation. 
 
“No one wants to be that guy who hits a ball in the stands and hits somebody,” A's manager Bob Melvin said. “Our fans are baseball’s lifeline. You have younger kids in there. It’s a nightmare to think about. I think all players are in favor of that.”

A's Bob Melvin recalls celebrating Ichiro Suzuki, Adrian Beltre's careers

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AP

A's Bob Melvin recalls celebrating Ichiro Suzuki, Adrian Beltre's careers

OAKLAND -- Without fail, every time -- there's BoMel.

Just as the 2019 season opened up, Ichiro Suzuki decided he would play in his final major-league game in Tokyo. A's manager Bob Melvin was at the top of the opposing dugout paying his respects as the 10-time All-Star bid farewell to the game of baseball.

Suzuki made sure to personally run over to Melvin and shake his hand.

Ever the professional, Melvin knows he's been able to witness some amazing things across his illustrious career.

"I think the longer you're around, the more you really understand those type of days," Melvin told NBC Sports California. "I know when I was a player it wasn't something I had a focus on, but Ichiro, I had a close relationship with him and his career is one of a kind, so you want to see how he's embraced -- you want to be there for something you know you're going to remember for a long time."

The Texas Rangers retired 21-year veteran third baseman Adrian Beltre's number in Arlington a few months later. The team hosted the A's, and there was Melvin, at the top of the dugout paying his respects once again. 

And despite being on the other side of Beltre's retirement ceremony last season, and receiving "a lot of pain from Beltre over the years," Melvin knew what he did during his time in the game had to be celebrated.

"The fact that he's such a great player and such a good guy, and I've had so many conversations with him and -- a Hall of Fame-type guy -- you want to be out there and really feel good about watching it and seeing how he's embraced by the fanbase."

These were some of those significant moments Melvin's collected over the years.

Beltre has a certain unique quality to him. Well, it's more of a rule, really.

Do not -- under any circumstances, touch his head. Unless maybe if you're Elvis Andrus.

"No -- I don't even think I'd try to go there," Melvin said. 

"We did have a funny conversation," he recalled. 

[RELATED: BoMel calls Fiers' a hero for revealing Astros scandal]

When it was Yoenis Cespedes' first year, the A's were in Texas and Cespedes had slid into third base. 

"His ankle was a little funky -- we weren't really sure, I went out there, and [Cespedes'] English isn't very good, so Adrian was translating for us, which was really funny."

"I could tell at times, he was trying to get Cespedes out of the game and Cespedes was looking like 'No, no, no,' so it ended up being a funny situation, but I've spent a lot of time on the other side against Adrian."