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Tarps are up in Coliseum -- a downer for some fans

Sunday, January 29, 2006

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The A's aren't downsizing this season with the payroll (that's up) or the personnel (if you've seen Frank Thomas, you know he's no downsize), but with the Coliseum's seating capacity. The evidence was there to see, and hear, at Saturday's FanFest.

Green tarps are covering five upper-deck sections at the Coliseum. By the April 1 exhibition against the Giants, all 53 sections will be tarped and off limits to fans.

And a small sampling of fans found nobody with a positive reaction to the change.

The A's are trying to establish a more intimate atmosphere as well as a higher demand for tickets, which could be tougher to acquire in some cases because the capacity will be 34,077 (not including standing-room tickets), down from 44,073.

"We're trying to create an environment that's fun, easily accessible and brings you closer to the field, an environment that could create a real home-field advantage for us," said A's president Mike Crowley, who came up with the idea.

Owner Lewis Wolff's plans for a new ballpark -- the site of which is undecided -- also include a cozier capacity in the 35,000 range, and the A's look at this season as a possible dress rehearsal for such a venue.

Outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher likes the idea.

"I think it's great they're closing down the top deck," he said. "It'll be more fan-friendly and bring fans closer to the field. It'll seem like it's more full."

But in a survey of fans in line buying game tickets at Saturday's FanFest, it was difficult to find anyone who appreciated the concept of closing the third level.

"I think it's silly," said Oakland native Charles Edwards, 50. "Losing those seats for teams like the Yankees and Angels, they'll lose revenue. They're going to choke themselves. I think Lew Wolff is a good owner, but I don't think closing the upper deck is going to do it for them."

Steven Moya is a 13-year-old from Antioch who enjoyed sitting in the upper deck.

"That's kind of dumb," he said of eliminating the seats. "I think they'll lose money because of that. Plus, it's a better view from up there."

When told the A's wanted to create a cozier atmosphere, Moya said, "That's not cozy. You're all squished in."

Crowley said the A's don't intend to lose revenue because of the lesser capacity. In fact, he subscribes to the less-is-more philosophy, suggesting the limited capacity would create a higher demand for tickets and prompt fans to buy them earlier rather than walk up shortly before the first pitch.

The A's drew 2.1 million fans last year, and Crowley said of the 2006 attendance, "I would hope it would be higher than 2.1, but that remains to be seen."

Asked why the A's wouldn't remove the tarps for select games involving the Yankees, Red Sox and Giants -- along with the mid-June weekend Dodger series -- Crowley said, "That's counter to what we're trying to do. It's going to be intimate whether the Yankees are in or the Royals are in."

The cost of the tarps: $400,000. Crowley said the A's are picking up the tab. They're made of vinyl mesh, according to David Rinetti, vice president of stadium operations, and each weighs 210 pounds. Rinetti said it'll take 1 1/2 hours to put up and remove each tarp and that all could be taken down (for Raiders games) or put up within a day.

Behind the plate, the tarps will have this message, in gold lettering: HOME OF THE OAKLAND ATHLETICS. The years of the four Oakland World Series titles will be listed above the right-field corner, and the five championship years of the old Philadelphia A's will be seen above the left-field corner.

The four retired player numbers -- Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, Reggie Jackson and Dennis Eckersley -- also will be shown.

Crowley said it's possible the tarps will carry advertising. He hopes fans will relish in the new environment once they experience it. For now, fans are skeptical.

"I understand what they're trying to do, but as a fan, it was very affordable to sit up there," said Oakland's Rebecca Ramirez, 44.

Nancy Duty, 46, of Pleasanton, said, "I don't understand it at all. It's very frustrating. I'm a single mother and can't afford a lot of lower-level seats. The culture of people who follow the team, it's not the culture where you pack the house. A lot of people who live here don't have a lot of money. They pack it in San Francisco, but they've got (Barry) Bonds and a new stadium. Oakland isn't the same. I don't know if you can manipulate that by closing the top."

Paul Miller, 51, of Berkeley, is a season-ticket holder with seats in the lower level, section 123.

"Bad idea," he said. "Sometimes my kids use the tickets. But they don't sit in my seats. They go to the upper deck. My son says he can see the game better up there."

The A's say they'll have 5,156 seats for $10 and that some seats for Wednesday games (not involving the Yankees or Red Sox) will be $2.


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E-mail John Shea at jshea@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page C - 5 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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