Thousands turn out for A's FanFest that sparks positive vibe

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Seven free food trucks. Green and gold balloons strung over the waterfront walkway and a bouncy houses for kids. Complimentary zoo passes, dog toys and plenty of coffee. A picturesque, sunny winter day after weeks of heavy rain.

The Oakland Athletics and new President Dave Kaval need to do little selling on one of the sites being considered for a new ballpark after hitting a home run with FanFest held Saturday at Jack London Square - right near Howard Terminal, where the A's might just decide it's their best place to break ground and finally build a much-needed stadium.

''This offseason's been as good as I can remember since I've been here,'' manager Bob Melvin said. ''Dave's come in and really raised the flag and talking about a new ballpark, and that's what our fans want to hear. I think for the first time our fans really are expecting something to happen, and it will. That's something to be excited about. He's done a great job since the moment he got here. He's focused on one particular thing, and that's getting a ballpark done and a site and going from there.''

The positive vibes were evident every which way at Saturday's event.

Thousands of fans turned out for the low-budget club's grandiose $250,000 FanFest, sensing a new energy and enthusiasm for the franchise that is energizing the players, coaches and front office executives, too.

''We feel these kinds of investments are necessary for our fans,'' Kaval said. ''People know there's a change.''

Kaval, mingling about to greet people before the event's formal start late morning, told fans there are three or four finalist locations for a new state-of-the-art venue. He thanked them for coming, offering hugs and high-fives along with greetings such as ''Absolutely, dude, awesome!'' Chants of ''Let's Go, Oakland!'' rung out on in the background as drums pounded and fans clapped to the beat.

''It's great to get everybody together here and celebrate all of the great history we have,'' Kaval told one group.

Veteran infielder Adam Rosales is back with the A's after 3+ seasons away. He was downright giddy Saturday, and as he notes it's the norm for him.

''Obviously to talk about a new ballpark is a lot of energy,'' he said. ''I've heard talk about that. Wow, that would be very nice. It would be really good not only for Oakland but for baseball.''

Hired in November as the A's restructured their ownership and management team, Kaval has opened his office and his ears to fans, city officials, civic leaders and other experts as he strives to improve not only the current fan experience at the run-down Oakland Coliseum but make big plans for the future.

''You can feel it with the fans, I think they really responded to some of that transparency, having office hours and (him) being willing to meet with fans and hear their concerns or their suggestions,'' reliever Sean Doolittle said. ''The stadium issue I know is something everybody seems to be excited about right now.''

With the Golden State Warriors having just broken ground Jan. 17 on their new arena in San Francisco about a mile from the Giants' AT&T Park and the Oakland Raiders planning a move to Las Vegas, the A's could be the only ones left in the East Bay before too long.

''It's a good thing for the city of Oakland. Unfortunately, if the Raiders leave and the Warriors leave, we want to stay, we want to be here,'' catcher Stephen Vogt said. ''Unfortunately it's going to take a new stadium for that to happen, I think. Hopefully that's what really gets the ball rolling. We as players want to stay here, I know the organization wants to stay here, it's just a matter of making it work.''

Saturday sure seemed like a successful start in creating more buzz with day one of spring training in Mesa, Arizona, a couple of weeks away.

And, smiling, general manager David Forst seemed encouraged by the great atmosphere.

''So far, so good,'' he said.