Home Local NewsLocal SportsOakland The A’s wore out their welcome in Oakland. But in Sacramento, fans see incoming team in an entirely different way.

The A’s wore out their welcome in Oakland. But in Sacramento, fans see incoming team in an entirely different way.

by admin

WEST SACRAMENTO — On both sides of the Sacramento River, proud residents of this region want the world to know: This is a sports town that is primed to succeed where Oakland failed.

So when the A’s migrate 86 miles northeast next year — abandoning the country’s largest ballpark, left largely vacant by a jaded fanbase — they should expect to be greeted with open arms by a community aching to prove it deserves more than just three or four years of their time.

West Sacramento, home to the ballpark where the A’s will play, is not actually in the city of Sacramento — or even in Sacramento County, for that matter. It’s a sleepy Yolo County city of about 50,000 just across the river from its urban namesake, which is five times larger.

But here, in both this riverfront community and the unsung state capital that it neighbors, exists an earnestness that now feels foreign in Oakland.

Major professional sports in Sacramento are not seen through the lens of wealthy franchise owners dangling nostalgia as an excuse to run a perennially disappointing baseball franchise.

To the people of this region, the promise of a Major League Baseball team is instead an opportunity to nudge the region forward in its ambitions of being taken seriously, both economically and culturally, as a California metropolis.

On Thursday, after a fairly quiet lunch hour at Kin Thai Street Eatery in the city’s midtown — which is slowly recovering from a loss of bustle during the pandemic — a lifelong A’s fan and Sacramento native working the counter had high hopes for his favorite team’s arrival.

“I watch every single year, and it sucks when they lose and trade away all our good players,” said Daniel Samas as he cleaned a table. “But no, I’m excited for them to play here. We need some more exciting things to do in Sacramento.”

The way sports has galvanized the city was especially apparent in the Downtown Commons, where residents attribute a recent revitalization of the district to Vivek Ranadive, the owner of their beloved basketball team, the Kings.

“I think keeping (the Kings) here revamped our downtown and … uplifted an area of the city that was dilapidated,” said Jason Duvall, a Sacramento resident hanging out at Henry’s Lounge, a midtown sports bar. “You know Gotham after the bad guy comes through? That’s kind of how it was. There was nothing going on down there.”

Many envision Sacramento as a cultural success story in the making that can fully blossom when another major sports franchise arrives.

In some cases, these residents are able to balance that hope with real empathy for Oaklanders who are heartbroken about the A’s departure.

“When a team leaves, they aren’t really rooted there anymore, and it changes their identity,” said 18-year-old Dominic Godi, who stood outside the Golden 1 Center, just before the Kings were set to play a game that held high stakes over their postseason fortunes. “I think it’s sad the A’s are leaving Oakland; the owners don’t care about the fanbase.”

But in more conservative corners of Sacramento, locals are quick to cast the jilted East Bay city as having blown its chance at retaining its sports teams, despite millions of dollars in grant money officials there raised to support a new waterfront stadium development.

The Coliseum “is almost 60 years old; it was never going to work,” said Brian Smithey, an A’s fan since they first arrived in Oakland in 1968 who’s now excited about the relocation.

Long time A's fan Brian Smithey, of Sacramento, talks about the recent changes involving the Oakland Athletics while attending a game at Sutter Health Park in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday, April 11, 2024. Smithey has been an A's fan since 1968. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

This perception appears to persist even amid a large influx of Bay Area transplants who moved to Sacramento during the pandemic. The A’s are hardly the only ones to make the journey; the spokesperson and city manager of West Sacramento are native to Vallejo and San Jose, respectively.

Sacramento culture is “being more diluted every day,” said Kings fan Barry Brun. “They’re bringing the Bay Area culture here.” His partner, Nancy Wynn, jumped in: “Some of it is good! But I guess that’s the growing pains of growing more populous.”

Meanwhile, despite its unique riverfront, the heart of West Sacramento is akin to the sprawling commercial district of a suburb, packed with fast-food places, wide roadways and a successive run of strip malls.

Tucked within one of those giant plazas is the Kick’n Mule Restaurant and Sports Bar, a prime spot to watch games. On Thursday afternoon, the owner and manager were busy plotting business strategies for the upcoming A’s era as sporting events played out overhead across numerous television screens.

Would serving calamari, they wondered, help attract Bay Area crowds who might pre-game there before heading to the nearby ballpark?

  • Baseball fans arrive to watch the River Cats play the...

    Baseball fans arrive to watch the River Cats play the El Paso Chihuahuas during a game at Sutter Health Park in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday, April 11, 2024. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

  • Baseball fans walk to their seats to watch the River...

    Baseball fans walk to their seats to watch the River Cats play the El Paso Chihuahuas during a game at Sutter Health Park in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday, April 11, 2024. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

  • Baseball fans enjoy sitting on the lawn in right field...

    Baseball fans enjoy sitting on the lawn in right field while watching the River Cats play the El Paso Chihuahuas during a game at Sutter Health Park in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday, April 11, 2024. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

  • Because of low attendance many seats were available behind home...

