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Could we ever see the Pirates relocate?

With the recent approval for the Oakland Athletics to relocate, along with some team similarities, it begs the question of a Pirates move down the line.

Sports Contributor Archive 2022
PNC Park’s backdrop of the city offers one of the best views in professional sports.
Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The biggest news in baseball this week revolved around the owners meeting that took place in Arlington Texas and the unanimous vote to approve the relocation of the Oakland Athletics ball club to Las Vegas Nevada. The decision to go to Vegas stems from owner John Fisher’s request for a new stadium being built via public funds was denied by the city of Oakland, and the years of wear and tear that sit on the coliseum. As a Pittsburgher who is currently stationed in Las Vegas, it got me thinking if we could ever see our Pittsburgh Pirates seek a relocation.

I’d first like to start off by saying that over the past couple of years (especially the years I've spent in Vegas) I have become a casual fan of the A’s. The hat’s give off a signature look, and the movie Moneyball is a classic especially between close friends back home. However, more often than not, when someone asks why I like the A’s, I usually respond by saying they are the west coast version of the Pirates. Both are two proud franchises who experienced great success in the 1970’s, only to now become two bottom dwelling teams with stingy owners ultimately holding them back. For those reasons and more, I think it is clear to see these teams are very very similar and share a lot of parallels.

Pirates’ fans are more than familiar with owner Bob Nutting, who since 2007 has been lining his pockets whilst failing to pay for the team to compete for a title, with the cycle of star players being developed in-house only to leave in free agency or via trade becoming a yearly occurrence. Similarly John Fisher has been in control of the A’s since 2005, and regularly has his team at the bottom of the leagues’ payroll with little to no substantial success since buying the team.

With all of that in mind, the comparison of the stadiums is where some of the similarities cease. PNC Park was opened in the Spring of 2001, after Three Rivers Stadium was demolished to give the Pirates and the Pittsburgh Steelers their own individual stadiums. The Oakland Coliseum has been open since 1966 and its age has been showing for at least the past 20 years. No major renovations have been made recently and it is currently the fourth oldest stadium in Major League Baseball. The age and deterioration of the stadium has become a problem, with the outdated venue just not receiving enough elbow grease over the years to keep it afloat with the other classic ballparks like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.

The two fanbases have some similarities as they are both set in two blue-collar, old fashioned sports cities with passionate and often times ravenous fans. Even in the Pirates leaner years, a day at PNC Park is still a good time, with casuals and die hards alike enjoying a Buccos game. Even in Oakland, it hasn’t been too long since their last playoff push where A’s games were like rock concerts and many of those passionate fans helped fuel that success.

But with the departure of the Raiders, the Warriors and now the A’s, all of that energy has been sucked dry. Myself and my friend Garret made the trip to Oakland for a game shortly after their reverse boycott, and it was like a ghost town, with no sight of a tailgate to be had.

All of these factors, along with the several losing seasons in recent history should point to two teams being in the exact same place. However, Pittsburgh does benefit greatly from having a far more modern venue to host their games, with of course one of the most iconic backdrops in sports as the city skyline is must-see from the park. It’s also willing to note that Fisher was asking for upwards of $300 million dollars in public funding for a brand new stadium that the city of Oakland just simply could not justify. I don’t blame Oakland either, as I will hardly ever feel sympathetic towards billionaires when they don’t get their way.

Nevada’s Legislature and governor has approved up to $380 million in public financing toward the A’s new $1.5 billion stadium, which upon its completion in 2028 will be the smallest park in the MLB, in a significantly smaller sports market than the Bay Area. Still though, politicians and owners alike see an upside in yet another sports franchise in Vegas as the recent success of the Raiders, Golden Knights and Aces is hard to deny.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Willie Stargell is one of the all time Pirates greats, and is a member of the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, spending much of his childhood in Almeida California.
Photo by Michael Zagaris/MLB Photos via Getty Images

While I will never be a fan of our ownership group, the Pirates, for as bad as they are, are in good shape as far as these situations are concerned. They have a commitment to the city until at least 2031, and even then, PNC Park will only be 30 years old. Pittsburgh is also still a viable sports market as the Steelers and Pittsburgh Penguins always have a heartbeat going when the Pirates may not which makes it a much easier environment to succeed in. On top of that, Western Pennsylvania is incredibly affordable in comparison to Northern California or Southern Nevada which have all the high prices with none of the sustainable sporting culture.

As an outsider and fan of the sport, I feel terribly for Oakland. The city does not deserve to see another sports franchise jump ship for a bigger market, especially with fans as passionate as theirs (by the way, Oakland Raiders fans would kill Vegas Raiders fans). I am happy however that my friend and I got to experience an A’s game in Oakland before that chapter closes on a historic venue and historic sports town.

Situations like these make me happy and proud to be from the city of Pittsburgh, because issues like these are likely never going to seriously affect our teams because of the rich culture that we hold true in the Steel City. The Pirates were not good this year, and they may not be good next year, but we have made moves to be more successful and the fans responded. There will always be a buzz for sports in Pittsburgh, and the Pirates started all of that. Hopefully someday soon the Jolly Roger is at the forefront of that again, but at least we don’t have to worry about our Buccos jumping ship.