Some 27,759 A's fans join at Oakland Coliseum for 'Reverse Boycott'

ByTim Keown ESPN logo
Wednesday, June 14, 2023

OAKLAND, Calif. -- On the same day the Nevada Senate voted to approve $380 million in public money for a Las Vegas ballpark for the Athletics, fans in Oakland held their long-planned "Reverse Boycott" intended to fill the Oakland Coliseum and prove their worth to owner John Fisher and Major League Baseball. The timing felt cruel in a cosmic sort of way.

It turned out to be a party without a celebration.

In the south parking lot, fans lined up three hours before the game to grab one of the 7,000 green "SELL" T-shirts provided by $39,000 in community donations and produced by Oaklandish, a local clothing company. There was a taco truck and a DJ and tables set up for fans to make their own anti-Fisher signs.

The game drew 27,759, the largest home crowd of the season and more than triple the team's home average of 8,555.

The A's won 97 games in 2019 and made the postseason again in 2020 before Fisher began stripping the team of its young stars, reducing payroll to the lowest in baseball. The team raised ticket prices and did little to nothing to improve the fan experience as the wins dwindled, then used poor attendance and the condition of the ballpark to justify its decision to seek a new home.

The news of the Nevada vote cast a pall over what was expected to be a jubilant display of Oakland's ability to support its team.

"Now we just want to let people vent their frustrations," said Jorge Leon, the president of the Oakland 68s, a fan club that helped organize the protest. He wore a "SELL" shirt and a wedding ring that inscribed "Oakland" in A's script. "If it's set in stone that they're leaving for Las Vegas, I hope the mayor kicks them out."

An A's fan who asked to be identified only as Dee said, "They have literally repelled the fan base."

"Empty seats by design," Leon said.

"Whatever longshot it is, whoever wants an expansion team should look to Oakland," Dee said. "There's a fan base here ready to support a team that deserves it."

Two hours before the game, the A's announced they were donating all ticket revenue from the game to the Alameda County Food Bank and the Oakland Public Education Fund. One of the sticking points in the Nevada deliberations was the team's commitment to the community, which was deemed inadequate by several opponents. The bill passed only after it was amended to force the team to commit $1.5 million to the community once the ballpark is completed.

"From this point on, I'm rooting for the Oakland A's fans," Oakland mayor Sheng Thao told ESPN. "If anybody ever doubted the passion of these fans, just look at the sea of green out here. We're going to continue to work to keep the Oakland A's in Oakland. Las Vegas deserves a team -- an expansion team. But the A's must stay in Oakland."

That prospect became far less likely Tuesday afternoon, when the Nevada Senate voted 13-8 to give Fisher -- a billionaire heir to the Gap fortune -- what he sought: a package of public funding that will pave the way for him to build a $1.2 billion stadium on the Las Vegas Strip. Thao, making her way through the Coliseum parking lot wearing a Matt Chapman A's jersey, said the city of Oakland and the A's were "days away" from agreeing on a massive $12 billion to $18 billion real-estate project that would have brought a waterfront ballpark to Howard Terminal on the Oakland waterfront when she received a call from Fisher telling her the team had agreed to a land deal in Las Vegas.

"We were so close," Thao said. "We secured $1 billion for outside infrastructure, and I truly believe the city of Oakland was being leveraged in the move to go to Las Vegas. That's why I said no more. No more. It started to feel a little bit abusive in that sense, and that's why we walked away."

Looking up at the "Rooted In Oakland" signs the A's splashed all over the Coliseum to project their supposed devotion to the city, Thao said, "If you have a real plan to stay rooted in Oakland, you'd be a good partner. We want them to be honest with their marketing."

Asked what avenues she could pursue to keep the A's from leaving, Thao said, "I'm going to continue to talk to the legislature in Nevada, and I'm going to continue to work with Congresswoman Barbara Lee to make sure there are some checks and balances in regards to when and how teams move from one city to another."

Lee, D-Oakland, and Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, have introduced a bill called the "Moneyball Act" that takes aim at MLB's antitrust exemption. It requires any team that relocates more than 25 miles away to compensate its former city, or MLB would lose its antitrust exemption.

A woman roaming the south lot 90 minutes before Tuesday's game stopped and took in the moment. Thousands of fans in "SELL" shirts and A's jerseys -- Coco Crisp was a particular favorite -- ate free tacos and drank beer. A steady stream of fans crossed the pedestrian walkway from the BART station to the ballpark, a sight rarely seen outside of playoff games.

"This is just going to make me feel sadder that I came here," she said.

As a few fans danced in the shade of a section of mothballed Coliseum seats in the south lot, Dee was asked to imagine the scene had Nevada voted down SB1.

"You'd see a lot more smoke out here, that's for sure," Dee said.

Inside the stadium, the "sell the team" chants began immediately after the national anthem, and the crowd attempted to remain eerily quiet for the first at-bat of the top of the fifth inning as a nod to the 55 years the team has called Oakland home.

Jose Siri, who led off the inning for theTampa Bay Rays, must have wondered what he did wrong. As Siri neared second base after slapping a double down the left-field line off Hogan Harris, the silence broke and a boisterous chant of "sell the team" rumbled through the stadium.

And for nine innings, baseball mattered again in Oakland. With the crowd engaged in every pitch, it felt like it meant more than a midweek, mid-June game between the best team in baseball and, prior to Tuesday, the worst. The A's, although not used to the attention, beat the Rays 2-1 for their seventh win in a row -- perhaps the most improbable event of a momentous day.

After Trevor May struck out Siri for the final out, the venting took on a more ominous tone as fans threw water bottles and beer cans and whatever else was handy onto the field toward security and the grounds crew.

They came for a celebration, and they did their best under the circumstances.

An hour before the game, the crumbled asphalt of the south parking lot had become a minefield of empty beer cans, most of them local and craft. The line to the taco truck was half a football field. The music played, a fair amount of smoke hung in the air and the invective flowed. It managed to straddle the fine line between wake and party.

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