    Because of low attendance many seats were available behind home plate as baseball fans watch the River Cats play the El Paso Chihuahuas during a game at Sutter Health Park in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday, April 11, 2024. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

  • Baseball fan Chris Holdawan, of Elk Grove, holds his daughter...

    Baseball fan Chris Holdawan, of Elk Grove, holds his daughter Emilia, 10 months old, while sitting on the lawn in right field while watching the River Cats play the El Paso Chihuahuas during a game at Sutter Health Park in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday, April 11, 2024. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

  • Baseball fans arrive to watch the River Cats play the...

    Baseball fans arrive to watch the River Cats play the El Paso Chihuahuas during a game at Sutter Health Park in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday, April 11, 2024. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

  • Because of low attendance there was no wait for baseball...

    Because of low attendance there was no wait for baseball fans to grab food during a game at Sutter Health Park in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday, April 11, 2024. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

“Whether the A’s stay or go, we’ll earn the popularity and volume while they’re here and capitalize on that,” said the owner, Ravi Ram. He added later about Oakland, “You just hear about all the bad vibes there; I avoid it these days.”

Ironically, Oakland and Sacramento seem to share in the underdog spirit commonly found in mid-major cities trying to subvert the reputations that precede them: Sacramento as sleepy and uninspiring, Oakland as dangerous and dysfunctional.

Ranadive, who resides in Atherton, sold his minority share in the Golden State Warriors last decade to become majority owner of the Kings, keeping the NBA franchise in Sacramento after the previous owners had tried to facilitate a relocation to Seattle or even, for a few dramatic days, to Virginia.

The city contributed $223 million to the Golden 1 Center’s construction through bonds and other new fees — an initiative ushered along by former Mayor Kevin Johnson, a retired NBA all-star.

Ranadive, meanwhile, was an architect of the new A’s deal to play rent-free in the 10,000-seat West Sacramento ballpark, which hosts another team he owns, the Giants’ triple-A minor-league affiliate River Cats.

ESPN reported this week that Ranadive, a friend of A’s owner John Fisher, is privately wagering that the A’s vision of constructing a Vegas ballpark ultimately crumbles and the team winds up staying for a much longer term.

Oakland Athletics owner John Fisher sits next to Sacramento River Cats owner Vivek Ranadivé on Thursday, April 4, 2024, after announcing that the A's will relocate to West Sacramento in 2025 and play at least three seasons at Sutter Health Park before moving to Las Vegas. (Hector Amezcua/The Sacramento Bee/TNS)

“We do see it as an opportunity to showcase to Major League Baseball and the world what can be done at Sutter Health Park, and brand ourselves as a place that can support a sports team,” Aaron Laurel, the West Sacramento city manager, said in an interview.

Unlike the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the A’s will not be known as the Sacramento A’s of West Sacramento when they arrive, but instead simply as the Athletics — a team from nowhere, in transit.

But if the A’s do eventually want to stay in the Sacramento area, they would likely want to build a new stadium rather than continue at Sutter Health Park, where at full capacity 4,000 fans would crowd an outfield lawn that saw just a few dozen scattered on picnic blankets during an evening River Cats home game.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing all-stars play in my backyard,” said Chris Holdaway, who sat on the grass with his 10-month-old daughter, Emilia. “But yeah, this place will get pretty busy.”

The walkways of the stadium’s clean, understated concourse were filled with hip-hop and country music alike as the River Cats readied for a Thursday game against the El Paso Chihuahuas.

Amid a sea of black River Cats merchandise was a man in a familiar, unmistakably green-and-white SELL T-shirt — the all-caps directive that summarizes the Oakland fans’ message this past year to Fisher, the A’s owner.

Carter White, a Richmond resident who commutes to Davis for work and often stops by River Cats games afterward, waited patiently for a teenage girl in a cowboy hat to finish a rendition of the national anthem on the field as some fans clutched their chests and sang along.

A's fan Carter White, of Richmond, wears his SELL shirt with sitting with friend Laith Adawiya, of Davis, while watching the River Cats play the El Paso Chihuahuas during a game at Sutter Health Park in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday, April 11, 2024. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

White then returned to bashing Fisher, vowing to never watch another A’s game while the team is owned by the man who took it away from Oakland.

“The idea with Sacramento is it’s not the Bay Area,” White said of the two regions’ dynamics. “I don’t think Oakland has the same insecurity toward San Francisco as the perception in Sacramento.”

What followed that night was a high-scoring contest typical of the minor leagues: the River Cats fell behind 7-1 early, and by the fifth inning some fans were headed back to the enormous parking lot. As she strolled out, one woman told an usher, “I hope they have better luck after we leave!”

By nightfall, her hopes had come true; the River Cats stormed back to clinch a 10-9 victory over the Chihuahuas — a fitting comeback for a city with much bigger sports dreams, where giving up on a team is the only sign of defeat.

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