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Tale of Two Cities

The question has long been pondered — “If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s nobody around to hear, does it make a sound?”

Around these parts, that’s most likely the same reaction rendered to the recent news that the City of Oakland and the Oakland Athletics have begun divorce proceedings. After years of ongoing negotiations, the two parties are going their separate ways with the baseball team’s announcement of a binding purchase agreement in place for 49 acres of land in Las Vegas for a new $1.5 billion, 35,000-seat baseball stadium with a partially retractable roof to house the A’s in Sin City.

Whether you were in the forest or not, you didn’t have to hear it; it has been inevitably coming for years. Spurred on by MLB and Commissioner Rob Manford’s ‘my way or the highway’ leadership, getting the A’s out of Oakland has been on the priority list.

For the ‘other city by the bay’ — once a three-sport professional town — leaving has been bittersweet sorrow. The City was twice spurned by the bellowed Oakland Raiders (once for LA and then Las Vegas). The multi-times NBA champion Golden State Warriors, whose home was a mere 100 yards from the Oakland Coliseum, saw the team pack up and depart for San Francisco a few years ago. Now, the A’s departure will leave nothing but memories for its sporting public.

It’s not like Oakland has been the only baseball city left at the alter after its teams were wooed by more attractive suitors over the years. Many instances of such flirtatious courting have occurred. Perhaps most memorable was the dual exit of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, who, similar to the Beverly Hillbillies, in 1958 headed west to LA and San Francisco seeking ‘gold in them thar hills.’

But moving vans loaded with baseball gear have carried the Philadelphia A’s to Kansas City; the St. Louis Browns to Baltimore; the Montreal Expos to Washington, D.C., and then on to Texas; the Boston Braves to Milwaukee and then on to Atlanta; the Seattle Pilots to Milwaukee and Oakland got its baseball team in 1968 when the A’s moved in from Kansas City. You get the picture.

A city losing a team is a traumatic experience, but if you ever witnessed a baseball game at the Oakland Coliseum, you’d agree something needed to be done. The place was built for football, and it is cavernous and outdated.

Several years ago, I attended a game there, and the place won the prize as the least appealing MLB stadium I’ve visited (and I’ve seen them all). It was built in 1967 as a dual field for football and baseball. It has a massive upper deck covered by green tarps. While A’s fans are few but passionate, there is very little about the place that is fan friendly by today’s standards. It is in need of structural repairs, and recent reports told the story that Mets radio announcers had to vacant the booth because it had become the home to possums.

While Williamsport is far from the beaten path of Major League Baseball, the city’s enduring relationship with baseball is well documented. Since Bowman Field first opened its gates in 1926, professional teams have called the city home but have also experienced the absence of a local nine. The country’s second oldest professional ballpark was without teams in 1957, 1963, 1969, 1973-1975, 1977-1987, and 1992-1993. Since the 1994 arrival of the Williamsport Cubs from Geneva, New York, the grand old game has been a local summer staple.

In October 2019, word began to leak out of the Manfred-led MLB plan to cut more than 40 minor league teams from the baseball map – Williamsport among them.

Williamsport Crosscutters vice-president of marketing Gabe Sinciropi relived those difficult times with Webb Weekly.

“During that time, we knew it was possible that we would be one of the teams that would be cube cut, along with the whole NYP League and all other short-season clubs. Negotiations did not garner any results, and MLB took over the Minor Leagues. By mid-summer, it became clear that we would be cut, but MLB promised all cities that were cut would have an option for high-level baseball to continue.

“At that time, we did not know exactly what that would mean. In late summer, the Cutters, along with ALL teams in the NYP League (except Aberdeen, Brooklyn, and Hudson Valley – who MLB was moving to long season A), were offered the opportunity to be part of a new venture MLB wanted to form – The MLB Draft League.

“That December, MLB formally invited 120 clubs to be part of the “new” minor leagues, and an announcement was made about the formation of the MLB Draft League.”

Contrary to some public opinion, the MLB Little League Classic had no bearing on Williamsport’s inclusion in the MLB Draft League, Sinicropi added.

“MLB extended the invitation to join the Draft League to all clubs in the NYP League that were being cut, in addition to other clubs in the East, such as Frederick and Trenton. We were happy to accept that invitation and keep Williamsport’s baseball history alive.”

The Oakland A’s have a rich baseball history that included three straight World Series Championships (1972-1974) and was the subject of the 2011 movie “Moneyball,” which told the story of the team’s consistent success despite ever-diminishing team payrolls.

But as each season progressed, it became inevitable the A’s needed a new home. When that home was unavailable in Oakland, the A’s opted to head for the greener grass on the Vegas strip.

Williamsport isn’t Las Vegas, and the MLB Draft League isn’t MLB, but they still have a team that Oakland soon won’t. Get out and enjoy what we do have!