Perhaps the most spirited defensive display of this early baseball season came Friday night outside the Oakland Coliseum, where the A’s were about to play their first home game since team president Dave Kaval and owner John Fisher informed Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao of their Las Vegas land deal on April 19.
At the end of the pedestrian bridge connecting the BART station to the stadium, about 30 boycotters stood side by side and greeted other baseball fans with signs reading ”Fisher is scum,” “Liar,” and “Sell the team!” and defended the image of A’s fans within the Major League Baseball landscape.
“The message that keeps going out is what the A’s front office and MLB keeps selling: That fans here don’t care. We do care. We don’t want to lose the Athletics,” said one of the boycotters, Lyn Ignatowski. “The reason there are no fans (at games) is not because we’re not passionate fans. It’s because the team has been reduced to a pittance of what it used to be.”
Another protester, Scott Van Horn, listed all the prospective A’s stadium sites over the years: “Fremont, San Jose, Laney, Howard Terminal, Vegas—and don’t forget about the Coliseum.” Van Horn recalled “running around the Coliseum” as a kid. “The freedom that I had. With the ice plant in center field and the Oakland hills. This is a home.”
“I knew this was an uphill battle,” Ignatowski added. “This is still not over.”
Above: Mike Davis-Adams makes a sign during a protest outside the Oakland Coliseum on April 28, 2023, calling on the team’s owner John Fisher to sell the team. Credit: Amaya Edwards
In contrast to Friday’s boycott of tickets and stadium parking, other A’s fans upset with the team’s announced land deal in Las Vegas are encouraging fans to purchase tickets for a June 13 “reverse boycott” to demonstrate that, with committed owners, Oakland can once again draw fans.
Oakland A’s fans have shown up in large numbers before. They did so for the World Series-winning 1989 team under owner Walter Haas, ranking third in MLB attendance that season with more than 30,000 fans per game, and attendance jumped to 35,000 the following year. At that time, beds of California poppies beyond the wooden outfield bleachers and an East Oakland hills backdrop gave the Coliseum charm. Mount Davis, the 20,000-seat upper-deck section added to the stadium by then-Raiders owner Al Davis in 1995, killed those vibes. The A’s averaged 25,000 fans toward the end of its “Moneyball” era in the 2000s. Under Fisher’s ownership in 2014, after another successful roster rebuild, Oakland neared 25,000 fans again and made its third consecutive postseason.
But attendance dropped below 10,000 fans the last two seasons, as the team purged talent coming out of the pandemic-shortened and fanless 2020 season. The numbers are similar this year, as Oakland touts one of the worst pitching staffs in MLB history and has a run differential (-117) nearly twice as bad as the next worst team (Kansas City).
Matt Chapman, one of several A’s All-Stars traded away in 2021 and who is now swinging a red-hot bat with the Blue Jays, voiced his support for A’s fans last week. “They loved us,” he told the Canadian press. “And I understand why they didn’t draw, because of the way the front office does their stuff. The ownership in Oakland turns a lot of fans off. So, I think that it was kind of unfortunate we didn’t get the support we wanted, but the fans that were there were great.
“It’s just a good feeling knowing that you are supported by the organization and they have the same goals as you,” the third baseman said of playing for the Blue Jays. “And I feel like, in Oakland, the owners did not have the same goals as the players.”
Above: A man holds a handmade sign during a protest outside the Coliseum before an Oakland A’s game on April 28, 2023. Credit: Amaya Edwards
When A’s first baseman Ryan Noda belted a homer into the right-field bleachers Friday, MLB’s official website haphazardly cropped out A’s fans with green-and-gold “SELL” T-shirts and signs directed at Fisher and Kaval. “We were unaware of the edit,” an MLB spokesperson told The Athletic. “When it came to our attention, we corrected it as it isn’t consistent with our policy.”
The MLB.com faux pas feeds a narrative framed before Friday’s game by protesters such as Rebecca Goulet, an A’s fan who attended with friend Jillian Kraut, a Giants fan who joined in “heartbroken” support.
