If you grew up in a family like mine, then the moment the clock hits 0:00 during the Super Bowl marks the unofficial start to baseball season.
Now, a few days later, pitchers and catchers are beginning to report all across the MLB today, with the A’s reporting Wednesday and the Giants holding their first workout on Thursday.
Usually, this kickoff to spring training carries with it some joy and optimism for a successful season — after all, the cliche is “hope springs eternal” for a reason.
But for both of the Bay Area’s teams, it’s hard to feel all that hopeful about the 2023 season.
In fact, it’s fair to wonder which fanbase feels more frustrated entering spring training.
First, A’s fans have been dealing with their seemingly endless search for a new stadium — it’s been so long that, if the search were a person, it’d be old enough to drink now.
And while the A’s leadership continues to gauge interest in moving to Las Vegas, including visiting locations in Sin City at the start of this month, there has continued to be steady — albeit slow — progress at Howard Terminal.
That progress has been slow enough that the core from the 2018-2020 playoff runs — the one that A’s ownership was hoping to carry into a brand-new ballpark and then, potentially, retain — has been broken up via trades.
After ownership expressed a desire that the team on the field would be a core funded by a new ballpark, that core has once again been broken up, traded off to other ballclubs where the players can be paid more than the A’s were willing to offer.
Now, the only A’s players left who have been in Oakland since 2019 are pitcher Paul Blackburn and outfielders Ramón Laureano and Seth Brown — and they may not still be here for much longer, either.
For the A’s fans who have remained strong after all these years, trading away known and familiar faces like Matt Olson and Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea and Sean Murphy, Chris Bassitt and Frankie Montas might have been the last straw.
Last season’s 60-win A’s team drew 787,902 fans for a full season — meaning nearly a million fewer people came out to the Coliseum than the last non-pandemic-impacted season in baseball (1.67 million in 2019).
And the average attendance of 9,973 fans per game was the first time an MLB team averaged fewer than 10,000 fans per game since the 2004 Expos — their final season in Montreal.
It’s hard to blame A’s fans for being apathetic, especially when the team is projected to go 62-100 in 2023, according to Baseball Prospectus.
While that feeling may fall in line with what A’s fans have experienced recently, it’s set to be a different spring for the Giants, whose fans are disappointed for different reasons before the season even starts.
After the magic carpet ride that was 2021 — a franchise-record 107 wins to win the NL West and an intense NLDS loss to the Dodgers in five games — there was a crash back to earth in 2022 all across the board.
With Buster Posey retired, the orange and black were left without their longtime superstar and rallying force. After a strong start in April, the Giants spiraled and sputtered their way to a .500 finish.
And even after the exciting 2021 season, the ballpark was nowhere near as full as it was during the glory days of the sellout run of the 2010s. If you take out the pandemic-impacted years of 2020 and 2021, the 2.482 million fans were the fewest the Giants have drawn to 24 Willie Mays Plaza since the ballpark opened in 2000.
That was why president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi made it very obvious that the Giants were looking for a superstar this offseason. Aaron Judge fit that bill, especially after hitting 62 home runs in Yankee pinstripes last year.
For about seven glorious minutes, Giants fans thought No. 99 was coming back to Northern California. But that report turned out to be erroneous and, a day later, Judge was officially returning to the Yankees.
Former Twins shortstop Carlos Correa would have also fit the superstar spot, and the Giants did agree to a 13-year, $350 million contract with the 28-year-old. But seven days after that agreement, a press conference called to introduce Correa as a Giant was canceled because of an issue with Correa’s physical.
While the Giants looked a bit better after Correa’s similarly lucrative agreement with the Mets was canceled by the same leg issue, Giants fans are still perturbed.
Sure, Judge choosing the Yankees stung, but it was understandable that he’d want to stay in the Bronx. Correa seemed excited to be a Giant, changing one of his Twitter pictures to Oracle Park and reportedly bringing his entire extended family to San Francisco for the signing ceremony.
And it was the Giants and their leadership who said no, in the end. Whether they were justified in their reasons, it still left the team with a superstar void and no one left to fill it.
That’s been a rarity for San Franciscans since the ballclub came West — and especially since the move to downtown. Barry Bonds, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Posey all helped draw fans to the ballpark.
Last year, the Giants came dangerously close to having fewer than 20,000 fans at a (non-pandemic-impacted) game for the first time since they moved to China Basin when only 20,039 showed up on May 9, 2022.
After an offseason of failed pursuits at bringing a superstar in, the Giants are projected by Baseball Prospectus to finish … exactly at 81-81 again.
It’s hard to blame Giants fans who are having a hard time getting excited about the team on the field. But hey, that feeling is very familiar to their East Bay neighbors.
So if anyone can find some spare hope ahead of baseball season, be sure to send it to the Bay Area.
We could really use it.