Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

A's Poised to Make Playoffs, but Dream of New Stadium Is Still Elusive ; Oakland Owner Set to Go with a Privately Financed Ballpark in San Jose

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

A's Poised to Make Playoffs, but Dream of New Stadium Is Still Elusive ; Oakland Owner Set to Go with a Privately Financed Ballpark in San Jose

Article excerpt

The good news is that the Athletics are poised to make the playoffs this year, but the bad news is their ballpark plans are snarled in a territorial dispute with the San Francisco Giants.

The first baseball stadium that caught Lew Wolff's fancy was Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, Missouri, where he lived as a boy. He had a Knothole Gang pass and took the streetcar almost every day, watching the Cardinals of the National League and the Browns of the American League. On school days, he would take his homework.

The ballpark that consumes him now exists only in fantasy. It is a technological marvel in downtown San Jose, California, privately financed, with 36,000 seats and the revenue potential to lift the Oakland Athletics, the team he owns, above baseball's poverty line.

"All of our concession signs will be digital, so when you're supposed to stop serving beer, you just press a button and it disappears," Wolff said Friday over lunch at a Midtown New York hotel. "And then if you have extra hot dogs, you can reduce the price."

"I mean, I'm being silly about it, but we've had plenty of years to think about this. It isn't like all of a sudden we get approved and now we've got to start thinking about how our ballpark's going to look. We're really ready."

The Athletics are in position for their first playoff berth since 2006, the second year of Wolff's ownership. They are contending well ahead of schedule, having used 18 rookies, but their ballpark plans are snarled in a territorial dispute with the San Francisco Giants.

The commissioner of Major League Baseball, Bud Selig, who was Wolff's fraternity brother in Pi Lambda Phi at the University of Wisconsin, appointed a committee to analyze the stadium issue in March 2009. He promised then that the A's "cannot and will not continue indefinitely" at the Coliseum, their home since 1968.

Yet there has been no resolution, and baseball faces the potential embarrassment of hosting its first A.L. wild-card game in a multipurpose bowl with visible football lines and giant tarps across the unsold upper deck that might not be removed even for the playoffs.

"If the demand for seats is that great, yes, I think we would," Wolff said. "But there's no sense doing it for another hundred people."

The A's average 20,429 fans a game, ranking 12th among 14 A.L. teams. They are, again, the West Coast version of the Tampa Bay Rays, a pesky contender surviving on smart, cost-efficient decisions. The A's and the Rays are the only teams in the majors openly yearning for new homes.

The A's have the site and, Wolff said, the money for a $400 million to $500 million ballpark project. But they await Selig's verdict, which they hope will not be followed by legal entanglements that would further delay construction. Pat Courtney, a spokesman for the commissioner's office, said only that the study was continuing. …

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