“There is a farce happening in Major League Baseball,” Goulet said. “A story being told that Oakland fans don’t care about this team. That’s why we don’t show up. There are a lot of people in Vegas willing to take this team with open arms because no one shows up to their games in Oakland.
“If Fisher makes some money off it, so be it. But we’re going to let the baseball world know that this is not our fault,” she added. “It’s not that we don’t care about our team. It’s because John Fisher has repeatedly shoved our team into the ground, turned it over, and shoved it into the ground, and turned it over. And we have gotten no fruits from his labor.”
Above left: Oakland A’s fans Scott Van Horn and Lyn Ignatowski pose for a portrait during the protest calling for the sale of the A’s outside the Coliseum on April 28, 2023. Right: A’s fan Chris Prokop holds a handmade sign at the rally. Credit: Amaya Edwards
Would Fisher, who is worth $2.2 billion yet fields MLB’s lowest payroll at $59.5 million, spend more in a new city? Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Sam Gordon said Sin City would be better served to wait for an expansion team than to deal with Fisher.
“I think that MLB fans should stand in solidarity with Oakland fans,” said Ruben Ortiz, 27. “At any moment this can happen to them, aside from the Yankees, Red Sox, et cetera. But this can happen. This isn’t the first time a team has moved; this is just the most recent one.”
Ortiz, whose favorite player as a kid was 13-year A’s third baseman, Eric Chavez, came to “show support for fans who have been through all the changes, all the raised ticket prices. It’s hard to get attached to a player when you know in three years they are going to get traded.”
A’s fan James Ross said, “You can’t just let the team walk out without trying to fight it. Hopefully, Vegas is not an easy path, then they’ll come back to Oakland.”
At 12 years old, Chris Prokop of Newark fell in love with a 2000 A’s team that won the American League West for the first time since the Bash Brothers days of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. “It felt that it was organic baseball to its core,” he recalled. “And it felt like a grassroots movement at the time.”
Kaval came from the San Jose Earthquakes soccer club in 2017 and brought hope of a new ballpark, championed the “Rooted In Oakland” campaign, and talked trash with Giants fans. Young fans embraced a Treehouse ticket plan and another rebuild gave Oakland cornerstone pieces—first baseman Matt Olson and Chapman at third—to potentially sign in coordination with a stadium.
“It seems a little nefarious now,” said Sam Miller, of El Cerrito.
After a potential stadium site near Laney College fell through, the focus turned to Howard Terminal. In 2021, the A’s announced a “parallel path” of negotiations and development with Las Vegas and Oakland. Shortly afterward, Kaval tweeted from a Las Vegas Knights playoff hockey game, drawing the ire of A’s fans.
Mayor Thao, who expressed disappointment at a press conference on April 20 one day after hearing news of the team’s Las Vegas land deal directly from Kaval, said her negotiating team had been regularly meeting with the A’s up until then.
Shortly after the A’s announced their agreement to purchase land in Las Vegas, Kaval told The Athletic that the team’s energies were shifting after years of trying to negotiate a new stadium in Oakland: “This has been such a long process, and there’s been so many twists and turns… We were on this parallel path for a while where we had kind of two markets, and we were kind of juggling—that period is over. We’re focused on Las Vegas.”
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed support for the A’s ownership and optimism about the potential move to Las Vegas during a meeting with sports journalists last week, reported The New York Times. “You got owners that want to win, and I think Las Vegas will present a real revenue-enhancing opportunity. So I think you’re going to have a good product.”
But for A’s fan Goulet, seeing the team leave Oakland for what she believes is a “simple reason of greed” is tough to swallow.
“There is an option to keep the A’s here, where the heart of the A’s is. Unfortunately, money is more important to one individual,” she said. “Right now I’m just trying to do everything I can as one fan and voice how I feel, in hopes that someone in John Fisher’s camp will hear. You can hear everyone out here tonight.
“It shows that they care.”