Features

The Optimist

by Jesse Hamlin

An aging ballpark. Frustrated fans. Despite the obstacles, Dave Kaval is more determined than ever to find a home for the Oakland A’s.

The proposal by the Oakland A’s to build a new ballpark near Laney College was dashed in December when Peralta Community College District officials scuttled talks. Another prime Oakland site under consideration—Howard Terminal, on the waterfront near Jack London Square—hit headwinds in February when BART announced it had no intentions to build a station there. Now the A’s aren’t taking any chances: They made an offer in late March to buy the entire Oakland Coliseum complex, including the outdated stadium where it plays and the arena the Warriors are abandoning, so that it’s got an option in the bag.

“The way to control our destiny, and make sure we can build a privately financed stadium in Oakland is to own our own home, to buy the Coliseum, and we’re prepared to do that,” says A’s President Dave Kaval. His team has offered to pay off the property’s $135 million in debt in exchange for ownership. The city of Oakland and Alameda County jointly own the 130-acre Coliseum area; as of press time, Kaval was still waiting to hear back from the powers that be.

The A’s, he stresses, are still looking at both Howard Terminal and the Coliseum, “trying to understand the

I saw firsthand how a downtown area had a renaissance, how people started living and working there in higher numbers. Dave Kaval

 

economics of both sites. That’s why we’re pursuing the purchase, and we’re work ing with the Port to determine if Howard Terminal is an option, if we can solve the transportation issues. We need options. We can’t be limited. These are very difficult projects. Pigeonholing yourself into one could be a disaster. We want to own the Coliseum site to know we have a location in Oakland.”

Being from Cleveland, Kaval knows the pain of losing the major-league hometown football team (the Browns) for several years, as well as the thrill of seeing the baseball team build a new ballpark that revitalized the city’s downtown and the team’s fortunes. That happened to the Cleveland Indians, whose success on the field and at the box office took off after Jacobs Field opened in 1994.

“I saw firsthand how a downtown area had a renaissance, how people started living and working there in higher numbers,” says Kaval, who’s been focused on finding the right Oakland site for a new A’s stadium since becoming the team’s president in 2016.

More intimate and fan-friendly than the old Cleveland Stadium—which the Indians shared with the Browns, as the A’s and the Las Vegas-bound Oakland Raiders still do at the Coliseum—the new venue “generated revenue for the city, which helped the financial picture for downtown Cleveland. I’m excited to think about that happening in Oakland,” declares the ebullient 42-year-old, a Stanford grad, who visited every Major League park to co-write the 2001 book The Summer That Saved Baseball. As president of soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes, he led the drive to create its privately financed $100 million Avaya Stadium, which opened in 2015. He forged a $20 million naming-rights deal with the Santa Clara tech firm, helping create what the A’s website calls “the first cloud-enabled stadium.”

Kaval, A’s majority owner John Fisher and their staff are committed to finding a new home in the proud, gritty East Bay city where generations of A’s fans have watched such memorable men in green and yellow as Sal Bando, Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson, Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley. Despite the setbacks, they plan to open a new ballpark in 2023; the team’s Coliseum lease runs through 2024 and Kaval won’t consider tearing down any structures there until a master plan is created.

The Downtown A's
The Downtown A’s
The Fremont A's
The Fremont A’s
Coliseum City
Coliseum City
Howard Terminal
Howard Terminal

    In addition to studying the feasibility of the Howard Terminal and Coliseum sites, the A’s are looking at “what could be built around a ballpark to create a sense of place, and bring people there,” reveals Kaval, who aims to have a deal signed by year’s end. He’s such an optimist that his wife, Maria—who grew up in the East Bay burg of Newark and attended A’s games with him after they met at Stanford—has said that with her husband, the proverbial glass isn’t half-full: it’s completely full.

    It’s crucial, Kaval insists, that the new stadium “reflects the unique nature of Oakland” and anchors “a ballpark village, with retail and housing. Those are the recipes for the best baseball experiences, when you look at places like [Baltimore’s] Camden Yards or AT&T Park. We want to replicate that success, so we can have not only a great fan experience, but the type of revenue that can generate more championship teams on the field.”

    That would please John Adams, the celebrated Berkeley composer and longtime A’s fan. He and his wife, photographer Deborah O’Grady, held season tickets for 23 years, but declined to re-up last year because of the

    I don’t care where it’s built, as long as it’s built in Oakland. Lew Wolff, A’s Managing Partner

     

    high cost of parking and specialty beer. “Ever since the Coliseum was ruined at the behest of [late Raiders owner] Al Davis, who managed to intimidate people into erecting that hideous wall of concrete and blocking the view of the East Bay Hills (and, on certain nights, the rising moon) it’s been an unpleasant place to see a ball game,” Adams says. “A new stadium on the waterfront would be heavenly for us long-suffering fans, but if it’s not going to be accessible by BART, it’s a non-starter.”

    Kaval, who regularly engages with fans on Twitter, is grappling with that issue right now. The waterfront setting is gorgeous, he allows, but “the challenge is the transportation. We’re interacting with the Port and the transit agencies to see if we can come up with a plan that works,” considering ideas like using Uber and Lyft and “trams that would take you to and from parking lots or BART.”

    Where exactly it winds up doesn’t really matter, according to former A’s managing partner Lew Wolff, who still owns 1 percent of the team. Says Wolff: “I don’t care where it’s built, as long as it’s built in Oakland.”

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