I distinctly remember the first time I entered the Oakland Coliseum to see the A's play. It was against my New York Yankees in 1978. I had moved from Brooklyn to the Bay Area a month prior, and my attitude was at full strength.
My first reaction after finding my seat in the third deck: "When are they going to finish building the damn place?" It seemed stark, overexposed, at least compared to the warm, ornate confines of Yankee Stadium, my home park.
At the time, people of all classes were welcome at Yankee Stadium. Or should I say, all seats were relatively accessible. There was no elite ring of infield seats only the super-rich could afford that effectively prevented fans of all classes from sharing the baseball experience together. But that's how it is now at Yankee Stadium and at most of the other new ballparks. That's not how it is at the Coliseum.
I love baseball and grew up dreaming that one day I would be able to afford season tickets. I held it as a measure of success. It even became a source of motivation for me. I have those season tickets now -- right behind the A's dugout. It didn't take me long to become a committed A's fan.
What I came to realize in short order by going to the A's games was that the stark-naked Coliseum actually provided a blank canvas for the game itself that allowed the enthusiasm of the fans to fill the aesthetic void. From Billy Ball to Bob Melvin, without any frills to get in the way, the Coliseum compelled my attention to the beating heart of the team, the thrill of the game, the excitement of the fans, and the pride in a city.
It was this unfettered baseball experience at the Coliseum that not only made me an A's fan, but eventually a proud Oakland resident.
There is no denying the beauty of AT&T Park across the bay, not to mention all the other new baseball venues. In fact, we in Oakland also deserve our own. The A's belong nowhere else. But for now, Oakland has something that no other major league city can offer.
With no ornate edifice to get in the way, no infield ring of super-rich cordoned off from the rest of the fans, no fancy high-resolution scoreboards, no historical structure to divert the sentiment, the Coliseum is the last of the major league ballparks where you can have a pure baseball experience.
It is where the heart of the players, the enthusiasm of the fans, the fun of the game and pride in a city all come through unobstructed. Isn't that what going to a baseball game is all about anyway?
My son and I, along with 30,000 other fans, resoundingly answered this question in the affirmative when right after the A's clinched the west Sept. 22, we all shouted: "Let's go, Oakland! Let's go, Oakland!"
Mark Cohen is an Oakland resident.