Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum – colloquially known just as the Coliseum – is the home of the Oakland Athletics, and as of this writing is the only stadium that professional teams in two different sports call home. The stadium opened in 1966 for Raiders football, during the height of the cookie-cutter multi-sport stadium era, and two years later the A’s started playing baseball there too. In the fifty years since, the vast majority of baseball teams have replaced their mixed-use facilities with a baseball-only stadium, or at least something more suited for baseball. Even most football teams have moved on, deciding that the lack of luxury amenities in these older stadiums were costing them money.
But for a myriad of reasons, the Raiders and the A’s soldier on in Oakland. For the Raiders, there’s a glimmer of hope that they’ll move back to Los Angeles. But the A’s remain stuck in the Coliseum, which is the fifth oldest active MLB stadium, has notable sewage problems, and holds an undesirable reputation as one of the worst ballparks in baseball.
Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to my trip to Oakland Coliseum. But seeing as it’s not going anywhere anytime soon, and I was going to be in the Bay area anyway, it seemed prudent to get the Coliseum visit out of the way.
One thing the Coliseum has going for it is that it’s pretty easy to get to from anywhere in the Bay area: simply get to a BART station and hop on a train for Oakland. Once you get to the Coliseum stop, take the walkway – which offers scenic views of industrial work zones, parking lots with extra seating strewn about, and a drainage ditch – and you’re behind the center field entrance to the stadium. Getting into the stadium was fairly painless, although the security lines here seemed pretty haphazard and not very efficient.
Walking around the concourse, you really have to use the signs to know where you are in relation to the field, because you really can’t see the field from anywhere on the concourse. There are even some places on the lower and upper levels where the A’s have gone out of their way to remove line of sight from the concourse, with large metal barriers separating the concourse from the seating bowl. To reiterate: these barriers aren’t load-bearing and don’t appear permanent; they’re just there to discourage people from standing behind the top row of seats by blocking the line of sight to the field. This struck me as really bizarre: the Coliseum is already an eyesore of a park, but allowing some sightlines to the field would brighten the concourse immeasurably (it’s also completely enclosed on the non-field side).
If you’ve read my stadium reviews before, you may have inferred that I tend to sit in the upper level around home plate; I’ve found you tend to get the best views of the field and surrounding area from up there, and you can also see the scoreboard and the entire field. These tickets are usually no more than $30 apiece; the most I’ve paid for an upper level home plate ticket is about $35 per ticket in Toronto, but they would have been cheaper if I didn’t have any international transaction fees to deal with. But the upper level home plate seats in Oakland were a whopping $40 a seat and the only ones available when I looked were high up in the upper deck. So I decided to shell out an extra $4 a seat to put us near the top of the lower deck, but still around home plate. Why these tickets were so similarly priced is beyond me.
We were ceilinged under the overhang of the second deck, which obstructed our views of the scoreboards but mercifully provided some shade on what was a pretty warm and sunny Oakland afternoon. TVs mounted to the ceiling showed replays and the score, inning and number of outs, but it took me a few minutes to find a scoreboard that showed the count and pitch speed that I could see from my vantage point during the game.
The area behind the outfield wall is dominated by the infamous Mount Davis, a towering seating structure that is completely covered with tarp for baseball season and blocks what would otherwise be a pretty nice view of the Oakland hills. Mount Davis gets its name from the Raiders owner Al Davis, who ordered the seats installed during the renovation in the mid-90s, and it’s pretty easy to understand Athletics fans’ dismay towards this monstrosity.
Another thing the Coliseum does well is the field, which is in good shape, relatively speaking. I can’t imagine this holds true in September when the Raiders are playing on it every other Sunday, but in the third week of the season the field looked good. I will never be a fan of an AstroTurf or FieldTurf field for baseball, and fortunately the Coliseum’s field has always been grass.
After the third inning we got up to find some food. The food isn’t anything fancy, and in fact it’s probably not much better than you’d find at your local high school football game, but it is a lot more expensive. This was a theme I noticed throughout my visit to Oakland: the prices here are absurdly high relative to the quality of the experience. On the way to Oakland we told our Uber driver that we were planning on visiting both AT&T Park and the Coliseum and asked for any concession recommendations he might have. He suggested the garlic fries from AT&T Park (he was a Giants fan), but we tried them in Oakland too, and here they were greasy, somewhat lukewarm, and not very appetizing, all for about the same price as the garlic fries in AT&T Park (which were much better).
Walking around the stadium to get a different view is almost an exercise in futility because of all the barricades blocking the field from view. There were really only two areas – behind the left field and right field foul poles – where you could stand or lean and get an unimpeded, if distant, view of the field. We were also able to get into the bleachers to take a couple pictures, and they looked like relatively good seats, but it’s not like you can just stand around there for multiple innings and watch the game.
The rest of the lower level is basically just one long circuitous tunnel with minuscule gaps to get to seats. There’s one stretch – underneath Mount Davis – that’s literally just a tunnel, with no gaps for seating or any natural light at all. I felt like I was walking through an underground parking garage, not a baseball stadium, and it feels a place where you wouldn’t want to walk by yourself at night.
The upper level concourse is actually a lot nicer, since it’s open on the non-field side. Views of the field are still impeded, but at least it’s not as claustrophobic. Another nice feature on the upper level is a bar and restaurant with full length windows onto the field which seems to be open to the public and fairly new. Unfortunately there’s not an experience anywhere near this nice on the lower level, so many fans will go to the Coliseum and totally miss it.
You have to feel for A’s fans. Over the past six years they’ve seen the team across the Bay win three World Series, all in their beautiful new ballpark, all sort of by surprise because of some transcendent performances by ordinary players. Meanwhile, Oakland GM Billy Beane continues to build a competitive baseball team out of thin air – the A’s came back from two runs down against the World Champion Royals and won, and they’ve won five of their last six games – only for something to go wrong and the team to stumble far shy of the World Series. Oakland has sometimes been good enough that just one or two impact free agents would tip the scales in their favor, but they can’t sign any free agents without more revenue, and it’s tough to convince fans to come enjoy an experience at the Coliseum.
The A’s know the situation they’re in, and have explored the ideas of moving to a nearby city or even another site in Oakland, but those ideas have all been rejected (partially because the Giants across the Bay have refused to cede any territory but Oakland to the A’s). A’s owner Lew Wolff has met with an architect to discuss a new stadium on the Coliseum site, but that was two years ago and even if they announced a new stadium today, it’d be years before the A’s were playing baseball there. For now though, even though Oakland has tended above-average on the field, the team is trapped in a way below average stadium.
An alternate title I considered for this review: “More like O.no”. It doesn’t make as much sense now that the official name is no longer O.co Coliseum, but I still only just resisted. You can find more of pictures from my trip to Oakland Coliseum here. Look for my review of AT&T Park across the bay later this week.