Fans In The Stands

Spring Training is almost over and whilst it’s customary to dismiss what goes on in the Cactus League (and Florida’s Grapefruit League), this year it feels like the last month has been more meaningful than in years past.

The most notable feature has been the presence of fans.

Major League Baseball lambasted the Players Association for refusing to move Spring Training, and the start of the regular season, back by three weeks or so. The teams simply wanted to delay the return to action in the hope of being able to have increased capacities and therefore able to sell more tickets. This was a valid idea in response to the significant revenue drop experienced in 2020, yet the way MLB framed it as being entirely about safety, and that the players were being hugely irresponsible in not agreeing to the delay, was always false.

The last few weeks have showed that it’s possible to bring fans back into the stands and for that to be safe for all, just that it needs to be done with caution and restraint (unless you’re Texas, of course). It’s pointless to wonder if MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred will apologise to the players for his comments now that they have been proved right, but it’s worthwhile to highlight why he should.

Talks over the next Collective Bargaining Agreement are going to pepper the baseball conversation all season long. Relations between the players and owners appear to be more strained today than they have been at any point since the 1994-95 strike and that reduces the likelihood of an amicable agreement being reached in a timely fashion this Winter.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic should make both sides all the more determined to strike a deal, the evidence so far has been that the owners and MLB Commissioner’s Office believe they can leverage the situation to turn more fans against the ‘greedy players’, regardless of how inaccurate and disingenuous the claims are.

Sadly, so long as that continues to be their stance, the possibility of a work stoppage next year will be high.

What a difference a crowd makes …

On a more positive note, the Cactus League crowds have proved that having any ‘real’ fans at games immeasurably improves the atmosphere and the spectacle.

The Coliseum will be at 20 per cent capacity to start the season and there are already reports that Alameda County will move into the Orange California Covid tier this coming week that in theory would allow capacity to increase to 33 per cent.

Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle clarified on Twitter that other restrictions mean that, initially at least, the A’s won’t be selling tickets beyond their current 11,020 capacity, yet it shows that there are genuine grounds for optimism on how the numbers could start to ramp up (as we are required to describe anything Covid-related).

The A’s averaged approximately 20,000 fans in 2018 and 2019 and 33 per cent of the 55,000 capacity Coliseum would be in the region of 18,000, so it’s possible within six to eight weeks or so we could be pushing towards a typical Coliseum crowd.

And, as we all know, a typical Coliseum crowd makes significantly more noise than most other ballparks when they are completely full.

Something tells me the A’s fans who haven’t been able to cheer our team from the stands for 18 months will be making up for lost time when the Astros come rolling into town for our opening series!

Opening Night plans

In last week’s column, I wrote about the get-up/stay-up dilemma for night-games on the west coast.

My original plan was to get a few hours of sleep before Thursday’s opener against the Astros; however, Dom has put forward the idea of us doing a live-stream one hour before the game. That will be 2 a.m. here in the UK (early hours of Friday) and apparently “if we’re getting up for 2 a.m. there’s no point in going to sleep”!

I’m not totally convinced by that argument, but the idea of doing a live-stream before the opener sounds like a good one. The alternative to one at 2 a.m. would be to do a live-stream at 8pm or so on the Thursday UK time (so midday in Oakland). Keep an eye on our Twitter account for confirmation.

One thing I can confirm: if we end up doing a live-stream at 2 a.m. then I will be in mid-season form when it comes to my “hitting the wrong button” skills.

A’s UK Predictions (Jay pending …)

We started up our 2021 predictions contest on our latest podcast, with Dom, Hannah and myself putting forward our choices for: the A’s win-loss record, who will lead the A’s in home runs, who the A’s will beat in the ALCS and World Series (yes, we’re confident!), who the A’s surprise player will be and how many walk-off hits Mark Canha will get this season.

A decision was made that we couldn’t take duplicate selections and a beer-mat flip set the selection order of Dom, then Hannah and then me. Jay couldn’t make the podcast so is now considering his picks, something that will take quite a bit of thought in some of the cases now that he’s picking last!

Here’s how the list shapes up currently:

These season-long predictions will be complemented by monthly prediction contests throughout the season. We’ll each select a topic to predict and update the prediction leader-board as we go.

Details of our April predictions will be announced here on the blog.

Coming up

The A’s have two Spring Training games left to play, both of them against the San Francisco Giants.

Today’s game is at 21:05 BST and available to watch for free online via MLB.TV, with the Giants’ TV crew providing the coverage. The two teams meet again on Monday, although it is radio-only coverage.

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