Network Associates has low net worth
By Eric Neel
Page 2 staff

Editor's Note: This is the 25th report card in Page 2's summerlong series rating all 30 ballparks in Major League Baseball.

OAKLAND -- This summer ballpark tour is a sweet thing. Jim, Jeff, and I travel around, stroll through stadiums, eat dogs, drink beer, chat with folks, and watch baseball games. It's nice work if you can get it.

Network Associates
Capacity: 43,622
Opened: 1968
Surface: Grass

Our Ratings:
Seat comfort: 2
Hot dogs: 4
Concessions: 4
Signature food: 5
Beer: 5
Bathrooms: 3
Scoreboard: 1
P.A. system: 5
Fun stuff: 2
Souvenirs: 3
Tickets: 2.5
Exterior: 0
Interior: 1
Access: 5
Ushers: 2.5
Trading up: 3
Fan knowledge: 3
7th inning stretch: 2
Local scene: 1
Wild card: 5

Total: 59

My friends and family have been riding me all summer: "I can't believe you get paid for this! This is a job? This is not a job, this is a vacation, this is a dream. You are so lucky. Do you know how lucky you are?!"

I do, I truly do. I'm incredibly lucky. I go to each and every game with a spring in my step and a song in my heart. My editors and the gods of sports writing have bestowed upon me the full grace and kindness of the baseball universe. I give all praise and thanks to them, and each morning I bow down before a shrine I've built to them (out of pencils, scorecards, Cracker Jack boxes, and empty beer cups) to profess my unworthiness and offer my undying gratitude.

And I should say, too, that I love Oakland -- the hills, the estuary and bay, the ribs, the still-simmering Black Panther energy -- and I'm a fan of the Athletics, their wicked arms and their new-school approach to budgets and batters.

I mention all of this because I want you to know the state of my soul when I say, sadly, that Network Associates Coliseum in Oakland is a dud.

The building is stiff and bland, the location is between-the-freeways ugly, and the action on the field is about four miles from even the good seats.

Oakland is a baseball town going way back. The fans are loyal and intense. They deserve better.

The A's are a resourceful, tight crew making their fourth-straight run at the playoffs on a shoestring budget. They deserve better too.

The ratings:

1. Access: You can drive but I wouldn't. I'd take the bus or, better yet, Bay Area Rapid Transit, which lets off right at the park (and the airport stop is right there, too). It's cheap, it's ecologically sound, and, in the hour or two before first pitch, it's a big traveling A's party. Points: 5

Network Associates Coliseum
A fan's view at Network Associates Coliseum.
2. Exterior architecture: There's no front, no center of gravity, nothing to look at, no sign or clock or statue to meet under. It's the architectural equivalent of one of those donut rings players have on their bats in the on-deck circle. 0

3. Interior architecture: Once upon a time there were bleachers and the rowdies were sun-baked and happy. Now there are two 40-thousand-square-foot outfield clubs (for football, don't you know) that landed with a thud, blocked out all light, and crushed the spirit of the rebels. Add to that the biggest foul territory in the bigs, railings that block the sight lines for several rows worth of upper-level seating, what look now like holding-pen bleachers, and the nagging thought that the beautiful Oakland hills are hidden somewhere just beyond the walls and you have an almost wholly unappealing environment. There is grass, mercifully. 1 point for grass.

4. Tickets: Not bad: Eight bucks to sit in the upper reserve seats and you can get to the field level for $24. Not bad: You can usually roll up an hour before game time and have several seating options. Bad: The game and the upper reserve sections might be in different zip codes, and the field level seats are pulled back from the field like maybe the A's are extra-super concerned about foul-ball and flying-bat injuries. 2.5

Here's what Page 2's Eric Neel spent during his day at Network Associates Coliseum:

BART ticket: $3.70

Ticket: $8

Stadium Dog: $3.25

Pyramid Ale: $7.50

BBQ Pork Sandwich: $7

2 Sweet Potato Pies: $8

Total: $37.45

5. Seat comfort: I have sat in a lot of hard, contoured-plastic, in-the-style-of-the-old-days seats on this tour, and haven't thought much about them one way or the other. In Oakland, in pebble-grained seats with low backs, I kind of missed them. 2

6. Trading-up factor: They're semi-strict about checking stubs at the head of the aisles, and this was an August wild-card-race game with Boston, so the good seats were pretty full. You can get down close if you go toward the foul poles. 3

