There are really only two “bad” ballparks in baseball. This is one. Formerly a decent place to watch a game, the 50+ year-old Oakland Coliseum just hasn’t aged well.
Located in a dodgy part of Oakland, The Coliseum is, frankly, a dump. Plumbing issues have led to raw sewage leaks in the dugouts and lower bowl seats. The concourses are cramped. There’s no discernible main entrance for the photo op, and the exterior architecture has all the charm of a toothache. But that hasn’t stopped the diehards from making this a fun place to hang. And after enjoying some good suds and decent grub while watching a consistently competitive team play in near perfect East Bay weather, you leave feeling happy almost in spite of the place.
Exterior aesthetics 1/10; Interior & Concourse Aesthetics 3/10; Sightlines & seating 2/10; Amenities & entertainment 5/10; Flow 2/5; Celebrating history 3/5; Scoreboards 3/5; Grand entrance 1/5; Sense of place 2/10; WOW Factor 10/30. Total 30 points divided by 2 for 15.
This is easily the worst structure in Major League Baseball.
- It’s an open-air stadium with lush green grass
- Because they’re aren’t rows for suites, the last deck isn’t as high as in other ballparks
- The Shibe Park Tavern is a cool stadium bar (though it’s tucked away with terrible signage, so you need to know it’s there to get there)
- The old troughs in the Men’s rooms permit good throughput, so guys aren’t in the can for long
- The A’s have a lot of afternoon games, so you may be skipping work for baseball
- There’s more foul territory here than any ballpark. A front row seat along third base is further away from the pitcher than some loge level seats in other ballparks. Unless you’re right behind the plate, you’ll have some distance.
- There’s no “here” there. The Coliseum lacks a grand entrance. There’s no front door. Enter through one of the 4 main portals. The only sign that you’re at the home of the Oakland Athletics is a banner with an A’s logo
- While they’re building something new for the 2020 season, there was very little entertainment for the youngsters to keep them occupied for an inning or two.
- If you have an infield seat, instead of a nice view of the Oakland hills, you are treated to a view of a no-longer-used Mount Davis; i.e. empty tarped-over bleachers built for the since-deposed Raiders. As such, there’s no natural landmark to indicate you are in Northern California.
- The seats, while relatively wide, are older and can be a tad uncomfortable
- The scoreboards are thoroughly underwhelming
- From certain seats, the PA system is unclear. (Also, the A’s have decided to be like their cross-bay rivals and employ a female PA announcer; however, like everything else about this team, she isn’t nearly as good as the Giants’ announcer, and the move feels pandering).
- The washrooms look (and smell) like an old science experiment
- The walk to and from the BART stop feels like a dystopian march as you pass through a caged overpass populated with some interesting characters
- The cramped main concession area is between the 100 and 200 levels. Meaning if you have nice seat down low in the 100 level, you’re looking at a 40 row hike up to get a beer. Only recently did California allow the return of roving beer vendors, so this was a big issue for years.
- The parking lot where much of the pre-game action takes place (and which is a virtual monopoly given the relative lack of safe parking options nearby) now charges $30 for non-season ticket holders
The A’s know they need a new stadium. If Oakland City Council keeps putting up barriers to get the Howard Terminal facility built, then I’m sure the new place in Vegas will be wonderful.
As lousy as the structure is, the in-game experience is pretty good. It starts with the food. Oakland has one of the best hot dogs in baseball which is a great start; the bacon-wrapped Coliseum dog is damn good. They also offer other tasty treats including BBQ rib tips, loaded nachos, an excellent spicy sausage, hand-breaded chicken tenders (with cool sauces), a red coconut curry bowl, pulled pork sandwiches, fish and chips, and boozy popsicles (I liked the Moscow Mule). It’s a solid line up with the only downside being long lines on busy days.
My personal fave: Ahi poke tacos in Shibe Park Tavern. While it feels a little “fancy” for the Coliseum, these are legit.
As a bonus, there are usually food trucks open before the game for you to enjoy. They rotate, but I’ve enjoyed good Mexican, Hawaiian, and Middle Eastern fare; there are also often burgers, BBQ, wings, Asian food, ice cream/custard and sometimes (for day games) even brunch.
With all the great beer offered in NoCal, the A’s were always well ahead of the curve in offering topflight beer at the stadium. While other parks have caught up (and even passed), I salute the A’s for recognizing that paying $14 for a beer is easier when it’s a high-quality beer.
As good as it is, it was even better pre-COVID. I miss the old Guinness bar, and it seems as if many of the locals have been pushed out for the “craft options” of the big brewers. That said, Elysian, Goose Island, Golden Road, and Kona aren’t bad options, and there’s a healthy assortment of macrobrews and imports.
A little hunting will find you California brews from Firestone Walker, Drakes, Lagunitas, and Calicraft. The best concentration of locals is in the Gastropub attached to the Shibe Park Tavern.
