Monday evening’s affair between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland Athletics drew only around 5,000 spectators to the Oakland Coliseum—dreadful attendance, but fairly common these days for A’s, who place dead last in home attendance across Major League Baseball this year.
By comparison, the second game of the series on Tuesday night drew 27,759 people. Fans arrived hours before the game was supposed to start, wrapping a line around the entire stadium.
The game itself had little to do with the size of the crowd. Nor was it the A’s six-game winning streak, which has dragged them up from the dregs of “one of the worst teams of all time” to a regular level of awful, as most of the tickets for this game were sold weeks ago. It wasn’t any particular player, nor any special giveaway (at least, not one put on by the A’s), nor was it even the expectation of seeing a good baseball game.
The crowd was drawn for one reason and one reason only: open revolt. They showed up in force to try and pressure the A’s ownership to sell the team to someone who’d keep it in Oakland.
The Athletics, and specifically the owner of the team, John Fisher, have been upfront about their strong desire to leave Oakland behind for the greener pastures of Las Vegas.
Fisher has shown no intention of selling the team as he reportedly has ignored a standing offer from at least one local billionaire: Warriors owner Joe Lacob, who’s suggested he would keep the team in Oakland and who, based on his handling of the Warriors arena project in San Francisco, would likely be more amenable than Fisher to privately funding a new stadium.
Fisher shifted sights from a proposed 55-acre Howard Terminal development at the Oakland Port to Las Vegas, where the current deal on the table offers less land (nine acres, which will not even be owned by him and/or The A’s), a smaller market, less infrastructure, no guarantee of public financing, a longer timescale for completion of a stadium, far more competition for eyeballs and dollars, and a bigger gap between his demands and reality than ever before. Las Vegas residents don’t even particularly want the A’s, according to one web poll conducted by the Nevada legislature.
Given all that, it’s no surprise that Oakland A’s fans want to vent their frustration. And they did just that at last night’s “reverse boycott”—the idea being that picking one random game to show up, be loud, and be heard would be the best way to show that Oakland deserves to keep its team.
Will it convince a change in the heart of Fisher? Almost certainly not. But it’s still hard to argue that the event could’ve gone much better.
Tuesday’s game is going to be the biggest crowd that Oakland will see all year, barring a miraculous turnaround that pushes this team toward the playoffs. There was a successful crowdfunded giveaway, roughly 7,000 shirts, printed out with “SELL,” almost all of which made it into the stadium with security staff—who’ll lose their jobs if Oakland loses the A’s—opting to turn a blind eye.
The crowd was incredibly engaged, not necessarily with the game itself, but with spreading their message. Organized chants, not a particularly common sound in American baseball, rang out throughout the game. “Sell the team!” and “F*** John Fisher!” chants broke out frequently, and the Coliseum’s attempt to drown them out by turning up the music only further energized the crowd. Every minor A’s accomplishment on the field was accompanied by thunderous celebration featuring drums and trumpets. Every hit and walk was treated like the go-ahead run late in the game. And never has a game’s video operator worked so hard to avoid showing footage of the crowd.
At the top of the fifth, the fans stood up in a planned moment of silence, lasting the entire at-bat, to draw attention to the 55 years that the A’s have been in town. When the at-bat resolved in a double by Tampa Bay’s center fielder Jose Siri, an organic roar of the frustration that has been building within the Oakland fanbase for years exploded onto the field, with “Sell the team” chants so loud that the A’s pitcher couldn’t hear the device in his ear communicating the pitch selection.
Steady chants of "Sell the team!" fill the Oakland Coliseum. Fans' signs direct blame at both the A's owners and Major League Baseball: "Why does MLB hate its fans?" and "Make Fisher pay relocation $"— The Oaklandside (@Oaklandside) June 14, 2023
It’s a moment that will surely be remembered long into the future of Bay Area sports.
In the last five years, Oakland lost its basketball team to the city across the bay, lost its football team (for a second time) to the same city that’s looking to get the A’s, and is on track to lose its baseball team. If the A’s go, it seems unlikely that a professional team from the big four leagues will ever call this city home again. A’s fans know all of this. And yet, on Tuesday night, they showed that they crave a sports team worth rooting for. Oakland showed that it cares. Oakland showed that it deserves a sports team.
The game ended 2-1, an Oakland win, keeping the win streak going with what should have been a perfect cap to a perfect night. However, at the conclusion of the game, trash began to rain down onto the field from fans in the outfield. It was entirely in line with what Tuesday night was all about to thousands of the fans who showed up for this game: a protest.
On the same night as the reverse boycott, the Las Vegas senate committee inserted enough pork in Fisher’s stadium bill to get it approved by the state senate, potentially the last major hurdle. Meanwhile, the Oakland A’s are a zombie franchise, shambling around until they’re allowed to move to the desert. At the end of the day, the A’s are almost certainly leaving. Let the fans throw trash on the field. The team that played here is already gone.