- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) As Steve Schott surveyed the steady stream of people crowding into the Coliseum before last night's game, he finally discovered the solution to the Oakland Athletics' perpetual lack of fan support.

"I guess if we win 19 in a row every time, everybody will come out to support us," the A's owner said with a grin.

It took the fifth-longest winning streak in major league history, but the San Francisco Bay area's full attention was focused on the A's as they went for their 20th straight victory against the Kansas City Royals.

Fans wearing green and gold arrived at the Coliseum hours before Oakland wrapped up a five-game homestand. Though only 26,325 attended win No.19 on Labor Day, a crowd in excess of 40,000 was expected to seize the last chance to cheer on the Amazing A's before a seven-game road trip to Minnesota and Anaheim.

Even with one of the most dynamic young rosters in baseball, the A's have become resigned to playing in front of smallish crowds through the first five months of the season. Crowds typically pick up in September but the feeling of fall was in the air last night, even with four weeks remaining.

"It's been like a playoff atmosphere in here for the last few days," Oakland manager Art Howe said. "It's good for the guys to get into that frame of mind soon. That's a good part of [the streak]."

People from every walk of life turned out, from children staying out late on a school night to third-generation season-ticket holders. Even Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown the former '60s activist known for a decided lack of enthusiasm toward Oakland's sports teams was expected to be in attendance.

Outside the park, fans held far more than the usual number of tailgate parties. Inside, dozens of national media members arrived, eager to tell the story of Oakland's young, carefree team.

Even those who couldn't make it were thinking about the A's.

"We talk about it. We're all fans of baseball," said Rich Gannon, the Oakland Raiders' Pro Bowl quarterback. "A lot of the guys know some of the players, and it's exciting to see them win not only that, but the way they've won, just kind of battled and hung in there. They're just playing with such confidence right now."

For once, the fans backed up Gannon's assessment. Actually, the A's often do well at the gate on Wednesdays because they sell many tickets and hot dogs at $1 apiece.

The dreary but serviceable Coliseum can't be the only reason for the A's struggles at the gate after all, their ticket prices probably make them the best major league sports value in California. And it's certainly not the quality of play, as the entire nation has learned during the last three weeks.

"We get out to every game we can, but the A's don't have the same kinds of fans as the Giants do," said Paul Ketter, an Alameda resident who allowed his 9-year-old son Steven to get his face painted. "There are a lot of loyal A's fans, but they follow the team in the paper or on TV."

A's general manager Billy Beane, uncharacteristically clad in a dress shirt and tie, canceled a trip to Modesto to watch a minor league playoff game. Instead, he gave interviews and chatted with Schott on the field before the game.

"I'm as surprised and excited as everybody else here," said Schott, a longtime target of criticism from fans for his unwillingness to expand the A's payroll, as well as the near-constant rumors that he's looking to sell the team. "You'd think this was the playoffs, the way everybody is out here early."

Shortly before game time, there were far more fans in the Coliseum than there would be for a normal weeknight game. There were even hundreds of fans on Mount Davis, the vast section of green seats and luxury boxes looming over center field that was constructed to lure the Raiders back to town.

"We would have been here anyway," said Ray Andrews, who occupied his boss's season seats in the lower bowl. "But anything that gets people out to support the team is good. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see something like this."

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