This is another reason why it’d be good to get out of the Coliseum. There’s nothing of note around it, and it gets seedy in a hurry meaning you really don’t want to be wandering too far on foot at night. While parts of Oakland are kinda funky and have a gritty hipness to it, this isn’t one of them.
The BART stop is right there, meaning you can easily come in from other more desirable Bay Area neighborhoods and be dropped off at the Coliseum door. And the tailgate scene is pretty good. But still, it rivals the Mets for worst setting in baseball.
The A’s, despite operating in one of the most expensive metro areas in the country, always score in the bottom third of the fan cost index. They offer amazing discounts for season ticket holders, thus driving this cost down even more for them. You can get a good seat for a very fair price right from the team and good deals still are available on the secondary market. I almost gave them a 3 instead of a 4 based on the parking fee, but given the market, they deserve the 4 by keeping everything else reasonable.
With a large parking lot, highway access and a mass transit stop, it’s relatively easy to get to whether you’re driving or not. Just account for potentially brutal traffic if you’re crossing bridges.
The East Bay rivals San Diego for the best weather in the country (even though in my 14-game sample, I’ve suffered a two-hour delay and a rare rainout). Early season, mid-season or late season, you’re likely to get a nice day. And unlike San Francisco, the nights, while often chilly, aren’t nearly as bone-crushingly cold.
Here’s the weird thing. I like going to A’s games. Despite the fact that the structure is the worst in baseball, I often leave the Coliseum wanting to go back, even as current ownership has allowed the stadium to fall further behind its rivals.
Is it the grit of the neighborhood which reminds me of my past trips to old Tiger Stadium in Detroit?
Or perhaps it’s the glow of the California sun. Maybe it’s because smells like an old-timey stadium. It could be because you feel welcome by a game staff that makes you feel like they’re genuinely grateful that you’re there. Or because peeing in a trough seems right when at a ball game. Or because every other stadium offers a pristine experience, while an A’s game offers an old-school blue-collar authenticity .
While crowds can be small, fans who show up are among the best in baseball. Loud, music-playing, flag-waving fans fill the outfield. When the A’s are in contention, there’s a vibrancy and intensity that rivals anything on the east coast. A BART trip after a big A’s win is a hoot.
The old, kooky banjo guy still shows up to remind you you’re in NoCal. And given the expense of everything else in the Bay Area, everything in the stadium is relatively easy on your wallet. Let’s hope this mentality is kept when they (eventually) move to better digs.
OTHER THINGS TO DO
Three fun East Bay restaurants:
- World Famous Hotboys (Oakland. Nashville hot chicken. Mmmmm.)
- Everett and Jones (Jack London Square. African-American-owned BBQ place with entertainment. Only open afternoons as good BBQ places should be.)
- In N Out Burger (Coliseum. Easy-access outpost of amazing West Coast burger chain 1.5 miles from park)
Three places to imbibe before the game:
In honesty, the parking lot is really the only place to pregame in the immediate vicinity. If you’re willing to take a short drive, uber or BART ride to the Coliseum, these are close:
- The Trappist (An absolutely fantastic Old School beer bar with a heavy focus on Belgians and sours located in Old Oakland, 3 BART stops and a 4-block walk from the Coliseum)
- Tiger’s Tap Room (Good NoCal beer list in this Jack London Square haunt. Closes early evening, so pre-game or do it after a day game)
- Sons of Liberty Ale House (American restaurant with slightly quirky takes on comfort foods, and a killer drinks list. One long BART stop south of Coliseum in San Leandro)
One bar “in the area” worth hitting:
Russian River Brewing. About an hour from Oakland (in light traffic), this Santa Rosa brewery is my favorite brewpub in the country. The Full Paddle beer flight is easily the best beer flight you’ll ever have, allowing you explore 20+ brews, many of them exceptional, in both American and Belgian styles. Food’s just OK, but the beer is transcendent. Hopefully you’re staying in the area to do some wine touring the next day
Three craft breweries in the area worthy of your time:
- Drake’s Brewing Dealership (Oakland. Good beer and wood-fired pizza in an old car dealership. 5 blocks from 19th St BART station).
- Almanac Beer Co (Alameda. Large indoor-outdoor space with food trucks)
- Temescal Brewing (Temescal. Good hoppy beers in a bright space 5 BART stops north of Coliseum)
Three fun tourist attractions in the area:
- Jack London Square (Oakland. A mix of shops and restaurants by the water. Be sure to stop in at Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon for a drink.)
- Napa/Sonoma Valley wineries (about a 60-mile drive north)
- California’s Great America (classic amusement park, about 30 miles south)
This is the 1990 Ellen Barkin of stadiums: unattractive in the conventional sense, yet still somehow alluring. The bones of this place are awful, concession crowding can be an issue, and it’s a get-in/get-out place due to a lack of a scene in the immediate area. But there’s a grit here you can’t get anywhere else. And the weather’s great. In spite of itself, The Coliseum turns out to be a fun place to catch a game, even as the lowest scoring stadium in baseball.