OAKLAND — Michael Crowley has been hearing about plans for a new baseball-only stadium in Oakland since his boyhood days as a sports fan in the Bay Area.
Now, as team president and partial owner of the Athletics, he is the one planning a good part of it -- envisioning everything from the width of seats to number of entrances to dimensions for the training room, as the team attempts to move ahead with its optimistic idea for an intimate ballpark the A's believe would give the city a much-needed boost.
"It's a necessity," said general manager Billy Beane, also a part owner. "We've got to get it done. It's not something that's going to solve itself."
It's also a concept many consider purely a pipe dream at this stage for a franchise that operates every year on a shoestring budget. There are plenty of hurdles, most notably getting the city to agree to a site.
Mayor Jerry Brown, who didn't return a call seeking comment about the A's plan, long has been a skeptic about the need for a new stadium in Oakland, where many residents are more concerned with improving schools, increasing police and fire resources and bettering roads.
The A's, meanwhile, would like to have the project moving forward by the start of the 2006 season.
"Obviously I'd like to go 'poof' and there it is," said Crowley, in his seventh year as team president and eighth with the organization. "For somebody who operates the team, it's not quick enough."
New A's owner Lewis Wolff and his partners plan to finance most of the construction themselves, spending an estimated $300 million to $400 million, then pay it off with investments in what they hope becomes a booming neighborhood surrounding the stadium -- with restaurants, shopping, condominiums and a hotel.
Those pushing for the ballpark believe such a venue could do for Oakland what similar new stadiums have done to improve other cities.
"Oakland is situated well for success," Crowley said. "It has a good airport, a good transportation system. It has unlimited potential."
Wolff and the other owners proposed a plan in August to build a 35,000-seat ballpark they insist would transform a rundown warehouse district just north of Oakland's current home, the Coliseum, which the A's share with the Oakland Raiders.
Wolff told the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority last month that his group would not ask the public for a bond to help finance the project as the Raiders did to expand the Coliseum a decade ago, but the city still likely would see its share of bills.
The new ballpark would take up a large area along Interstate 880 currently home to the Coliseum Flea Market and a handful of small businesses.
Wolff also would like to see a new Bay Area Rapid Transit station built nearby -- which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
The A's are one of only a few teams left in baseball that share their stadium with an NFL team, and it's inconvenient. While baseball is still going on, the Raiders play their games with the infield dirt still in place, then it takes an all-nighter by the grounds crew to convert the field back for baseball. More often than not, the A's and their opponent are forced to cancel batting practice because the field isn't ready.
During a recent game against Seattle, the Mariners encountered a seven-inch rat hissing at them in their dugout. This week, crowds were well under 20,000 even though the A's are in a pennant race. So, what's to say fans will embrace the A's just because they have a glistening new stadium?
"Certainly from Lew's end, he's tried to put something tangible rather than something in concept," Beane said. "Hopefully it will provide the impetus to move forward. It seems if there's a will there's a way. The early indication is there's a will from the A's side, and early indication is there's a will from the city's side. That's a great start."
The age of dual-purpose facilities that used to make so much sense financially is gone, especially with teams realizing the benefits of building new stadiums such as SBC Park along the waterfront across San Francisco Bay.