Oakland

A's reverse boycott: Spend a day with die hard fans rallying to keep their team in Oakland

In a protest that garnered national attention, thousands of fans in green T-shirts bearing the word "SELL" packed the Coliseum, calling on A's owner John Fisher to sell the team instead of moving it to Las Vegas

NBC Universal, Inc.

News helicopters circled above the Oakland Coliseum on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 13, as an unusually large crowd gathered in the south parking lot.

With the lowest payroll, worst attendance and worst record in baseball, the A's were finally on a six-game winning streak as they got ready to take on the Tampa Bay Rays, the team with the best record in baseball. But that's not why the parking lot was so crowded.

"Get your shirt and put it on!" shouted Tyrone Moore-Perez, a volunteer with the Oakland 68s sports fan booster club.

"One per person, so we have enough for everybody!" shouted fellow volunteer April Kenton, as she balled up Kelly green T-shirts and threw them to fans entering the sprawling tailgate party. "Make sure you guys put these on! Put the shirts on, guys!"

"I'm a third-generation A's fan, and I'm here to do my part to keep my team in Oakland," Kenton explained.

"I love my team, I've been a fan since I was a kid, I don't want to lose them," Moore-Perez said.

As he spoke, Moore-Perez held up his own Kelly green shirt, with one word on it: "SELL."

Volunteers gave away 7,000 of the T-shirts, made at cost by local clothing retailer Oaklandish, as part of a protest they'd been planning since April when the A's ownership announced plans to leave Oakland and move the team to Las Vegas. Already angry at owner John Fisher for trading away the team's best players while raising ticket prices as the Coliseum continues to slowly decay, many fans had stopped coming to the ballpark altogether, leaving the A's with an average Tuesday attendance of just 3,913 before the June 13 game.

But a tweet from A's fan Stu Clary changed all of that for just one night. Clary suggested a "reverse boycott" — packing the Coliseum full of A's fans for one randomly chosen weeknight game — to let Fisher, Major League Baseball, and the rest of the world know that Oakland has plenty of baseball fans who love their team, even if they hate its owner.

"I'll be honest and say I didn't think the organizers could pull this off," said Nick Danoff, co-founder of a group that's been working to secure the A's a new ballpark location on Oakland's waterfront. "Getting this many people here for a Tuesday night game against a team with no local fan base? ... It's incredible what they've done, and it shows there is that community here in Oakland that supports the team, and we just need to be given the chance."

The official recorded attendance for the game was 27,759 — the Coliseum's biggest crowd of the season. The Kelly green "SELL" shirts were visible from numerous camera angles in the game broadcast, and chants of "Sell the team!" could be heard loudly behind the announcers' commentary.

"We're getting national exposure," Kenton said. "And we're helping people understand that a team is more than just the ball players on the field or the owner. It's also about the community around us."

Inside the hulking concrete stadium where the A's have played ball since 1968, the energy was electric and the noise was deafening.

"This literally feels like a normal A's game," said lifelong fan and Oakland 68s member Anson Canasnares.

In the section behind home plate, Hal the Hot Dog Guy, a beloved former A's food vendor, stood up on his seat, leading the crowd in chants of "Stay in Oakland! Stay in Oakland!"

And in the right field bleachers, the Oakland 68s brought back their notoriously loud drums — a daily fixture at A's games for more than 20 years until the team announced its Vegas land deal in April.

"We took the drums away — it was a really hard decision," Casanares said.

"It's been very effective to have the drums be gone," said one of the drummers, a woman who told us she's been coming to A's games since the drumming began in 2000. "Silence is a weapon, and we've been using that."

"We're not gonna bring it to Vegas," Casanares said of the drumming tradition, which has always been an unofficial, fan-led activity.

But as if to show Fisher and the world what they'd be giving up if the team moves to Las Vegas, the drummers came back for one night, as loud as can be.

"John Fisher's trying to take this away from us," said another one of the drummers. "You really want to leave all of this —all of this fun — for some tourists in Clark County, Nevada?"

The A's pulled ahead of the Rays in the 8th inning, and the crowd got louder. Some commented on Twitter that it felt like playoff energy inside the Coliseum that night.

"This is more than a championship game," said one excited fan. "This is our lives. We need this team to stay!"

The game stopped briefly as a fan in a green "SELL" T-shirt and black running shorts sprinted across the field, chased by security guards, as the crowd laughed and cheered him on. Then, it was back to baseball, and ultimately to a 7th straight win for the A's. Fans immediately chanted "Sell the team! Sell the team!" at the game's conclusion.

As fans from the right field bleachers spilled out into the walkways and the concourse of the Coliseum's main level, still cheering and beating on their drums, a metaphorical dark cloud loomed over the Coliseum in the chilly night air: Sometime earlier that evening, while the A's were warming up for their 2-1 victory over the Rays, the Nevada state senate passed SB1, a bill that would go on to be signed by Governor Joe Lombardo, approving $380 million in public funding for a 30,000-seat ballpark on the 9-acre Vegas Strip site where the Tropicana hotel now sits. It moves the A's even closer to an exit from Oakland, even as fans rejoiced over their team's unlikely victory and the success of their grassroots protest.

"This at least feels like a celebration," Danoff said. "Maybe a last hurrah here? It's worth doing — but this might be it."

"It's so wonderful," said another fan outside the Coliseum. "And all I can tell people that say, 'Oh, it's done,' — it's not over 'til it's over."

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