DISPATCHES FROM THE BAY:
There sits a mixed-use stadium several hundred feet from the rush-hour traffic on I-880, six miles southeast of Oakland. Its name, the Oakland Coliseum, evokes memories of the Super Bowl-winning Raiders and the baseball dynasty that once won three consecutive titles in the early 1970s. Bands like Metallica, Bruce Springsteen and Pink Floyd have played before thousands of screaming fans in an era when stadium rock was a reality and not a dream.
Decades have passed and players have come and gone. The stadium, which shares the same parking lot with Oracle Arena, home of the defending NBA-champion Golden State Warriors, feels like itâ€™s living on borrowed time. The attention, it seems, has shifted to basketball, a source of continuing pride for the East Bay.
But you wouldnâ€™t know much has changed by looking at Aâ€™s fans on Opening Day.
I was welcomed by the sight of die-hard fans as I pulled into â€œLot D,â€ a spacious slab of asphalt home to cold beers, fresh barbecue and loud music. Tailgating is allowed in the parking lots, and the fans, in a sea of green and yellow, lived it up before watching the team kick off the season against the Chicago White Sox. It was the first game of the season, when the Aâ€™s had the same chance of winning the World Series as the Royals, Yankees or the other 27 MLB teams.
Once inside the bowels of the Coliseum, I soon realized why itâ€™s routinely criticized. Shaped like a smiley-faced piece of bacon, the Coliseumâ€™s semi-circle innards are jammed with fans. To find a seat in the field and loge levels requires navigating swarms of people stopping to grab a Philly Cheesesteak or beer.
Built to be a football stadium too, the Coliseum is laid out in such a way that you often have to walk up to your seats, unlike Dodger Stadium where you walk down the steps. Itâ€™s weird and a bit annoying, especially when you sit in the first row of the upper level and watch fans walk in front of you after every pitch.
Nevertheless, the game was frustrating to watch from the perspectives of Aâ€™s fans sitting next to me. Rich Hill got the start after Sonny Gray was scratched due to illness. Hillâ€™s night ended badly when he was yanked after giving up four runs in 2 2/3 innings. So much for a World Series appearance.
But the highlight of the loss, if one exists, was the bullpen. It threw 6 1/3 innings and gave up four hits. If the Aâ€™s defy the critics and notch a postseason berth, it will happen because of the teamâ€™s re-built bullpen.
The strangest moment of the night came when Hill hit Eaton, the first batter of the game. Not often do you see that happen in the first at-bat on Opening Day.
Where Is Everybody?Â
Tuesdayâ€™s game also exposed one of the Aâ€™s early weaknesses: its starting rotation. Chris Bassitt allowed four earned runs, three of which came off Todd Frazierâ€™s first home-run since joining the White Sox from Cincinnati.
The Aâ€™s lost 5-4, but most of my attention was directed to the emptiness that surrounded me. The Aâ€™s had an attendance of 10,478, which counts how many tickets were sold, not how many fans showed up at the ballpark. I sat ten rows off first-base, and I was shocked to see scores of empty seats. The ballpark, per ESPN, was less than 30 percent full.
But the emptiness breeds intimacy. In such a quiet environment, itâ€™s easy to hear fans chant in Section 149, the outfield bleachers in right field populated by die-hard Aâ€™s fans. I yelled for a couple players, too, and Iâ€™m sure most people could hear me.
Nevertheless, the Aâ€™s turned it around and swept Seattle. This should make for a tough division come September.
Damn, Dodgers. Back at it again!
The Dodgers finished the week with a 4-3 record, enough to earn a second place spot in the National League West.
The sweep of San Diego was both impressive and expected, and the 1-3 record versus the Giants on the road should not be looked down upon.
I attended Sundayâ€™s game that featured new Dodger Scott Kazmir facing off against Johnny Cueto. Even though the Dodgers lost 9-6, Iâ€™m happy they put up a fight.
AT&T Park is beautiful, majestic and filled with fans who love watching baseball. I canâ€™t speak ill of my first time visiting AT&T Park, though I was disappointed to see so few Dodger fans. Maybe next time.
The Dodgers will turn it around, considering they will be at home against the Diamondbacks and Giants this week.
Iâ€™m interested to see how Kazmir will shape up against the Giants this weekend. His poor outing in San Francisco is concerning.
The biggest lesson to take from the series against San Francisco is that the Dodgers bullpen needs time to iron out its wrinkles. The pen gave up three earned-runs in four innings, and thatâ€™s concerning given their new additions.
But itâ€™s not time to â€œPanikâ€ yet.
Numbers never lie
My favorite stat of the week comes from the Oakland Athletics. In the teamâ€™s first seven games, its bullpen threw 26 1/3 innings and gave up five earned runs. Thatâ€™s a collective ERA of 1.71. Watch for this bullpen to carry the Aâ€™s to the play-offs, unless first-year General Manager David Forst decides to trade some of them before the deadline.