Saturday, April 23, 2011

How Al Davis killed the Oakland Coliseum's Character




Baseball has been an important part of my life since I was a kid. My mom married my step dad when I was 4, and soon afterward I began making trips to Oakland to watch the A's play. You see, his parents took him and his two brothers to Oakland to watch the A's play when he was young, and that is what sports are really all about, ya know? I have never once referred to him as my step dad, and I see no reason why a blog post should be the start of that. He's simply dad, and I'm simply a dude who has two dads. From day one he treated my sister and I like we were his own children, and part of that means instilling values. I was taught from a young age that the Oakland Coliseum was a sacred place. Baseball history happened there, and when I was there I was to appreciate the fact that I was watching a game take place in a venue with historical significance. Fair enough. Any time we were driving down 880 and I could see the lights off in the distance, man, my heart would start beating louder and louder. This may be partly due to the fact that my parents fed me inordinate amounts of artery clogging foods as a child, but that is another blog post for another day. As we would make our way through the strange sights, sounds and smells of peoples tailgate parties I would walk faster and faster until we got to the gate. I knew that going to a baseball game was important to my dad, so that made it important to me. When the games weren't televised we'd go sit on the back patio and listen to Chris Codirolli give up tape measure home runs on a crappy radio with a coat hanger antenna. When there were no games on he'd tell me about taking the bus with his mom and brothers and cheering on some absolutely horrible teams. He told me about the 70's teams and how they became competitive almost overnight. As I got older and found myself in Dutch with my dad more often than not, no matter how pissed either of us were at the other, once the clock hit 7:05 PM we'd find ourselves on the couch, watching the A's. That is what baseball means to me. That is what the Oakland Coliseum means to my dad and I. And that is what made Opening Night this season all the more heartbreaking for my dad.

My dad has always been a hardworking, salt of the Earth kind of guy. He used to build swimming pools and became well known as one of the premiere pool plumbers in Nor Cal, so he was constantly in demand. The bummer of that was that pool building season is also baseball season. As the years went by and he went from being a father of 2 to being a father of 5, the trips to Oakland became less and less frequent. And then, they eventually stopped all together. I understood this, and was by no means upset. He was working 10-14 hour days so he could lay by and store for winter, which meant 3-4 months of no work. I got that. We still had the radio and TV, so we could still bond over baseball. Eventually he'd go on to own his own pool construction company which would eat away even more of his free time. Now I'm a 33 year old with a family of my own and dad is an old guy who still does his best to make ends meet. My family is doing fine financially, so I decided to take dad to Opening Night this year as a way of trying to get him excited about the best young pitching staff in baseball. We had some nice conversation on the way there, and we both realized that the last time he went to a game was when he took me out of school early so we could go see Todd Van Poppel's major league debut. Neither of us could believe it had been that long. We had a big laugh at how I had convinced him to buy up all the T-VanPee rookie cards he could find back when he owned a baseball card shop. That, along with my BUY endorsement of Harold Miner and Todd Day are part of the reason he no longer runs a brick and mortar card shop (although he still makes a killing on eBay). I thought that this would be great, it would be just like old times. I was in no way, shape or form prepared for what he would tell me on the way home. You see, while the Coliseum is still mostly the same now as it was back when dad was a kid, there is one HUGE difference: Mount Davis. The concrete and glass eyesore that the owner of my equally beloved Raiders insisted the city build him so he could move the team back here in '95. See for yourself.

Pre-Mount Davis. Notice the awesome view of the Oakland Hills? See how many people are in the seats? And then we have the AFTER photo


Yeah, it's really not the same place. I've been going there so often that I've grown numb to Mount Davis. My dad, on the other hand, hadn't experienced it first hand. I got us seats on the first baseline and after making our way through the crowded concourse we found our seats and sat down right as Dave Stewart threw out the first pitch (forkball in the dirt, in case you were wondering). We sat down and dad had this horrified look on his face. It was the sort of look you'd imagine a caveman would have if he were thawed out and had to watch an episode of Glee. "What in the FUCK is that?" he said, pointing to Al Davis' personal monument to his small, shriveled penis. "That's Mount Davis, Pop. You've seen it before, right?" Except he hadn't seen it before. He hadn't been there since '91. "Where are the Hills? Where's the breeze? What in the HELL IS THAT?" Dad pulled himself together and we managed to enjoy the game, even though the A's played horribly. We cut out after the 7th and headed home. "I gotta be honest with you, Mike. I don't feel any bond with that place any more. All my childhood memories there, all my memories of your childhood there, it's almost like all that stuff happened at a place that no longer exists." I wanted to argue, but he was right.

Mount Davis isn't the cause for the lack of fan support in Oakland. The economy is bad now, but it's pretty much always been bad in Oakland. All you see leading up to the Coliseum are old, run down factories and warehouses. Relics of commerce that picked up its roots and moved elsewhere. The neighborhood isn't the safest place in the world. There's been some horrible teams over the last 20 years or so. Mount Davis alone isn't the sole reason people don't go there anymore, but it was the one thing that pushed the franchise off the edge of the cliff. It was the straw that broke the camel's back. It was the same as Mr. Burns trying to block out the sun from Springfield. There are still some diehards who go to as many games as possibly. I myself plan on taking my 5 year old daughter to a couple games this year. Hell, I might even take the whole family to the 4th of July game and fireworks show this year. But those of us who are willing to make the drive, willing to sit in traffic, willing to pay $15 to park, willing to risk getting shanked in the parking lot, we're a dying breed. I never thought I'd say this, but when the A's leave Oakland (notice I didn't say 'if') I won't hold it against them. The Baseball Experience at the Oakland Coliseum has died, and Al Davis is the man holding the murder weapon.

5 comments:

  1. This post is both awesome and monstrously sad which makes it the perfect expression of Baseball Feelings imo. Also, Harpo, both you and your dad own. Fuck Al Davis.

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  2. ^^^ I co-sign the above. thank you for this harpo.

    also I have never seen before/after shots like that, and, I mean, I knew it was bad, but holy shit that's bad

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  3. Wow!.. Been looking for a great BEFORE shot of the Coli and I stumbled onto your story. Really a heartbreaker but on the money.

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  4. Any idea when the before shot was taken? 92? My friends and I are trying to figure it out.

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