7. Quality/selection of concession-stand fare: You can get burritos, deli sandwiches, garlic fries, and nachos. You can get Roundtable pizza. (You can get that at home, too, and at home it comes with a pretty good view of the action on your TV.) If you come early, I recommend a table at the West Side Club (a sit-down joint on the second level with window-seat views of batting practice), which in a cool, anti-elitist move, is open to the public. They do fish and chips, chipotle chicken salad, a full buffet, etc.; and on the night I was there, they were serving up $1 tacos. During the game, I recommend the Bar-b-q stand down the third-base line. No waiting, very friendly service, and some fine tangy sauce. 4

8. Quality of hot dogs: I had the Stadium Dog, which was boiled but tasty. You can also go the fancy dog route: Italian, Polish, Linguica, and Louisiana Beef. 4

9. Signature concession item: It took me a while, but I found it: it's the sweet potato pie at the BBQ joint. Not many people were eating 'em, but that just meant more for me. 5

The field bar
One area where Network Associates scores -- the bar.
10. Beer: Like Jack Palance in "City Slickers," the Net is trying to do one thing very well, and that one thing is beer. More beer stands per square foot than Starbucks in Seattle. Sam Adams, Gordon Biersch, Coors, MGD, Heineken, Pyramid microbrews, Widmer microbrews, Sierra Nevada, Guinness, Dos Equis -- it's a recovering alcoholic's hell. 5

11. Bathrooms: You see what I wrote about beer? They're big and they're full. 3

12. Scoreboard: There are two of them (one where each endzone belongs) and they look like highway road signs. 1

13. Quality of public address system: Here's what I've been waiting for all tour, maybe all my life: Eric Chavez smokes a ball over the right field fence, crowd goes wild, and the DJ spins George Clinton's "Atomic Dog" while young Eric rounds the bases. I no longer have to wait. It happened, I saw it, I heard it, I grooved to it and it was good. 5

Hit the gift shop and come out with an afro.
14. Fun stuff to do besides the game: There's something called the Stomper Fun Zone for kids (named for the Elephant mascot) -- climbing structure, speed pitch, etc. -- but you have to leave a trail of crumbs to find your way back from it. 2

15. Price/selection of baseball souvenirs: Chavez, Zito, Tejada, Mulder -- the girls love these guys; you see young ladies everywhere in jersey Ts with names and numbers on their backs. Me? I'm a fan of this guy. 3

Grades for ballpark we've visited so far on our summer tour:

Pac Bell (Giants): 93
Camden Yards (Orioles): 92
Coors Field (Rockies): 85
Edison Field (Angels): 84
Kauffman Stadium (Royals): 84
Wrigley Field (Cubs): 84
Dodger Stadium (Dodgers): 82.5
Comerica Park (Tigers): 82
Fenway Park (Red Sox): 81.5
Safeco Field (Mariners): 81.5
Jacobs Field (Indians): 81
Turner Field (Braves): 81
Miller Park (Brewers): 78.5
Busch Stadium (Cardinals): 78
Pro Player Stadium (Marlins): 78
U.S. Cellular Field (White Sox): 74
Yankee Stadium (Yankees): 73.5
Bank One Ballpark (D-Backs): 72
SkyDome (Blue Jays): 67
Metrodome (Twins): 66.25
Network Associates (A's): 59
Qualcomm Stadium (Padres): 58
Tropicana Field (Devil Rays): 56
Veterans Stadium (Phillies): 53.5
Olympic Stadium (Expos): 49

Complete rankings by category

16. Friendliness and helpfulness of usher staff: Everybody was great, always happy to help a guy find a beer or a bathroom. But behind the ushers, all along the concourse, are these green fences from floor to ceiling that make it impossible for you to see the game as you do your eat-drink-and-pee runs. It's a horrible, hostile, institutional idea. It says: "move along, nothing to see here." It says: "go home." 2.5

17. Knowledge of local fans: The ones who are there are smart and into it, but they don't come out in the numbers a team this good deserves. 3

18. Seventh-inning stretch: You could make up for the fact that you don't have much of a park to work with by doing some zany, ground-breaking seventh-inning stretch stuff -- re-enact scenes from the "Tall Guy," complete with dancing elephants, maybe. Or, you could just trot out "Take Me Out to the Ballgame", which is what they do at the Net, for the umpteenth time. 2

19. Pre-and-postgame bar-and-restaurant scene: None to speak of, though like I said, the atmosphere on BART is fun. 1

20. Wild card: Hope. Billy Beane, Paul DePodesta and the rest of the A's front office staff have built an inexpensive, winning team. The fans feel smalltown hopeful and are able to go to bed every night knowing their boys make a liar out of Commissioner Bud and his small-market doomspeak every time they walk out on the field. 5




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