The Oakland Coliseum: An Outdoor “Kingdome”

I just returned from my road trip to watch the Mariners over their final few games of the 2017 season, and I figure it’s the Section331.com tradition to post some pictures and talk a bit about the ballpark experience. Angel Stadium in Anaheim is new to me, and I’ll get into that one in a separate post, but let’s talk about Oakland.

Everybody loves to hate on the Oakland Coliseum, and the reasons for that are legitimate. Between the low attendance figures to the stories of sewage backing up and flooding team clubhouses, to the scene in Moneyball where Jermaine Dye is forced to stoop to the level of actually putting coins in the vending machine to make it work, to the simple fact that they share it with the NFL’s Raiders, it’s pretty clear we’re not talking about a fancy facility.

I’ve gone to Athletics/Mariners games there several times since Opening Day 2010 when I was excited to see Felix and Cliff Lee pitch (Lee would be suspended and injured for the opening series and wouldn’t put up stats until April 30), and since then I’ve considered the Oakland Coliseum to be an outdoor version of the old Kingdome. Both structures were built out of concrete, with fairly narrow and dark concourses, which just sets the tone for your experience. The Coliseum is almost impressive in its brutalism; when you walk across a skybridge from the nearby BART station, you arrive at two enormous concrete pillars out behind center field that just set the stage as if to tell you that you’re just not going to be comfortable.

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The center field monstrosity that is referred to as Mt. Davis was built in 1995 to attract the Raiders back to town after their tenancy in Los Angeles through the late 1980s, and it really is imposing. I’d say it’s the huge structure out in center field that makes the Coliseum actually feel like a coliseum and not just a “stadium,” “park,” or “field.” That it’s the only “coliseum” in baseball feels appropriate.

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Of course, the Raiders are now set to move to Las Vegas in the next few years, so it’s nice to see that investment paying off for the people of Oakland. Below, you’ll see a glimpse of the wider concourses that sit beneath Mt. Davis. Unfortunately, this area of the concourse is blocked off from viewing the playing field, unlike the area between the foul poles.

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For a comparison, here’s a view of the field from the concourse on the main level:

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The Coliseum has parking areas to the first and third base sides of the ballpark, where fans come out and tailgate before games. I visited some friends taking part in that several years ago, but there weren’t all that many people out there prior to games this late-September series. I wound up walking around the park instead and found their Championship Plaza area where they had food trucks set up for a game. This ticketed area outside the home plate entrance honors the Philadelphia Athletics and their championships alongside the Oakland squad’s successes in the 1970s and 1989. It struck me as odd that they would care to honor a team from another city, but as I counted up the flags I realized that the Athletics franchise actually has the third-most World Series championships behind the Yankees and Cardinals, with nine. Even their four titles in Oakland are more than any other American League franchise, save the aforementioned Yankees and their blood rivals in Boston (the four titles would make a third-place tie with Detroit).

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Recently, the Coliseum’s video boards have been updated to bring them up to modern standards. I found it interesting that their main scoreboards out in the left and right field corners that provided more stats on batters than I’m used to, even showing WAR and BABIP. The new scoreboards are used more than they used to with different inning-break entertainment. They added a video presentation “race” of their pitching Big Three of the early 2000s with Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, and Barry Zito in a sprint through the history of the Athletics franchise, with guest appearances by a black-and-white Jimmie Foxx in Philadelphia, Reggie Jackson in Kansas City, and then Ricky Henderson, Jose Canseco, and Mark McGwire in Oakland. The presentation is voiced by MLB Network’s Matt Vasgersian, which gives it a little bit more professionalism than you might expect from an inning break in Oakland. Here’s a photo of the scoreboard back in 2012, followed by an updated view:

Despite the updates, Oakland still isn’t a very popular place to go see a game, but I have to tell you that their fans are legitimately passionate. When James Paxton pitched on Tuesday, I was able to get a Maple Grove going near the M’s dugout, but met resistance from nearby A’s fans. Of course you’re familiar with the drummers and flag-wavers out beyond right field as well; I met some of them on Wednesday via Tom Bentley. Any time the A’s scored, they’d get up and sing a brief song about their love of Oakland. The energy brought by the fans is real, but the expansiveness of the park works against them. That said, you have to admire their willingness to go to a place commonly considered to be a dump and cheer on their team, even if it is just a dozen of them.

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