For the longest time, one of the Oakland Coliseum’s closest neighbors was one of the largest drive-in theaters in Northern California.
When it opened on May 22, 1964, the Coliseum Drive-In featured a triple-header: Cliff Robertson in “PT 109,” Henry Fonda in “Spencer’s Mountain” and John Wayne in “McClintock.”
The site a few hundred yards up the road from the Coliseum has long since been converted to being a year-round swap meet, but anyone driving along I-880, the Nimitz Freeway, can still see one of the three original screens still standing.
We bring this up because in an age of pandemics and social distancing and baseball about to start up without fans in the stands, is it time for the drive-in to help baseball make its comeback?
What about repurposing one or both of the Coliseum parking lots for drive-in baseball? The parking lots are huge and the parking spots could be properly socially distanced. Putting up a screen or two wouldn’t be necessarily prohibitive – easy for me to say; it’s not my money. Parking spots would generate actual revenue, although admittedly not much in the overall scheme of MLB’s $10.7 billion business plan, but perhaps enough to get some furloughed employees back to work.
And if A’s fans, stuck in the house for the most part in the three months while the state of California has been doing battle with the COVID-19 coronavirus, could get out for a few hours on a nice summer evening, well, it might just be therapeutic.
"If the A's can crow about a Tree House, Stomper Zone and Organic Garden," former A's, Warriors and 49ers executive Andy Dolich asked, "why not let the fans have some social distanced fun in one of the largest parking lots in an American sports venue?"
It would be more than a little cool if, while playing in an empty stadium, A’s players could hear their fans erupt from the cheapest of cheap seats outside the stadium. Would TV broadcasts pick up the sound? I don’t know, but TV cameras almost certainly would make those parking lot crowds part of the televised experience.
I was thinking about this last night and kicked it around a bit this morning with some people, and I didn’t hear any thumbs-down talk. I could see the fact that the sun won’t have set by the time of first pitch on July 23 might be an issue. And the patrons’ only access to bathroom facilities being portable toilets would be problematic.
Could there be licensing woes? Maybe, but the A’s might find it amenable to take the road less traveled.
At one point, I wrote at the end of an email to a buddy that I can’t believe no one else has thought of this.
Well, hello internet. It turns out others have. Sort of.
According to a story in oaklandside.org from Friday, there is already talk between Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan and the Coliseum Authority about getting one of the Coliseum’s parking lots repurposed into a drive-in.
“This could be such an important win-win opportunity,” Kaplan told oaklandside.org. “We have people that don’t have things to do. You can’t go to the movie theaters safely, and you can’t go to concerts. There aren’t ballgames happening. It’s not good for people’s mental health not to have positive outlets.”
Kaplan’s conversation probably came before the return of baseball was finalized. Since the sport is due to be back July 23, why wouldn’t putting baseball on the big outdoor screen make sense?
Henry Gardner, the interim executive director of the Coliseum Authority, said he’s had “at least 10” texts from Kaplan about the repurposing of the Coliseum parking lot as a drive-in. And while the idea of putting baseball on the big screen didn’t come up, he said he thought having the A’s on the big screen might just fit in nicely.
“Actually, this baseball idea ties into what we’ve just started talking about,” Gardner told SI on Saturday. “We’ve been contacted by churches and non-profit groups wanting to use the parking lot, and I’ve asked my staff to start exploring this. How do you get a sound system to work? I’ve been told it can be done easily and inexpensively, and somebody else told me `Not so.’”
The Coliseum Authority is going to meet (remotely, of course) Wednesday about how to use the parking lots in this time of pandemic. Gardner said he now suspects having the possibility of putting the A’s on the big screen is going to be on the agenda.
“The more we talk, we believe there are creative ways to use the parking lot during this pandemic,” Gardner said. He hasn’t talked to the A’s about this but “I’m sure the A’s would be very excited about this.”
“I’m thinking you’re not going to have 30,000 people trying to do this. You might have two or three thousand. But it’s a big parking lot, very big, and people can remain socially distant.”
There are issues, to be sure. The parking lots are likely to be used at some point to administer COVID-19 tests, and that testing has to be a priority. Also, current rules limit parking lots to 200 cars, but Gardner says “that was written for Safeway-type parking lots, not one that’s 100 times larger.” And there are port-a-potty issues, too, because current rules say they have to be wiped down after each use.
But with 55 percent of the Coliseum Authority’s staff currently out of work, getting the parking lots up and running could get more people working again. That alone makes the idea worth exploring.
What do you think? Would you go to watch the A’s in a parking lot-turned-drive-in? Let us know in the comments section at the bottom of this page. And while you’re at it, feel free to follow this site by clicking the button in the top right corner. That way when the drive-in baseball idea swings or misses, you’ll be among the first to know.
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
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