Unlike football, basketball, and hockey, baseball is the only major North American sport where two spectators can carry on a conversation with one another without missing most of the action. It’s also the only sport that doesn’t have a clock. There are no scrimmages every 30 seconds to focus on, no frequent trading of baskets to stress you out, and no fast-flowing play punctuated by body checks to get excited about. Only soccer comes close to the methodical nature of baseball, and even then, there are thousands of fans chanting and banging drums almost all match long.
For those reasons, watching a baseball game in person is as much about the experience of the stadium as it is about the game itself. A great ballpark is like a great public park or beautiful beach: if the scenery is appealing enough, you will completely relax and enjoy your activity, be it a picnic, a book, or a sporting event.
In November of 2018, when the Oakland Athletics released renderings for their new Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)-designed stadium, the team showed fans what they could expect starting in 2023. Gensler and James Corner Field Operations are also part of the project. Following the example of other North American professional sports teams who have recently built new mixed-use entertainment projects, such as the Edmonton Oilers of the NHL and the Brooklyn Nets of the NBA, the Athletics are proposing a new community for Oakland’s Howard Terminal, with their $700 million, 34,000-seat stadium as the centerpiece.
Building arenas and stadiums in the middle of nowhere may have been the norm in the 20th century, but today, professional sports facilities are more commonly built alongside entertainment and leisure districts, where residents can live close to the action. Condos and public amenities are now extensions of the caps, jerseys, banners, and other merchandise being offered on the grounds.
The Athletics’ new Howard Terminal location would be right by the water near downtown Oakland, with an actual park built onto the roof of the stadium. Inspired by the layout of Shibe Park in Philadelphia, where the Athletics played from 1909 to 1954, the stadium opens up to plaza at centerfield to give fans a theatrical entrance to the inner bowl. Around the stadium itself will be pedestrian malls and mixed-used buildings with slanted roofs — one of BIG’s most signature design gestures.
For those who are unfamiliar with baseball or the Oakland franchise, the Athletics currently play in what some say is the worst stadium in all of Major League Baseball. The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, known simply as the Coliseum, looks dated, decrepit, has too many seats too far from the field, and is surrounded by a large unsightly parking lot. It is not an exciting place to watch a baseball game. Returning to the comparison of a great ballpark to a beautiful beach, the Coliseum can be thought of as an ugly beach with dark sand and unpleasant water. Not the best place to enjoy anything.
The team hopes to eventually purchase the Coliseum for $135 million and convert it into a sunken amphitheatre for Minor League Baseball in the middle of a municipal park, with residential, corporate, retail, and institutional projects all throughout. The adjacent Oracle Arena, where the NBA’s Golden State Warriors currently play, will be transformed into an events venue around the same time.
As promising as this project is, it is far from the first proposal for a new Oakland stadium. There are still many local approvals that have to be obtained before this project gets built and a new era of baseball can begin in the city. With any luck, this will be the time the team and their fans aren’t left stranded on base.