Oakland doesn’t get much publicity as a sports town, but the capital of the East Bay is one of the few cities in America to house a team in each of the three major sports (Take that, San Francisco! You too, hockey!). But faced with the prospect of losing two-thirds of its teams, Oakland is now in the middle of a sporting crisis.
The potential South Bay relocation of both the A’s and Raiders presents the very real possibility that Oakland may soon become a one-sport town. While that may work just fine for Green Bay or Oklahoma City, it makes those of us who care about Oakland more than a little nervous. If you follow the local sports scene at all, you know that giving Chris Cohan a monopoly is a scary thought.
The A’s love affair with San Jose has been obvious ever since Lew Wolff bought the team. And as the 49ers continue to make progress on a new stadium in Santa Clara, the Raiders are running out of excuses not to move in and share it with them.
Al Davis doesn’t hide his contempt for the team across the Bay, but even Mother Theresa could be bought with the money he’d receive from new luxury suites and future Super Bowls. Al will never get that kind of money in Oakland, and it’s not like he and Jed York would have to share bunk beds in their new digs.
Without the A’s and Raiders, Oakland’s identity as a sports town would vanish. Unlike the “Golden State” Warriors, the A’s and Raiders are uniquely Oakland, underdogs who’ve always felt slighted by their upper-crust rivals in San Francisco. And the city isn’t set up to replace either team should they decide to leave.
Oakland has sequestered its sports teams miles away from downtown or anything resembling nightlife, in the last place you’d expect to find an entertainment venue: in the center of a worn-down neighborhood, with nothing around for miles but an In N’ Out Burger. Even Kevin Costner couldn’t have picked a more unlikely spot for a stadium.
So why should any these teams stick around? What’s so great about Oakland? Well, loyalty for starters. Beneath its tough exterior, Oakland is really a big softie. Al Davis took the Raiders to L.A., and yet Oakland was right there waiting when he wanted to come back. Rickey Henderson returned to the A’s 47 different times (and he’s still dreaming of a 48th). Oakland even took back Chris Webber and Jason Giambi, which seemed unfathomable back when fans were showering them with boos and beer.
Also, Oakland is secretly a great place to watch sports. The A’s will never draw like the Giants, but they do have more fans who actually come to watch baseball, free of the BlackBerry crowds that plague AT&T Park. You can also get home within a half-hour after any Coliseum event, which hasn’t happened after a 49ers game since the team played at Kezar.
An average game in Oakland is also at least 10 degrees warmer than San Francisco, and there’s something special about all three of Oakland’s teams playing within 100 feet of each other. There are events going on year-round at the Coliseum and Oracle, while Candlestick is a mausoleum 355 days a year.
Oakland’s sports scene feels like a family, as though the teams are people we know. When the A’s struggle financially, we want to lend them 20 bucks so they can get back on their feet. When the Raiders complain that the league is out to get them, every penalty becomes evidence of a conspiracy. This doesn’t sell any luxury suites, and it won’t prevent our teams from leaving, but it does make Oakland a great place to be a sports fan.
Now, if we could ever get these guys to start winning some games…
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