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Oakland A's fans are demoralized ahead of the hapless team's move to Las Vegas

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Oakland A's are 14 and 50, the worst record in Major League Baseball. But that might not be the worst of it. At home, the A's are playing to a mostly empty stadium as the team is working to pull up stakes and move to Las Vegas, like their football cousins the Raiders did a few years ago. As Brian Watt of member station KQED reports, fans in Oakland are fed up and demoralized.

BRIAN WATT, BYLINE: No matter how big or small the crowd is at the Oakland Coliseum, a signature part of seeing an A's game there is the committed group of fans in the right field bleachers and hearing their drums.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Chanting) Let's go, Oakland.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUM BEATING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Chanting) Let's go, Oakland.

WATT: But after the A's owners announced just days after the season started that they had plans to move and build a stadium in Las Vegas, fans stopped drumming and found a new protest chant.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: Sell the team. Sell the team. Sell the team.

WATT: They're trying to goad A's owner John Fisher, a billionaire heir to the Gap retail empire, into selling the team.

JORGE LEON: Right now the owner owns the team, but it's not theirs. You know, it's the community's.

WATT: That's Jorge Leon, president of the Oakland '68s, an A's fan group.

J LEON: The A's have been alienating the fan base for a while. I mean, it's nothing new. And so now it's kind of like the last straw, and people are tired of it, you know?

WATT: Indeed, for years, the A's have traded away their best players, angering fans. After dismantling their roster before last season, they raised ticket prices. This season, they're on pace to have the worst winning percentage in modern major league history.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: What's going on over there? What's going on?

WATT: Leon and other fans have taken to making hand-drawn banners to voice their frustration. He and his wife, Michelle, whom he met at an A's game, are duct-taping signs to a railing in a largely empty right field section.

MICHELLE LEON: That one is, baseball before billionaires, and then, stay. The A's belong in Oakland.

WATT: Others say, sink Old Navy, and, boycott Banana Republic, poking at the A's owner's Gap retail pedigree. On a recent weeknight, typical for this season, only around 5,000 people sat in a coliseum built to hold more than 60,000.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Singing) Take me out to the ballgame. Take me out with the crowd.

WATT: Despite rising exasperation in ownership, some lifelong fans are still showing up just to root for their home team. Rick Valdez drove to Oakland from Clovis, Calif., some three hours away.

RICK VALDEZ: If they go to Vegas, I might go to one series a year. But I'm an A's fan, you know? I don't want to see them leave Oakland. I don't want to see them go anywhere but here, you know? But at the same time, if they go, they go. I'm still going to follow them. At least that's my mindset now.

(SOUNDBITE OF BASEBALL BAT CRACKING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Good play.

(APPLAUSE)

WATT: The Oakland '68s fan group is urging all fans to come to this coming Tuesday night's game for what they're calling a reverse boycott - to fill the seats and show ownership and Major League Baseball that fans' support for the A's remains strong despite all their woes. For NPR News, I'm Brian Watt in Oakland, Calif.

(SOUNDBITE OF L.A.B. SONG, "TAKE IT AWAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Watt
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