10.07.2013

Sports Teams, Stadiums, and Cities

http://cdn.c.photoshelter.com/img-get/I0000mlTC9w7kcVM/s/860/860/PARADE72.jpgGrowing up in the Bay Area, I was A's, Raiders, and Warriors all the way.  Rickey Henderson, Jim Plunkett, and Run TMC.  Championships, heartbreaking defeats, and even an earthquake in the middle of a World Series.  Even today, I can close my eyes and transport myself to the couch in my parents' living room, where I would be contorted into some strange sitting position because my team had just scored and I was convinced that they would continue to succeed if only I didn't move. 

I don't live in the Bay Area anymore but still identify with my hometown teams.  (Well, not the Warriors...gave up on them long ago and have no connection to the current exciting version.)  And, living in a great sports city like Philadelphia, it's not hard to imagine the deep sense of identity an Oaklandite feels for his or her A's, Raiders, and Warriors.  (Sharks are too new for this kind of rootedness.)

ESPN columnist Tim Keown plumbs this identity in a recent article about how it is very possible that all three of these teams may soon find themselves playing somewhere else.  Given how little the article is about sports players/games/stats, it felt less like an ESPN piece and more like something you might read in Atlantic Cities or the New Yorker. 

In Oakland's case, it is the confluence of many trends that are playing out nationally and not just in the Bay Area.  Owners willing to move their teams to maximize revenue generation. Sterile new arenas preferred over older places reeking with character.  Cities desperately trying to make sense of the swirl of demography, crime, and reinvestment.   

Many urbanists pooh-pooh the role of major league teams in the vibrancy of a city, discounting the deep history of ups and downs that etch an identity.  Many sports fans vilify cold-hearted owners for whisking their teams away to far-away locations, without realizing just how infeasible it has become to keep them where they are.  Many owners make "stay or go" decisions independent of the gaping voids departing teams will leave behind.

All those days watching my teams on TV apparently were not just a little boy rooting on his hometown teams.  They were also an early window into the intersection between sports and cities and identity and finances.  I don't know what will happen to the A's and Raiders and Warriors, and I don't know what will become of Oakland if any or all of them leave town.  But I do know that I will be keeping an eye out.




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