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In a toxic divorce between the Athletics and Oakland, Sacramento is the antidote | Opinion

Sacramento Bee - 3/28/2024

The Oakland Athletics belong in Oakland. But team owners are moving forward with a relocation to Las Vegas and an acrimonious divorce from their East Bay home of 56 years.

Major League Baseball owners already voted 30-0 to approve the move. The Nevada legislature already authorized $380 million in taxpayer money to help finance a stadium for the A’s in Las Vegas. After the 2024 season, the A’s don’t have a place to play as their lease is up in Oakland. Their Las Vegas stadium won’t be ready until 2028 at the earliest.

Would a Sacramento pit stop before Vegas make sense for the Athletics, Sacramento and Major League Baseball?

It does for many reasons that have nothing to do with Oakland or individual A’s executives vilified by fans.

Even if it’s only a three-year rental from the start of the 2025 season to the end of the 2027 season in West Sacramento, the area wins by hosting the A’s. It would serve as an MLB audition for the Sacramento region.

Sacramento is a beautiful, vibrant community with a growing population as California goes in the opposite direction. People are already leaving the Bay Area in droves for Sacramento. Why not the A’s, too?

Some suggest on social media that Sacramento should stay out of this divorce given that a decade ago, Seattle billionaires were trying to buy the Sacramento Kings and move them to the Pacific Northwest. How can the state capital now steal a team from another city?

This sentiment is rooted in understandable sympathy for Oakland, but the situations do not compare.

The Kings were for sale and thankfully Las Vegas was not an option for a franchise relocation then, while a proposed relocation to Orange County was not popular among NBA owners. Seattle had billionaires, but the emergence of a viable ownership group led by Vivek Ranadivé gave NBA owners an option that made them money in Sacramento while bypassing the bad press of a franchise relocation.

Former Mayor Kevin Johnson led a local campaign to keep the team while the late David Stern, the former NBA commissioner, was an ally to the Sacramento movement.

The A’s are not currently for sale and Las Vegas is in play for A’s owners. Unlike NBA leadership, which rejected Seattle and approved Ranadivé’s group for Sacramento, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred seems done with Oakland and there has never been a Kevin Johnson equivalent there.

There is still a chance the A’s could remain in Oakland until leaving for Las Vegas. A’s owners have discussed extending their lease in Oakland beyond 2024, and who knows? Maybe the A’s dream of a waterfront ballpark in Oakland will make a miraculous comeback.

The business of professional sports can be ugly, as this situation demonstrates. But if a divorce happens, keeping the A’s in the capital of California — if only temporarily – would be worth doing.

The deep pull of Sacramento

Sacramento could demonstrate to MLB it would support the A’s as it does all of its sports teams, music festivals, outdoor gatherings, restaurants, art scene, neighborhoods, and community events like the annual “Run to Feed the Hungry” every Thanksgiving. Our community loves to gather in big, outdoor spaces. It’s who we are.

Our community is large enough to be a destination city seeking amenities like an MLB team to attract high-paying jobs, but small enough to retain a sense of place and pride in the place where we live and work.

I came to this town from the Bay Area 34 years ago and arrived with the tired Bay Area bias that Sacramento is small, hot, boring and soulless. I lost that bias on the first day to the warmth of belonging in a welcoming community. It’s a spirit that makes you want to stay if you arrived as a transplant, or brings you back if you were born here, fled but were drawn back by the tug of community.

National publications like the Athletic say Sacramento is in a strong position to host the A’s. Ranadivé unequivocally supports the idea and so does Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

Not a walk in the park, yet

For Sacramento, there is no downside here.

The stadium formerly known as Raley Field is home to the Triple A team of the San Francisco Giants and is owned by a group led by Ranadivé. A gleaming jewel on the West Sacramento bank of the Sacramento River, Sutter Health Park has a seating capacity of slightly more than 14,000. It would be likely that every A’s game there would be sold out, but challenges remain.

The Major League Players Association must approve MLB games in minor league parks. Comcast owns the rights to A’s games so the biggest obstacle to an A’s move to Sacramento may be finding agreement to the terms of a modified cable sports deal between Comcast and the A’s.

In other words, none of this could come to pass. But what if it did?

Can you imagine summer nights of MLB baseball where the River Cats currently play? Can you imagine Gov. Gavin Newsom working to keep an MLB team in Sacramento from his state Capitol office minutes away from Sutter Health Park?

Ranadivé went out of his way this week to tell CBS 13 that Sacramento would be a great destination for MLB. He’s right and if A’s owners don’t want to be in Oakland any longer, the idea of MLB baseball in Sacramento could become a silver lining to a sad situation.

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