A column in Tuesday's sports section took a look at dwindling attendance at Oakland Athletics games, a column that served as more of an observation of what was happening than an indictment of what the A's might be doing wrong.
But something in that column touched a nerve. A frayed one. By midmorning Tuesday, e-mail responses poured in with negative assessments of the A's, and impassioned electronic missives were still flowing in as of Friday, even though no solicitation of fan furor was offered.
The crux of the disillusionment: We're mad as hell and we're not going to come to the park anymore. Even if you build it — particularly in Fremont — we may not come.
They mentioned a wide assortment of issues, from skyrocketing costs, to the proposed Fremont move, to rampant roster turnover, to simply not opening the park early enough to see all of batting practice in explaining why attendance is down at McAfee Coliseum this year — 11 crowds under 15,000 in just 30 home dates so far (compared with only 3 all of last year) as well as seven crowds under last year's lowest single-game attendance of 12,477.
A sour sampling:
"I was a partial season-ticket holder for the past four years, but I just gave up this year after the (Nick) Swisher trade," wrote Eyleen Nadolny of Kensington. "Ticket, food and parking prices are also a big part of the equation."
"I think that the A's are fan unfriendly," wrote Harry Craycroft of Concord. "I have tried to get tickets online and because I have a dialup (connection), I have had problems because of the time limit I am required to enter the information. Also, I have purchased tickets for some of the games that only have standing room. Why should I have to stand when the upper level has seating covered over?"
"Every year the A's see their favorites traded away, together with talk of moving out of Oakland," wrote Barbara Addicott of Berkeley. "How does one maintain fervor for the team when one's "baseball heart'' is continually being broken?"
Do the A's have a complaint hot line? If so, many fans don't think their dissatisfaction is getting through, or if it is, it's being ignored. Vic Macchietto of Richmond said he and others complained to the A's two years ago about the A's gate-opening policy that limits fans' opportunity to watch Oakland's full batting practice.
He received a response claiming not enough people were showing up to justify the cost of opening the park earlier.
"This was not a fan-friendly response, and we almost stopped purchasing season tickets," Macchietto wrote. "As far as I'm concerned, all fans deserve the best possible product when paying for a service, even 2 percent of them. I've talked to many fans about this while waiting to get into the park and they are not happy about it."
Oakland opens the gates at McAfee Coliseum 11/2 hours before weekday games and 2 hours before first pitch on weekends, and the policy has been in effect for three years.
There were many complaints about changing policies regarding seniors and limitations on senior/student discounting pricing, which is now restricted to sections in the plaza level down the left and right field lines.
"Bleachers are out for me because I no longer have that long-range vision to see what's going on on the field," wrote Pleasanton's Millie Hjerpe. "We are living in a blue-collar area and just cannot afford the prices anymore."
Wrote Jerry Todd of San Leandro, "For the past 10-12 years my parents had the weekend and holiday season-ticket plan, which they could afford because there was a half-price plan for seniors and students. This year, the A's stopped that plan and offer the seniors $10 off the face value of the ticket. As good as that sounds, that change increased my parents' tickets $180 per seat."
The most complaints came about ballpark costs in the face of an inflationary economy.
On that count, A's ownership is empathetic as it impacts their gate receipts.
"I think certainly some of it has to do with things that are going on outside the game — the economy, gas prices and those types of things," said A's president Mike Crowley. "It's starting to pick up a little bit. I think once kids are out of school, we should start to see an uptick. But we realize there are some issues with the economy right now, and we're trying to make as many adjustments as possible."
Crowley took exception with the notion that individuals on a budget are getting priced out of going to A's games, notably seniors.
"First of all, they can come on Wednesday nights for $2," he said. "We have seats at price points for everybody's budget, whether it's a senior, a student, a family, whatever the case may be. We try to offer options to fans to sit wherever they would like given their level of interest as far as price goes."
Crowley admitted that the club has received significant negative feedback on its roster turnover, particularly trades that saw popular players such as Dan Haren, Swisher and Marco Scutaro depart.
"There are people who are disappointed, but I also get feedback like, 'Hey, this kid Greg Smith is a real good pitcher,'" he said. "So there are positives on the other side. I think that's part of the game, in the sense that with any trade, there will be people for or against it."
At least in feedback to this newspaper, sentiment was heavily against, particularly as turnover has continued through recent years.
"The home team is barely more recognizable than the visitors in view of Billy's methodology," wrote Larry Kenna of Dublin. "(The players) practically use the same turnstiles as the fans."
The proposed Fremont move also was prominently mentioned as a deterrent to ballpark patronage.
"My impression is that people north (Marin) and east (Contra Costa County) of Oakland are tuning out early in anticipation of the move," wrote Jerry Veiluva of Oakland.
"Maybe the A's feel these fans can be replaced by those wealthy South Bay fans they keep referring to."
Crowley said fan discourse he receives about the Fremont project run in three distinct categories — those who want the team to remain in Oakland, those are excited about a park in Fremont and those who just want the A's to remain in the Bay Area, regardless of where they play.
But a good number of respondents to the attendance column said they would not patronize the A's in Fremont, and that the team is alienating current fans while it waits to move.
"(A's owner) Lew Wolff had one of the greatest organic pro sports juggernauts in the U.S. and managed to screw attendance and the wild fan support into the ground in less than two years," wrote Cameron Wilson of Oakland. "Why would I line Lew's pockets so he can move the team to Fremont? Where is Fremont, anyway?"
Reach Carl Steward at 510-293-2451 or firstname.lastname@example.org.