OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Ryan Thibodaux arrived in the Bay Area in 1995 from Texas and instantly became a fan of the Oakland Athletics.
The one-time Astros fan cheered slugger Mark McGwire, who hit 52 home runs the following year. He saw the glory days of Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley; of Eric Chavez, Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada; of $2 BART rides and bargain bleacher seats in the third deck. The A’s “converted me over pretty quickly,” he said.
All these years later, Thibodaux and many Oakland fans already were heartbroken about the state of their struggling team — small crowds, bad baseball and dismal winters watching top players being traded away or lost in free agency.
Now, the greatest disappointment yet: Yes, the A’s are leaving for Las Vegas.
“This has seemed to be inevitable for a year or so, at least,” Thibodaux said Thursday. “I’m still more saddened than I thought I would be.”
The news came Wednesday night from team president Dave Kaval, who said Oakland signed a binding agreement to buy land on a 49-acre site near the Las Vegas Strip to build the intimate ballpark they’ve always coveted but couldn’t pull off in the Bay Area.
“This really is one of the saddest days,” said lifelong fan Jason Bressler, 40, who grew up in suburban Alamo and now lives in Los Angeles. “Some of my best childhood memories were in Section 216 of the Coliseum with my friends and family, and when they were on the road, Bill King was the soundtrack of my youth.
“Attending Game 4 of the 1989 World Series with my dad is an experience I’ll cherish forever.”
Even after moving out of the Bay Area and starting his own family, Bressler kept his allegiance, making it a “point to take in multiple games a year whether in Oakland or on the road.
“Now that they are leaving I can’t help but feel like a big piece of my childhood is going with them,” he said. “It pains me that I won’t be able to share those same experiences with my kids moving forward.”
Oakland’s last professional team lost its luster long ago for many supporters who were increasingly frustrated and furious about a rise in season ticket prices and $30 parking fees — not to mention the carousel of players.
The A’s drew an announced crowd of just 3,035 fans on Monday, April 3, for the first game of a series with the Cleveland Guardians. It rose to 3,407 the next night — but 11 of 13 Triple-A games that day attracted larger crowds and four of them more than doubled the A’s total.
A billboard along a busy East Bay freeway advertises tickets starting at $10.
And one Twitter account, with the handle @OaklandPast, tried to organize fans to make a statement. An April 11 post mused about about a sellout at the Coliseum to show their love for the A’s, and said team owner John Fisher is “bad for the game of baseball, Oakland and bad for a storied franchise like the A’s.”
“Bring signs, let the world know the problem is NOT THE FANS!” the post said.
The team declined to comment on its attendance situation.
Manager Mark Kotsay, his coaches and the players are trying to survive, too. They lost 102 games in 2022 and are 3-16 heading into a weekend series starting Friday at Texas.
After being swept by the Cubs this week at home, the team had already lost five games by 10 or more runs. The only seasons since moving to Oakland in 1968 when the A’s had more than five double-digit losses for an entire season were 1996 (8), 2008 (8), 1984 (7) and 1979 (6).
Former Mariners outfielder Jay Buhner used to say he could hear toilets flush in the third deck of the old Kingdome in Seattle. It’s like that now in the dilapidated Oakland Coliseum. Kotsay hears everything from the dugout, even things outside of the park.
“You can hear every sound here, every voice, every word, yeah, you can hear it. It’s not discouraging. It’s not discouraging because you get the opportunity to go play. From a player’s view you’ve got to have some thick skin and understand that it’s not necessarily directed at you,” he said.
Past A’s players say they’re sad about the state of the franchise, too, like the Mets’ Mark Canha, who always tried to focus on the positives of playing in Oakland.
“I always loved playing here, I didn’t need a big crowd to enjoy playing,” Canha said. “It was the guys in right field, there’s little things, the people that sit behind this dugout always made it good enough for me. It was those little groups of people that are always there that made it special.
“I always said what the Coliseum lacks in quantity of fans it has quality. It’s home, it’s home to me. I love this place. … I was coming here when I was a kid. It’s comfortable, it’s nostalgic, it’s all that stuff.”
In May 2021, MLB told the A’s to explore relocation options, saying the Oakland Coliseum was no longer a viable option. The A’s had previously proposed and withdrawn plans for ballparks in Fremont and San Jose, and Kaval had worked on a plan for a new state-of-the-art ballpark in the city’s Howard Terminal area.
Never an A’s season ticketholder, the 41-year-old Thibodaux still comes out to the Coliseum from time to time, and can appreciate the game itself if not the product. He still held out some hope for a new ballpark in the East Bay — but acknowledged it’s hard to be optimistic with so many empty seats and such a public courtship with Sin City.
The loyal fans, Thibodaux included, and the the men in the green-and-gold uniforms have known this day was coming.
“It hasn’t been the same for a long time,” he said.