A’s new leadership excited to give Oakland a ‘there’

Embrace the surrounding Oakland community, honor the franchise’s rich history and include a touch of singularity.

The Athletics’ recently named president, Dave Kaval, has grandiose plans for his new team’s future home.

Sure, the development is at the embryonic stage, but that has in no way stymied the high hopes of the man largely responsible for the San Jose Earthquakes’ award-winning Avaya Stadium.

A self-described stadium guru, Kaval, in 1998, spent the summer traveling around the country taking in all the stadiums that baseball had to offer, culminating in a 2000 book he co-authored, titled “The Summer that Saved Baseball.” That, along with his experience as the Earthquakes’ president, make him the correct man to spearhead this undertaking.

In his first press conference as the A’s president on Thursday, Kaval called moving in the direction of a new Oakland stadium the franchise’s “north star,” adding:

“I’m going to be leading the stadium search. I’m going to be the guy doing that,that’s what I did with the Earthquakes, and that’s what I’m doing with this project. It’s one of the reasons I’m most excited about the role.

While the organization is not yet far enough along in the selection process to discuss possible locations, he did say that all locations currently on the radar are in Oakland. Each of which hosts its own positives and negatives that must be measured.

Where ever the future development breaks ground, Kaval has several ideas for maximizing the stadium’s value — to the organization, its fan base and the surrounding community.

He said:

“We want the stadium to be something that people can really feel special about, and this community can feel special about. And, hopefully, it can bring the dawn of a new era of ballpark construction.”

A key to that, he said, is allowing the stadium to play a role in the development of a prosperous neighboring infrastructure. Kaval addressed some needs within the community, among those: public transit, bars, restaurants and housing. The latter of which, he added, is something of which Oakland is in great need.

To that end, he said the possibility of a “ballpark village” concept, including housing and food and beverage businesses would be a “huge success.” And that is something with which Kaval certainly has experience. The opening of Avaya Stadium, located near the San Jose International Airport, ushered in now thriving businesses in its immediate surroundings, from the “Smoking Pig BBQ Company” to the “City Sports Club,” both of which call Avaya its neighbor.

The stadium village concept is something that was featured in design plans for a Fremont development, publicized in 2010.

The uniqueness that drew interest from many A’s fans (though, many were not excited about the Fremont location) is something the owner holds in high esteem in any plans moving forward.

Of those plans, Kaval said:

“Build a unique building. Build something that’s special. Don’t just build a copycat of what’s been done in the past. In baseball, and I know this personally because I’ve been to all the stadiums, there’s been all these kind of cookie-cutter new Camden Yards stadiums. … There are things that could be done better. The things we’re looking to do are having a more intimate stadium — where fans can be closer to the action — and also having unique areas.”

Intimacy was a common theme of his overall sentiments.

Part of the unique design to Avaya, he said, is the field-level seating, which many thought would get minimal support. Instead, those seats are treated as court-side seats at NBA games, drawing incredible interest. That is a design characteristic he wishes to bring to the A’s.

Since 1966, when the Oakland Coliseum opened its doors to major league baseball, green and gold-clad fans have been among the furthest from the game action, with baseball’s largest in-play foul territory. This is something that, should Kaval have his wishes granted, will cease, replaced with seats that put fans nose-to-nose with play.

He will, however, leave room for some level of quirkiness.

Pointing to the asymmetrical layout of San Francisco’s AT&T Park and historic ambiance of Boston’s Fenway Park, Kaval said attributes can be taken from both the new and old-school of baseball architecture.

While layout is something that will have to work with the selected location, something Kaval is adamant about is honoring the storied history of the 10-time championship winning franchise:

“The A’s have almost a 50-year history in Oakland. We need to celebrate that. We need to build that into the stadium. … You can watch 20 different types of entertainment, you can watch 20 different types a sports, why be an Oakland A’s fan? One of the reasons can be our rich history.”

Early ideas for honoring that history include statues — a route many organizations have taken. For obvious reasons, the first name to escape the mouth of the long-time Bay Area resident was Rickey Henderson — an Oakland native and baseball’s stolen base king.

A ballpark that allows fans to immerse themselves in the franchise’s lore, while brings the directly into their faces and providing excitement in the immediate vicinity is something that Kaval feels will force intrigue from both new and old Oakland fans. And that, as he said, is the first checkpoint en route to added resources to be put toward the product on the field:

“The key to that piece of the business is really the revenue that a new stadium will bring. Hopefully, people will find this announcement as a step in that direction, because the only way long-term that we’re going to be successful, and win championships, is by having a much stronger revenue base, a more comparable base with some of the other clubs — we’re at a disadvantage, and we have to remedy that problem.”

For now, though, Kaval and the A’s commitment is to Oakland, the fans and the community. And that calls for improving the experience at the Coliseum — until new park plans move forward.

“I know it’s old. I know there’s all these challenges. I know it’s maybe lipstick on a pig. But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. And I think we can do a better to make sure that (the Coliseum) is a place people wan to go.”


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.