Oakland Athletics fans display signs in the right field bleachers during a reverse boycott game against the Tampa Bay Rays at RingCentral Coliseum on June 13, 2023 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Brandon Vallance/Getty Images)
By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
OAKLAND, Calif. – Before Oakland A’s fans could send their message to owner John Fisher on a night that they had anointed as the “reverse boycott,” their hopes of the team staying in the Bay Area were dealt a massive blow.
While the fans were tailgating in the parking lots around the RingCentral Coliseum late Tuesday afternoon, passing out kelly green t-shirts imploring owner John Fisher to sell the franchise to an owner who would keep the team in Oakland, the Nevada State Senate passed Senate Bill 1 by a vote of 13-8 that earmarked $380 million in public funds to help build a ballpark for the A’s on the Las Vegas Strip on a portion of the property currently occupied by the Tropicana Hotel.
The bill could be voted on by the lower house of the Nevada Legislature state assembly Wednesday, and would then head to the desk of Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo (R) for a signature making it law. Should Lombardo sign that bill, approval from the other 29 owners is all Fisher would need to move the A’s to Las Vegas – an approval that ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported was already assured.
With a crowd of 25,000 or more expected, the A’s announced at 5:20 in the afternoon that all ticket revenue – $811,107, the team announced prior to the start of the game – from Tuesday night’s game would be donated to the Alameda County Community Food Bank and the Oakland Public Education Fund.
Outside the Coliseum, fans that had largely stayed away over the past few years drank microbrews and donned the green shirts screened with the word “SELL” in four-inch white letters.
“They’re putting out a narrative that the fans aren’t coming. That it’s our fault that they want to leave because we don’t want to be here,” Nathan Pitcairn told World Baseball Network in Lot A about three hours prior to game time. “That’s not true. We want to be here. They don’t want us here on purpose. And so that’s why we’re here today. We’re here to show the world that we’re here.”
Pitcairn said he’d been watching the A’s since he was a two-year-old, when his father was a graduate student at the University of California in Berkeley, a short ride on the BART train from the Coliseum.
He noted that the last few years under Fisher’s ownership have been “really tough, really, really tough… if you have an ownership that doesn’t want to win and doesn’t want to put money into the team, then they’re not here for the right reasons.”
Fisher, with a net worth Forbes estimates at $2.3 billion, is the No. 1 target of A’s fans’ derision, with team president Dave Kaval a distant second.
In what could be described as a cruel irony, the “SELL” shirts were being handed out by the fan group known as the Oakland 68s in the parking lot not far from where the removable seats used to convert the Coliseum over from baseball to a football configuration stood derelict, disused since the NFL’s Raiders moved out of the Coliseum following the 2019 season.
The A’s, of course, would not be the first team to move out of the Coliseum – the Raiders have earned that dubious distinction twice over, first in 1982 when they went to Los Angeles and again in 2019 when they left Oakland for Las Vegas, the A’s potential new home.
“Mount Davis ruined our stadium,” Roberto Santiago said in the shadow of those seats. “I encourage anyone to look up pictures of the stadium before 1995. It was beautiful, and it played well, and the wind didn’t swirl the way it does now. It was just better overall. You could see the beautiful hillside Oakland Hills out past center field.”
When the game finally started at 6:40 p.m., the vast majority of the fans in the ballpark were wearing the kelly green “SELL” shirts. A full minute before the first pitch from A’s starter Shintaro Fujinami to Tampa Bay first baseman Yandy Diaz, a chant of “Sell the team!” erupted, planned well ahead of time by the fan groups who coordinated the t-shirt distribution. The “Sell the team” chants alternated all game long with chants of “stay in Oakland!”
For the first time in a long time, the drums in the right field bleachers, an Oakland tradition, were back, banging out beats and inspiring chants.
“It was a great sound to my ears,” said A’s manager Mark Kotsay, who played for the A’s from 2004 to 2007. “I’ve truly enjoyed the drums at this stadium, and to have them back tonight, it was just a welcome reminder that [the fan]support, even if they’re not here, is ongoing, really, and it felt special for me.”
Silence fell across the Coliseum in the top of the fifth, another planned event, to honor the A’s 55 years in Oakland. After Jose Siri lined a double into the left field corner, the crowd again broke out into a chant of “Sell the team,” this time doing it so loudly that A’s pitcher Hogan Harris thought his PitchCom device was broken.
Asked about the silent protest, Kotsay said, “It was different. They weren’t able to do it completely, though, because you did hear some voices. And then the double down the line in the complete silence was a little eerie. But yeah, it was well orchestrated.”
As the night went on and the sun hung low behind the Coliseum’s seating bowl, the chant repertoire was expanded to tell John Fisher exactly what the fans in attendance thought of their team’s owner.
No, the Coliseum’s 46,847 seats weren’t sold out, but the lower two levels of the circular main bowl, as well as the left and right field bleachers were full, and as Isaac Paredes stepped to the plate for Tampa Bay with two outs in the top of the fourth, an announcement in the press box declared the evenings attendance to be 27, 759 – the largest crowd of the season, more than three times the team’s average ove 8,555 through the first 32 home games. An indeterminate number of fans were delayed in getting to the Coliseum, as a K-Pop concert at the Oakland Arena next door slowed traffic to a standstill on the roads near the Coliseum.
On the field, the A’s, riding a six-game winning streak that accounted for a third of their wins in the 2023 season, fell behind in the top of the fifth when Manuel Margot’s RBI single to left scored Jose Siri.
In the bottom of the seventh, the A’s tied it when Jace Pederson scored from first on Brent Rooker’s two-out double to the left field corner.
In the bottom of the eighth, Ramon Laureano singled and then advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jonah Bride. With one out and a 2-2 count to pinch hitter Carlos Perez, Laureano stole third, and then scored when Perez hit a hard shot to third that popped out of the glove of Rays’ third baseman Isaac Paredes and trickled to Wander Franco, who had no play at the plate and threw to first to retire Perez.
With the Coliseum crowd on their feet, Trevor May struck out Jose Siri on three pitches to end the game, a 2-1 A’s win, their seventh in a row. At 19-50, they ceded the title of “Baseball’s Worst Team” to the Kansas City Royals, who are 18-49.
Kool and the Gang blared from the loudspeakers, urging the throng to celebrate good times. Around the Coliseum, with the A’s celebrating the win on the field, fans threw water bottles, beer cans, and other detritus on the field, venting their frustration.
The lower house of the Nevada Legislature could vote on the funding bill on Wednesday, making the A’s move to Las Vegas all but certain less than 24 hours after Oakland fans tried to revolt in reverse.
But tonight, the A’s fans went home happy with their team still rooted in Oakland, at least for one more night.