NOTE: Here is the seventh in an occasional series of Features describing the author’s visits to various MLB ballparks around the country. After finishing his cross-country trip at the end of June, the author went back to the most familiar baseball ground of all: the Oakland Coliseum, home of the Oakland Athletics and the closest major league park to your correspondent’s home.
How bad has it gotten for baseball in Oakland? After completing my transcontinental trip at the end of June, I made a point of going out to the local team’s digs, with the full intent of writing up a review of the Oakland Coliseum soon thereafter.
That was over a month ago. Let’s just say, interest in East Bay baseball has fallen off a bit in recent years.
It is probably fitting that the game I saw, an Athletics contest versus the Tampa Bay Rays on the night of Monday, July 17th, was the worst attended game at the Coliseum in several years. But all things come to pass eventually, and here, at last, is that long-delayed review of the Oakland ballpark experience.
It’s been a while since MLB went through another expansion phase. No new teams have entered the sport since the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays came into the leagues in 1998.
That expansion brought the number of major league teams to 30, and as such, it can be said to have been incomplete. The number of teams, while even, still left MLB with a lack of balance in the composition of the leagues. The movement of teams between leagues (Milwaukee to the NL, then the Astros to the AL) tried to accommodate the lack of balance in the league structures and schedules, as did the move to introduce interleague play, but there remains, even to this day, oddities that no amount of jiggering with the division formats, unbalanced schedules, and expanded playoffs have been able to smooth out.
Baseball in Harlem: How about something more than a cameo appearance?
So another expansion, which could bring the number of teams up to a far more workable total of 32, might seem like a good idea. The sport–despite doomsaying from the short-sighted–is thriving, thanks to aggressive programs of stadium building, strong marketing efforts, some wise negotiating on both sides of the labor table, and intelligent utilization of digital media to maximize the fans’ experience.
That brings us to the obvious question: where would you put two more teams if you expand MLB today? There are a number of candidates out there for one of the two putative teams, but there’s one market that everyone seems to agree should get another team (even if everyone also says it’s impossible to place a team there for territorial reasons). Let’s, as they say, “start spreading the news.”
As we rapidly approach MLB’s trade deadline, the two leagues could not look more different, at least as far as the standings go.
In the National League, the West and East are all but wrapped up, even with the Nats and Dodgers seeing injuries hit the pitching staffs in the persons of Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw, respectively. Only the Central remains wide open; even the Wild Card is looking firm for the Rockies and Diamondbacks…for the moment.
Andrew McCutchen: Can he make the Pirates upwardly-mobile, or will he need some help?
And then, over in the American League, everything except the West is wide open. If your preferred team is not leading the Central or East right now, just wait a few days–they’ll probably reach the top before you know it, and then quickly sink back into the very crowded field of contenders.
Two teams, one in each league, are of particular interest. Both teams have been making a push this last week, ascending the ladders in their respective Central divisions rapidly and making it seem, at least for the moment, like they have a shot at real contention in both the regular season and the playoffs. One of them, the Kansas City Royals, looks like a decent bet to be playing in October. The Pittsburgh Pirates, on the other hand, probably still have a long way to go.
NOTE: Here is the sixth in a series of Features describing the author’s first visits to various MLB ballparks around the country; this will be the last to come from the author’s recent cross-country trip to Pennsylvania and back to the Bay Area. (Conditions permitting, there will be further posts on viewing games at the local parks in Oakland and San Francisco.) Having enjoyed a sweltering blowout in Cincinnati, your correspondent headed west through St. Louis and across Missouri to Kansas City for a Monday night game between the Boston Red Sox and the homestanding Royals on June 19th.
A big part of what inspired a desire to travel across the country and take in games at major league ballparks along the way was, naturally, the proliferation of new stadiums across the baseball landscape. By my count, more than half the ball clubs now play in parks that were built from the mid-1990s and onward. If you’re a baseball fan, you want to play with the shiny new toys, right?
Well, the people in Kansas City would seem to want to say, “Not so fast.” Because it turns out, they have a pretty good stadium there in the Truman Sports Complex, and despite its age, Kauffman Stadium still presents the fan with a terrific place to watch a major league ball game.
NOTE: This (long-delayed) post is the fifth in a series of Features describing the author’s first visits to various MLB ballparks around the country. After spending a week among my relatives in southeast Pennsylvania, including a visit to the Phillies’ home, Citizens Bank Park, I was back on the road and headed for my next major league destination, Cincinnati, for a June 17th game between the Reds and the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers.
A first visit to any ballpark is, to a certain extent, dependent upon the luck of the draw. My initial experience at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park illustrates that point perfectly.
For instance, the fact that it was sunny and boiling hot in the Queen City that Saturday afternoon was not in any particular way part of the plan. Had the weather been relatively cool, or overcast, or even a touch rainy, an afternoon spent in Great American Ball Park’s upper deck might have been a pleasant experience. Instead, as fate would have it, that day was a grueling experience in baseball survival, with plenty of liquids consumed while hoping and praying that the few wispy clouds in the sky would block out the intense heat of the sun, if even for a few moments.
So any first visit to a stadium is at the mercy of things beyond the home organization’s control. That’s why it’s imperative that a club get the things it can control completely right, to ensure that those first-time visitors will want to come back. In the Reds’ case, the team got a lot of things right with Great American Ball Park–but there were a few swings and misses, too.