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Thompson: A’s are finally all in — with the perfect new president for the mission

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			Thompson: A’s are finally all in — with the perfect new president for the mission

This is personal for Dave Stewart.

Raised by a longshoreman, groomed at the local Boys & Girls Club, scarred by the wreckage of the Cypress freeway after the Loma Prieta earthquake, Oakland to his heart is like melanin to his skin. As is the case with natives, Stewart is an Oakland loyalist, an apologist with a keen ear for disrespect of our city.

That’s why David Kaval is such a breath of fresh air.

“I like his energy,” Stewart said. “I think that he has great ideas. What he’s trying to do organizationally and for the city, I think it’s a great thing.”

The new A’s president understands us. And he understands how it works here.

Kaval’s plan is simple, and echoes exactly what people from these parts have been screaming at the Warriors and Raiders. His tenure as president, which began in November of 2016, starts with this premise as a foundation: Oakland is a viable and worthy home. And the ownership is so convinced they are determined to build a privately financed stadium here.

Kaval has become like Jerry Maguire uttering from the depths of his heart “you complete me.” He had us at hello.

“We are committed to Oakland,” he said. “We’re going to build a ballpark in Oakland. We’re going to find a way to do it.”

That is such a drastic pivot for the A’s. Under Lew Wolff, they fought to get the rights to build in San Jose. They even flirted with Fremont and Sacramento. They wanted no part of Oakland, unless Oakland could get them what they wanted.

But ghost owner John Fisher, he of Gap Inc. riches, has shifted the plan. Wolff is out as the face and mouthpiece of the A’s ownership, and Kaval is in. He said the Operation Oakland was already underway when he came on board, which explains why Fisher was touring Howard Terminal, long a potential spot for a new stadium, back in August.

Were the A’s forced to embrace Oakland due to a lack of options, after MLB squashed their San Jose hopes? Perhaps. But that is irrelevant because Kaval is speaking our language.

He is proving to be perfect for this new focus of the A’s. He ran the same gameplan in San Jose getting Avaya Stadium built. Plus, he’s from Cleveland, a city with a similar complex to Oakland’s little-brother edginess. And his wife, a Newark native, carries the East Bay torch proudly.

He understands the current of loyalty winding through these type of cities and how that works to the benefit of a sports franchise.

But they are not just relying on lip service. The A’s are backing up their proclamations of Oakland love with actions. Kaval is on a campaign to digest Oakland culture.

He holds regular office hours to hear from the people, give them a voice in this prolonged conversation about stadiums and cities.

The A’s revived Greenman Field — a baseball park in a rough East Oakland neighborhood the franchise adopted decades ago and is one of the few inner city diamonds in Oakland — and christened it in March with a special dedication.

They commissioned an A’s mural at 19th and Webster and will dot the area with flags, marking its territory in downtown Oakland.

All A’s commercials are Oakland-themed, shot in Oakland at Oakland landmarks. Oakland-based food trucks will be posted up at every game.

Kaval is meeting with businesses — he’s grown partial to 1234 Go Records, whose owners Michael Thorn and Steve Stevenson are “Oakland to the bone” — and influential figures, talking about how to paint the town green and gold.

Another major step the A’s are taking: embracing this city’s long history with baseball and this franchise’s wealth of legends.

Oakland has produced baseball greats such as Frank Robinson, Joe Morgan, Curt Flood and still-active Jimmy Rollins. On top of that, the A’s have been a factory of superstar production. And often not just any star, but revolutionaries, game-changers and trend-setters.

The A’s haven’t capitalized on that panache in the past. Kaval is making that an emphasis.

On Opening Night, the A’s are honoring Rickey Henderson by naming the field after him.

“If you look at all the great franchises, they all have tradition in their organizations,” Stewart said. “The Yankees. The Los Angeles Dodgers. The St. Louis Cardinals. The organizations that have had some type of history of success, you will see they have a link to the players of the past. It can only enhance the organization. This organization has a lot of greats. Blue Moon Odom. Vida Blue. Mike Norris. Joe Rudi. Gene Tenace. Sal Bando. These guys are still around and can bring a different flavor to the organization.”

This is why we hear Kaval. He understands how to tap into the community instead of just milking it. His questions are not how much money can the A’s get from the city, but how can the A’s better integrate the franchise into the city.

As a result, the A’s might turn out to be pioneers in professional sports.

Sports has become such big business, it will be increasingly hard for smaller market cities to play ball. The costs of franchises are rising, which means the opportunities for major returns on these investments need to rise. That is tough to do without big market television deals, luxury suite sells and huge sponsorship deals.

The problem is, the cities where these profits are possible are moving away from subsidizing teams. Realizing the franchise needs the city more than vice versa, cities are asking what teams can do for them. Seattle lost an NBA team and San Diego an NFL team because those cities decided they were done footing even part of the bill.

The benefits once touted by sports franchises have been debunked as marginal at best. And as the value of franchises steadily grow, with the ownership reaping all of that boon, the cities fertilizing the investment are looking to see what they can get out of it.

Stadiums are becoming a community affair, a partnership between the city and the team. There is enough profit for everybody to eat. The question just becomes how.

At the rate things are going, teams are going to sweeten the deal for their hosts to have a chance at tripling the value of their franchise.

Kaval and the A’s are actively trying to figure that out. The A’s know they stand to make billions in the long haul if they run their business right, and millions annually, because of where they will be playing and the passion of the area. But in order for that to happen, they have to truly make themselves a part of the community. Truly invested, financially and emotionally.

And that means figuring out how Oakland benefits, too.

“One of the key things is everyone has to be pulling in the same direction,” Kaval said. “These projects are so difficult to get done in this day in age, especially privately financed.  So you need everyone together. And that’s what we’re doing now. We’re pulling everyone together … so we can start our future course here in Oakland in a positive way.”

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