Door opens for A's in Santa Clara
Owner Wolff remains focused on building ballpark in Fremont
PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- Commissioner Bud Selig sent Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff a letter last month stating that if his deal to build a new ballpark in Fremont, Calif., falls through, the club now has the right to "discuss a ballpark with other communities."The letter seems to indicate that Wolff can then speak with officials from neighboring Santa Clara County, which has been considered within the territory of the San Francisco Giants. Until now, the Giants have successfully blocked a move into that area, which is just across the line from Alameda County. Thus, if the A's want to move into Santa Clara County, it would be a decision made by the Commissioner and not by the Giants, who were ceded the rights to Santa Clara County during a ballpark vote there about 20 years ago. The vote failed, but the Giants have maintained those territorial rights ever since. "What we've done, I think, is open up a door for the A's that's been closed," said Wolff on Wednesday, the first day of this week's two days of owners' meetings here. "My priority really is Fremont. Other communities are all over us now because of this letter, but I'm not listening to them yet. I don't want to start this process all over again." Wolff said he will know by June whether Fremont will be home to what has been dubbed CISCO Field, because of the private partnership between the A's and CISCO Systems Inc., a leading technology company. Though a long-awaited environmental impact report has finally come back with no major revisions, Wolff said there's opposition in the community to the project and that the Fremont City Council hasn't approved the deal, which is being paid for almost entirely with private funds. "We're literally going door-to-door talking to people," Wolff said. "They think we're going to bring gangs into the community." More than two years ago, CISCO and the A's agreed to purchase the property and build the ballpark. The A's even paid for the environmental impact report. "This is one of my big pet peeves," Wolff said. "We should have been under construction a year ago, but we're still trying to get approved and we're not asking for any public money. Zero. The process has become the end product. People live off the process. We're a self-stimulus program. We could have generated hundreds of union jobs already." In the letter, dated Dec. 3, Selig reiterated his support for the Fremont project and again stated that the A's cannot continue playing in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, which has been their home since they moved west from Kansas City in 1968. "I cannot stress enough that the need for the A's to have a viable and modern stadium is a paramount objective for your organization and the game overall," Selig wrote. "The A's currently operate in one of the least desirable venues in Major League Baseball and it has placed your club in a serious disadvantage with respect to other clubs in the game." Except for the period of 1982 to 1994, when the National Football League's Raiders were in Los Angeles, the A's have shared the facility with the football team, which returned from Los Angeles to Oakland when the stadium was expanded to accommodate football. The A's have been trying to get out almost ever since, and several years ago ended talks with Oakland officials to build on the Coliseum parking lot when they went nowhere. Wolff, a fraternity brother of Selig when the two went to the University of Wisconsin, was part of a group that purchased the A's on April 1, 2005. A real estate developer by trade, Wolff announced his intentions to build the new ballpark a year later with the hope of opening the 2011 season in Fremont, a city with a population of 211,662 about 20 miles south of Oakland. Fremont is the fourth-most densely populated community in the San Francisco Bay Area, behind San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland. While Selig said he hoped that the long struggles with Fremont would reach fruition for the A's "in the next few months," he also gave Wolff a potential Plan B. "It is important that we get some resolution in the near future," Selig wrote. "As a result, I've decided that in the event that you are not able to promptly assure the implementation of the desired ballpark in Fremont, you may begin to discuss a ballpark with other communities. The time has come for the A's to have their own new ballpark."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.