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As A’s flirt with a move from Oakland, Las Vegas raises the stakes by being itself

John L. Smith
John L. Smith
Opinion
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Professional baseball is filled with sleight of hand masquerading as a kid’s game, but the signals the Oakland A’s are sending to Las Vegas these days are impossible to miss.

This isn’t the sly hand jive from a third-base coach. This is a wolf whistle from Jim Carrey in “The Mask.” If we blushed easily around here, we’d be positively pink-cheeked.

It turns out A’s president Dave Kaval likes us, really likes us, as a possible new home for the team. He’s scheduled to make his second trip to Las Vegas in a month to send that message of affection. He’s practically a local.

He’s expressed enthusiasm about the community, the obvious flash and 40 million-plus visitors, and its emergence as a smashing success with the NHL’s Golden Knights and, presumably, the NFL’s Raiders along with other professional franchises. In short, Las Vegas is a real prospect – not that we needed the Oakland A’s to tell us that.

The Vegas valentine comes at a time the A’s are negotiating with Oakland officials for a sparkling new waterfront stadium to replace the community’s crumbling Coliseum, where the team has played since 1968. I don’t want to call the place dilapidated, but at the Coliseum having a “waterfront ballpark” means another sewer pipe has backed up and the place has flooded again. Like a veterinarian trying to put the family dog down, Kaval has said the Coliseum “is at the end of its useful life.”

Frankly, I really liked the video Kaval posted on Twitter May 24 during a Golden Knights game at T-Mobile Arena during the Stanley Cup playoffs. The press ate it up and passed along the message he intended to send.

Not surprisingly, the A’s fascination with Las Vegas has baseball fans in both cities buzzing. Like hornets in Oakland, like unabashed fanboys in these parts. It all serves the interests of Kaval & Co. as they rattle the bats ahead of an Oakland City Council to decide the future of the sprawling Howard Terminal stadium and waterfront development plan in late July.

Just for the sake of a fan’s argument, let’s consider the possibilities. The Howard Terminal project, at approximately $1 billion, would be the centerpiece of what’s advertised as a $12 billion privately funded development with $450 million in community benefits. The idea has been germinating since 2018 with a goal of opening as early as 2023. Now even a fast-tracked approval might not result in a new ballpark and waterfront stroll until at least 2027, according to published reports.

If that sounds too good to be true, there are reasons for that. The proposal is already being picked to pieces by well-sourced skeptics who cackle about the need for the public to pump $855 million in infrastructure improvements into the care-worn industrial district. That’s a lot for any city in the post-COVID economy, and Oakland has a lot of other areas of need. As the fieldofschemes.com website so wickedly put it, “Misdirection is the cornerstone of all successful magic.”

Sleight of hand is something Las Vegas knows plenty about as it tries to get back on its feet following the pandemic. We’ve already watched millions in hotel room tax dollars diverted into the $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium. Not to mention the substantial investment it took to create and support the Las Vegas Ballpark for the A’s-affiliated Las Vegas Aviators of the Pacific Coast League.

But Las Vegas is a burgeoning big-league market that raises the stakes just by being itself, and it’s never taken much to fire up the welcome wagon here. Anyone looking to gin up support for the next billion-dollar shiny object in Las Vegas will find plenty of enablers.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman recently suggested the team should consider Cashman Field north of downtown, which is interesting considering its location was among the reasons given for moving across town and building the sparkling new Las Vegas Ballpark.

It makes zero sense to move all the way from the Bay Area just to relocate into a marginal neighborhood, but give Goodman credit for trying. When you lead a city that finds itself with two minor-league baseball stadiums, you take your shots where you find them.

As they were intended, Kaval’s signals have been picked up by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who may be a big baseball fan but clearly can also read a balance sheet. Back in April her spokesperson Justin Berton, a veritable prince of understatement, plucked a balanced note: "The City is willing to bring to bear its resources to help make this vision a reality; however, today’s proposal from the A’s appears to request public investment at the high end for projects of this type nationwide."

In other words, the pitch was just a bit outside.

Serious students of this game will start taking the A’s Las Vegas roadshow seriously when Aviators Executive Director Don Logan and Director of Business Development and former County Commissioner Larry Brown play a role in the discussion. Their encyclopedic knowledge of baseball and the community would add instant credibility to all the rhetorical magic.

Short of that, sports fans, try to wait until after the Oakland City Council’s July meeting before lining up for tickets to the first Las Vegas A’s game.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal— “Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. He is also the author of a new book, "Saints, Sinners, and Sovereign Citizens: The Endless War Over the West’s Public Lands." On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.

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