The A’s Dave Kaval Is In
The congenial and energetic team president talks stadiums, designated hitters, and rabbits.
Photo courtesy of the Oakland A's
After flirting with moving to Fremont and San Jose, the Oakland A’s are now committed to building a privately financed stadium in Oakland by 2023. As evidenced by the new slogan, “Rooted in Oakland,” the team is actively looking at two sites, Howard Terminal on the bay or the Coliseum, which they’ve offered to buy for a cool $135 million—money that would pay off the site’s debt. A third choice, next to Laney College, fell through last year when the Peralta Community College District nixed the idea. The mastermind behind the A’s’ commitment to Oakland is second-year team President Dave Kaval. A Stanford MBA, Kaval knows about building stadiums: His steady hand oversaw the construction of the San Jose Earthquakes’ new home while he ran that organization. Kaval also seeks fan input and holds weekly “office hours” to get their feedback. I tracked down the energetic Kaval recently for a conversation about all things green and gold as the team celebrates 50 years in Oakland this season.
Paul Kilduff: Is Howard Terminal the preferred spot?
Dave Kaval: For right now our focus is options. After the Peralta deal fell through in December, I think what we really saw firsthand was how important it is to have options in Oakland.
PK: The Coliseum site is farther from downtown than Howard Terminal, and if you look at the new succesful baseball stadiums, they’re closer to the downtowns.
DK: Places like Camden Yards in Baltimore, AT&T Park, or Jacobs Field in Cleveland, they were built in the downtown urban core where people live and work so you can draw upon that to make sure you fill the stadium. Especially in a sport where you have 81 home games. A football stadium is more of a destination. People will come regionally eight or 10 times a year. Baseball has a different feeling to it, and that’s why I think the urban locations have traditionally been more successful. Now whether or not you can still duplicate that at the Coliseum we’re exploring, and we think it could work. But each site has pros and cons that we’re weighing.
PK: Have you thought about filling in Lake Merritt for the new stadium? It’s hella close to downtown.
DK: We’re not filling it in. I love Lake Merritt. First wildlife refuge in the country. It’s fantastic.
PK: I was just kidding. What about a barge in the middle of the bay?
DK: A floating stadium. In my office hours, we had a civil engineer come in and propose a floating stadium with four tugboats. We could actually pull it up right next to AT&T Park.
PK: Love it. So you need to make a decision by the end of the year, right?
DK: Yeah, we need an economic deal in place by the end of the year to make it to 2023.
PK: I always thought the West Side Club was pretty hip, but the new Treehouse lounge above the left field bleachers complete with logs is off the hook, as Greg Papa might say.
DK: Everybody in there has got a beard and an IPA; it’s fantastic. You can’t beat it. It smells like you’re in the forest. We even have Treehouse passes so folks can just hang out there—$150 for the entire season.
PK: How about a zip-line from the Treehouse to another part of the stadium?
DK: I wouldn’t rule anything out.
PK: It’s 50 years of the A’s in Oakland, an amazing milestone. I went to games as a kid in the ’70s during the Charlie Finley era when Charlie O, the mule mascot, would be trotted out onto the field. I didn’t get to . . .
DK: You never sat on the mule?
PK: Not once.
DK: Maybe later this year if he makes another appearance we can arrange it.
PK: Is that really going to happen?
DK: No commitment on that, but one thing I will say is that many of the Charlie Finley promotions, like Harvey the rabbit, are things that we want to make sure we celebrate.
PK: You’re bringing back the little rabbit that used to pop up out of the ground with fresh baseballs for the umps?
DK: We couldn’t get approval from MLB to allow that, but they couldn’t stop us from making one in a remote-control car with a little basket full of baseballs. He looks identical to the old one. He’s named Harvey Junior.
PK: When I tell people in San Francisco I’m an A’s fan, I get this snooty reply about how American League baseball isn’t legit because of the designated hitter. Does anybody put down the Yankees or the Red Sox because they play in the American League with the DH?
DK: Last time I checked, the Yankees won 27 World Championships. When a National League team gets up at that number, then maybe they can say something.
PK: Because Charlie Finley was so instrumental in the adoption of the designated hitter, why not start “The Designated Hitter Hall of Fame” in its rightful home, Oakland?
DK: I like that a lot. You know, it’s funny you mention that, because we’re thinking about doing a hall of fame and museum as part of the new stadium.
DK: Especially to celebrate not just the A’s history, but just Oakland baseball history, back to the Oakland Oaks. I just had coffee this morning with Joe Morgan who’s from Oakland. And Frank Robinson, the first African-American manager. All these great people and players are from this area. Billy Martin. So, that could be part of it. You could have a whole wing for the DH hall of fame.
PK: I’m throwing that out there, and I’m not asking for anything in return.
DK: You know what? Maybe you can take Harvey the rabbit home with you one day.
PK: That would be a dream come true.
Dave Kaval Vital Stats
Birthplace: Cleveland, Ohio
Astrological Sign: Scorpio
Motto: It CAN be done.
Book on nightstand: Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius
Preferred hot dog condiment: Bertman’s Ballpark Mustard available at the Oakland Coliseum.
A’s website: MLB.com/athletics
This report was originally published by our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.