25 September 2009

A San Jose Manifesto

Since the Earthquakes stadium renderings were released, many on this blog and elsewhere have asked how the fates of the Quakes and A's are intertwined. They've asked if juggling two teams and two potential stadium deals - in the same city no less - makes things needlessly complicated. They've also asked if focusing on soccer even on a peripheral basis takes the focus off baseball. Such questions about motivation will persist for some time to come, and won't cease until shovels hit dirt.

That brings me back to Mayor Reed's ending quote from last week's press conference:
"I'd like to thank Lew Wolff and the A's. It's Lew's vision that makes it possible for us to build a ballpark in San Jose."
I was then, and remain now, thoroughly shocked. Not shocked about the quote, as I figured it was coming sooner or later. I am shocked that it elicited zero response in the comments. The past six months, there's been a lot of back-and-forth about what Wolff has been doing in San Jose, about what the nature of discussions are. I've heard outright denial that Wolff wants to move the A's to San Jose, that the MLB panel will somehow ride to Oakland's rescue, which given recent history is myopic to the extreme.

That quote above tells you everything you need to know. I shouldn't have to spell it out. It's Lew's vision that brought the Quakes back, that tantalizes Quakes fans in that he may finally cure their scarred, oft-broken, oft-ignored hearts (they're not fully healed yet). It's Lew's vision that may finally quell all of the talk of uncertainty regarding the A's and their future. It's Lew's vision that may cement his legacy in San Jose, in the Bay Area, in California.

However, this is California after all. We don't impress easily. One way or another, we force our sports teams to earn our praise and patronage (except for the Warriors I suppose). When it comes to stadium building, everyone here is a full-on bandwagoner. We're skeptical to the nth degree, and rightfully so. As a result, we collectively aren't easily swayed by nice sketches and renderings. Pols know better than to propose any publicly-financed facilities, no matter how nice they look in ads or how well they're pitched in interviews. We innovate here. We propel the world. We want results because expect no less of ourselves. It's how we survive. It's how we thrive.

It's with that mindset that I have to concur with Center Line Soccer's Jay Hipps, who argues that despite the crappy economy and limp sponsorship numbers, the Quakes should plow ahead and build their stadium. I'll take it a step further though. Not only do I think that it's necessary for the Quakes, I also think it's imperative for the A's.

We talk here endlessly about attendance, population densities, and transit availability. All that stuff makes for nice presentation slides and lengthy reports, but it's mostly academic. The thing that really matters is, as always, political will. Political will and political capital go hand-in-hand. Wolff can reach out to non-profits to get little boosts here and there, as he did in Fremont. All of those efforts combined don't hold a candle to the value of getting the Quakes stadium built. Just as with San Jose Arena (publicly built), the actual building and opening of a new facility creates a veritable supernova of political capital.

With political capital comes momentum, which will come in handy during an election cycle. Momentum doesn't just come from great ideas. Momentum comes from the execution of great ideas. An inexpensive soccer-specific stadium is a great idea, even if it's value engineered to death. It's the responsible way to move forward, and can show the citizens of San Jose that someone around here can get things done responsibly. That's important because so many aren't familiar with Wolff's development history from 30 years ago. Half the people that live in the Valley are transplants. Some are from the Midwest and East Coast, others are from across a border or an ocean. They may be completely on board with a ballpark, but they want to want to see that train moving. They may need to feel that it will leave the station without them.

Wolff talks a lot about the pain that comes with the process, about how it's an industry unto itself. The process isn't as much the killer as the inertia the process creates. If ownership thinks the numbers can work given time, then inertia is the real enemy here. That's not to discount the steady, methodical groundwork that's been laid over the last several years. It's simply no longer the time to be methodical. It's time to be decisive. It's time to break that inertia. It's time to build. In fact, to paraphrase Ernie Banks, "Let's build two."