Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Tale Of Two Cities

Better read this posting in a hurry; the who-can-believe-they're-both-still-in-it Game 5 Division Series contests for the Giants and A's are just a few hours away as I write.

But last night's maelstrom at the Oakland Coliseum (I flat-out refuse to call it the "O.Co Coliseum") demands comment, especially when you compare it with the scene across the bay at AT&T Park.

The A's finished 27th of the 30 Major League teams in attendance this year; the Giants 4th. The Giants played to 99.5% of capacity for the season; the A's to 60.6% of capacity in their tarp-strangled home yard.

Advantage, San Francisco  right?  I don't think so.

I started ruminating on this during the regular season. As a longtime Giants season-ticket holder, I've watched the change in fan demeanor over the years. Yes, I know the Giants say they've sold out 10,000 consecutive games (or something like that), but I can tell you: in the section where I sit, plenty of those tickets go unused.  I can also tell you that I seldom see the same people twice in my section. That suggests a less-rabid fan base than the Giants once enjoyed.

This all came home last weekend, when the Giants lost twice to the Reds at the start of the NLDS. As I settled in for Game 1, I saw a fellow wearing a Reds cap heading for the seats next door. Not unusual: I often have out-of-town guests in my section (can you say, "Stubhub"?).

He and his wife were nice folks; Southern California residents who were thrilled to be able to see his boyhood home team in a postseason game.  They were sitting in $60 face value seats; they'd paid more than that on the secondary market.

And they were amazed by two things: the beauty of AT&T Park, and the general lack of energy in the stands.  "Is it always this quiet here?," he asked.  Before I answered, I looked around. There were two young women working their smartphones. Another couple busy snapping photos of each other. 4 or 5 empty seats. "Not always," I replied.  But the truth is, the San Francisco crowd that night was not an energetic one.

Contrast that with the start-to-finish madness at the Coliseum. It's a smaller crowd, in a ballpark that nobody is going to call "beautiful". But there's a kind of frantic energy that you can just feel. It's brash and gutsy and raw.

Maybe I'm straining here, and I hate to play into any longstanding stereotypes ("Oh, those white-wine sippers" vs. "Eew, motorcycle gang members"), but here's how it feels to me: going to a Giants game these days is like making a reservation at a nice restaurant. You'll be surrounded by the kind of people who do that sort of thing. The place will be nice, the ambiance enjoyable, and the potential for disruption low. When it's over, you'll head home, amiably dissecting the high points of the evening before checking your e-mail again.

By contrast, an A's game is like a visit to a dive bar.  The place looks sort of grimy, there's a kind of noisy bonhomie, and the evening will probably end with you making a new BFF (that tattooed guy wearing the Tony Armas jersey).

Two teams, two ballparks, two vibes.  No value judgments here.

Let's just hope there's another week or two of fun at both joints.

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