It has been more than 30 years since I surveyed my first proposed ballpark site. It was at Seventh and Townsend in San Francisco, a charmless lot bounded by elevated freeways and train tracks. Giants owner Bob Lurie was desperate to move his team there from Candlestick Park.
There wasn’t anything remotely inviting about the property, save for a clapboard eatery called Walt’s Diner — “Breakfast, Lunch, Beer” read the sign. I chatted up a woman behind the counter, asking about the weather. It seemed relevant given Candlestick’s reputation as a frigid, blustery bowl of misery.
“See that?” she said, pointing to a thick plywood door. “I’ve been here 2½ months, and it’s blown off three times.”
The Giants never played at Seventh and Townsend. No one did. In 1987, San Francisco voters voted down Proposition W, which sought support for a new stadium. It might have been different had the Giants advanced to the World Series that year. But they fell one win short. Bitterists still rue the fat pitch of Atlee Hammaker’s that was whacked for a crushing three-run homer.
Two years later, the Giants did make it to the World Series. Another stadium proposition was on the ballot, this one at a site almost exactly where AT&T Park sits today. It looked like a winner until Mother Earth stepped in. If only there hadn’t been an earthquake.
If I’ve learned anything by surveying prospective ballpark sites in the Bay Area, it’s that most fail, their downfall traced to the darndest things. A hanging curve. A tectonic hiccup.
Which brings us to the A’s, who last week announced their intention to build a privately financed stadium in Oakland across the street from Laney College.
A’s President David Kaval extolled, well, pretty much everything about the site — walkability to downtown, a nearby BART station, weather and a “magnificent” backdrop that includes the Oakland skyline, Lake Merritt and the hills. Also, “a location that was stronger for private financing because it will attract more fans long term and have higher revenue opportunities.”
Naturally, I had to walk it.
It is indeed within walking distance of authentic Oakland restaurants, businesses and neighborhoods. But downtown landmarks — the City Hall area, Jack London Square, the Marriott and the Paramount Theater — are all more than a mile away.
My walk-around was at 2 p.m. on a weekday, and the area was buzzing with head-on-a-swivel traffic along Eighth Street. And the 880 freeway, if I’m imagining this correctly, is so proximate to the site as to cast a shadow on the ballpark at sundown. Some might consider that juxtaposition convenient. But there’s nothing convenient about a stretch of freeway so perpetually clogged that the National Sideshow Association is considering leaving Oakland for Las Vegas.
Add to logistical concerns Mayor Libby Schaaf’s strident neutrality regarding the project and the cost of infrastructure upgrades, and you can understand why AT&T Park is the only Bay Area baseball stadium to become a reality in more than half a century. Not to rain on Kaval’s parade. He told us he would have a site and a timeline for a new stadium before the end of the year, and he followed through. But these deals are difficult to do and easy to unravel.
Witness the myriad ballparks the A’s have proposed over the past decade or so. Fremont (I didn’t think the Bay Area still had a middle of nowhere until I saw that parcel); San Jose (with the Shark Tank, it could have made a dandy sports mall), Howard Terminal, 66th Avenue, Victory Court. That’s a lot of effort with nothing to show for it.
I take that back. Someday, the A’s can frame all those beautiful artist renditions of stadiums never-to-be and hang them in the VIP club at Oaktown Yards.
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