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Nevius: A’s ready for a ballpark, but Oakland isn’t

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I am concerned about baseball in Oakland. I am not sure the city can keep its team.

Oh come on, you say, just because the A’s lost (another) do-or-die playoff game? And what do you mean, no support? Did you see that crowd? Over 54,000. A wild-card playoff record.

All true. There’s a lot to like, beginning with the team.

The A’s are young, fresh and personable. If you wanted to pick an up-and-coming group on whose bandwagon to jump, this would be the call.

And they win. This year they went 97-65. That would have won the National League Central and tied for first in the NL East. And this is the second straight year they’ve won 97 games.

As for seeing the crowd. Yes, I was there. It was loud, proud and they were still chanting, “Let’s go . . . Oak-land!” in the bottom of the ninth. In a gut-punch of a game, one that seemed over after the fifth pitch, that was impressive.

I just have one question.

Where have you been?

In his postgame interview, manager Bob Melvin made a conscious effort to praise the turnout. He added that they draw large crowds at other times.

“We see it in fireworks nights and big series,” he said. “They come out for us.”

OK, so they like fireworks. And seeing the Yankees. Opening Day.

How about baseball? Do they like baseball? Because on a typical Wednesday afternoon game, the ballpark looks empty and Candlestick-ian. There are plenty of seats available and feel free to choose one closer to the action.

Before the wild-card game I was talking to a savvy baseball insider who said something that gave me a little chill.

“I question the market,” he said.

Meaning that all those years of low attendance may be telling us something. This isn’t baseball territory. Worse yet, he had facts to back it up.

This year the A’s introduced an innovative ticket plan called A’s Access. You could buy an entire season at rock bottom prices. In a recent New York Times story, the reporter said he paid $384 for the season, which also includes $10 parking and half off concessions. For an 81-game home season, that’s roughly $5 a game.

“They are,” my baseball savant said, “essentially giving tickets away.”

The result? Attendance was up some 88,000 for the season, Fine, but it works out to an average increase of about 1,100 fans a game. Which in the cavernous 46,867-seat Coliseum, doesn’t really move the needle.

Granted, the plan helped the A’s draw nearly 1.7 million. But that’s still 24th in baseball. The Giants attracted a million more fans and they are fretting about declining attendance.

Now loyal A’s fans are already writing angry emails. They support their team passionately, they’ll say.

OK then, you know what you should do? Go to Oakland City Council meetings. Turn out in numbers and make it clear to the council that their constituents support the new ballpark.

Because you know the ideologically pure and reality-challenged Oakland City Council. On the eve of the playoff game, they filed a lawsuit to block the sale of half of the Coliseum property to the A’s. It was the height of cluelessness.

Before the game, A’s President Dave Kaval was pacing the third-base line, exasperated. At the time no one, including Kaval, knew what was going to happen with the legal challenge.

They were “blindsided” by the suit, he fulminated. And to do it now, “just as we are in into the playoffs? Unbelievable.”

He’s not wrong. The city council seems to think the A’s are some sketchy group trying to pull a fast one during construction of a sports structure.

No, that was the Raiders. And that little trip to the cleaners cost the city millions.

This is different. A chance to build a legacy project in downtown Oakland. If anything can revitalize the fan base, it is a new stadium.

And by the way, take a stroll through Jack London Square. There’s an example of urban renewal that went nowhere. You know what it needs? An anchor tenant that would attract thousands of people. Like a ballpark.

The lawsuit traces a complicated path that eventually leads to the lack of affordable housing.

But make no mistake. The effect is to once again stop the Howard Street ballpark project. The A’s developing part of the Coliseum site is the financial linchpin for the new downtown facility. Without that land, the deal is dead.

Major League Baseball moves in slow and ponderous ways, but it seems to have finally roused itself to life. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told Chronicle reporter Susan Slusser that he’d met with City Council President Rebecca Kaplan and told her “It’s time for the city of Oakland to show concrete progress” on a stadium.

Will that be enough to get things going? Who knows? So far the council has set records for inaction and posturing. They need to hear from loud, loyal A’s fans.

Otherwise, we refer you to another stat from the New York Times story. In a 30-year period, 24 of the 30 MLB teams have moved to new ballparks.

Eventually, one way or another, the A’s will be one of them.

Will it be in Oakland? I am having doubts.

Contact C.W. Nevius at cw.nevius@pressdemocrat.com. Twitter: @cwnevius

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